2003: Timor, Travel and Tetun

Log Entry Location: East Timor

January, 2004

Tiu with reindeer Holiday greetings from the world's newest country. We hope that this belated letter finds all of you well and, as our Timorese friends would say, fat and happy!!! It has been an amazing year for us here in Timor Leste, full of peaks and valleys and everything in between.

Patti spent the first three months of 2003 studying Tetun, working with the Peace Corps volunteers and cultivating relationships with villages and towns where future Volunteers might live. She spent much of her time in her mossie dome (Australian portable mosquito net—think pup tent) and hanging out with villagers who rarely see foreigners. The trips with Volunteers involved the usual adventures — fording rivers, using satellite phones and a fair amount of mud, mosquitoes, and super mi (ramen noodles). Since then, she's struggled with the unpleasant responsibilities of Acting Country Director — a roll she was unfortunately forced to assume.

Hut Meanwhile, Dean spent the first six months of 2003 baking bread, snorkeling, and volunteering his time at the Environment Ministry and an upstart environmental NGO. In September, his work became more formal as he started his contract as a UNV (UN Volunteer) in the Environment Ministry. He is working to build the capacity of his Timorese counterparts and helping to draft the first-ever environmental legislation in the country.

Thinking back over the year that we have been here, we realize that we have also had some amazing personal experiences in our "front row seats" on the creation of a new country. We've met the President (Patti) and had meetings with the Prime Minister (Dean). We participated in the first ever Independence Day celebration and been invited into the homes of village chiefs and elders. And we don't even notice the hundreds of UN vehicles on the road anymore.

Beach scene We also have gotten as close to a cultural immersion experience as it is probably possible to have as upper middle class professional malae (foreigners). We've experienced weddings and (sadly) funerals of people that we know well. Dean shops at the local vegetable market and is on a first-name basis with several ladies there. The dogs in our neighborhood bark at strangers, including Timorese, but not at us. The kids call us Mana and Maun (Big Sister, Big Brother) and not "foreigner." We are really, really, really bad drivers. And‚ ...we miss rice when we are out of the country.

Patti with kids We've also just had the usual kinds of fun — including monthly pancake dinners under the full moon, snorkeling in beautiful coral gardens and savoring our English-language newspapers on the weekends! In addition to all of our remarkable experiences in Timor Leste, we have managed to travel to Australia, Bali, and Fiji. In June and July, we also had a whirlwind trip back to see all of our family and many friends in the States, via Europe.

Perhaps the biggest down side of being in East Timor is that we feel far removed from friends and family. The hardest part of this year was being away from home when Dean's Grandma passed away in the Spring. She was a remarkable lady and Patti feels lucky to have gotten to know her. Patti's family also lost a loved one this year, her Uncle Mike Nourse. We both realized how hard it is to be away from family at such a time and we were very disappointed that we were not able to make it back to the US for either service.

Dean We are hoping that our impending move will help make keeping in touch a little easier. Starting in late February or early March, we will be transferring to another Peace Corps post — in the Pacific paradise of Tonga! We are sad to be leaving good friends and colleagues in East Timor but really looking forward to our next adventure.

Address and phone details to follow. Tonga is a short-ish flight from Los Angeles and we hope that many of you will come and make use of our spare bedroom.

Maun Dean and Mana Patti

 

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