House after house here is an ashen heap, so it is startling to come upon the immaculate green garden of Salvadore DeOlivera. Designed at great cost by a landscape architect in a manner somehow suggestive of a miniature golf course, the garden embraces DeOlivera's expensive villa--unharmed. Behind his house are two large piles of valuable Timorese coffee beans--unstolen. And three functioning cars--for rent.
DeOlivera is a numbers man. He is one of three people in Dili who controlled local sales for the national lottery. It made him a lot of money, he acknowledged. And when the militias began burning down the city, his house was saved, he said with a shrug, "because I am very kind to everybody."
When Dili starts to rebuild, it will probably be with the help of men like DeOlivera.
The streets of Dili are slowly starting to fill in the daytime. But few people have moved back to stay. There are few houses to shelter them, and refugees from the violence are so etched by the uncertainty in which their lives hung in the last three weeks, they are unwilling to believe in safety. So they return to the hills at night, sleeping in makeshift huts and dry riverbeds. Some camp on the beach, close to the peacekeepers.
The three markets in town remain lifeless shells. But like the first tiny sprigs of spring flowers, commerce is beginning to stir again in this wrecked town.
It was most evident this weekend at the port, where thousands of Indonesian soldiers waited for transport ships for their withdrawal. A crowd gathered outside the iron fence, and soon soldiers were selling their supplies--sugar, rice, cigarettes--to outstretched hands at the fence.
A few officers yelled at the soldiers to stop. But the profiteering soldiers started to dart to the fence in a bizarre zigzag, as if they were under fire, and slip cartons of goods through the bars. In return they demanded fistfuls of cash, at prices the buyers pegged at 10 times the old rate.
"What can you do?" said Naru Santimo Munes as he pulled out of the crowd at the fence, having purchased three cans of fried rice from an Indonesian soldier's ration kit. He will take it back to his family in the mountains, he said.
Indonesian soldiers also were selling rice from a warehouse in the city until multinational troops came along today, liberated the keys and began giving away the rice. "We're going to flood the market so the value of rice drops" and the soldiers "won't make a buck," said an Australian commander, Lt. Col. Mick Slater.
There is another brisk movement of goods in Dili, but it is a commerce of thievery. Goods that were stolen when Dili was ransacked are being stolen back. During the day, the seaside avenue here features a parade of slowly moving furniture being carted away on odd transport. An office chair with wheels serves as a cart for a bed frame and mattress. An overstuffed sofa wobbles atop a rickety tricycle. A jalopy wheezes along, tugging a rope tied to the bumper of a big police truck.
Before they vacated their posts around Dili, Indonesian soldiers were selling stolen motorbikes to journalists, who zipped about town documenting the continued larceny. Business dropped when militiamen started shooting at journalists on the bikes, killing one.
DeOlivera sees the renewed commerce and approves. This is his milieu--making money. Pressed, he mumbles platitudes about the value of East Timorese independence. But what he really wants to do, he said, is get back in the game and somehow recoup the millions he says he lost.
"I don't know what I will do--this was a government-controlled lottery. But I'm not worried about what business I do. The important thing is to get money," said DeOlivera, 34.
It is not that he was untouched by the wave of violence that washed over Dili. He, his wife and their children spent more than two weeks hiding in the nearby mountains, where the living was rough.
He returned Sunday only because his wife is about to give birth to their fifth child, and the mountains are no place to do it. But hours after they returned, sitting at his elaborate dining room table, he seemed unsurprised to have found his place largely intact. His refrigerator hummed, cooling bottles of water, and his mobile phone occasionally sprang to life.
He was angry that about $4,500 of lottery receipts were stolen, he said, from a hiding place in a secret drawer of an armoire. And it seems a television, some clothes and a CD player were taken.
"I will get back my money in one or two years," he vowed. "I can do any kind of business. . . . Last week I lost my money. But I will get more. I will be back."