We Talk With Our Eyes


new internationalist
issue 253 - March 1994


We talk with our eyes
The tranquil life of Fatima Gusmao (pictured below)
was utterly changed by the Indonesian invasion.
She re-enacted some experiences as she spoke.

Fatima Gusmao
photo by DAVID MUNRO

When I married Jose in 1975 I couldn’t see any of my family there because they had left the country. They were very upset, they thought I was too young to decide to stay. They thought they lost me, that one daughter from their house was dead. For three years outside they didn’t know I was alive. I was 18 years old then and Jose was six years older. Before he was our teacher at high school and a close friend. He taught natural science, about plants, animals, mountains and rivers, and also history. He was a good teacher and a very good person who cares for others.

My first baby was born on 12 September 1976. The baby came feet first. When he was born he went pale and dark. We try to massage, rub his heart, but he was too long without oxygen. We baptized him Jose. He died after two hours.

When my second baby was born in 1978 we were together in a secure place. We baptized him a Timorese name, Luang Hale. Luang is Jose’s brother’s name and my name in the bush is Bi Hale. In Tetun bi means lady and hale means a special type of big tree which protects people from the sun. If there is a wedding or christening you must find one of these trees to have it under. Also we squash the root of the hale tree and use the juice for our long hair, to make it very black and grow quickly.

I start thinking of it again, when I do this talking to you. I want to pass those moments again, even suffer because that was a part too. I’m talking about feelings. The feeling between people at that time was so good. The co-operation, to save lives, to defeat the famine. We have a women’s organization and when we go to the farm to work we not only do the job but we support each other. For example, like me and you, we sit here talking.

We hear a shot and recognize it is from the enemy’s gun. I say nothing to you, no time to speak. Watching each other we decide in that instant the same, to run together. We hold hands and run straight away. It is a very secure feeling to be with people who feel the same way. Others helped me survive; many like me, who had never lived outside a town, died quickly.

For five or six months we could stay together and things were calm and we could make food gardens. Then always in the dry season the Indonesians start coming again and we must move. If we can return when the enemy has gone we must be very careful. Anywhere they see we have lived they poison, we think they spray, the water, the plants. We look to see if there are dead animals to know if that place is poisoned.

We were travelling alone, Jose and I, carrying our son Luang Hale, through the Fatu Berliu area. The Indonesians were trying to surround us and we couldn’t settle; everyone had to keep moving, so we couldn’t plant and we had no food. We had been three days without eating.

I tell Jose that if I could drink cold water I could keep going. We find a little stream and go to the end where the water comes out cold from the ground, there it is very pure. I hold the baby and hide while Jose goes first, to test if it is safe, no enemy to catch us. When Jose returns I am so thirsty, so wanting to put my mouth in that cold spring water, but I bring some to the baby first. Then I go and stay drinking until I am very full. When I stand relaxed and look further I see a foot.

It is a dead man. Only one foot is out on the land, the body lies back down in the water with arms above the head. He is naked, his body is swollen and being eaten away. It is not one of our people. It is a dead enemy soldier. The water is already inside us, we could change nothing and I really liked that water, but always since then I have that picture in my mind, in my dreams, of that body on the water spring.

We keep walking away from the enemy. At the end of the day, at that time between light and dark, we are at the top of a mountain where it is flat and there are many bones in the green grass. I think someone has killed a lot of animals and been feasting. Because we were so hungry I was thinking of food. Jose told me not to say such a thing, to look more closely because these were people’s bones.

The bones were white. Jose said he would see if they were our people’s bones. He put a drop of his blood on and the bone drank it like a sponge. This is a traditional belief: if the blood had stayed on the outside of the bone it would not belong to us.

When we look more we see many people died there, over a hundred people, all sizes, many children too. We think they were killed all together because of the way they fall. They were not disturbed, those bones. They lie where they fall, one person on top of another, the baby on the mother’s chest or child next to the mother, the hair still under the head, long dark hair of women.

We kneel down and pray for those people and ask God that no more of our people have to die like this, especially the children because children are innocent. We ask to understand why the Javanese come to our country to kill us.

It was the wet season and raining, between January and February 1979. Walking and walking we got to a high mountain in the Soibada area called Terras, a good place to hide. There were a lot of big trees, tall grass, rocks and caves, but no food. The only thing was a root, maek. Usually we feed it to pigs, who can eat it without harm, but if people eat it without cooking it in a very hot fire, there is poison which makes the body itch, the tongue swells up and you can die from not being able to breathe.

There were many caves, some big as this room. We hide there trying to make no noise, talking always very softly because echoes sound off the rocks. We know the Indonesians are around there, some of our people had seen some. So we didn’t go far to find these roots, we found only a few small ones and it was too dangerous to build a big fire to cook them, because the enemy would find us, bomb us.

We were sick, our baby had diarrhoea. We had not eaten for many days. Our Luang Hale came to me and, like this, put his arms around my neck and hugged me and I sit and hold him. It was at a time like now, afternoon. We were inside a cave. I said to Jose that there was something different about the baby, his breathing was like sighing, but I did not move because the baby was holding on around my neck.

Jose knew our son was dying then but I didn’t understand. I thought he was just very tired and wanting to sleep. I did not know it was what we call agonia, that time between life and dying, that our baby had started to die.

We sit for a long time and slowly I understand he is dead. His arms are locked tight around my neck. It was hard to separate us.

Don’t cry, Michele, we just had to accept that separation, there was nothing we could do, no way to revive him. It is like a water pot dropped on the ground, it is gone, you cannot have that water again. But it is hard. Three times it happens to me, three babies die and this one was the hardest because I knew him so well for eight months.

We carried Luang Hale, wrapped in cloth, to where others were. As they died we tried to bury people. All the babies there died, eight more babies. Some died before and some after our baby. The other people did not want to bury our child there, they said it was not right that one of their leaders’ sons should be buried like this, in a hole without a coffin. I said to them, ‘Our baby died for the same reason your babies die, for our country’s freedom. Their lives were taken for the same thing we are all looking for. The babies must lie together.’ For each we made a small place, close together. We join our hands and pray, offer the souls of these innocent ones for our country to be free. People stay crying by the grave. We could not console each other.

Inside our land Timorese all know each other. We talk with our eyes – they say you are one suffering like me. If you go there you will know, their eyes will tell you they are not happy.

From Michele Turner, Telling – East Timor: Personal Testimonies 1942-1992, New South Wales University Press, 1992.

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