Saturday, September 20, 2008

More Photos

East Timor Photos

Compare and Contrast

Driving down the road yesterday, I marvelled at the cleaniless of the streetcorners. There were none of those ubiquitous plastic bottles I'd come to expect, no candy wrappers, no pop cans, no shanty-towns, no potholes filled with nasty water, no barbed wire, no corregated iron gates, no haphazardly glass-shard topped walls, no open sewers - and no people. Granted, I was driving through a residential neighborhood, but it was hard not to notice the distinct lack of human interaction. Besides the well manicured berms and beautiful sidewalks, I could trace no sign of what actually went ON on these streets.

Cut to East Timor - where the streets are dusty, noisy and filled with garbage. My morning walk from the hotel to the office consisted of no less than three boys trying to sell me phone cards, two sidewalk vendors, a bank, three restaurants, one infant health clinic (with waiting families outside the door), a billard hall with its doors open, two stinking garbage heaps in the middle of the sidewalk, a dump, a hole in the sidewalk filled white worms and water (always made me gag), a random piece of barbed wire sticking out from the wall (caught my clothes more than once!), a pile of broken glass, and two brothels - sometimes with clients, sometimes not.

(I came to appreciate those brothels when giving people directions to our office for interviews - everyone knew where they were!)

If I ventured out in the day, I'd immediately be overwhelmed by the heat, radiating up off our concrete office yard. I always felt sticky and saggy (if I was coming from the beach, I felt sticky, saggy and DIRTY). For the first two or three days I felt smelly, too, but I soon learned that everyone - even malai - smelt that way to a certain degree. I can't say that I ever enjoyed having that body odor smell in the office, but I didn't bother me the way that I expected. The best thing I could do was mitigate it with an open window (if in the car) or just deal. I dealt.

In fact, with all the other smells around, I found that BO was the least offensive. Heat always seems to intensify stenches, making everything smell slightly overripe. Even "nice" smells (flowers, for example) became overpowering; the sweetness of the frangipangias lingering on far after I'd pulled them from my hair. What I really hated was the garbage pits and the open sewers; I always had a fear I'd slip and fall into one. Michael told me he once saw a severed dog head in the garbage pile by our office, which didn't endear me to them. I'd often watch with interest though, when a mother hen and her chicks picked through it - wondering what it was they found to eat in there...

I also stopped wearing makeup, because it just melted off my face. By the end, I might slap on some mascara if I was going out to dinner, but that was the extent of it. In fact, I stopped washing my face properly, full stop. That's because I ran out of face soap the second week in, and I was sweating so much anyway that it didn't really matter.

Really, the only hygiene thing that changed was my feet: they were ALWAYS dirty. I mean - black. Yes, I'd be wearing shoes - sneakers, even - but the dust would just seep its way in. This was problematic for me because I love flopping down on my hotel bed at the end of the day - a hotel bed that was pristinely crisp white. I had to take to washing my feet about four times a day though, just to be able to relax.

Dirt was everywhere, in everything. I took to washing my hands a whole lot and wiping down my computer on a daily basis, just because dirt got stuck on the keys. In the shops, everything had a fine film of dust on it. Shopkeepers would often throw water outside their doors to "keep the dust down", which worked, but also created some indavertant mud-pits.

These are the things that strike me now, as I'm re-entering American life. We are so clean. Our houses are so large, and our streets are spacious and safe. Communicating with someone is extremely efficient; I wasn't off the plane 5 minutes when I got a cell phone call (in customs, which is illegal, by the way). I went to the grocery store yesterday and I wanted to by dried apricots, out of season. Sure enough, they were there. And clean.

So, this time around, I can't say that I'm in culture shock, I'm most in culture awe. I'm grateful to live in a place where things are so comparatively EASY we don't even know it.

And yet, I'm miffed that we don't *have* to know it.

While I think most Americans would argue that America is great, it's all the more inspiring when you see what else it could be like. I am truly blown away by all we have here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wow, That's Pretty Proficient

I've been reviewing CV's for the past few days, and today I came across one that made me stop in my tracks. Under "Languages" they'd writte:

Proficient in English, both anally and written.

He is SO getting an interview...

Liga Hau

I keep getting these annoying text message one after another, in rapid succession, about once a day. Each text message says the exact same thing:

Liga Hau / Call me

At first, I just ignored them, and deleted my entire inbox (the phone can only hold about 25 messages at any given time). But, finally my curiousity got the better of me - and because I hadn't heard from one of our project employees for a few days and I thought she might be in trouble.

So I called.

