The "Cozy House" in Dili

Log Entry Location: East Timor

January, 2003

Our first full entry from Timor Leste, and as you can imagine, most of our time has been spent getting settled into our "cozy" house while Patti gets settled into her new job. All of which has been a little frustrating.

After a few weeks of acting as country director for the office Patti's finally getting the opportunity to do her job working with the existing volunteers and developing the sites for the incoming class in April. And she's really excited about it. Even before Dean could get his feet under him from his travels to the other side of the world, Patti had him out on a site visit to Viqueque near the southern coast of Timor. It wasn't until the end of January that all staff were back in the office, so things are still a bit interesting as everyone flexes their professional muscles.

Meanwhile, Dean is struggling with Tetun, not yet knowing enough to interact with the locals (you can only ask the same person their name so many times) and keeping house. He's perfecting his bread making technique, even without measuring cups, and doing his best not to feed the little mama cat and her kitten that have adopted our yard as home and meow constantly at the windows.

The house is coming long, too, though we are still waiting for our air freight. A good example of what we've worked with thus far is when Patti invited three volunteers over for dinner just the other night. Between the five of us, we had 4 plates, 2 spoons, 2 knives, and 2 forks for a pork chop dinner with potatoes and cabbage. Good thing they're volunteers - flexible and easy going, for the most part.

We finally have our permanent generator in and it is wired to automatically turn on when the city power goes off. Thankfully the city power has been surprisingly reliable since Christmas. That's good because our neighbors - the 50 or so nuns-in-training who live in the convent next door -have asked that we not run the generator after 10 pm because itÕs so loud. We agree; the thing shakes our house when it's running! But without it we have no way to cook (yet Dean's camp stove is coming in our household things) or to run water. Oh the joys of living life on the edge between a western style of living and going native.

The house sits just at the base of the foothills behind Dili. WeÕve hiked up the (very steep) terraced hillside a couple of times in the late afternoon. We're quite the attraction - two silly malae (foreigners) intentionally doing what the locals wish they didn't have to do! The view of Dili from the top of the hill is worth the effort! In this image, our house is tucked at the bottom of the hill - behind the corn stalk.

The Holiday Season in Dili

We spent most of Christmas and New YearÕs snorkeling and then snorkeling some more! It was hot, hot, hot. We also managed to observe/participate in the Timorese holiday rituals. Dean arrived in Dili on December 23rd and we immediately noticed a random assortment of holiday cheer being transported on, around, and above motorcycles. First it was a straggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree - then it was some reindeer antlersÉ.then a handful of cut-out Santa Claus figures (think the wooden ornaments we used to make through paint-by-number as kids and then make them life-sized). Eventually, we figured out that they were all going to be used for the neighborhood "presˇpios" (manger scenes) that were assembled all over town. Youth groups on each block put together elaborate scenes, complete with the usual figures, the occasional Santa Claus, blinking lights, and even music. They went up gradually just before Christmas and stayed up through New YearÕs Day. Apparently, Nobel-Prize Winner Bishop Belo judges them every year.

On New Year's eve, we strolled past the eight or ten presˇpios on the way to the National Cathedral, about a 20-minute walk from our house. It was very dark out (Dili has no street lights Š since the Indonesians destroyed them on their way out in 1999) but the streets were literally filled with hundreds of people on their way to Midnight Mass. We originally planned to walk to the smaller church in our neighborhood but quickly realized that we were going against the flow of (foot) traffic. We reversed course and melted in to the sea of pedestrians. Most were young people (high school or younger), clearly enjoying the excuse to be out after dark, near members of the opposite sex! When we got to the cathedral, we had to stand outside the gates since the church itself was more than overflowing. Everyone was dressed in their holiday finest (little boys in pressed shorts and little girls in the frilliest dresses we've seen in a long time). On New Year's Day, we did the Timorese thing (really!) and went to the beach. After a picnic full of sand (it was windy), we snorkeled in a small cove where we saw the most incredible starfish.

First Trip To Australia

Shortly after the holidays, we took a quick trip to Darwin, Australia. The excuse for the trip was Patti's visit to the dentist (although that took about 30 minutes of our four-day journey). Because we had so little time, we signed up for a personalized tour of Kakadu National Park. Our guide was a camel-herding, kangaroo-adopting, storyteller extraordinare. The first stop on the tour was the "Adelaide River Queen" - .famous for its jumping crocs! We saw ten or more crocodiles and snapped this shot of Stumpy (missing a leg) jumping for the raw meat provided by the tour operator. The whole thing was wacky .and the short-short-wearing announcer/boat captain/comedian kept reminding us that it wasnÕt staged. The crocodiles just respond instinctively to the sound of raw meat slapping on the river. Crazy!

Afterwards, we traveled across the beautiful wetlands that Kakadu is known for. "The wet" had just started and many parts of the park were not accessible. We did see a billabong (roughly translated as a bayou) with lots of bird life, incredible termite mounds, Jabiru storks, flocks of white cockatoos, and even a handful of wallabies. After spending the night in a permanent tent camp, we visited some truly impressive Aboriginal art galleries (not stores). Kakadu Park is actually owned by the Aboriginal people from that part of Australia and only leased to the national government. They allow visitors to some of their traditional art sites but many others are off-limits to outsiders. Our guide had previously worked as a teacher in an Aboriginal community and was very knowledgeable and surprisingly (to us) respectful of Aboriginal culture. We also hiked along the incredible escarpment and in to a pristine water hole with no crocs!

 

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