Tuesday, August 08, 2006

on my way to the airport... this is what makes the country beautiful

and almost ending

I haven’t written in over a week due to work craziness…

Starting yesterday, we have three staff doing a training program with teachers on our peacebuilding program. There will be three groups of teachers, each receiving a full week of training. And after one week, the teachers will (hopefully!!) be able to lead all the activities in the Ba Futuru curriculum on human and child rights, conflict resolution, and dealing with trauma, loss, and grief so that they can then use the program in their classrooms. Usually Ba Futuru works directly with kids, just like the ongoing program in the Dili IDP camps. But taking time to do these trainings with teachers (as a government initiative) ensures that many more children have access to the program.

All week we were running around town (literally, of course), making sure that all the necessary materials were prepared and printed, and that our staff doing the implementation had time to review the program and feel comfortable leading the workshop with people twice their ages.

During most of the week, I was trying to focus – with great difficulty given the generally frantic state of the office – on completing that new manual on non-violent discipline and a corresponding training program… there is one half-day on this material with the teachers, so it had to be finished, and the staff needed to themselves be training on the material before the weekend…

Just as a side note about the manual, physical punishment is a huge problem in Timor, and definitely (in my not-so-humble opinion) a serious obstacle to eliminating the cycle of violence in the country. It starts at a young age… when children see adults solving their problems through violence, they learn to emulate the behaviour, and don’t learn any other way of dealing with conflicts. Given that situation here, when just over the past three nights we’ve witnessed 15 homes that were burned, seen a few streets freshly littered with stones, and heard a report of one person being shot to death -- all in relation to regional tensions and political divisions – you can only imagine that people need to stop using violence to solve their problems.

Ok. Sorry. I’ll stop ranting ☺

So, the manual was finished (halleluiah!), translated into Tetum (although even I could read it and realize that the translation wasn’t well done!), and then printed and packaged with a pretty cover. On Friday, we did a full day of training with the staff, doing all the games and activities they can use in actual program implementation.

It was really exciting for me because it was the first time I’ve written and facilitated a program entirely on my own. But it was also difficult. The need for constant translation made took forever but also some of the concepts were very hard to get across in another language. But more of a problem was a hesitation with the participatory teaching style. Through Indonesia and Portugal, people here have always been educated lecture-style… They are used to people standing at the front of a room and telling them what to know and what to think. Even amongst the staff of a non-formal alternative peace education organization, there was noticeable resistance to the idea that I actually wanted them to come up with their own answers and do talking.

But, knowing that the experience may help them be better facilitators – by learning how to lead by asking questions and encouraging everyone to contribute their ideas – was rewarding.

We worked all day in preparation on Saturday (minus a desperate 45 minutes at a hotel pool to work on my fast-fading tan ☺), and left on Sunday for the teacher training. It was no short journey. We drove in rented 4X4 cars to Bobonaro District, in the west of the country, bordering West Timor, which is part of Indonesia. The drive took 4 hours, first traveling along spectacular winding roads that hug cliffs above the coast, and then through the mountains where you pass amazing trees and rice paddies and little towns full of cute traditional Timorese houses (made out of wood and bamboo with palm thatched roofs). In fact, the Tetum word for “district” (foho) also mean “mountain” – these hills were no joke.

We arrived in Maliana at 7pm, the town where we spent the night… The hotel where we expected to stay and eat had apparently burned down– I think it was an accident as opposed to Dili’s mass arson campaigns – and tragically the new hotel did not have a restaurant! So, we went out in search of dinner at 8pm, just after nightfall, and found one Timorese buffet that was just closing up shop because they had ran out of food. Nothing else at all was open. Desperate to eat meal, some one suggested stopping at the church and speaking with the nuns. Seriously. It was already 8pm, and yet they still opened the door and cooked for 8 people. Dinner was served at 9:30pm. Rice, some grilled mini fishes, tuna, stir-fried cabbage, and mi gorang – super popular, Indonesian instant noodles that I might miss now that I’ve finally tried them. Eating in a church, complete with 10 photos of the pope and Jesus on the cross watching over our meal, was a totally bizarre experience for me. But it was amazingly generous, but I guess it’s all in a good day’s work for the sisters ☺

