Pickling A Load :: And Why I Didn't Want To Learn What It Meant

We had finished eating dinner around the new table he built. Dinner was kinda gross: zucchini meatballs and spaghetti. We were washing dishes and I told him I still had 1.5k words to add in my manuscript before the night was over. I still also needed to write my blog post for the 90 day challenge. “I have no idea what to write about anymore,” I said. “It’s becoming some sort of awful, public diary.”

“Write about East Timor,” he said, casually.

“I don’t know anything about East Timor.”

“I was there.” He rinsed a dish and reached behind me to add it to the strainer. “You can write about pickling a load.”

“Pickling what?”

And so that’s how we got here with you…on my blog…probably wearing the same expression I was when he said that. Don’t worry, friends. I will educate you. I will tell you about East Timor and pickling a load. Ready? I KNOW you’re just sitting on the edge of your seat.

Roger claims that this was the only worth while thing he did in the Marine Corps. He didn’t seem to like it that much—the whole stint. “It was wicked boring being on a ship for that long, but when we were in East Timor for humanitarian aide, it felt like we were actually doing something.”

“Okay,” I say with a sigh. “Tell me more. You gotta explain why you were even there.”

Roger looked over, suddenly irritated, as if this wasn’t his very own idea. “What about it? They were having a genocide. Can’t you google that part up?”




But only because I’m the research queen!

Here we go, friends!

East Timor was occupied by Indonesia from December 1975 to October 1999. There’s a great deal of history that unfolded during this time, and most of it goes over my head, so bear with me. Indonesia came into the East Timor and began a violent occupation that killed approximately 100,000-180,000 soldiers and civilians that were starved and beaten or killed. In the earlier part of the invasion, the Indonesian military encountered resistance from some people that lived high up in the mountains. It’s at this time that the military procured new weapons from the United States and her allies to squelch this resistance…

Whoa, whoa, whoa!

“Roger, have you googled this? Did you know this? Why is the US helping the invaders of East Timor way back in the 70’s if we fast forward to 2001 and you’re dropping humanitarian aide down in the mountains—the same humans they were slaughtering?”

He gives me no answers and tells me to keep reading:

In 1999, the majority of East Timor votes for their independence which is not officially achieved until 2002.

“So, wait. The US helps the invaders way back in the 70’s, but then in 1999 when it’s clear that the people of East Timor have had enough, the US begins to help the people of East Timor? The people the Indonesians have been slaughtering for decades? Starving them? Beating them? Killing them?”

And he doesn’t really say anything.

“Did you know any of this,” I ask. And then I realize he probably didn’t. He was eighteen years old and hating his time stuck on the USS Boxer. This moment felt like an adventure to him, I’m sure. And where was I? Living in my grandparents house out in the country surrounded by cornfields. I didn’t even know where East Timor was! I knew Roger was there, briefly, because of the ship’s official news. But I certainly didn’t know decades worth of bloodshed and anguish, nor the parts the United States played in the story.

“Why did this stick in your brain after all these years,” I ask.

“I just thought it was a really cool thing we were doing.”

“You didn’t just learn all of this right this second, did you?”

“Nah. I read all that s**t a long time ago,” he said (the Marine Corps will always be to blame for his use of language).

That makes me feel better. Not the language part. The fact that he knew. At least, he eventually knew.

Then I ask the question I bet you’re still wondering about too. “So what does it even mean to pickle a load?”

“Well, we weren’t allowed to land because the terrain was too rocky, so they flew in with the helicopters and carried the relief supplies at the end of a big rope. They would hover over the drop zones and unload it. Someone accidentally pulled the trigger on the load while they were flying over and it just crashed to the ground. That’s what it means to pickle the load. The next day, you could see locals out there digging through the wreckage trying to get salvage what supplies they could—that’s how bad off they were.”

I am glad Roger helped me with the dinner dishes, but I wish he hadn’t asked me to research the East Timor genocide. That knowledge has left me feeling rather jaded…

And “pickling a load” is an expression that I will now always associate with stomach aches. But, I mean, how often am I going to hear that expression anyways?

NOTE: I know there is so much information I can still read about and learn. There is a lot of the story that neither of us will ever know. Was it about oil and gas? I have no idea. But that's the power of information. If we want to, we can keep learning. And maybe I will...


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