Just sitting, just waiting. Without talking, without being able to track the time that’s gone by; without knowing how long you’ll be waiting, or what you’re waiting for, or when you’ll know that the waiting is done.
It’s a foreign experience for the chronologically-tethered Westerner: like being plunged into a sensory deprivation tank. Reference points removed, control obviated.
It makes your fingertips itch. I had so much adrenaline, so much anxiety, and nowhere to channel it. I wanted to be running through the hills tracking down the kid and snatching my phone out of his sweaty little hand; but my friendly machete wielding locals had already tried that. The kid had legged it into the jungle and couldn’t be found.
* * *
The sun was overhead when Mocky said we should go. I packed up Beastie and rode her up the hill to the village where I parked in front of Mocky’s sister’s house.
Then I got on the back of Mocky’s motorbike – a 150cc fuel-injected Vixion, a flash motorbike in these parts – and we bumped our way into the hills for twenty minutes or so, barely above walking pace on the wrecked dirt tracks.
Eventually, we stopped in front of a tiny corrugated iron building. This is where the boy lives, Mocky told me. There was no-one there. The neighbours told us that the boy still had not come home.
I looked at Mocky helplessly. Don’t worry, he told me, I’m going to take you to the hostel where they speak English. They will be able to talk to you there.
* * *
I couldn’t imagine what kind of hostel he was talking about, but any idea was better than no idea. We went back and got Beastie and I followed Mocky up the road again, riding the clutch torturously: unlike Timorese scooters and motorbikes, KTMs are not geared to do uphill enduro at a walking pace. Still, every time I stopped to open up some space between us, Mocky would slow down to allow me to catch up. We got there eventually.
‘There’ was a small open air classroom next to a larger concrete building, looking out across an old volleyball court and a cock fighting ring.
On the cool concrete verandah, Mocky introduced me to the volunteers. They were young women and men from all over Timor Leste, all aged in their late teens and early twenties, and they lived together in the hostel: the deal was, they studied English themselves in the mornings, and taught it to the local school children in the afternoons. They got English lessons, community, rice and a roof over their heads in exhange for a few years of learning and reciprocal teaching. It’s a Catholic programme that operates all across Timor Leste, previously called SOLS 24/7 and now called AHA. Whatever those acronyms stand for, I don’t think it matters; but once you know what you’re looking at, you’ll start seeing these makeshift educational outposts across Timor’s least supported reaches.
The volunteers welcomed me with open arms. There was a lot of shy laughter and introductions; I was dehydrated and stressed and didn’t really know what was going on, but eventually I started to relax a little. They gave me cool water to drink, and sent some of the school children climb a fruit tree on the other side of the square, bringing down beautiful pink and white fruits – jambu air – for us to eat.
Mocky explained my predicament. One of the girls touched my arm earnestly: “We are so glad you are here,” she said. “Where will you sleep? Will you stay with us?”
I was thirty kilometres from the nearest guesthouse, mapless, upset, and I no longer fancied camping down by the springs with machete dude roaming around in the night. I accepted the offer gratefully. “Yes!” they said, as if it was I who was doing them a favour. Never could a person ask for a warmer welcome.
The living quarters were very simple: a concrete building with two large rooms used for sleeping – one for men, one for women – plus a tiny bedroom at the front and a living space like an oversized corridor in the middle. There were sleeping mats and matresses on the concrete floors, a few plastic chairs and a small statue of the Virgin Mary in the living room.
I was an honoured guest; Isa showed me to the small front room, with a little bamboo framed sleeping mat on the floor. Ordinarily, I think she shared it with the manager of the centre, but the manager was away in Dili for a meeting. So I got the best digs in the house, sharing a room and a bed with only person.
In Timor, that pretty much counts for something between luxury and privacy.
I was really touched. This is true hospitality: not just willing to share your home with a visiting stranger, but actually your own bed.
So it was decided. I had to wait for an unknown period of time for the resolution of the situation of the child in the jungle with my phone; and for that time, I was to consider myself at home with the volunteers at SOLS.
* * *
There was no news of the child that afternoon; he was still hiding the jungle. Mocky said that the head of the village had been informed, and the parents. My friends at SOLS shook their heads and said that the child had some mental problems; he was ‘not right in the head’. The parents were in tears, asking God why they had a child who would do such a thing.
The kid knew he was in a world of trouble. He wasn’t coming out.