The following morning, we work up before dawn to drive to Bobonaro city, another hour from Maliana straight up a mountain. That road was slightly treacherous… Probably because of the tropical rainy season, there were several sink holes in the middle of the narrow road that just dropped two meters down and could have swallowed an entire car, and some of the pavement edges had washed away off the side of the mountain. Aye! And to think that Timorese people have to travel there in packed open back trucks. As we watched them pass, with people literally hanging on, I found myself just hoping that they don’t plunge down the cliff or go too quickly around a curve and throw the passengers off. But we arrived safe and sound, and just in time to start the first day of training with the teachers.

We left the staff during the lunch break, and drove the 5 hours straight back to Dili, singing for a good 2 hours because the only c.d.’s were of scary Portuguese pop music. We even had two sightings of wild monkeys, which was a first for me in my life…

Although I never made it to the common Timor tourist destinations, I have had two fabulous trips outside of Dili, one to Baucau in the East and this recent one to Bobonaro in the West. I fly out of Timor tomorrow to start the long journey home, but will leave having seen both sides of the country.

It’s an appropriate ending for these times, and one I feel good about.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

the green house

A hang-out for neighbourhood kids and youth, across the street from the office.


The garbage "bin" beside our office.

more yumm...

Here piggy piggy piggy.

eventually, more garbage

$11.50 haagen-dazs at the store...and you thought it was expensive at home?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

politics and pretty things

Funny how Timor works. Last week, I told my family over the phone that everything was better here, and that life was returning to normal. A few hours later, word arrived that people were coming into Dili and wanted to destroy everything. So sudden, so bizarre, and those threats have definitely not yet materialized into action. But trying to understand these recent turn of events has proven interesting…

Alfredo Reinaldo was arrested last week. His story is complicated, and I don’t even fully understand it. But from what I have been told, he was part of the military police who several months ago, in the beginning of the recent conflict, aligned himself with the military staff from the east of Timor who were laid-off, and cited discrimination as the main reason for their dismissal. Reinaldo became the head commander for one group of the petitioners who were supposedly involved in battles in the hills north of Dili, in which an unknown (i.e. unreported) number of people where killed.

So, this part of the story is old news; it happened between the end of February and the end of May. But he was only recently detained due to a weapons cache that was discovered in his house. The government and the international forces had declared a deadline for the submission of all weapons in the country, and the weapons in his house were found after this deadline had passed. The Portuguese GNR (Guarde Nationale de la Republica?) were sent to arrest him, and he now is locked up down the street from our office in the Ministry of Justice.

Many people in Timor have been angered by his detention, hence the recent call for protests. Although they haven’t really materialized, I’ve noticed that all movements of people seem to take several days in this country… for example, a protest called for Monday might actually have people en mass by Thursday. So, it might happen yet.

But, the interesting part is trying to understand why people are so upset. From our experiences with a democracy, we expect that when people are arrested, they subsequently go to trial, and either will be acquitted or proven guilty. Despite many flaws in the system, we accept that justice is partly a matter of time.

Here, people too talk about justice justice justice. The concept is particularly significant because there is an overarching sense that justice was never served for the serious crimes that took place in Timor under Indonesian occupation. Yet, people are furious that Reinaldo has been arrested, and instead of accepting the verdict reached by any court process, have called for his immediate release. Even Timorese I’ve spoken with who don’t personally have an opinion about Reinaldo’s arrest would like him to be freed, if only to prevent more protests and possible violence.

