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Homey: The open living room of Timor Leste’s former president refl ects his favorite fi gures from fi lm, music and the politicaThe man looked fresh and happy even though he had just lost the presidential election.
He had one good reason for his appearance: Few could compete with him in the frequency of his trips abroad, jet-setting between world capitals to campaign for his country’s right to self-determination.
After independence, the man continued to travel a lot, first as senior minister for foreign affairs and, until the recent election, as president of Timor Leste.
Now, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta — friends call him Jose but he refers to himself as JRH — will stay home. “I am not going to go away for another 24 years,” he said in his last speech as president. But not because he wants to get some rest.
In fact, he said he is open to any job that could help advance his country, eventually even to take a seat in a new cabinet after Timor Leste’s parliamentary elections on July 7, “depending on who and what kind of government”.
The one good reason for Ramos-Horta, 62, to stay at home is simple: he wants to enjoy his beautiful house. Located on Robert Kennedy Blvd. on the outskirts of the capital of Dili on the lower part of the hill, the house has a beautiful view toward the coast.
The place is not particularly luxurious, because it’s supposed to be 100 percent environment-friendly with at least a four- to five-meter-high roof, which allows air to move and circulate freely so the house doesn’t need air-conditioning.
The site consists of three compounds: the main house, the security personnel house attached to the garage, and a guesthouse — all surrounded by a large yard and garden totaling about 500 acres.
What is more: the roof stands on recycled wood that is connected —like a traditional Indonesian house — without nails.
“I had no specific inspiration,” Ramos-Horta explained. “It’s totally my creation, my imagination; I wanted an open space and local materials. Except for some structures, I used a lot of bamboo, recycled timber that people threw away.”
Construction went in stages starting in 2000.
“When I came here there was not a single tree. Three years ago, I planted some. An Indonesian friend helped me to design the garden. He went to Bali and the islands nearby and brought hundreds of plants like mangos, etc. Thus there has been a bit of inspiration from Bali,” said Ramos-Horta proudly.
The result is an interesting mix: a traditional house with a typical Timorese-styled roof with lovely palm trees and fruit gardens, an open living room with classic Asian-inspired chairs, tables and ornaments, and Western photos and posters on the walls here and there.
The home has three bedrooms, a study, dining room and two living rooms. The latter are cozy, with wooden chairs and artworks strewn about, including a unique yellow cart from Yogyakarta.
In his living room, Ramos-Horta showed off an old, little-known photograph of his late Portuguese father and Timorese mother (who now stays at her own house in Dili, but sometimes also at Ramos-Horta’s) on the wall and a photograph of himself and his brother marching together as Fretilin activists in the mid-70s. His brother and other siblings were killed during the war and these remembrances of the past are most dear to him.
The open living room reflects his favorite figures from film, music and the political world. There are famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, John F. Kennedy, Ella Fitzgerald, and Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in a celebrated scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s epic crime film The Godfather.
US President Bill Clinton and UNTAET chief, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, are among those honored on the walls. Myanmarese hero Aung San Suu Kyi’s photo has a special place in the library. There is also a picture of Ramos-Horta dressed as a Catholic priest. “That’s just joking,” he said, laughing.
He also uses his home to help friends in trouble or accommodate the poor who need help. The backyard was the site where an attempted assassination almost killed him
in early 2008.
Most conspicuous perhaps are Ramos-Horta’s three cars, each uniquely associated with him because they are no longer available or were
specifically designed for him: an
old Volkswagen, a blue two-seater, and a luxurious sports car of which the seats and the front and back — perhaps a tad narcissistically — are marked with JRH and “Nobel Peace Laureate 1996, President of Republic of Timor Leste”.