wander process

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Dili: Out and About

Just a few pictures that I’ve taken while walking around. I’ll take more soon…

dili building barbed wire

While the city has done a remarkable job of reconstruction so far, there’s still a way to go.

dili port shipping containers east timor leste

Dili Harbor, a center for shipping. Shipping containers line the beach road in the front of the town.

dili east timor leste shrine madonna

What I take to be a Madonna shrine. The country is fiercely Catholic (with some syncretic, animist undertones) and these shrines can be seen scattered around the country.

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And I’m not talking about the UN checkpoints, complete with Pakistani soldiers and automatic weapons.

Though there have been those too.

More about work though. I’ve been working this summer to help develop a monitoring system for health messages that are read following mass on Sundays. There are some problems with this – things like wandering attention during the messages, holiday services based on tradition that may not allow time for a quick messages or usually disregard for the messages in general. They’re meant to promote basic health practices – malaria prevention, diarrhea awareness and treatment, family planning, etc. (As a side note – even though teaching about family planning in the church sounds contradictory, many bishops are open to teaching the benefits of birth spacing because it remains such a huge problem in Timor-Leste. While the average number of children per family has gone done in recent years from around 7 to 5, Timor’s average family size is huge compared to most of the developed world, where there are problems sustaining populations).

But I’ve been in the office quick a bit, and while work has been slow, I’m hoping to get out of Dili more often, soon. I helped develop a questionnaire for monitoring purposes and I’ll be working with a Timorese coworker as a translator (this person will probably change based on location and individual availability). The questions have been translated to Tetum, one of the main languages used here, and they will be submitted to the Ministry of Health (where my proposal to do this monitoring sits, somewhere).

I did a little test run, that, to be honest, didn’t go so hot. I went to Manatuto, a town about 60 km and 2 hours outside of Dili (this should speak to how bad the roads are here). The drive felt like one of those Mazda zoom-zoom commercials. I feel pretty stupid making this comparison, but honestly, it’s the only thing I could think of. We twisted and turned around mountainsides, with views of the shimmering sea in ten different shades of blue out our windows.

But then we got to Manatuto, where we dropped our stuff off at a small, cheery guesthouse that had an adorable little girl who kept blowing me kisses but started to cry as soon as she was placed on my lap.

I also found this stuffed mongoose, which was pretty amusing.

East Timor stuffed Mongoose

More or less, the surveys didn’t quite work out. They were supposed to be read to the interviewee, one on one, but I had to give them to mothers attending a parents’ meeting at the church. I gave out the interviews, but at least one mother couldn’t read or write. They were all waiting on a taxi back to their villages. They said that they would be able to turn in the surveys the next morning. The next morning came, we showed up to collect them, but no one came to turn them in. A health worker coming back to Dili said he would pick up the surveys and bring them to me in Dili. He came on Monday with one lone survey. SO THINGS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO CHANGE!

Here’s the church where I went to, to try to talk with people. Built by the Portuguese when they were still colonizing East Timor, in the 1960s.

Manatuto East Timor Portuguese church

So Manatuto was kind of a bust, work-wise, but a good learning experience overall. I have to make mistakes, figure out what I’m doing and then get confused all over again. It’s a learning process.

Here are a few more pictures from the Manatuto excursion.

There are different levels of health care organization here in Timor, starting from the national Ministry of Health, to district public health offices, to another level – the SISCa level (which stands for something in Portuguese), to the suco level. The suco level is the community level. Every suco building here in Timor-Leste has a big, open patio-like area, with a few small rooms to the side. Here’s a suco building from Manatuto.

suco building Timor-Leste Manatuto

Here’s another little village named Cairui that I traveled to, a little over an hour outside of Manatuto, where another intern was planning for a focus group discussion on insecticide-treated bednets.

cairui village east timor leste
(sorry for how huge this picture is, I spent all morning trying to resize it and it wouldn’t budge)

Because this is my blog and because I tend to bring bathroom stories from wherever I go, now is a good enough time to share one.