Me: "Hello!"
Dude: "Bondia. Hello?"
Me: "Hello?"
Dude: "Hello?"
Me: "Why do you keep texting me?"
Dude: "What?"
Me: "Why do you keep TEXTING ME?!"
Dude: "Why you calling me?"
Me: "Because you just texted me, asking me to call you! Liga Hau! Liga Hau!"
Dude: "I sorry. I don't speak English so well."
Me: "I don't care. Stop texting me."
Dude: "Why you call?"
Me: "..."

I'm STILL getting those damned texts.....

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

For the past two weeks or so, another old worker, Natalie, and I have been bumming around East Timor after Emily left. Actually, there's been a small group of us at the hotel who meet up for supper most nights and generally hang out on the weekends. It's made all the difference during the downtimes.

While I'd thought about doing scuba-diving while here, it takes about five days to get PADI open-water certified and, as previously posted, I've been crazy-busy with work. Plus, now that I'm (finally) leaving on Thursday, I thought all my options were over.

However, Natalie researched the opportunity and talked me into doing this open water diving course at Dive Timor. Luckily, they offere an intro course where you do a little book-learnin', a pool session and one open water dive - all in one day.

I've been snorkeling before (most recently, last week) and while it's always beautiful, it can be a claustrophobic experience if you don't remember to keep calm and trust in your snorkel. I thought it would probably be the same was with diving. Yet, SCUBA iss one of those things that I've always, always, always wanted to try. .

They say you won't ever forget the first time you can breathe underwater, and I have to say, it's absolutely true. Not only is it awesome, it's also bizzare. It goes against everything you've always done in your entire life, and I found myself struggling to fight against natural urges (such as wanting to rip off the mask to take a deep breath of air). Of course, you just have to keep reminding yourself to BREATHE, but it's hard because part of your mind is also telling you that that's impossible!

In the pool session, we learned how to fill our masks partway with water and then blow it out, as well as what to do if your regulator (breathing mask) gets yanked out of your mouth, and how to share air with your "buddy". For me, the scariest part was filling the mask with water, but after a few tries, you get the hang of it.

The real fun came when we hit open water. We dove with an instructor, Martin, who was constantly by our side and went over a list of hand signals with us so we could communicate underwater. Getting in and out of the ocean surf was a bit challenging (SCUBA gear is heavy!) but we managed. Once underwater, I had to constantly pop my ears to regulate the pressure, and get used to swimming with all that stuff on my back.

There wasn't much to see but white sand and blue water at first, but we eventually made it to a coral ridge. I can't remember (or name) all the fish we saw, but I do remember seeing a clown fish (NEMO!), a big grouper, several angel fish and lots of tiny little electric blue ones. The coral ranged from brilliant red, pinks, greens and yellows with tiny fingerlike wavies or thin filigrees. Martin poked an enormous pink clam and it shut tight. I saw a bright blue starfish the size of my face.

It was a bit freaky to be that near to wildlife and not be on National Geographic. We were careful not to brush the coral with our fins. Martin pointed out lots of little things, but as I wasn't really adept at turning, I didn't trust myself with getting too close. I found swimming accurately to be really tough - I kept running into the ground, or swimming too fast or generally just being overwhelmed by things to remember!

We we surfaced, both Natalie and I were laughing. What an experience!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nothing to Say?

I have been trying for the past week to carve out time to post on this blog. Tonight, I've finally made myself stay awake long enough to handle the wickedly slow internet and now, strangely enough, I find I have little to say.

As is common with overseas work travel, these past few weeks I've been consumed almost constantly with, well, 12 hour work days. Not that I mind; I think it's well documented that I love what I do. However, unless I want to devote myself to endless descriptions of my tedious work schedule and adventures in Tetum translation, it doesn't make for very exciting blog posts. For that, dear readers, I'm exceedingly ashamed. Because really, is there really *nothing* I can find to write about East Timor? I mean, who the hell gets the chance to go to East Timor? And I have nothing tosay about it? That's messed up.

And yet, I've had very little time to find something interesting to tell you.

So I guess this is going to be a work blog post. Since my colleague Michael has arrived, and graduation has ended, my focus has completely shifted from "holding down the fort" to "batton down the hatches". That is, full steam ahead with extending our program here for another three years. In a nutshell, this has meant:

1) meet with potential partners, press the flesh, get to know your NGO neighbors and see how you can partner/overlap to make both/all programs a success. Also, poach staff.

2) continue meeting with the East Timor Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, keep them happy and get them to agree to fund 1.5 years of your program. Create, review, translate and sign MOU. Lather, rinse, repeat for subcontract that actually gives them the funds to do it.

3) meet with the three school directors to a) finalize the entrance exam for next years students b) finalize the teacher needs for next year and c) keep them happy

4) handle staff turnover. This has largely fallen on my plate, and I don't mind. However, it's been tricky to deal with attrition of old staff and trying to recruit new. Not only am I advertising new positions (wait, back up, that means actually assessing what our new staffing needs will be, and writing job descriptions and getting them translated) but I'm also trying as best I can to communicate to current staff that they will no longer have jobs. This is going mostly well, minus a few tearful breakdowns.

