wander process


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My New Obsession

Andrew and I, Cafe do Brasil

And no, it’s not Andrew! Although he’s great. Andrew’s leaving for Bali this weekend and there’s a good chance that we might not cross paths before I leave Timor and he comes back. Se we thought a nice meet up would be in order. We’ve been hanging out about once or twice a week since we’ve both been in Timor, so once last meal was in order.

We chose one a nice place in the heart of Dili – Cafe do Brasil. It’s got all of the culinary greats of Brazil. Feijoada, pão de queijo, brigadeiros! I’ve been a few times and eating there reminds me of the awesome time I had in Brazil last semester.

Sometimes we are adventurous eaters, sometimes we are not. I usually get a lime juice or an orange juice for lunch – they’re made with fresh fruit and they taste really great. I kept on seeing these other drinks that people were ordering that looked a little like milkshakes. Odd, snot-colored milkshakes. It turns out that they’re actually avocado juice. The glasses are given a squirt of chocolate syrup and the avocado juice is poured in. A melted-down, chocolate mixed in version is sitting by us in this picture.

I had heard about avocado juice from traveling around but I always thought I liked my avocados in guacamole, not pureed and mixed with chocolate and slurped down.

I was wrong though.

When Andrew and I meet up for supper, I finally ordered one. And Andrew’s often a “I’ll have what she’s having” kind of guy, so he got one too. It was time to try this drink. So the waitress delivered our drinks and we took our first sip. Avocado-y. Chocolate-y. Oddly refreshing. And then we took more sips. And I think I drank most of mine before my food even came.

I’m sitting in my office with an empty cup of avocado juice next to me. It’s been four days in a row that I’ve gotten this. This might officially be the only culinary thing in East Timor that I will miss (I mean, you can get it in other parts of Asia too, so I’m trying not to feel too sad about it). The avocado juice came at the right time in my summer, when thinking about food is too much. I don’t want to see rice for a long, long, long, long time. Even the foods that I loved in the beginning of the summer, like tempeh, mostly just tempeh, really, have lost their novelty.

So thank you, avocado juice. Redeemer of my summer.
Also redeemer of my anti-oxidant and calorie intake for the summer.


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Finishing Up: Intern Ideas

I’m sitting in my office in central Dili, after having put together a draft of a final report of findings and recommendations from the monitoring process. It’s an unclear process. I will be talking with coworkers, because it’s important to remember that I am only an undergraduate student. This is a learning process. That’s what I’m here for. It’s difficult for me to make recommendations to an organization and to a whole health system that I’ve only had the chance to work in for the last two months.

I’ll be meeting soon to get insight on my ideas from people who know the country and the system well, and will be able to understand the feasibility of my ideas.

But for now, here are a few of the recommendations that I’ve been kicking around.

1.) Involve priests! I’ve been learning about this program that happens in the church. People have overwhelmingly responded that these messages are important and they trust the church as a place to get information. The messages go over well, and people learn about new health practices when priests are accommodating of the messages. The messages are halted or kicked to the curb when priests decide that the messages aren’t appropriate for a church setting. In one of the towns, the priests stopped the messages from being read after two weeks because the messages weren’t “spiritual.”

Maybe the priests would do well to think about an all-encompassing concept of health. The WHO suggests that health is a state of “complete mental, physical, and social well-being” (http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html). East Timor is a country that finds itself centered socially and emotionally in its Catholic-animist syncretic tradition. These spheres: mental, physical, social, and I would add spiritual, all interact and play into health. So for the officials in the Catholic Church to neglect opportunities to reach people in an atmosphere that they sincerely trust and put a lot of faith in may be neglectful. Many priests are progressive (even by US standards), supporting family planning and child spacing measures. I see this as a sign of hope and a step in the right direction. East Timor has one of the highest rates of childbirth in the world, and not enough resources in the health care sector to take care of everyone. If priests and catechists support child spacing and family planning in the setting of the Catholic church, people will be more likely to consider these issues and start talking about family planning among spouses. People are beginning to see the benefits of spacing their children and having less children – women can work to save money, children can stay in school longer, children and mothers are healthier when there is more time between each birth.

In the future, the health promoters should meet with the priests along with the catechists from the get-go. They make all of the difference.

2.) Resource strain! National-level offices, like the one I’m working for, don’t have the resources, time and personnel-wise, to go out and monitor how this program is going in districts outside of Dili. This means we’ll have to draw on local resources somehow. This means either contracting out services to local NGOs or delegating the responsibility to the Ministry of Health (who are officially in charge of the project). Because the Ministry of Health lacks the capacity to deal with a lot of stuff, basically, I’m thinking it might be good to have local NGOs help and partner with the Ministry of Health. Once the MoH becomes more familiarized and adept at the monitoring process, they may be able to handle it by themselves, without the help of outside support.

