Love and Handwriting
There is not a word in English or Tetun, the ancient agricultural language of Timor, that describes how the Timorese teachers at out training feel about my handwriting. All of the teachers turn in evaluations or the rare assignment they use an exquisite cursive script. It looks like everything they write is an invitation to a wedding. And here’s me with a fetid, scurvy, mush of letters better suited to tearful break ups and serial killers.
Horrified does not cover their distaste, la diak los (not good at all) can’t touch it. I would make up a word that would cover the whole spectrum of repulsion, disgust and pity that it represents but I would have to write it down. And that means they would get another chance to pretend they can’t read it.
I have banned myself from the white board in training because of the frequent comments on my ill formed letters. I have told my consultants that I have lousy handwriting because I had a hand injury and can only use computers. And they look at me with despair and nod their heads. Perhaps they think that they have finally figured out why I am single.
After all how is a man to woo women if he cannot write beautifully?
I have a reputation as a ladies’ man in the town of Tibar. This is largley due to geography. I live at a crossroads and many female volunteers and aide workers stop by for tea and conversation while waiting for a suitable ride into the mountains. This has saved almost as much awkwardness as it has solved. In the districts’ many volunteers are subjected to random blind dates. They will arrive home to find that their family is inexplicably gone and only an old lady chaperone and a terrified suitor are there to sup with them. Volunteers are torn because having dinner with someone who trembles is uncomfortable, but the food... How can one weigh the treacherous depths of the Timorese dating system against a volunteer’s first bite of meat in two weeks?
My family, fond of me though they have become, would not consider such a lascivious man as myself a suitable match for anyone of their stature. So, problem solved, except for the joven.
Older than urchins and not yet married the Joven are a big part of Timor. They are young men wearing too tight low cut jeans and midriff shirts. They all have six packs, they all have large arm muscles. There are no inside kids in Timor, no Goths or D&D geeks or computer nerds. All of these boys know how to fight and to dance, to play a guitar and use a machete to kill a fly.
I have difficulty, still, placing age in this culture. To me there are urchins and then the instant I turn around to get a cup of coffee they turn into little men; sharp and be-muscled and hormonal. I remember what it was like for me, that change, but for god sakes I had a library. There were books and card catalogs and those magazines my brother thought he kept hidden. At least I had a clue.
But none of the joven seem to know a thing about the opposite sex. That’s not entirely true they have theories. Wild theories… And here I am sitting peaceful reading a book and three whole girls have visited me this MONTH. And they come to me. They sit on my porch they laugh and sometimes TOUCH MY ARM!
It starts like this, maybe once a month, a Joven will break off from his meandering pack and come sit on the porch near me. Soon he will sigh, long and loud. I close my book or put down my pen and I wait. The word for love in Timor is Hadomi when you miss someone or want someone you Hanoin when you are happy you are haksolok when you are sad you are triste to forget is haluhan to be beautiful is bonita and to be sexy or cool is jeitu.
These words are what these boys have to describe how they feel. These seven words sre the language of their young love. It may be that they speak in bahasa , portuguese or mumbia when they talk to their friends, but with me that’s all they got. No metaphors, no rhymes, no similes or double entendres. Nee hotu hotu. That’s it.
So when they being to speak of a girl, they use those words and they fill them with every ounce of the painful wanting that plagued me as a youth. They repeat them and hold up their arms in entreaty, they draw them out and caress them with their tongue. And I understand, and I sympathize, but I never say a thing. After all what advice could I give? Who would have been able to tell me how to land the girl I wanted in seventh grade?
When a boy in urban Timor can control these feelings no more he picks up a pen and a notebook and he writes. He pores all of it out in one long repetitive letter. And then he edits. Throwing away page after page and marking lines through things. I have witnessed this in my silent vigil. When satisfied he will slowly print it in the most elegant and flowing script I have ever seen. As if he could woo a girl simply by forming the perfect cursive O. And while I do not encourage their efforts I have been known to lend a boy or two a pen that writes as beautifully as their handwriting deserves. Then, thourhg routes secret and convoluted they deliver the note and wait.
I would like to imagine that some of these powerful missives are treasured and stored with flower petals. Read over and over and ending their days oft wet with tears. But this I have not seen.
What would I say to these boys who come and sit and pour out their hearts? I would tell them this: When I was a Joven, I wrote a poem to a girl I loved. An evil boy got ahold of it and read it over something called the morning announcements in my school. I thought that I died. But now the evil boy is the assistant manager of a Mr. Pretzel, while I sit on my porch a world away with beautiful girls who come to see me and laugh and touch my arm. Keep writing kid, you can borrow my pen.