A homeland is the only peaceful place to live and settle down, but it can be turned into the place of exile. The notion of a place of peace and friendly shelter can be exacerbated by societal resistance. Here is the short story of my bitter experiences during the first emergency and prevention of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste.Celso da Fonseca
Going back home, for students who are in the diaspora, might be the best choice or ideal decision for them. During the COVID-19 outbreaks, many students who study abroad decided to return home because they want to stay with their families in their homeland. This situation happens as the last and precise option for most students who are in the diaspora.
This situation reminds me, as one of the Timorese students who studied in Indonesia-Jogjakarta, I have this experience. During the COVID-19 outbreak, especially when the Indonesian government announced its first case in Indonesian, which was first spread in Java Island, from that moment everywhere, people just began to panic. Of course, panicking is a reaction of afraid and anxiety because the virus has a significant death risk for life, as people have seen what happens in China and Europe (for example, in Italy). Similarly, when the media update the case for almost every day, it shows that hundreds and thousands of people are affected by the Corona Virus. The fact of the spread of Corona is even more, exacerbating the situation, and people feel increasingly panicked and feel insecure.
Apart from the panic caused by the deadly virus, I felt much stressed. After seeing and observing the Corona Virus’s global condition on social media, meanwhile, in Timor-Leste (March 2020), I heard that the airports and borders will be closed soon. From that moment, I immediately decided to go home. It has rationalized my simple reason; “I don’t want to die from the Corona Virus in a diaspora country.” This reason was my main motivation coming to Timor-Leste
When I arrived in Dili, precisely 2 days before the government imposed a state emergency to prevent this pademic desease, I was so much panicking. Despite having a safe feeling in my homeland, however, the fear of panic and lack of confidence to socialize remained silent in my mind. I did not even decide to meet my family and friends
Back at home, the first thing I decided was to self-quarantine, not to contact anyone, especially my friends in Dili (This decision might be the best decision that I made it). Because I saw their reaction to other Timorese students who had just returned through the border with no proper legal documents and crossed the border without going through the immigration office, this situation provokes public anger. How angry, irritated, and cursed at their fellow citizens? That reaction happens during the first and second state emergencies. Some Timorese societies accused them that they have brought this deadly virus.
The majority of Timorese students in Indonesia have decided to come to Timor-Leste. Feeling unsafe in Indonesia is the reason because they have seen the number of COVID-19 has increased significantly. Although coming back home to Timor-Leste was the only home and friendly shelter, a safe place to live, however, it was like an abroad, a place of exile, diaspora, un-friendly environment.
People living in Timor-Leste, including some people I know, some activists, with very shameful. They reacted negatively with stigma and discrimination perspectives to their Timorese people. They put their comments on social media with un-friendly and solidarity reactions. They labeled their fellow Timorese (who have just returned illegally, crossing the border) as: “The source of spreading Corona Virus.” Even though they followed health protocol procedures, one of which is mandatory quarantine.
Regarding the comments, I mentioned above, they claim that: “those students are just like devils”, bringing bad luck, and imported this pesky and deadly virus.” Let the police or military “shoot” them to death so that everyone is afraid to enter Timor-Leste illegally, “we are safe here; You will bring bad luck to us.”For me, it is such a pity. For instance, when I came through the airport with legal way, I fell because this is my country, even though I felt some discriminations and stereotype attitude from my neighbors and friends, still I want to be here, in home my land, Timor-Leste.
Now back to my own story, when I get home, I decided to keep distance from my friends because I know they will discriminate me. A stereotyped attitude during the first state emergency occurred with un-predictable, the situation like that, there were no friends and family anymore if they know that you just come from outside. One moment, one of my friends asked me”, where are you? I know you are in Dili, but you should go to the hospital to make a test and please don’t come to my house”. Even though with a joke, yet I felt it was a stigma and discriminative question, asking me like that. I came through legal way, even before the government applied mandatory quarantine. Probably, He assumed that I was one of the students who just came back from Indonesia, who might spread the Corona Virus. (Hehehehhehe, I know it was the terrible situation I felt).
Because of discrimination, the stigma that stereotyping students from a diaspora land, I felt during the first state emergency in March 2020 was just another traumatic and bitter moment. I felt Corona Virus is just like written in the Bible, (old testimony) that when someone live with/affected “Lepra”, they will be excluded. The only way to prevent the spread of this disease is throwing that person into the sea or put him alone in a remote area. I felt like this, “people will just excluded you, especially if you get positive from COVID-19, everyone might just avoid you or ask you to stay away from them”.
After a couple of months, the situation of scare and panic has gone down. People started to understand the COVID-19 outbreaks prevention pattern, and more socialization and information have been disseminated.
Now, Timor-Leste is in the fifth- state emergency, there is more flexibility of restriction compare to the first estate emergency. And still COVID-death case still zero. This is something so greafull to be noted.
This short history aims to illustrate how discrimination and stigma happens in the last seven months. How was my feeling? How about my fellow Timorese, of course they faced stressful at that moment. I felt that bitter moment always remains silent in my mind. That silence moment which I just illustrated it now in this article is drawn from my feeling and exprecience.
I hope it is a part of the journey. Feeling like a student, who was just running away from diaspora because of COVID-19 outbreaks, I will keep this story as one of my academic journey, especially the bitter moment in the mids of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Celso Fonseca, Palapasu, 19/9/20