November in Dili
Amazing what a bit of time off work and a bit of luxury will do. It took a while but by the end of my Bali holiday, I am almost back to normal.
Being out in the districts has been very hard. The roads are terrible and driving for hours is unpleasant, but staying in a village with no one to talk to from 12 o’clock on each day was the worst. There was often no phone or internet service, no shops or restaurants and absolutely no luxuries. As the main village was only 1 ½ hours from Dili, the driver and my Timorese counterpart always drove back. I am not sure why they thought that I would prefer to be dropped off at the Madres for the rest of the day. I have discovered the joys of being home anytime from 1.30 in the afternoon by driving back to Dili. The drive is treacherous and follows the cliff edge along the coast, but I am used to it now and even nod off. The drivers are excellent and the biggest danger is the cars, buses and trucks coming the other way at horrendous speeds. We often see buses and trucks full of people, with men and boys clinging to the roof.
My first trip back to the district was to a school which was the furthest away from the main school. We had to cross the river and then follow another branch of it. There had been three days of rain so the tracks had been washed away but even with the rains, the rivers are very dry. The 4WD drove along a raised edge of the river until we ran out of road. The driver had to reverse all the way back. I walked along the river bed with the four Timorese to see where the safest route was. Although there was no water, it was pretty wet and water buffalo had been creating very muddy tracks.
The school was a long way up the mountains once we found our way across the rivers. Very few people have any transport here and the only way to get to the nearest town where there is a market, is a five hour walk. There were a few horses but not many.
We delivered eight sacks of 25kg rice to the school in our 4WD. Not sure how else they would have got it. There are two teachers in the school and about 20 children in each composite class. We observed a grade 3 class. Sadly, there are not enough chairs and tables for all of the students to be in class at the same time so the grade 4s were sitting outside. Our role is to observe how the teacher delivers the new curriculum and give them some advice. I spent my time working out an activity so that while the teacher is teaching one class, the other class can have something to do that does not require chairs or tables. My accompanier translated it into Tetun for me. Seeing students not being given something to do was heartbreaking. The kids want to learn, some were reading, some were tracing Maths symbols but there had been no activity given and most of them were just quietly talking. They were very well behaved.
The lack of technology and systems that would make life easier for teachers is pretty sad too. Teachers have to go to the Municipal Office to collect their pay. From this school it would be a five hour walk to the main road and then a two hour drive in a local truck. Payments for teachers are not regular so this has not happened very often. When we left the school, the coordinator came with us. He had to get to the main school to sign the paper to get the money for the feeding program for the students. There is no system for someone taking the paper to him, someone going to the school or someone else signing. He has to do it personally with someone from the Municipal office. He had to leave his classes for the rest of the day and then walk back the next day. No classes again. Madness.
On Saturday 12 November, it was Santa Cruz Day but this year it was the 25th Anniversary. This is a very significant day for the Timorese. http://balibohouse.com/balibo-five/
Laura and I went on a road trip to Balibo. I am running out of weekends and Balibo was one place I really wanted to see. We took her little Rav 4 and I couldn’t tell you how long the trip is as we took hours to get there, stopping at every spot of interest. Our first stop was Black Rock Restaurant, a great place right on the water. There was a Portuguese Fort at Maubere. Because of Santa Cruz day it was closed but there was a great cane ware market across the road. The ladies selling their goods were lovely and we bought quite a lot of everything. Much cheaper than in Hotel Timor.
The roads were not as bad as we anticipated and the biggest problem was the potholes. There were a lot of them. Laura did a great job considering this was her first time out of Dili in her little car.
Balibo is a small town and if I hadn’t seen the word Australia written on a house in the middle of the town, we would have driven right through it. The house is called the Australia Flag House. This is where the Balibo Five had been staying before they were killed. Greg Shackleton had written Australia and drawn a flag on the front of the house as protection from the Indonesians. It didn’t work and they fled to a house further away where they were killed. Even though the house has been completely renovated and is now a museum, there is still a strong sense of the terrible things that occurred. Balibo is very close to the Indonesian border and from the hotel you can see the immigration checkpoint.
As we were driving up the road to Balibo, we had passed a group of Timorese hikers. Not a common sight in Timor. When we were walking around the town, about 25 of them came walking up the road. We followed them to get their photos. They asked us to come with them to the Australia Flag House so they could put down their packs. Then a long photo shoot happened which involved all of the hikers, most of the village kids, us and a many people looking on. The hikers were carrying large FALINTIL flags and they were all on a mission – to walk to Lospalos by the 28 November. Lospalos is many many miles away. They had started at the border.
The 28 Nov is Timor Leste Independence Day. The young men all had black T-shirts on with a Resistance Museum logo. This week, I saw a few of them again, walking on the road to Manatutu. They had actually come quite a long way.