Life in Timor Leste gets stranger by the day. It’s a place of contradictions.  A place where the various experiences you have can be very difficult to reconcile within yourself. The rich and the poor. The beautiful and the ugly. The simple and the excessive. They sit together inside you like fire and ice.

 On Thursday night, for example, night my son, Finn, got invited to the birthday party of one of his classmates from the School. This boy just happens to be the son of the country’s Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao. See, told you it’s a strange place. So, we rock up at the Prime Minister’s house, steal past his machinegun toting guards, and arrive at this amazing pool party. We’re encouraged to stay, so we do; the whole freeloading lot of us. Finn quickly joins in the fun, while my youngest boy, Archie, plonks himself in the pool. I drink red wine, eat finger food and spend my time talking to some of the guests; which include a couple of film makers who have worked on films such as Balibo. Meanwhile, there are about fifty kids in the background going absolutely berserk. The kids are having the time of their lives.

 Now you might be thinking that this post is just one big name dropping, boast feast. And well, I suppose there is an element of that here. Let’s call a spade a spade. But this kind of thing doesn’t happen every day. And here I am, at the Prime Minister’s house, trying hard to make sense of the whole experience. I ask you, what would you do? Wouldn’t you want to tell the whole world? Meeting Xanana makes a person special, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it
at least legitimise a person’s noble (and not at all egotistical) quest to appear as the saintly type? Doesn’t a little bit of his mojo rub off on those who surround him? 

Hell, what a load of crap. Someone put a bullet in my head already. 

In all seriousness though, the important reality that I have glimpsed in this experience is just how normal the Gusmao family is. So what if he’s a former imprisoned guerrilla fighter and national hero turned political leader. What I saw was a decent, humorous man who loves his children and was unbelievably entertaining around kids. And Kirsty, his wife, seems like a really approachable, humble and down to earth woman herself. It makes me wonder what it would be like to really get to know my own political leaders back in Australia.

 At the party, Xanana came out amongst the kids wearing a plastic bag. The children went crazy, pelting him with water balloons – mind you, he gave back as good as he received. During the skirmish, both of my two boys tried to knock his block off with those little sacks of mischievousness. At one point even, my son, Archie, tried to push Xanana in to the pool! Archie had no idea who Xanana was; to him he was just this funny old bloke who was out to have a good time. 

So, in the end, as I said, it was all a bit weird. And yet, having just said that, is was normal, whilst big, birthday party.  It was a contradiction.  To get a glimpse of the man behind the name took away a bit of the whole aura thing. What a horrible burden it must be for people like him to carry; not to mention the burden of people always wanting something from you. I may have nothing to do with him again, but at least I’ve come away thinking that at least
I liked the man I saw. I liked his humanity and I liked his wife too. I reckon Xanana would be a great guy to have a beer and a laugh with. 
Now where did I put those car keys. It’s about time I gave Jose Ramos Horta a little visit!

 And Finally:

 I want to leave you now with a reflection from my wife, Clare. It contrasts well with my own more flippant words. Her reflection really moved me and in some ways, her words are probably closer to how I truly feel. It’s much easier to write something humorous rather than write something raw and true.

 Help me, I’m  drowning!

Overwhelming guilt... When I hear the sound of Ana washing our clothes.  Guilt when I see children selling goods on the side of the road.  Guilt when I think of what we pay for our children to go to school.  Guilt for not having to worry about our next meal.  Guilt for being able to buy a car.  Guilt for being invited to Xanana’s son’s party simply because we send
our children to such an expensive school.  Guilt for knowing that we will simply leave this country if we get sick.  Guilt for knowing that for the majority here, even seeing a doctor isn’t an option.  Guilt...for being born into an overwhelmingly privileged country.  Guilt, for having the luxury of choosing to ‘volunteer’ here.

Layers and layers of suffocating and paralysing guilt. Guilt that I don’t know what to do with or where to put.  Please be transformed, guilt, into something constructive, something useful, as I may just lie down and give up under this weight...

Down the beach on my 40th birthday
Playing footy with the boys in our neighbourhood

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