His only regret is losing his books, said Eugenio Salvador Pires.
He can rebuild his house--start again, just like he did in 1975 when the Indonesians invaded East Timor and burned his home the first time. His wife can replace her dresses. The children, he said, are amazingly resilient.
But the books. Pires, 50, looked away into the mountaintop jungle where he has lived for three weeks. "They were wonderful antique Portuguese books," he said. "Where can I get them again?"
Pires, his wife and nine of his children live now in a flimsy hut built of sticks and palm leaves. They eat manioc roots, potatoes and the last of the rice they grabbed in haste when they fled their home early this month to escape advancing Indonesian troops and their East Timorese militia allies.
He is a soft-spoken clerk, was a customs agent under Portuguese colonial rule and a civil servant under the Indonesian occupation. Like so many others in this ravaged country, he has lost all he had. But like many of the refugees hiding in the mountains, he has a goal he feels he has not lost, a goal of independence.
"We wanted two things," said Pires. "We wanted to be safe. And we wanted our liberation, our freedom."
Have they achieved that? The long, somber face of the refugee dissolved in a big smile: "Yes, yes. We have obtained our independence."
East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia Aug. 30. In the ensuing violence by soldiers and militias opposed to independence, much of the world's fears centered on people like Pires, who fled to mountaintop refuges with little food and no shelter.
Hundreds of them gathered today in the dusty courtyard of the Roman Catholic seminary school here to meet a Red Cross truck bringing medical supplies. They were relieved to see the aid workers, and understanding when they were told there was no food on this small pickup truck. They nodded when told the truck would be back Sunday.
The Rev. Ricardo DaSilva, a seminary priest who wears clerical robes and an Australian bush hat, said there may be 50,000 refugee families scattered throughout the mountains near Dare.
"For the moment, people are afraid to go back," he said. "Some have gone to look at Dili, but they come back up the mountain. In Dili, they don't have a home. It is all burned. How can they live there?"
In one room of the seminary, Alfona Corria DeLemus, 49, lay with a gunshot wound in his inner thigh. The bullet broke a bone in his leg, and the Red Cross workers did not want to put him in the back of a jarring pickup truck to return to Dili. They would leave him for some better transport, they said.
DeLemus said an Indonesian soldier shot him in Dili. His son carried him up the mountain. An East Timorese woman gently asked him a few questions. She is Armandena Gusmao, the sister of East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao. She, too, has been living in the hills with her family.
"It is difficult, yes, but it is necessary to go through this to achieve independence," she said. "It is part of our struggle. Sometimes it is good to live like this to bring the people together. Maybe, with all this violence, the international community will believe in us and put their eyes on East Timor."
If common dangers unite, then the people on the mountaintop are united by their fears. Almost all have stories like those of Pires.
"We knew before the referendum results were announced. We knew that every element of the independence movement would be killed," Pires said. He was not an activist, he said, but enthusiastically supported the break with Indonesia--which still must be ratified by a special meeting of the Indonesian parliament. He left his house a day before the results were announced, when a rumor swept through his area that all the houses would be burned.
"We left about 1 o'clock in the afternoon. We ran. We only had about 15 minutes, and we took some things of importance: a little rice, some dishes, some clothing for the children.
"There were 14 of us: my wife, nine children, a brother-in-law and two others. My youngest is 10. I really have to admire the children. I didn't think they could make it on foot, but when we were running, they did it. They were even happy."
For two hours, they hiked up to the little seminary in Dare, and found themselves among thousands of others. They picked a spot near the church, and waited, listening to the reports brought by the new arrivals. Yes, their houses were burned, they were told. Yes, people were being killed. The city was being destroyed.
A week later, the Indonesian military came into the churchyard, the refugees said. The people ran. The soldiers opened fire, the eyewitnesses said. DaSilva said a woman was killed and a young boy wounded.
"It's like they had a special permit for genocide," said the priest.
Pires moved his family deeper into the tropical underbrush, and built a shelter on a small ravine that snakes down through the banana trees. He has remained there since. Two of his older sons went down to Dili Friday. They found another family member on the way, and looked at the ashes of their home.
The main force of Indonesian soldiers departed Dili on Friday, but Pires said he does not trust them not to return. His gentle features screw up as though there is something sour in his mouth when he mentions the army.
"They are lambs to our face, but they are wolves behind us," he said. "I have never seen troops that are so undisciplined, so murderous. I cannot find any more adjectives to describe them."
But amazingly, he talks with the optimism of a man who says he has gained more than he has lost.
"We began from zero in 1975 after my house was burned" in Indonesia's invasion of the Portuguese colony. "We will start from zero again. It is no problem.
"I believe that after this, we will have our freedom and liberation. For 24 years, we fought without help from anyone. Now we have help from the whole world."
The Associated Press reported from Dili, East Timor:
Hundreds of East Timorese looted one of the few warehouses not destroyed in recent weeks, hauling away tarpaulins and coffee today while peacekeepers chose not to interfere.
Many of the looters had recently returned to Dili, East Timor's capital, after spending weeks hiding in the hills from rampaging pro-Indonesia militias. They returned to find their homes razed and were searching for materials to build makeshift shelters.
Regular commerce also began to return to Dili, with vendors carrying bundles of leafy vegetables on poles, making their way to nearby refugee camps.
The United Nations said that the humanitarian crisis in East Timor is much worse than expected. Two new reconnaissance flights over both East Timor and western Timor showed that most villages were severely damaged. Fires still burned in some villages.