cows and horses and you could be on farmland anywhere
I must start by saying that I am the only Indian in Los Palos. This
is not even possible on the moon. So there.
The name Los Palos, is a Portuguese corruption of the Fataluku "La
Pala" meaning "flat farms". As you enter Los Palos
after the curving roads from the coast, the flatness is what strikes
you. Optimistically there is a sign that an airfield is going to
be built as you enter La Pala. You drive in through its majestic
meadows. There are cows and horses and you could be on farmland
anywhere the Downs of Sussex maybe! All the animals are frightened
by the sound of a vehicle. While the horses try to run away, the
cows stand and watch you with fear in their huge eyes. You really
wish you could turn down the volume on the engine. And then you
enter the town.
On either side are the ruins of the Indonesian offices. A sombre welcome
that belies the true spirit of the town. And the school, still being rebuilt.
The market that comes alive on Saturdays. Finally the centre of the town.
A traditional house has been built in what was to have been a cultural
centre. It now remains for the malays foreigners to exclaim
about. Further down to the right, the hospital, which has the only doctor
in the district. A little beyond and to the left is the main church, a
traditional structure again. On Sundays the open space is packed with
The roads are not in good condition, but the streets are wide. Now we
take a left turn to downtown Los Palos. At the roundabout is a smaller
model of the traditional house. This street even has a cemented medium.
On the left, all the houses have a verandah facing the street making for
a continuous corridor to walk through. This corridor is usually occupied
by betel leaf chewing women selling vegetables. They smile red smiles
at you. There are no weighing scales. The veggies are piled in little
heaps and all cost the same tomatoes, onions, potatoes, ginger,
turmeric, chillies. You cant take less than a heap not even
if you offer to pay for the whole heap.
Further down the corridor are the three shops that sell EVERYTHING. You
wont get the variety in brands of a supermarket, but all the stuff is
there paint, whether for your nails or for the walls, bread, flour,
an oven, soap, utensils, notebooks, toys, EVERYTHING from the oft
quoted "diamond to the pin". The last stop on this street is
a hotel with a restaurant. They sell the most delicious cakes in this
part of the world. Here the street breaks off into five smaller ones.
And there is a statue of a boy with a torch standing in the centre of
the roundabout. Take a right there and you reach the police station
an impressive structure set far back, with both the East Timor and the
UN flags flying in front. Right opposite is the house that I live in.
Couldnt get safer than that.
The town is well spread out and is much larger than one thinks initially.
Houses are not large and magnificent, neither are the small and crumbly
no slums or cramped quarters here. And they are surrounded by trees
both flowering and fruit bearing. The concept of a fence or a wall does
not exist. So people walk through your land to the house behind. Open
and friendly. Every house seems to have a couple of dogs attached to it.
They won't allow you to pet them, but they will eat any scraps that you
feed them. (Yes, even my cooking.) What they dont like and will
not eat is papaya. My neighbours dogs keep watch on me and if I
come home after ten at night, set up a cacophony that is picked up be
all the dogs of Los Palos. Or so it sounds.
Los Palos is the capital of Lautem district and occupies the snout of
the crocodile shaped island. There is even a big lake approximately where
the eye should be. The population of the district is around 60,000 people
and that of the capital around 5000 people. Baytu, tehsil headquarters
in the desert district of Barmer probably has more people. And all 5000
of them seem to have seen Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. At least the songs are part
of any festivities in town.
There are many routes to my office. All a five-minute walk through
the police station and the district office, the route on the left that
goes past the old bungalows, through downtown or through a small lane
in between. I usually take the last. It is the most scenic five-minute
route ever. As you enter the lane, on the left there is a Hindu temple
with high walls and the statues of two little demons at the entrance.
I havent yet had the courage to go in it looks like it says,
"keep off". It is full of bougainvillea of a most brilliant
pink peach colour. Opposite that is a childcare centre and all the children
shout to greet you as you walk past. Further ahead a horse is grazing
in the backyard of one of the large bungalows. More bougainvillea, hens,
a magnificent rooster, dogs, some more children and you reach a main street
again. Take the left and there is the office on the right is a
small, small park with the sculpture of a crocodile sunning on a rock
with its snout open and facing upwards.
Another working days starts at 8 in the morning.
What is that work you may ask? Well, it involves travelling in paradise,
meeting people, mostly women, a lot of sign language, much more laughter
and home by five in the evening. Five days a week. Days six and seven
are given over to sleep and the seaside.
More next month. Tata. Ok, they are the other Indians in this place. Tata
Sumos. But they are not human, are they? And I am supposedly!
© Gouthami November 2002
is supposed to be a crocodile that became an island of plenty
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