Apparently, people are angry that he was arrested so quickly, while the previous Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, who is suspected to be involved in illegally arming people involved with murders of Police in Dili in May, is free and has not yet be charged with any crime. You must remember, too, that there is still an underlying connection with regional tensions, as Reinaldo was supporting Easterners while Alkatiri was mainly supported by Westerners. But, rather than calling for an international investigation of Alkatiri, people want Reinaldo freed? This kind of reasoning, this logic, is honestly lost on Malae.

And the claim that people want to destroy Dili? What would this prove, and how does it help, especially given that over 400 homes were burned in Dili over the past few months and the city is already in desperate need of improvement? This too, we cannot understand. It does not make any sense to us.

It seems that we – Timor versus the Western world – have a different interpretation of what we mean by justice. Fine.

But I think people here have not yet agreed on what they mean by justice, either.

It’s a huge and complicated problem.

But, on the more positive side, the only art school in Dili has filled the city with beautiful hand-painted banners about peace and unity. At least some things are always hopeful.

Tasi Feto Tasi Mane literally translates to Man Sea and Woman Sea, but it means north and south. Timor Ida Deit, Timor is united.

Paz Dame, peace in Portuguese and Tetum

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dili's new monorail??

Had a little “girs’ night in” dinner the other night, a quasi housewarming slash reason to fully unpack and decorate party. Some one noted that the city has been rather bustling the past few days, which is a good change from recent weeks of an eerie silence during the days. Now, with more people and cars on the roads, the streets are back to the usual mess of crazy traffic. You see, driving here is absolutely unbelievable…

Motorbikes with full families of four (often with no helmets!) and mikrolets (mini buses) with people hanging out the doors, get stuck driving 20 kilometers an hour behind a taxi. And I’m serious. I’ve clocked that speed. Taxis in Timor are notoriously slow! Then all the white 4x4 international organization vehicles get impatient and pass on two-lane streets into the slow moving, though still oncoming, traffic. And every two blocks or so, all traffic grinds to a halt so drivers can attempt to navigate the crater-sized potholes.

Thus, we arrived somehow at the topic of envisioning a monorail system in Dili. And it was so funny, I felt like a schoolgirl with wine that nearly made it up my nose and not a glass of milk.

So, firstly, you must remember that this country is incredibly poor and the government is incredibly stressed. The idea of any infrastructure project being completed – and completed well – is laughable in itself. Now, consider that everywhere you go in Dili, you see remnants of destruction: some buildings are simply old and crumbling, others show burn marks from the recent conflict, and even more have been left trashed from the Indonesian occupation. A monorail traveling through the city’s neighbourhoods, looking all shiny and new and high-tech, would be so unimaginably out of place…

…except, it would never be shiny, because Dili is either dry and dusty in the aptly named dry season, or muddy in the rainy season. There definitely couldn’t be any windows because of the inevitable problems stemming from the big sticks that people use to transport their goods. Some poor boy would turn around to offer his tangerines, lettuce, or fish to a fellow passenger and smash, there goes another window! There would also have to be rule forbidding animals aboard, even though it will be very difficult to enforce. But trust me, pigs, goats, and chickens in close quarters with people can be messy.

To make it better, the little voice that provides instructions and announces all upcoming stops would have to be multilingual… in at least four languages! It’s actually a highly political problem in Timor. Tetum is the most widely known and spoken national language, but Indonesian is apparently still used. However, Portugal managed to ensure that Portuguese be declared the country’s official language, even though only the old elite (like the president and his colleagues) and elementary school children have been educated in Portuguese. Portugal would definitely throw a fit if the new monorail system did not cater to Dili’s lusophone community. And of course, since most of the international development community is English speaking – and remain totally incensed that the government spends a fortune on “necessary” Portuguese translations – the monorail would be considered too pretentious without English.

Our monorail conclusion? It’s a ridiculous idea, overall, and made us all laugh like crazy.

And now in hindsight, I can’t decide whether it’s still funny, or just really sad...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

photos and a to do list

Well, no need to have worried: I recovered my passport today, complete with a brand new visa. The extension expires on August 17th, three days after my flight to Darwin. This three week countdown has really forced me to consider what I what to do in Timor before I leave, and also what out of that list is realistic.

