ROSALINA XIMENES’ EYES were downcast as I leaned forward to kiss her lightly on both cheeks. I caught the smoky scent of the firewood she had used to cook her last meal as I pressed the envelope of money into her hand. Rosalina was surrounded by her six children and a gathering of curious onlookers. The grimy face of her second youngest child, Arris, betrayed fear at the sight of me, but none of the horror and pain to which his mother had been subjected over the last month since the murder of her husband.
At three, Arris will only learn of Timor-Leste’s krizi politika and the circumstances in which his father lost his life when he is older. Paulo da Costa was one of a group of police officers gunned down with weapons belonging to the nation’s army on May 25, 2006. The money and material assistance I had to offer seemed inconsequential in the face of the magnitude of Rosalina’s loss. When she and her children finally leave this refugee camp – a once tranquil and pristine convent that is still home to 1,300 displaced people – they have no house to return to. In the circumstances, it was all I could offer. Yet the tiniest flicker of a smile from Rosalina as I took my leave told me that it was a gesture of some significance to her – the first she has received from a public figure or member of the government since her husband’s death.
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