Travels in Timor-Leste travel blog

Week 11 and 12

19 Sept – 25 Sept

Coming back from the districts last week, we went along the road with a view of the harbour. The scenery is much better and it was quite late in the day so there was a sunset. Bad move! The road goes along the mountain and there had been a landslide. It looked for a moment that we would be cut off. Luckily we were in a 4WD and we managed to negotiate the steep, rocky, almost non-existent road. No signs, no flag wavers, nothing stop anybody trying to go on a road that clearly was not going to last the weekend.

We made it to the beach road which apparently, on Friday nights, the young men of Dili race their motorbikes. Sadly, there were the remains of a motorbike scattered for quite distance along the edge of the road. Two helmets lay side by side on some of the wreckage. The driver, Isodoru, said that the two young men, who were his friends, had died. He showed me a picture on his phone of two happy smiling men. He went through some more photos of them. Suddenly, as he was flicking through his facebook, there were several images of the young men – dead on the tarmac, heads smashed and lots of blood! I was so shocked I nearly threw up.

Death is very much a part of everyday life here in TL. It is celebrated and much respect is given to funerals, ambulances and funeral cars. There are coffin builders everywhere. Sick children die all the time because the national hospital does not have the resources to save them from simple things. One of my friends here is a paediatric doctor volunteering at the hospital and has some very sad stories. The hospital has no facility for children who die and parents just take the bodies home. Women wear black for a year out of respect. The funeral cars are like big black ambulances. They have sirens and everyone moves out of their way. If there is a coffin inside, the family also sits inside too – children as well.

This week in the district was a better one. I think I am getting used to the driving and I can read and sleep. It makes the trip go much more quickly. We visited another remote school which is a two teacher school and one teacher was absent. She is a volunteer teacher so I am not sure what the incentive is for her to ever turn up! The grade 1 and 2 students had to be tested so the co-ordinator left his own class of grade 3s and 4s to test them with us. I decided to do something more positive than watching others give a test. I took 15 grade 3 and 4s out into the yard and we sang songs! I have a Samsung tablet provided by the MoE with all the songs that they teach the students. We had a great time. They seemed to know just about all of them. I loved sitting there with all these smiling, happy kids, singing as loudly as they could. When I recognised a tune, I sang the English version. They thought it was hilarious.

The singing is one of the odd things about TL schools. The MoE insists they learn these songs. Some of them are about numeracy or literacy, there is even one about science. In the middle of a lesson, a teacher, who wants to wake the kids up will get them to stand up and sing as loudly as possible. Often the song has nothing to do with the lesson. But, they all know them. The loud singing is a bit off putting. The classes are very large, the walls are often paper thin and the noise is horrendous! Once one class bursts into song, the others seem to feel the need to join in with their own song even more loudly. There is always a song at the end of a lesson. A couple of times, I have walked into a classroom and the kids immediately stand up and the teacher leads them in a song. I can only assume that it is some kind of welcome.

Westerners are called, Malae, but it is not a rude term. In the districts, I am the only Malae they have seen for a long time, sometimes I suspect, ever! Little children are wide eyed. This week I was in a classroom and one of the grade 4 boys was looking after his little brother who was about two years old. (This is a common occurrence having older children bring the younger ones to class.) The little boy covered his eyes so tightly so that he couldn’t see me. Then he started to cry, then he started wailing, so loudly that his brother had to take him out. I haven’t had that reaction before.

I had Friday off and caught the slow boat to Atauro Island. Amy’s district is this lovely island and I wanted to just have some hammock time. She worked all day Friday and some of Saturday. Laura arrived and we went snorkelling. The coral reef is very close to the beach front but a fishing boat takes us out for an hour. It is glorious. So many fish and wonderful coral.

Barry’s Place is an eco lodge. Last time I had an issue with a cheeky rat, this time I made sure I tucked my mosquito net in tightly. There I no avoiding the rats but not in my bed again!

We visited the Becora Doll Factory. The women on Atauro make wonderfully detailed dolls and other craft out of material they design themselves. It is all done on old Singer treadle sewing machines. Their designs are amazing considering how they are produced. I bought quite a few things to take home.

26 Sept – 2 Oct

I ended up with a sore throat on the weekend which turned into a nasty virus. My immune system is very low so I have to take some time off and lots of drugs.

After spending the week in my house being looked after by Mana Mary, the landlady, I was very bored. Everyone works of course and it is too hot to walk around on my own. Too far to go to the beach by myself but I am getting out and about now.

On Saturday, the big event was, of course, the AFL Grand Final. Not being a fan of football at all, I surprised myself by looking forward to sitting in the Dili Beach Hotel and watching the footy. I actually enjoyed it and the team that everyone there was supporting won. That was a bonus. There was a genuine Bulldog supporter sitting behind us, in full regalia. He was so overcome at the end he was sobbing! Apparently it has been a long time since they have even been in a Grand Final.

The weather is getting hotter and the wet season is on the way. By the time we have walked anywhere, we are covered in dust and sweat. My clothes feel muddy by the end of the day. Make up has gone by the wayside, even moisturizer is pointless. Sunscreen and mosquito repellent is all that is required. The Timorese always look so cool, they never seem to sweat. They wear long sleeves, multiple layers, jeans and hoodies and their skin is always dry. It is embarrassing sitting in a microlet with sweat dripping off the ends of our noses while they appear so cool.

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