Wednesday, September 03, 2008


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!

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