Timor-Leste remains a new nation since its independence in 2002. It is a small nation on the eastern side of Timor Island in South-East Asia nestled next to its former ruler Indonesia. One important factor is that Timor-Leste was not in Indonesian possession for long as it was formerly a Portuguese colonial territory.
This is one of the most striking realities I have found since my arrival. Language diversity built on cultural diversity, somewhat built on continuous occupation by outsiders.
Languages on the island are numerous. I have found Bahasa Indonesian, Portuguese, English, Tetum and a multitude of other local languages making this land their home.
I am here to be part of a university project on planning rejuvenation of an old school. Our aim is to contribute to the local economy while maintaining site heritage. Tourism is a fledgling part of Timor-Leste’s future, to move away from the oil rich resources that have controlled the economy during and since Indonesian occupation.
Bali is not far but nor is Australia. Bali is not necessarily the model for Timor-Leste’s future tourism industry but Australia is a major source of revenue for that island and one Timor-Leste would like to access for different reasons.
Natural beauty and a less altering and overt tourism industry is one the Timorese National Government’s aims (read here for more policy info: http://www.investtimor-leste.com/files/Timor-Leste%20National%20Tourism%20Policy.pdf ).
I looked over the ocean expanding outside the nation’s capital, Dili, this morning and breathed in the South-East Asian air on the fringes of the region. I was only a 1 hour 20 minute flight to Darwin, Australia and could see the tourism potential of the place. Things are safe and the mountains behind the city hold a wealth of natural attraction that most Australians and world visitors would come to love in time.
That time relies on infrastructure. Tourism does not come from beauty alone. The industry requires more hotels, places to eat and easier access to all the sites this city offers to the visitor.
Indonesian eateries are my sudden mainstay for this trip, thanks to their affordable prices and delicious options. They symbolise the recent history of the country, and how so many in the population do not speak the colonial ruler’s language. In fact, there is some animosity in the general population against Portuguese for their historic control over the people of this land in the farthest reaches of the once Portuguese Empire.
Although Indonesia also acted in a way that couldn’t be seen as respectful. The estimated death of those responsible for killing in the country number in the hundreds of thousands according to John Pilger (1994) and other sources. An estimated third of the population was killed. Death. Heartache. Peace. Timor-Leste is rebuilding from this past.
Pilger, John. 1994. East Timor: A Land of Crosses (a Great Silence Has Accompanied the Indonesian Occupation of East Timor). New internationalist.