A friend of mine asked me what it meant when her East Timorese
adopted family referred to her as "ferik" (old woman). And here is
my response.

NOTE: here "they" means the East Timorese.

Situation 1:

* You fit the category of a "ferik" if you look like and old woman,
meaning you have grey hair.

* You have grandchildren and you have told them that you do.

* You are a "ferik" even by your own definition.

They would class you as "ferik." Sometimes they also say "nia ferik
ona" meaning she is old.

Situation 2:

If you have a good relationship with them, they may refer to you as
"avó" (or "abó") and sometimes call you "avó Jeanette," say. If so,
bring the children lollies next time you see them.

If your relationship with them is so-so, then the adults would refer
to you as ferik and maybe their children would call you "avó" out of
respect. But if you are in bad terms with them, they would refer to
you as ferik, specially in heated arguments.

Sometimes you will not know that there are problems with your host
family because the Timorese tend to avoid direct confrontations. A
sign for this is that they refer to you as ferik behind your back but
as avó or mana in front of you. If they do it in passing, or near
your ears, then they are trying to make it obvious.

Situation 3:

You don't fit the above category and you look young. You may even
have children in their late teens or older. Usually they call you
"tia" (auntie) or mana.

You are in good terms with them and they accept you as a good friend
or even part of the family -- a sign of this is that they take you
along to visit their families, to their weddings, and other family
occasions -- if they call you ferik, then they are just having a
relaxed time with you.

If you are not in good terms with them and they call you "ferik,"
then they are being rude to you, whether they are saying it in front
of you or behind you. If they said it in a way that you can hear but
not to you, then they are trying to make it obvious that they have
issues against you.

Timor is a patriarchal society so the usage of ferik and katuas also
differ. For men, if you are with a friend who is obviously older than
you, it is ok to refer to the older man as a katuas, in fact it is a
sign of respect. For women, calling your older peer ferik is
insulting, unless if it is established that the person referred to is
indeed a ferik, in age and in having grown up grandchildren. Still,
it is not polite. Avó or avó-feto is acceptable. When I was much
younger, I was not allowed to refer to anyone as "ferik" or I'll get
in trouble.


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