It’s been many a year since I’ve done a regular Sunday drive – since childhood, I guess. But we have a car, and a day off, and an open road.
Although we’re a bit cautious because of the security problems, we find that as soon as we get to the outskirts of Dili everyone is smiling and waving back at us. The day is cloudy, but the hills are a tartly bright green in three shades of velvet, the sea is the blue of a well-worn baby blanket, and the road winds through it all like a path through a madman’s garden.
I am gritting my teeth and clutching the door handle as soon as the road starts to climb. The roads here are almost never a full two lanes; vehicles negotiate the space in a slow-speed version of Chicken. There are huge potholes and sharp drop-offs at the edge where the rains have washed away the pavement. The road follows the curtain-like folds of the hillside, so most of the curves are very, very blind. The buses and mini-buses, overloaded with passengers clinging to the roofs, trundle along in surprising numbers. Because we drive on the left here, heading east means we are on the outside edge of the road with a sheer dropoff to oblivion – and of course there are no guard rails.
Tom drives slowly and he’s a very good driver, so I do manage to enjoy the views – though mostly when we pull over.
He climbs on the rocks, admires the sea, and finds treasures on the beach.
Mogadishu makes friends wherever he goes. He waves at passing cars and buses and trucks, or poses prominently where they can see him. Without fail, the Timorese smile broadly or burst into laughter, and wave back. Even the teenage boys, who invest quite a bit of energy in looking tough and fierce, can’t help themselves.
The sight of me grinning and holding a little yellow dog is of course more evidence that foreigners are crazy, but Mogadishu is adorable all by himself.
We are on a quest for straw mats to cover the floor under the dining table. [They’re not sold in Dili; the city folk use the plastic ones from China.] I’ve been told the mats can be found about 45 minutes out of Dili, and sure enough, we come to a village lined with stands where baskets and mats bob from poles.
Although we only can speak a few words of Tetum, the women selling the goods know how to say “five dollar” and “ten dollar.” The labor of the hand-woven baskets and mats is so apparent, and the women and children are so thin, we do not even consider bargaining on the price. We buy five mats, two large baskets for laundry, and one smaller one for kitchen miscellania. The women chatter, clearly trying to figure out what the total bill is; I hand them $50 and ask, Is it OK? They smile widely and say Thanks.
Then I ask if I can take photos, and the children clamber to show off their gorgeous smiles. The best part, of course, is showing them the photos on my LCD display of my digital camera. They squeal with delight and point at themselves, and giggle.
It’s the loveliest scene on the whole drive.