I have been in Guinea-Bissau for few days only. It seems it has been much, much longer. No time to think about back home. But each time I think of the country, people, family, friends I left behind at the other end of the world, my heart aches. But I came here with a mission.
Expectations are far too high. The problems seemingly intractable. The people here are just incredibly patient, warm, friendly, innocent.
Criminality is the lowest in the entire Continent. Streets are safe, any time of the day or night. I have asked my UN security personnel to diminish the number security guards I have. They promptly agree. Last night I went to a farewell function at the residence of the very
afable South African Ambassador, a big, charming man, who is taking up a new assignment, going from here to Abuja, Nigeria. I went there on a single car, driver and one security detail.
Today, Sunday morning, I decided to visit the local markets. I discarded most security, no UN flag on my car. Bought mangoes, bananas, oranges, tangerines, cashew nuts, papaya, etc. All local produce. Price? Well, I never bargained. I paid what I was told. I never have the guts to bargain with poor people. Being ripped off by poor people is not so bad. Just like back home in Timor-Leste. Prices go up instantly when vendors see me approaching. They heard me many times speaking out for the poor. So they believe they should charge me double the normal price.
Like back home, I enjoyed the scene, the simple people, men and women, trying to make a
living, selling, buying, reselling. When I had finnished my shopping spree of tropical produce, one young local vendor, asked me: “Can we have a photo with you for souvenir?”. I said yes of course. So they all gathered around showing off their produces. Even a fish. I didn’t buy the fish.
As I entered the car, a tall, elegant, simple man, maybe in his 60′s, gestured indicating he wanted to say something. I opened the car door, he shook my hands and said: “Pls do for us what you did for your people. Look after us they way you looked after your people”. God, I almost cried. Even a hardened heart would cry!
A few minutes later, in another area, not too far, as I strolled down the busy, chaotic road,
a young man shouted “Ramos Horta”! I stopped, extended my hands which he held warmly and said: “I’m you…you are me…you are us! Pls help this country!”.
It is going to be a long year, many days, weeks ahead. The road will be a very bumpy one. The people here are crying out for help. From people of all walks of life, I have heard only words of friendship, genuine, warm. Expectations too high. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked me to serve here, in Guinea-Bissau, to help steer the country towards a lasting peace. Will we succeed?