Timor and the crocodile
This is a traditional story about the birth of Timor which is told to children all over Timor-Leste.
“A young boy saw a small crocodile struggling to get from a lagoon to the sea. The boy picked the crocodile up and helped him. The crocodile was grateful and told the boy that if he ever needed help he should stand by the edge of the sea and call ‘Crocodile!’
One day the boy needed to travel across the sea, so he called ‘Crocodile!’ He rode on the crocodile’s back. The crocodile took him on many journeys after that, but soon the crocodile’s instinct to eat the boy grew strong. The crocodile felt unhappy about this and asked the advice of many animals. They told him that he should not repay the boy’s kindness by eating him. The crocodile could not hurt his friend.
In time the crocodile grew very old. He told the boy that when he (the crocodile) died, he would change into a beautiful land where the boy and his children could live. The crocodile became the land of Timor.”
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When I told people I would be travelling to Timor-Lester, invariably I would be warned about the salt-water crocodiles. Apparently, they’re all over the place and swim in the rivers and seas around Dili. And that some people keep them as pets, in a cage by their house.
And so all throughout my stay in Timor-Leste, I was on the look out for a glimpse of a crocodile. All I heard were stories of how they were sitting by the Casbar, and a crocodile swam past in the waters below; or how the Australians had caught a crocodile, then kept it in their barracks.
Until one day, Mae remembered that the Police Headquarters had a crocodile for a pet, in their front garden. She called up Luiz, who then asked her if she had made an appointment with Georgina. No, replied Mae. Well then, said Luiz, bring her chicken and some ice cream. Maybe she’ll come up and out of the water.
And so it was at 2:30 pm on our last full day in Dili that we all piled into Richa’s car, for a date with Georgina. On the way, we stopped to buy chicken. We forgot the ice cream.
Arriving at the Police Headquarters, we told them we’d come to visit Georgina. They must have thought we were addle-brained, the heat must have gotten to the heads of this group of ladies. In any case, they let us in through their entrance, where we proceeded to the front garden.
There, they told us. Knock on the gate, Georgina will hear you, and come out of the water. Oh, you must whistle as well; she likes whistles.
And so we stood there, some of us whistling. I went up to the gate and knocked.
Yoo-hoo, I called out, we’ve come to visit. I kept an eye on the waters in front of me, with my camera at the ready. When there was no movement, I stepped back onto the concrete and turned to the left. My eyes caught something grey, that looked like it had a snout and two eyes. And then it was moving fast towards me!
Oh! there it is! The crocodile!! It’s Georgina!
And so fast did these ladies back away from the enclosure, all the while squealing and laughing.
We gave the guard the bag of chicken that we brought. He proceeded to throw over pieces of the chicken over the fence, where Georgina would catch it in her mouth, give it one chomp, maybe two, then swallow.
And all the while we stood there and watched, fascinated, at this primordial beast, chomping its meal, and then waiting with its mouth open for the next piece to drop in.
How did she get here? we asked. Well, apparently, some people had gotten into their vehicle one morning and tried to drive off. The vehicle wouldn’t move; there was something blocking the wheels. Coming out of the vehicle and looking under to move what was blocking it, they saw this crocodile lying across the width of the vehicle. From what they could find out, somebody had let loose the crocodile out on the streets of Dili. Who caught her? the Australians, they said. Yep, those Australians must be expert at catching crocodiles. And so she was brought here to the Police Headquarters.
Well, there was only so much chicken, and there was only so much time we had to just stand there and stare at her eat. Rather rude of us, no? She didn’t do anything else after she had her meal, and we didn’t bring ice cream, so I don’t know … maybe she might have done something else if we had brought ice cream, maybe like get up and walk.
Saying our good-byes and thanking the guards and police, we took our leave, leaving Georgina in the peace of her garden.
At least I saw a crocodile … even if it was a pet.