Everyday Life in Displacement

Welcome to Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province (Nusa Tenggara Timur or NTT).
Here, a Komodo Dragon statue greets you in front of the Governor’s office in Kupang.

Play the tune below to experience a bit of the province’s rich musical heritage.

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This eastern province of Indonesia hosts the largest number of East Timorese diaspora across the country. East Timorese groups are spread across the province’s main towns, such as Kupang and the border towns of Atambua and Kefamenanu.

Place and Space

East Timorese settlements in West Timor differ from one place to the other. Some groups live in the same refugee camp where they first arrived, and others have moved to relocation sites. Those who remain in camps live with the fear of eviction but stay on as a mode of resistance. Resettlement sites are often far from the city’s centre and access to essential services. Older people in these places live in sub-standard conditions and carry the burden of providing care and income for their families. Nevertheless, these are also places of solidarity and diasporic belonging.

A group of women, their children and grandchildren chat while preparing snacks on a Sunday afternoon in Naibonat camp, Kupang.

Home and the Materiality of Exile

“My home is where my family is. My son, daughters, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren… They are all here. This is home.”

Avó Maria, 80 years old

Later-life Livelihoods

When I described my research to Avó Juliana, she responded with a small laugh. “Aiiiyh… I don’t see myself as ‘old’ yet!” I’m still strong enough to work in the field, feed my cattle and take care of my grandchildren. When I no longer have the strength to do all this, that is when I become “old.”

Avó Juliana, 68 years old
Contrary to the assumption that older refugees are economic burdens to their families and the country hosting them, older East Timorese men and women were often the primary income providers in displacement through state pensions and physical labour.

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