A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

*exasperated sigh*

Saturday 14th March - 3 months, 26 days

When I was arranging a house viewing time on Sunday with potential housemates (Brie and Kitu are moving out late next month), I couldn’t have people over to look at the room at 11, because Brie says she’ll be packing to go away; so I arranged for people to come at 1.30, because that was more convenient for her (and it means we can go out for a bike ride and breakfast); but …

This morning I had this awful premonition that there would be cockfights tomorrow when everyone was coming over, and it seems that’s what’s planned. Cockfights apparently will start around 2 – maybe 3 – maybe 4.

I would try to be more patient about this, but our neighbours/landlords held cockfights Thursday afternoon in the yard next door – just before we had two people over to look at the house. Now apparently there are more cockfights this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon – but our landlord / neighbour who runs the cockfights can’t say what time (nobody does ‘time’ here except malae).

I would like someone else to sort this out plzkthx.* I don’t want our potential tenants to be scared off (because they don’t have cockfights all the time like this, despite the recent appearance of all those roosters)… and apart from anything else I don’t fancy shouting over 10 screeching roosters. ‘YES WE REALLY LIKE IT HERE, THE ROOM’S $200 A MONTH. NOISE? WHAT NOISE? OH YOU GET USED TO THAT.’

  • This would be easier if people didn’t keep assuming that I am the only person who can talk about the room. Everyone contacts me, nobody contacts Matt, about this.

Posted by timortimes 20:57 Comments (0)

My job in practice

Friday 13th March - 3 months, 25 days

Every now and then, someone asks me what my job actually is over here. So, here you are. I am working in the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste’s Government’s State Secretariat for the Promotion of Equality. * It was organised through Australian Volunteers International (www.australianvolunteers.com). My official title is Gender Research Adviser and I was recruited to work with a specific counterpart, ‘building their capacity’ to undertake research and gender analysis.

In practice, my role is much broader than this, for a few reasons. Firstly, my counterpart, Herminio, is a really hard worker, speaks excellent English and is very conscientious. So, a lot of extra work comes his way, not just research, because he is capable. In a way it’s good for him having me, not just because I am meant to help him learn how to do research (and so I force other people to let him have time to do this) but I am also trying to help him get in the habit of planning his work. This is not him so much as Timorese culture – Herminio has no problem prioritizing or planning his work – but in the Timorese public service (and life more generally) everything happens at the last minute, and very little is planned in advance. So individual plans for, say, writing a literature review get scuppered to attend meetings at other ministries. The first month I was here, when I was just trying to work out what was going on, I pretty much spent the month tagging along to meetings, always at the very last minute.

So I also work with him on prioritizing work, keeping a workplan, remembering to discuss meetings with others, etc etc. I call it ‘Being A Good Public Servant’.

Because Herminio is so awesome and doesn’t really need me to baby him for an entire year, I’m going to start working soon with two other people at SEPI. When my position was created last year, Herminio was the only person in his team. Now he has a team leader, Cisca, and another colleague at his level, Jose. I’m going to start working with these guys soon on their own workplans and seeing if I can assist with their work. They aren’t doing research – Cisca is meant to be SEPI’s contact on the draft Domestic Violence law, and Jose is meant to be working on a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Timor-Leste. It’s possible they’re doing other stuff I don’t know about though.

When I saw the job description for this position, I said to Matt, ‘This is the perfect gender position!’, and that was why he encouraged me to apply for it. Working in AusAID and the Office for Women, studying anthropology, gender and development and being a postgrad student interested in research – it was like the job was written for me. I tried to have no expectations, because that’s what Australian Volunteers International staff tell you to do. But you always think about how bad or how good it could be. So far I feel very lucky because my job has way exceeded how good I thought it would be. A lot of it is the fact that Herminio is so capable and motivated. So thanks maun (brother) Herminio.

  • I like this name because it includes both men and women. I do not like this name because it is long and unwieldy and a strict translation from the Portuguese is a bit different – Secretariade Estado ba Promosaun Iguladade. What I’ve written above is my own Anglo version that I give to everyone – nobody can ever remember what our name is, they just call us ‘SEPI’.

Posted by timortimes 20:54 Comments (0)

Cutest child evar

I just need to tell you about the Cutest Child Evar. Racquel, we think, is the little girl of our cleaner (who looks about 14 and definitely not big enough to have borne a child, but apparently she is married and Racquel is hers. I think).

But, you say, aren’t there simply masses of cute children in Timor?

Why, yes there are. And Timor is going through a ‘youth bulge’, with its incredibly high birth rate (average 8 kids per woman!) so there’s even more than the average country (going by ratio).

So sure. There are plenty of cute kids around, kids that are just as gorgeous as Racquel. In looks, Racquel is like a little dolly you want to cuddle. She’s probably about three, with that delicious-looking baby plumpness that makes you want to grab their arm and go om nom nom nom (our housemate Brie often does). It doesn’t hurt that her skin is the colour of chocolate, either.

But the thing that makes her the Cutest Child Evar for me is her seriousness. She’s a such quiet, serious-looking little thing. Most of the other kids, even the ones the same age, are happy, noisy, loud. Even when they’re quietly colouring in, they’re chirpy little things.

Not Racquel. Every task is performed in deadly earnest. I’ve seen her smile a few times, but it’s a brief thing – blink and you’ll miss it.

The cutest thing I’ve seen her do is grab the broom and imitate her mother, sweeping down the concrete along the side of the house. Yes there’s a dreadful view of this – her mum’s cleaning for foreigners and she’s copying that. It makes me uncomfortable. But at the same time, many mothers clean and all kids copy their parents. And the sight of teeny little serious Racquel determinedly shoving the broom along – a broom that is more than twice as tall as her – damn if it isn’t the Cutest Thing Evarrrr.

Matt claims that I like Racquel for being serious because *I* am serious. I say, hey, I’m allowed.

Posted by timortimes 20:51 Comments (0)

Timorese names

Names in Timor are pretty interesting. You do get some ones commonly used in Australia, like Carla (neighbour/landlord), Racquel (niece of Carla and cutest child ever) and Lee (Carla’s husband).

Then there are Portuguese influenced ones, like Brigida, Alfredo (I swear every second public servant is called Alfredo), Francisco (our housemate Kitu is actually a Francisco – no idea how you get Kitu out of that, but he does have five names), and Alfonso.

And then there are just the completely out-there ones. There are kids on our street called Gaspar and Octavio and of course I’ve already mentioned Elfrina from my work.

Posted by timortimes 20:48 Comments (0)

Amazing what a bit of competition will do

Thursday 12th March - 3 months, 24 days

I am so proud of my counterpart, Herminio, and one of our new staff members, Karen* (Karen just started at SEPI this week). I had my first go at teaching them to do a gender analysis and they are getting it so quickly. I was prepared for it to be a slower process, a much slower process even. But they are fantastic.

The amusing part was seeing how quickly Herminio improved once we brought Karen in. I started with Herminio on his own, but then it was suggested to me that we could add another person (because SEPI needs about ten people who can do gender analyses like, last year), and Karen had already shown herself to be very motivated and vocal (the opposite of most Timorese women, who tend to hang back a bit, even in SEPI). Amazing what a bit of competition will do (especially when the competition is a pretty girl).

  • Karen told me that her real name is Elfrina, which is I think is a lovely name, and fitting as she is tall and slim (tall for a Timorese woman anyway – she’s a bit taller than me. Remember, I am taller than most Timorese women). According to her, it is a ‘bad’ name, and she doesn’t like the way it sounds with her last name, which is da Cruz.

Posted by timortimes 20:44 Comments (0)

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