So Cairui is a long and bumpy ride from Manatuto, driven on barely paved roads. I had to go to the bathroom, and I thought it best to go before leaving instead of leaving it and letting the pain fester during the long ride back. I look around, see no signs of indoor plumbing, it’s cool. If anyone’s used to questionable bathroom situations, it’s me. So I ask someone where I can go, and they take me to a small hut/building/shack about 30 feet away. Inside is the typical squat toilet and giant basin of water with a bucket. Piece of cake. Not an issue. The bathroom was fine, and I didn’t feel squeamish in the least. So I emerge, to find another health promoter waiting a little ways off. I pass him, smile, and he shuffles his feet and looks to the ground.

“Sorry, but this is the situation in our country.”

“No, no! It was fine.”

I tried to reassure him, but he seemed genuinely ashamed of this perfectly fine bathroom. Granted he might have had some problems if someone pickier came along, but it’s a good thing I’m not picky about these things. So now it seems like I rambled on for 250 words about a brief encounter, but it was interesting to be a part of. Here was this health promoter, ashamed of the sanitary conditions of his country, and here I was, this 20-year old with the whole world still to learn, assuring him that this bathroom should be the least of his worries.

And, sorry for the questionable ethical behavior of this, but here are some boys in Manatuto who had just finished playing a game on soccer on a field sandwiched between the beautiful church from the picture earlier in the post and the sea.

manatuto boys east timor leste

They asked me where I was from – every ex-pat here assumes I’m Australian (“Australian until proven otherwise”) and every Timorese person usually assumes I’m Portuguese, and sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m Australian. I was told it’s because of my dark hair and semi-tan skin.

So this was a little recount of my time in Manatuto and my work up until this point.

Otherwise, I’ve been occupying my time by reading, walking around, yoga on Friday evenings, and spending quite a bit of time at the beach on the weekends. I even went snorkeling last weekend. I got stung a couple times by jellyfish then remembered that coral kind of freaks me out. It’s beautiful, but I’m always afraid that I’ll touch it and kill it or it’ll sting when when I swim past it. So, while scuba diving would be awesome, the cost is a bit too high for me to further subject myself to more coral-induced anxiety. I mean, I’ll probably snorkel again when I’m here.

More adventures soon!
A few pictures will be up in the next post!

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Identity and Food

Food in Timor-Leste: suffice to say, it’s not so great.

There are a slew of international restaurants catering to the sizable ex-pat community here. A number of cuisines from all over the world are represented – Indian, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Portuguese, Brazilian, “Continential,” which basically means Western – think burgers and steaks and pancakes, Australian (where kangaroo tail is served), Thai, Burmese, etc. It’s pretty impressive. Except here’s the thing. None of it is that good. My sad aloo palak at the Indian restaurant down the street from where I’m staying should have been a warning sign. So should my tasteless Sri Lankan buffet I had with coworkers and the pathetic attempt at a Tandoori chicken wrap I had at a restaurant by the beach.

There are two things that I’ve thought about that stem from this sub-par quality of food. Andrew (another Brown student working here in Timor and someone I’ve been hanging out with) suggested that maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by travelling to places that are so famous for their food. How can you beat Thailand, really? And maybe that’s it. I certainly am spoiled.

But it seems to me like there are other issues buried deeper. Timor has been some other country’s territory for so long that it’s own food has become an amalgam of its colonizers’. Rice and beans from the Portuguese and several dishes from the Indonesians (though, to be fair, Timor does share an island with part of Indonesia so blending of the cuisine is to be expected). Even Chinese dishes are popular from traders. All of these different foods have added to a question I’ve been thinking about a lot since coming here – What is Timorese?

What does the Timorese food look like, taste like? I can’t seem to find any Timorese restaurants in town. I will hopefully be able to have a better idea once I begin travelling out to the districts outside of Dili soon.

If there’s an abundance of anything though, it’s fish! Timor-Leste has so much coastline and economists have suggested that the Timorese focus more on the fishing industry here. And this brings me to the one little beacon of hope in my culinary adventures so far. There is a simple, but nice restaurant by Areia Branca called Sol e Mar, serving mostly fresh grilled fish and prawns cooked in a wine and garlic sauce (pic below!). Sprinkled with lime and with a side of papaya leaf salad, it was far and away the most delicious meal that I’ve had here. So delicious, in fact, that I simply could not use my knife and fork like the rest of the Europeans around me. How was I supposed to pop the heads and feet off and peel the shell off of the shrimp with a fork and knife anyway?