I have no idea how long this process would take, but it would be a good exercise in capacity building. People in development are all about capacity building. I am all about capacity building. And then I came here and saw what capacity building looks like. Right now, the Ministry of Health just takes credit for a lot of work that they don’t do. Hopefully this will change though! It’s positive that people do work through the MoH – this includes getting permission for the work being done. It would be good to see a Ministry of Health officiated project back in the hands of the Ministry. Somehow this needs to be done, I’m just not sure of the best way that this can happen.

3.) Whoever’s in charge of the messages – local NGOs, the MoH, or the office I’m in, TAIS, should read the messages on the radio too. When asked, people responded that the media – radio and televsion – were their number one ways of receiving health information.

Interestingly enough, I learned from a Timorese coworker, that these people getting health info from TV are probably people who have satellite TV. That means that the TV they’re usually watching is from Indonesia and in Bahasa (Timorese usually speak about 4 languages anyway though, so it’s cool). The health info they’re getting isn’t even from Timor. The messages could at least be read on community radio stations. The more places that people begin to learn about health practices, the better.

This is what I’m thinking right now.

(And the reason I couldn’t make it to Oecusse is because the ferry tickets were sold out – right? I went to Atauro Island on the next Saturday, using the same ferry. The boat was full of college students, going to the island to do service projects to finish their degrees. I’m thinking this is also what might have stopped me from going to Oecusse.)

Here’s a few more pictures from Timor. I’ve shied away from taking a lot of people pictures, still. But the scenery is pretty great!


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A Timor 21st

I spent my birthday on Saturday returning to Atauro Island. Not a traditional American kid’s 21st birthday, but a little better suited to me. Here are a few pics of the day. I have been notoriously bad at getting pics of myself this summer, since I’m kind of self-conscious of asking people to take pictures to me.

Thatched Roof, Atauro Island

Clouds over Dili, Timor-Leste

Fishing Nets on Atauro Island

Timor Flowers, Kind of Like Leaves

A huge rainbow that I saw upon returning to Dili!


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Progress, Maybe

(A little cross-blog contamination. This was taken from a post I wrote for Brown’s Global Conversation website.)

Patience is a virture. If this is the case, then I’m becoming a pretty virtuous person. I’ll recount my trips to other districts of Timor-Leste in a bit, but first take a little time to explain how things work here.

Going out to the districts to interview people is a sufficiently complicated process. I have to make sure that staff in the district will be notified that I will be there. I need to have helpers who speak Tetun who can ask both catechists and community members questions for me. Luckily, I have two helpers who have been absolutely instrumental in my work so far. Because of the language barrier of giving interviews, I often follow them around, hold onto the questionnaires and provide them with pencils when they need them, all while shying away from the population of children who often follow me around. (They should be in school!)

This is what the little posse that follows me around looks like. I smile sweetly and say “Bom dia!” and then they shriek, giggle and whisper excitedly to each other.

My unsolicited Timorese following. Sorry for the questionable "ethics" of this.

Here’s what a typical interview looks like for us. I’ve been to guest of many porches, all over Timor-Leste. If I am an expert in anything from this summer, it would be the types of plastic chair available. We sit on the porch to shade ourselves from the sun while the interviewer I’m with explains why we’re here (to ask about attitudes relating to church health messages) and that we’d like to talk with them. Luckily, people are always obliging.

Here's what my interview time looks like.

Sometimes so obliging that we start an interview, only to realize that the person (usually a middle-aged mother) being interviewed hasn’t been paying attention in church enough to know what the church health messages even are! For the most part though, it’s been a valuable way for me to see what life outside Dili is like for the Timorese. Compared to my home, I don’t have a fancy place by any means, but my place in Dili has indoor plumbing, hot water, and internet access (for a criminal $75 a month). Out in the districts, I’ve been introduced to bathrooms that have no discernible way in which to relieve yourself. Sometimes I am glad for improvisation skills that traveling has given me.

Out in the districts though (if you didn’t pick up on this already, that’s what traveling outside of Dili is referred to “out in the districts.” Rarely are people asked to specify where exactly they went.) I spend a lot of time riding around. Villages are spaced in car rides that are an hour, an hour and a half apart and sometimes I’ll drive this whole way with the team, just to find out that the Church Health Messages haven’t been implemented in this particular parish. Although frustrating, the drives are not without their own particular charm. On the way to an especially remote town, one of my Timorese coworkers pointed out the second highest mountain in Timor-Leste, Mt. Matebian. He told me that people flocked to this mountain in 1975 to hide from Indonesian forces that were razing, pillaging, and destroying the island after Portugal had ceded their colonial power.