5) Rustle up 50 students for each school we work in for the 2008/2009 school year. If we don't have enough students at each school, we don't have a program, so this has also been trickly. My colleague and I came up with an off the cuff recruitment plan last week that I *hope* will work. We'll find out tomorrow when our staff come back to report out.

It's challenging, but mostly, I'm energized. Michael paid me what I felt was the best compliment ever one morning over breakfast when he said, "I can tell you're doing what you're supposed to in life. You've found your niche. You're constantly smiling."

And yes, it's frustrating. Last night, I just about wore myself to tears after working for twelve hours and realized I'd put the wrong contact information on our $600 newspaper advertisements (and that's only for one week!). It's also become patently clear to me that my hope of being hired on long term to this project will not materialize; there simply isn't enough money in the budget. I didn't really realize how much I'd been motivated by this possibility until suddenly, it wasn't there anymore. Also, it helps to break for lunch.

Today, I've chosen to move forward and just enjoy the last week I have here. I've met some amazing people; eaten a ton of fresh fish; run along the beach; eaten banana chips with homeless kids; snorkeled along a deep coral reef; met Jesus on a mountain top; watched an entire two seasons of Boston Legal; drank a crap load of Bintang beer; gotten a full body massage; karaoke'd until dawn; met old friends; made new ones; seen beautiful sunsets; flirted with Pakistani UN soldiers; received a gift to ward off the "evil eye" from the Turkish restaurant owner; learned Portuguese swear words; and eaten so, so, so much rice.

My boss in the States emailed me today to thank me for extending my stay, saying that he knew "East Timor is not an easy place." Don't tell him, but I haven't minded a bit. I don't know if I'd want to stay here forever, but I haven't minded being here for a month. The sunsets are beautiful and I keep running into good people.

Plus, there's beer.

What more could a girl want?

King of a boring post, but that's it in a nutshell. I'm still alive. I'm still kickin'. I still find joy in my ridiculousness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hey, Pants! You F@*%ing?

Which is what was yelled to me last week, by a tiny impish woman.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Legend of Timor- Leste

One day, a boy came across a baby crocodile struggling to make his way from the lagoon to the sea. As the crocodile was very weak, the boy took pity on him and carried him in his arms to the sea.

The crocodile was very grateful and promised to remember the boy's kindness. He told the boy that should he ever want to travel, he should come to the sea and call, and the crocodile would help him.

After a while, the boy remembered the crocodile's promise, and went to hte edge of the sea and called out ot the crocodile three times. The crocodile told the boy to sit on his back and over the yeras he carried the boy on many journey's.

Although the crocodile and the boy were friends, the crocodile was sitll a crocodile, and felt an irresistible urge to eat the boy. However, this bothered him and he decided to ask the other animals for advice. He asked the whalte, the tiger, the buffalo and many other animals, who all said, "The boy was kind to you, you can't eat him." Finally he went to see the wise moneky. After hearing the story, the monkey swore at the crocodile and then vanished.

The crocodile felt ashamed and decided not to eat the boy. Instead he took the boy on his back and together they traveled unti lthe crocodile grew very old. The crocodile felt he would never be able to repay the boy's kindness, and said to the boy "Soon I'm going to die, and iwll form a land for you and all your descendents."

The crocodile then became the island of timor, which still has the shape of the crocodile. The boy had many descendants who inherited his qualities of kindness, friendliness and sense of justice. Today, the people of Timor call the crocodile "grandfather", and whenever they cross a river, always call out, "Crocodile, I'm your grandchild. Don't eat me!"

(Taken from the book, "Timor Leste: Land of Discovery" by Daniel J. Groshong)


Early Sunday morning, Michael and I, with our driver Jaime, went to Fuiloro for graduation.

Fuiloro is at the very tippity tip of eastern part of Timor, and the roads are wickedly windy. Although Jaime likes to drive fast, it still took us the better part of five hours, climbing through switchback hills (some with guardrails, most without), along pristine white beaches, amongst dry rice patties (it's dry season) and in the shadow of Mt. Matebian (the second highest mountain in East Timor). Contrary to my expectations, I only got a *little* car sick.

We arrived around noon, to be greeted by Father Manuel, the Director of the Dom Bosco school for boys. Everyone else wasn't set to arrive until three, so we had some time to relax, see that graduation preparations were in order and generally get a feel for the place.