Shrimp in Timor-Leste

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Timorese Holiday

Well everyone, what would have been my fourth day of work was actually a Timorese holiday. Most of the holidays are for Catholic religious days or to commemorate struggles for national independence. I looked this up in a couple different places and couldn’t find any holiday that said anything about June 3 or the first Thursday in June. And my non-Timorese coworkers said that they would be staying in the office and working during the day. But both of the people I will be working the most closely with aren’t going to be available for a few days and I haven’t been able to do much in the office yet.

So I was luckily granted the holiday with the rest of the TImorese staff. One of my coworkers told me to go ahead and take today off since I would have plenty to keep me occupied for the rest of the summer. So I did. (And even in reading this, you can probably sense my guilt.)

I’ve walked around town a bit now, and I can orient myself pretty well. Given the town is probably, area-wise not so much larger than Petersburg it’s not that hard. There are, however, about 200,000 people living in Dili. Quite a few more than Petersburg. The mountains or the ocean are in every view, and often they are situated right next to each other. So I thought it best not to wait for the weekend and spend my day off going to Areia Brance, which after combining my Spanish training and my month in Brazil, I could tell you that this means “white sand” in Portuguese.

Now granted, the sand is not actually white. It’s actually pretty sandy-colored. The beach is about 4-5 kilometers away from Dili, so I thought it would be nice to just walk the distance and let the beach be my reward. On the way there, I walked slowly, listening to super embarrassing music on my iPod and smiled and said “bon dia!” to every person I passed. I came across lots of stray dogs, chickens, goats & their kids, and thankfully, not any of these:

Croc Crossing in Dili

Crocodiles are the stuff of legend here in Timor-Leste. When there is a croc sighting, people gather from all over to watch him. I’ve already heard stories about crocodiles 4 meters long. I hear that the crocodiles are showing up more and more on the Dili beaches, but so far, I’ve heard all talk (except for one croc that showed up the day before I came). You can’t tell from the picture, but the crocodile on the sign has a wily eye and snaggly teeth.

I continue on however, and have a pretty beautiful day. The beach today isn’t too full at all, but it’s full of middle aged European men with too small swimsuits and too much chest hair and I would rather keep my distance. So here I am, trying to keep my distance…

Jason Mraz hat

in my Jason Mraz, Wal-Mart hat that kept my face from getting too burnt from the sun. Silly me. That’s a body of water, whose name is still a little unclear to me. The water surrounding Dili is between two Indonesian straits. But for the purpose of this blog, the water is shining and cerulean. That’s enough, I suppose.

Here’s a few more scenery views:

close to Cape Fatucama, Dili, Timor-Leste

This the a tip of land that points out of the shore, near Christo Rei, near a place called Cape Fatacuma.

And here’s the view of Dili from the Areia Branca. You can hardly see Dili, even from 4 kilometers away.

View of Dili from Areia Branca

I apologize for the dream-like, poor quality of the pictures – I had brought my point and shoot camera with me today to take a few pictures for blogging purposes, only to find out that I had forgotten to pack my camera cord for my Sony with me. So these pictures are the product of me holding the screen of my camera up to photobooth on my computer.

I’ll stay updated on future crocodile sightings.

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I Promise I’m Not Being Unfaithful!

But I have other blog obligations too!

I was very generously awarded the Jack Ringer Summer in Southeast Asia Fellowship through Brown Univeristy, and one of my obligations for accepting the money included agreeing to blog for the Watson Institute for International Studies, one of Brown’s nice places for research, training, and so on. I’m excited about this though! The design is a bit plain, but it does the trick.

Here’s my url:
Timor-Leste in Transition

But if you click on the link
Global Conversation
you can read through the blogs of lots of other amazing Brown students who are doing incredible things for with their summers, all made possible through the Watson Institute.

So check it out! It’ll be a bit more academic than this one, but each blog has its place. Maybe there will even be cross-entries, who knows? But I just thought that I should share this with you.

I’m hoping for a photo-snapping excursion soon!