To make a long story short, in my trip to Baucau, I spent from Sunday to Thursday traveling around the district learning more about the implementation of the Church Health Messages. Out of 11 villages I visited, only 3 had implemented the messages. A little frustrating, but with every trip, with every site where the messages haven’t been implemented, I learn a little more. I gain a better understanding of the problems of the Church Health Messages here in Timor-Leste, but also I learn about public health practice in general. Things never happen the way you expect them to.

Like today, I went with a few office assistants to purchase ferry tickets to Oecusse, a small enclave of Timor-Leste surrounded by the Indonesian West Timor on all sides. I was told to wait in the car while the assistants purchased tickets for me, one of the interviewers that’s been helping me, and an independent researcher who also planned to travel to Oecusse. I waited in the truck with the driver for ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour, forty minutes. I gained a keen appreciation for taxi decorations (one taxi had managed to affix giant, fake eyelashes to the windshield wipers of his car. I thought it was pretty amusing). I finally heard back from another office assistant – all of the tickets were sold out! This generally doesn’t happen. A government worker (or maybe just the government?) had purchased all of the remaining ferry tickets.

This doesn’t bode well for my Oecusse trip, the last trip of my time here in Timor. I’ve got a few options now. I can go on a ferry on Thursday, and arrive back in Dili next Wednesday, which cuts short the rest of my time in Dili. The more preferred option, however, is to gain access to a precious UN helicopter flight to Oecusse. This would but pretty could and an exicting way to start my last visit out into the districts. Flights are pretty difficult to arrange, however. I should know in a few hours whether or not this will be possible.

Also, to speak to the chaos. I placed my stack of neatly organized, completed questionnaires on the table next to my desk before I set out for the immigration and ferry offices this morning. When I returned, they were nowhere in sight! This is my data for the summer, so my work lies with these papers. Fortunately, we have a good idea of where the papers are. Unfortunately, that location is a truck that just left Dili to a very, very faraway district. I have faith that everything will turn out alright – a stack of papers couldn’t have gone too far within the span of an hour and a half.

Basically, this has been my July. In and out of Dili. Getting a real feel for what it’s like to talk with people and learning about how complicated it is to design a public health program that feels relevant to people in ways that make them change health practices – or maybe just wash their hands.

And because Timor-Leste isn’t all frustration, here’s a nice picture of one of the more beautiful parts of Dili, Atauro Island.


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July, July!

The title of a song by the Decemberists that I try and listen to every July. It’s gone from my iTunes though! Anyone want to help a girl out and send me a copy via email?

This blog comes on the heels of yet another trip out into “the districts”. I’ll be heading to Oecusse, a little enclave of Timor-Leste that is actually on the West Timor/Indonesian side of the island. It’s an awkward situation for everyone – the language in Oecusse is a little different. It takes a long time to reach as well – day’s worth of driving in a car (featuring two border crossings: into Indonesia and into Timor-Leste again) or a 12-hour ferry trip on the Wetar Strait (I think that’s the body of water).

I’ve chosen the latter, so free up some pages in my crowded passport. This means I’ll leave in a few hours and arrive in Oecusse at 5 in the morning the next day. Luckily, the Health Promotion staff for TAIS have already graciously allowed the people travelling a little time for some rest.

I’ll be doing much of the same – tagging along while my Timorese health promotion works and assistants talk to catechists and community members on attitudes relating to church health messages. It’s just been implemented in Oecusse and there’s even talks of a focus group discussion involving catechists. Because the messages are so new there, I shouldn’t get my hopes up too high. I look forward to gaining new insight wherever I travel though.

I’ll be in Oecusse until Friday, when I head back on the ferry. And in my typically-untypical style, I will be spending a time normally reserved for debauchery, the stroke of twelve of my 21st birthday, praying that I’m not puking from seasickness from the waves of the sea surrounding Indonesia and Timor-Leste. My life is nothing if amusing.

I apologize for being awful about putting up pictures, especially of work. I feel a little self-conscious of taking pictures however. The community members are generally very obliging, but I’m already quite a foreigner – I stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I go. Small crowds of school-aged children often follow me around, so I try to lay as low as possible. And I’m never sure how appropriate or intruding I feel if I take pictures of people in their houses. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m trying to demean their living situations. So I usually err on the side of caution and mostly take pictures of the churches and chapels that the people attend. This usually results in a boring photo upload upon my return to Dili. I think since I’ll be in Oecusse for so long, I’ll have a little time to wander, I hope, so I might be able to take some pics.

