A Travellerspoint blog

January 2009


Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th January - 2 months, 8-9 days

I meant to write blog entries all weekend, but instead I got caught up in the following:

  • making paper frogs with the kids in our street
  • Tetum homework and Tetum lesson
  • Writing up various things – a message for Briony’s family, some answers to interview questions – my union wants to do a profile on me in the next national newsletter – cool, huh?

Also, I have advice. You can’t hold back tears or put off crying to a more convenient season; eventually they will come out. You might think, oh, I’m so tired of people moving my things around the house, again and again, but I’ll be patient; or, geez I can’t believe my friend just passed away, but I can’t cry now, I’ve gotta work. No. The tears will have the last laugh on *you* when the neighbour’s BLOODY dog chews the strap off your favourite pair of walking shoes and you suddenly dissolve into puddles of tears because that was the FINAL STRAW!…

Posted by timortimes 20:58 Comments (0)

The Divine Ms Briony Morris

Friday 23rd January - 2 months, 7 days

My friend Briony passed away this morning. We met at swing about 18 months ago, I remember noticing her awesome vintage hairdo, and distinctive outfit - which I later learnt was just another thing she’d designed and made herself. She’d just moved back to Canberra to spend more time with her unwell dad, after 12 years in the fashion industry in Melbourne. When she said this to me it was a bit of a shock because I’d assumed she was younger than me and probably still in uni, maybe 22 or 23. I guess her quiet manner fooled me, although I’m not very good at guessing people’s ages anyway.

She was 35 and she had a series of tumours that were eventually too much for her, the last lot in her brain. Because of this, although clearly 35 is too young for anyone to go, at least she is free now, as her cousin, Alison, said to me.

Still too young, though.

Last time I saw her was the last weekend of October, the week before I left Canberra, when we went to a barbecue because Mistress Kate was in Canberra for the weekend, and it was the last chance for a lot of us to see MK before she heads to Sweden (next month now). I felt like I didn’t get to see Briony enough while she was sick, and I was trying really hard to find a way to hang out with her before I left Canberra. So I asked her what she could handle (always tired from radiotherapy etc), drove down to Tuggeranong and picked her up for the barbecue.

Usually when people die, you don’t get a chance to say goodbye, a nice, neat, perfect little goodbye, but I did, because I was moving overseas for the year and saying goodbye to everyone for the moment. With Briony, like everyone, I said I would see her next November. I knew I probably wouldn’t but I hoped I would anyway. I hugged her, she kissed me on the cheek, she walked across the carpark beside the lake to her mum's car. Said something normal and inconsequential, seeya doll. Perfect.

Anyway, that is my small comfort. I hope her family have some too, because they did the hard yards with her, and I don’t know if they got a nice, tidy goodbye.

I hold on to the small comforts because there are so many other things that make me sad. There are big things, like the thought that she was too young and it was such a tough time for her. There are little things, like, she loved Bal and she was just getting into it, I can’t help but think about all the dances she won’t have – I can imagine all us Canberra swingdancers, on our deathbeds, going ‘No I can’t die yet, just one more dance!’. Matt and I wanted to give her a private lesson / revision session but she was feeling a bit too ‘wobbly’. I never got to have a vintage-hairdos session with Briony and I’m willing to be that, like any seamstress, she has at least one wardrobe and probably a whole room stuffed with material waiting to be stitched up into something awesome.

I wish I could have told her in person that I thought and think all these things about her. That she was awesome. That I wished I could have had more time with her. That I wanted her to have more years, all the years the average person can expect to muck about with their lives in. But she never wanted to talk about dying with me, she always hoped she'd have another good day where she wasn't so tired. I respected that so I held my words until now, and trust she could tell and can tell now that I think all these things about her.

I try not to be too sad, because hell, I can get up and go to work today and walk down by the beach and go to yoga and have a lovely dinner at a restaurant before Matt and I stumble home, exhausted. What a great day. I can have an ordinary day and it’s the best day in the world. I’m appreciating it. If ordinary life gets boring, then I only have to decide what I want to do differently and I can go do it – like I did when I decided I wanted to move to East Timor for a year to take up a volunteer position.

But I miss Briony, and she won’t be there when I go back to Canberra and see everyone else. Like I said on Facebook, I miss you Briony, I’m so glad I knew you, I only wish it was much, much longer.

Posted by timortimes 20:49 Comments (1)

Things about our Neighbours I Just Don’t Understand

(In relation to the previous article on housing - this is a bit more light-hearted)

  • Last week they dug up, painstakingly, by hand, every single bit of grass / greenery / weed in the front yard. This means that when it is dry, dust blows across the yard and straight into our window and over our bed; when it is wet, the ground turns into a quicksand of mud and rocks; and all the time that the ground is perilous under your feet and you have to be careful not to turn your ankle. The grass cover was patchy, but at least it kept the rocks together and meant there was a bit less dust and mud puddles. I feel like writing a pamphlet on ‘Erosion and You’ and sticking it under their door.
  • About five weeks ago, they disconnected the light in our bathroom (never found out why) and have since... just... left it. Funnily enough I'm used to using rooms without the lights, because I couldn't change the lights in my old flat so I always had to wait four months for the landlord to get around to it. But still. I'd like to have a light in our bathroom again.
  • The fact that one week after we had moved in, they wanted to paint our bedroom. UMM NO I HAVE SPENT SIX WEEKS LIVING OUT OF A SUITCASE AND I JUST UNPACKED EVERYTHING. I understand it's *their* house so they view it differently to the way landlords view houses in Australia, but man. It took more than one conversation and telling them that I would be allergic to the paint (not necessarily a lie as I am allergic to many strange things) to put them off. They painted the bathrooms instead.
  • The process leading to our house being pink. I am told it was an inoffensive colour, and just before we arrived our now-housemates arrived home to find the house was bright, Barbie pink. When they inquired as to the reasoning for the choice of colour, they claimed 'Kitu likes pink' (Kitu being the Timorese, male half of our housemate couple).

