The Timor we know is poor, sometimes unbearably so. A place where despair and hope co-exist. A place deeply divided by a very troubled past. In newspeak, a country that’s tense but calm. Troubled but calm. That’s the Timor we know. Or rather, the one we knew. Because we’re told, things have changed.

We didn’t quite grasp it back in January last year, when we returned to show PASSABE. Then, the growing discontent was evident, the income divide glaringly clear. But even so, we never once expected things to implode. And then, in the months that followed, we watched from a distance as insanity took hold.

Gun battles. Riots. Gang wars.

A friend working in Dili describes the town as a conflict zone. Stone-throwing mobs, illegal roadblocks, dusk-till-dawn curfews. Our friend, a veteran of UN missions, says Timor’s the scariest place she’s ever been – scarier than Kosovo, scarier than Eritrea. She says food, especially out in the districts, is scarce. Up in villages like Passabe, people don’t have enough rice to eat. And hunger is driving some to take desperate measures.

Obviously, she could be overreacting. But she’s not. Even our Timorese friends feel threatened. Fensi, our translator, is now studying in Indonesia – seeking refuge in the very country that once invaded his own. Early this year, he wrote to invite us to his sister’s wedding. That has since been postponed twice because of the instability.

What’s going on? Who’s to blame? What happened to all that talk about peace and reconciliation and forgiveness?