I’ll have just one full week of work once I return, so I’ll have a lot to do! I don’t imagine that this work will be finished then, so I might be working on this for awhile. I think that my final product will be a presentation during Dili Week (a time when all of the TAIS staff from the districts comes to Dili for meetings and planning sessions), a meeting with Ministry of Health Health Promotion Officials, and a final written report on the current state of the church health messages and recommendations based on areas of improvement. I’ll probably meet with some other people to talk about ideas with them.

In other news, non-work news, Yoshi came to visit from Bali! He came for a long weekend and we were able to visit Atauro Island, an island separated from Dili by a 2-hour ferry ride (the same ferry I will be taking soon!). We only stayed for a few hours, but we managed to hitch a ride on a truck traveling back and forth across the island and we found an eco-village accomodation place where we stored our bags in some grass behind a fence while we swam in the saltiest water I’ve been in in my entire life. We also managed to hit up a lot of Dili’s finest eating establishments, which aren’t that fine. Just really overpriced (like all food aimed at foreigners). We made the obligatory trip to Christo Rei, which is the main tourist point in all of Dili and Timor-Leste. There were some pretty awesome views of the area around Cape Fatacuma, an outcropping of Timor-Leste. There are some pictures up of these various adventures on flickr and facebook, but I haven’t uploaded any for blogging purposes yet (it takes soo long!). Anyway, it was nice to have Yoshi visit – we spent a lot of time talking about what an awesome time we had while traveling on IHP, the International Honors Program, and what it’s been like for us, spending so much of the year traveling (but that could be another clog post altogether). And missing American food. It doesn’t help when I refuse to delete a picture of a glorious-looking cheeseburger from Five Guys from my desktop.

Also, Andrew, the other Brown student working at the US Embassy, went out for lunch today to eat sushi. Then, after badgering him all summer, I finally got to swim in the US Embassy pool! So huge, all to ourselves. It’s been interesting, my few times at the embassy. I went to an Independence Day party at the embassy, and now with the pool, it’s been crazy to see tax dollars at work. Suffice to say, the embassy people have pretty swanky digs compared to my central Dili room. At least I have hot water! It was nice to go to the pool though, I can’t lie.

But I need to psych myself for Oecusse. Oftentimes, the visit to the districts is equal parts work, work, work and relaxation. I’ve found that my Timorese coworkers are adamant about resting after lunch – “We are tired! All of the people will be sleeping! We can’t talk to them then! They will maybe be eating!”. These are the times that I get my naps. And time away from my overpriced internet access in Dili means more time for old school leisurely pursuits – reading (I’m on book #8 of the summer!) and writing in my journal. Also, sometimes catching up on This American Life podcasts, which is not so old-timey.

It’s getting late and I think I’m going to try and read a bit before going to sleep and heading into work a little early tomorrow morning. I have quite a few administrative, visa-y, work things to sort out before I’m out of touch for the week.

I’ll spend some time talking more about work soon – hopefully I’ll get some more pictures uploaded while my time in Timor comes to a close.


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My First Flood

Right after my trip to Baucau, which I will recount at a later date, I returned to the office where I work in Dili to do a little work in the afternoon. It had been rainy all week when I was out in Baucau, alternating between drizzling and pouring during the afternoons. While the rain was good for napping, it got a little more annoying when I returned to Baucau. I sat at my desk and listened to the rain come down on the outer tin roof. For an hour. Then two hours. Andrew, the other intern/non-staff worker and I went outside to check out the situation. Rain was coming down hard and fast. A few inches on the street already. But then we came upon three hours of solid rain and we didn’t know what to do.

Water was creeping in from the outside, the office was starting to flood! We scrambled around picking up cords and low-placed papers. The office was blanketed in a few inches of water before we were kicked out. Apparently it was a bad idea for us to be in the office.

Dili office flooding

This is what greeted us when we were finally forced outside:

dili flood timor-leste

I took off my flip-flops, rolled my pant legs up to well over my knees and set out to walk my 1km-ish walk back home through the rainwater and sewage and trash, barefoot.

jordan dili flood timor-leste

I encountered gravel and underwater currents. Men on bikes with boxes.

dili flood bike box

Dili flood cars

dili flood

Good thing I brought a rain jacket to work that day.

At one point, I thought it was safe to put my flip flops back on. No such luck. The currents of the water running down the street stole both shoes from my feet. I though I was going to have an awful time chasing then down, but luckily, a nice old woman bent down and snapped up both of my shoes like a hawk. I gave her the biggest smile.

These pictures are all courtesy of Andrew, I didn’t bring my camera with me that day.