15 November 2009

A Development Worker's Dream?

That's what happens when you watch two Hollywood productions in a row about times of upheaval in two (African) countries (Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland) while your subconscious processes the risks of a possible next internship.

Dili, East Timor. An excursion or exchange with people from my Masters. We're invited for lunch at the house of our host - in my dream, a senior member of society, like an elder. We are seated around the table and I watch any of the locals calculatingly. It is an important meeting as we just arrived and are hear to learn and obviously want to gain and gauge the trust of the people we will be dealing with for our research, whatever that is. I have a feeling as if the older man has been looking at me in a funny way and while everyone is chatting away over food, I am reaching out across the table for a dish when suddenly this very guy grabs my upper arm or lower arm around the elbow, leers at me and makes some comment I do not hear. I pull away, stand up and scream at him, giving him a piece of my mind about sexual harassment, turning the centre of attention of the table to him. Then I bolt out of the door.

I am in my "home" or a small empty local family house where I was accomodated in. I am still furious and decide to go out and do something that will take my mind off the incident. I wonder if it is safe to do so on my own, after all there was some violence in the last election (in 2006), the president barely survived an assassination attempt (in early 2008) and there sometimes is still some petty crime. It is hard to gauge the safety when you have never been to a country before. I go for a change of dress and spend a while in front of the mirror deciding which clothing would be appropriate. I decide for a 3/4 skirt and a long-sleeved shirt. My other local coursemate or local exchange student living with me suddenly appears and says to hurry up or we won't make it to the supermarket. He unlocks the front door, peeks out and warns to be careful as we live near a dodgy area. Suddenly, I decide to put on something else after all and tell my flatmate. He is impatient but waits in the shadow of the house the door opens to. Once I come out again, I don't see him so I decide to walk on the opposite side of the house, in the sun. As I watch my feet walk across the open space of sandy street, I see some casings from used automatic rifle ammunition and wonder in my dream if some of them will explode if you step on them and they're not yet "detonated". So I try to avoid stepping on them, doing some weird movements in the process. Suddenly, I hear shooting! I look up and see a bunch of men firing their AK-47's from an open jeep driving fast into my direction from the far side of the space I was now running across in a ducked position, occasionally taking cover behind a mini dune of sand, wondering if they have seen me. Then I see that I am not the only one on the run, my flatmate is doing the same, except he is running into the other direction, to distract them, I guess. Eventually, we manage to reunite in this chaos and go to the supermarket (!) as if nothing had happened (!).

We are standing in front of a low concrete warehouse and I have my doubts as if there indeed is a supermarket in there. My flatmate says, that yes, some things here are underground, and have been for a long time. We walk into a lift that looks just like your average cold metal cargo lift from any horror movie. It doesn't help that the corridor to it is dark, damp and dirty. After what seems like ages, the lift finally arrives and we step in. The lift is operated by a knobbed long handle instead of buttons. For some reason (dream logic), we go up instead of down. There are already some people in there. One of them is a tall Western man in a dark grey pin-striped suit, a beige raincoat over his left arm and a leather briefcase in the other, wearing polished shoes. His manner calms me down for he looks like he's done this ride a couple of times before. I don't know where this cliché comes from, but I figured the way he is dressed, he must be working for the local UN office. I'm thinking of whether I should approach him about an internship. Hmmm, how to do introduce yourself, exchange niceties, confirm his work place and ask for an internship in less than 20 seconds without being presumptuous? That's when the man starts to speak to me like foreigners abroad on an endless lift ride do. I tell him I find the lift creepy and ask him if there really is a supermarket in here. He smiles, amused and says yes, the warehouse does not only house a big supermarket but also some offices on the top floors, which is his reason for being in the lift. I introduce myself and why I'm in East Timor and ask him if he's working for the mission. Dili is small after all and there is not much to attract foreign business and since he doesn't look like a tourist... And indeed, he is, he says! That's when I see the head lights of a supermarket coming slowly nearer. After some more talk, he offers if I wanted to go out and have a drink sometime (in Southeast Asia, "to go drink" usually implies non-alcoholic cold drinks during the day to rehydrate from the heat). I am hesitant and relieved at the same time. Nothing about him indicated he was a sleazy guy who was looking for something else. The impression I got was that he would really like to meet other foreigners and since what I was doing sounded interesting, it is likely his motive was genuinely platonic. However, I say, "Some other time maybe", just in case. If he really works here, we're bound to bump into each other again on the street anyway. I think he noticed my hesitation for the diplomat he is, he glances over my shoulder and says, "Your supermarket's coming up on this level but I'm going to give you my card." I leave the lift and tell him I'm going to take him up on this.

There indeed is a supermarket in this forsaken place. Brightly lit shelves upon shelves of wares! My flatmate had disappeared in the meantime, so I was dodging the shopping carts on my own. I don't buy anything. I'm too distracted, thinking about the encounter on the lift.

I am suddenly back on the surface. It is a normal street, it looks Austrian but in my dream I am in the UK and the person whom I exited the building with was a very familiar-looking girl. Apart from us, the street is deserted. However, on one end, there is a train which frequently appears and disappears, like a holograph or as if it was spinning around itself. I think to myself, wow, that could be something like the Hogwarts Express. It must have been pretty evident I was thinking that for the girl said to me, "Of course it's the Hogwarts Express, don't you see?!" And indeed, I turn around to look again and now see a conventional-looking witch with long chin, hairy wart on her nose and pointed hat. Everytime she touches the carriage with her wand, it spins again and now even changes colour and appearance! I say to the girl, if I had known that there was another way out of the building, I would have just taken that instead of that crappy snail-slow lift and I ask her if we can still make it to the train (to get to some other location). She says, yes we can but she is waiting for a woman who she is supposed to meet first. As if on cue, a beautiful woman appears, giving her a piece of colourful cloth in a rather ceremonial way. The girl bows her head just like the woman and receives the cloth politely with both hands and then proceeds in tying it around her head. That's when I realise it: Oh my God, Hermione is a Muslim?! Now THAT's a storyline JKR did not explore...

Disclaimer:
I refrained from adding pictures of East Timor from the net to illustrate my blog as I did not find it appropriate to use graphic pictures of violence to visually support this kind of post. Also, I don't want to misrepresent the situation in the country and the country's image by throwing in some pictures of violence OR landscape. Also, I do not want to alarm anyone of you as I am still exploring different destinations for my next internship.

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