The school is on an enormous compound, amongst farmed palm trees being intercropped with maize. They've got a small dairy with 68 head of cattle, two large basketball courts, a cathedral, the father's quarters, several dormitories, classrooms, a computer room (that our project built!) and several farm outbuildings. It was absolutely enormous.

Later on that afternoon, the Mission Director from USAID arrived, but the real show didn't come until about 6, when the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries - and his entourage - showed up. First the national police forces (PNTL) showed up, six deep in the back of a pickup with several large machine guns. Then the UN police showed up with two cars, followed by six black SUVs. About 30 people poured out, and Michael and I tried to figure out who was what and most importantly - who the Minister was. Weren't we surprised when he turned out to be the shortest, youngest and only barefoot member of the entourage! After an entrance of such pomp and circumstance, it was hard to stifle the giggles...

From that moment on the Minister's needs dictated our schedule. Mass was scheduled to begin at 6, but the Minister didn't want to go so we held it with out him (ahem, God waits for no one). We were supposed to have dinner at 7:30, but the Minister was asleep so we all had to wait (students included) until he woke up, showered and felt like eating. We didn't even sit down to eat until 9:30, and then the electricity went off because to save generator gas it's always scheduled to go off at 10...

By this time, both Michael and I were beyond exhausted. Yet, even with the lights out, we still weren't allowed to go to sleep, as a special bonfire had been planned. We originally thought this was just for the students, but all the adults were ushered out into the back football pitch (with cows milling about) while a gentle rain fell. It took about 2o minutes before the Minister was available to come out and light the bonfire, a little program was announced (in Tetum, of course) and the kids sang and danced with candles.

And then, just as I was about to drop off my feet, all 300 of us were forced to join hands and dance willy nilly around the fire to the school anthem. And then, just as I was about to weep tears of blood frustration, the skies opened up and *really* let us have it.

I have never been more grateful to be soaked in my entire life.

The next day, the graduation went swimmingly. The Minister was more ameneable to a realistic schedule and we were all finished - not just early - but TWO HOURS earlier than planned. It was a joyous ride back to Dili!

Monday, September 01, 2008


This weekend was the first graduation of the beneficiaries of our high school program. Due to unforseen circumstances, I was tasked to step in at the last minute (the last week, actually) to make sure everything went smoothly. It hasn't been as difficult as I worried, but it certainly wasn't easy either. I've been struggling with not only language and cultural barriers, but also the sheer logistics of stepping into something you didn't design, or really have any idea about, until one week before. Answering questions in that position is a bit tricky!

I've had to rely an awful lot on people I hardly know, trusting that things that should be done are, and believing when people tell me what they need, how much and the logistics to get it. I'm a believer in the natural goodness of people, but when you're walking around with a fistful of $20 in your pocket for unforeseen expenses, you begin to feel more like a human cash machine then "partner".

So, imagine my surprise and relief, when I arrived at the high school and everything seemed to be going well. In fact, the whole weekend went off basically, without a hitch (there are a few stories of course, but those are for a different post). I am enormously relieved.

Now that it's all over, I can reflect on the idea of faith. It's so much more than believing in thing you do not see. It takes an enormous amoung of intestinal fortitude, as well.

On the way out here, I read the book "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer. It's about a ritualistic killing that took place in Utah in 1984 by two Mormon fundamentalists that believed God told them to do it. It also underscores the root of Mormonism, and the rise of an essentially "American" faith (having been developed less than 200 years ago).

According to Krakauer, Mormons believe that the angel Moroni came to Joseph Smith in a dream in the early 1800's, claiming there were golden tablets buried on a mountainside in northern New York State. Although these golden tablets have never been discovered, Smith was able to find and transcribe them into what would become the holy Book of Mormon.

Crazy, huh?

One of Krakauer's minor points centers around the scientifically unbelieveable doctrines that most religions focus on. For example - Moses parting of the Red Sea, Jesus rising from the dead, Muhammed riding into heaven on a winged horse or Buddha reaching nirvana. They all ask that one suspends what everyday reality tells them to be impossible and make the leap between knowing with the mind, and knowing with something else. I mean, isn't the essence of religion to ask yourself to believe in something inconceiveable by mind alone?

(In Krakauer's case, he explores if it's crazy to think that two men were told by God to kill that woman and her baby or not).

In my case, it has more practical aspects. I have no prior experience that this graduation is going work; no history with those I was working with (heck, no common LANGUAGE, really); no basis for believing that it would be a success. This caused my greatest amount of stress - just not knowing with my mind.

Yet, in the end, there was precious little I could do. I could've driven myself nuts trying to find out what was going on with every last detail. But I was forced to give up trying to know with my mind, and just float in a sea of limbo - leaping into the sky on a winged horse and hoping to Allah that it really would fly.

It did!

And now I'm in heaven.......

It's over!