Now I have noticed that Timorese people (a) favour garish, clashing colour combos in art and design (b) are not at all hung up about 'girls' colours' (i.e. pink) and 'boys colours' like in Australia. I read that the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, got into trouble off his wife Kirsty Sword Gusmao for letting their house in the hills (that they've now left for one closer to town) be painted pink. I do notice that the new residence has (like our house) a bright pink tall-but-decorative concrete wall, though...

Why pink? Why paint our house pink with a green roof? Inside rooms are green, blue and yellow. With bright pink curtains. Now as I've said, it's lucky I like eccentric things. More stylish friends I have, though, might die.

Posted by timortimes 20:40 Comments (0)

Thoughts on our housing experience

Friday 16th January – Thursday 22nd January Two months and first week

I don’t think I ever wrote an entry about why it is difficult to find accommodation in Timor, only that it was difficult. A friend’s very unusual experience today – she arrived Tuesday and found a place to live Wednesday, most people look for weeks or months - reminded me how hard it was for us and our friends, and so I wanted to write about it.

Basically, in Dili, the price of accommodation was inflated very rapidly when the UN rolled into town. The UN and other international organizations can afford to pay whatever people ask, and the local people worked this out pretty quickly. This means that as a foreigner, people happily show you hovels and palatial style accommodation and it can be anywhere from $200 USD a month to $1000 USD a month for a hovel, and between $600 USD to $2000 USD per month for something you can actually live in, to something that’s very nice indeed. Some organizations – the UN, AusAID etc – as I have previously mentioned, also build their own compounds, which have razor wire on the outside like everywhere else, and purified water, pretty landscaping, etc on the inside, unlike everywhere else.

Matt and I, and other volunteer friends of ours, had the additional problem of *looking* like people with money, because we are malae, and white malae at that. Of course, compared to lots of Timorese we are very well off. Over here, though, we can’t actually afford to pay $1000 USD per month, and nor do I want to, not to live in a dirty, burnt out set of concrete boxes out the back of a tiny restaurant without a working bathroom or kitchen (yes, we were shown a place like that).

Matt and I seem to have got the last cheap room in town – well, it’s cheap for the moment – the house is $400 USD per month, split between the two couples, and cleaning is $50 per month, also split and also cheap. Other people we know pay up to $120 per month for cleaning. We were very lucky to get somewhere that volunteers have already been living for a year – the house has been fixed up in various ways and at any given time, most things work. There is a kitchen and two bathrooms and electricity and water, a pretty back garden, etc etc. A different house we were considering, on our own, for 500 USD per month, had no kitchen, was much darker and dirtier, and not much furniture.

However, we pay for this another way – in guilt. The family who own our house are still living on the land, in another much less nice building, which is half shack. We’re living in their house, and this wasn’t clear at first. When we worked it out, it suddenly made a lot more sense why they felt so free to do stuff in our backyard, or wash their bikes at the side of the house, etc. This is common for people in Timor, to rent out their houses to malae and group in with a few more family members.

Our volunteer allowance for housing is based on this level of accommodation (700 AUD) – and it was raised in December. I don’t know what any other volunteers who come to Dili now will do, other than use some of their living allowance (not really sustainable as the allowance is sufficient for living but not much extra, and that’s only if the exchange rate stays reasonable), or use their own funds, to pay the rent.

Based on this and also the fact that it’s difficult for us here without a car, I honestly would have to say to people, Dili is a great place to do a volunteer placement – but do come with at least $10,000 USD of your own.

Posted by timortimes 20:38 Comments (0)

First mail

15th January 2009 - 1 month, 30 days

Yes that’s right… I received my first piece of mail today… A Christmas card from Bec S. Thanks doll! Of course it was for Matt as well, but it was addressed to me so I’m claiming it as my first piece of mail – Matt already had a heap of mail in one hit in December, it only took 11 days to get here. Plus he has another mystery one today. Anyway, these two airmailed envelopes have taken four weeks. Now they probably arrived a bit earlier – after all, we have just had the holiday period, which slows everything down; plus, we have to wait for someone from the AVI office to be bothered to get to the post office AND then call us to let us know we have mail. So there are a few factors contributing to the slow-mail business.

But I think mainly this is just another different, sometimes difficult thing about living in a developing country. Different people told us different things about the mail service. Some people said – don’t bother with posting anything, ever, it will take forever and even if it does get through it will probably have been ransacked. (I heard of someone having their embroidery thread pinched from a personal letter. Jeez.)

Some people said, oh, letters are fine, but packages won’t work. Whereas another girl swore she sent packages here every week for a while and they got through fine.

So anyone who has sent me birthday packages… don’t fret if it takes a month or longer for them to get here… I totally appreciate the effort and thought.

Posted by timortimes 20:36 Comments (0)

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