I suppose the first thing I should really consider is work… Lest it sound too cheesy, the past month has been a whirlwind of activity… The Ba Futuru staff were already conducting “Child Protection” assessments in Dili’s IDP camps for UNICEF when I arrived, which involved repeatedly touring several local temporary camps, setting up camp child protection focal points (usually some one living in the camps who volunteered to coordinate all child-related activities and services), conducting surveys to gage the number of minor residents, and ensuring that facilities were “child-friendly”.

While this was going on, we were promised funding to start doing educational programming in some of the camps, and had to write up a proper training manual for the project. Many long hours and full days at the design and copy shop later, the guides are now printed (in both English and Tetum) and beautiful! There are eight lessons in total with subjects including: human and child rights (and corresponding responsibilities); basic conflict resolution skills; trauma healing; anger management; and envisioning a peaceful future…. The lessons are fairly short, flexible, and generally active since the camps have many distractions and the kids there have short attentions spans. The staff here in Dili are working at two different IDP camps, called Motael Church and Bidau Orphanage, and our staff in the districts are working in three camps. Everyone returns to the office every afternoon totally exhausted, but the work seems to be going really well.

And, amazingly, many formal proposals and several weeks later, the promised money came through! We went to the bank on Friday with over $35,000 in cheques from various donor organizations, and the tellers were saying parabens, congratulations! It was great!

In the time in between the program guide editing and printing and proposal writing and site visits and Child Protection meetings and banking, I’ve been trying to edit and re-write sections of a manual on non-violent discipline for teachers and child care workers in Timor. That phase is fairly close to being finished, but the full plan is to write a corresponding training, and then facilitate the completed program with the staff so that they will be able to conduct the trainings themselves in the future. So… three weeks to organize a two-day training, and then two days to model the program.

No problem, right?

Also on my list of countdown things to do is travel outside of Dili! There is so much of the country that I’d like to see, but the situasaun during the past two or three months has made travelling very difficult… roads were frequently closed, and there was always a fear that you would get stranded, unable to get back into Dili… But now that things are quieter, people are moving regularly, and even some of the buses out to the districts are running, there are definitely a few places that I’d like to explore.

Unfortunately, it will be difficult to go far, mainly because I don’t have my own transport and wouldn’t travel without a (preferably Tetun-speaking) companion. For instance, I don’t know that I’ll make it out to Jaco Island, a place over 6 hours’ drive from Dili, on the very East of Timor… it’s supposed to be spectacular… entirely made of fine white sand, and reachable only by a short trip across from the mainland in a local boat. Alas, that will have to be for next time. But, I do hope to get to Ata’uru, a large island directly across the water from Dili. Most people take a ferry there (which takes 2-3 hours), spend the night in Timor’s only Eco Village, and return home the next day with some snorkelling in between. Wish me luck finding some other people who feel ready for a couple of relaxing days out of the city…

Also on the list of things to do is to visit the tais market, to buy some traditional Timorese weavings. And it would be good to take some more photos of Dili… since no one really walks anywhere ever (for security reasons at first, and now just because it’s rather uncomfortable being the only white woman on the streets), I haven’t had many opportunities to play tourist in town with my camera!

So… it’s not an outrageous list. Wish me luck!

Bidau IDP Camp

Balloons at Bidau

Youth at Motael, discussing our rules


Motael kids, 0-5 years old

Youth at Bidau

Monday, July 24, 2006

harvesting timorese coffee...

From the streets of Dili straight to your next cup of Starbucks!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

view from the balcony

view from the balcony, originally uploaded by melissaintimor.

I just got back from the Ministry of the Interior, where I applied for a new visa. They come in one-month increments. I have five weeks down and three-and-a-half to go. So much to do still!! Anyway, I have to leave my passport at the immigration office for a week to get the visa, which is a frightening prospect. It makes me nervous in normal circumstance having to leave a passport anywhere (even in proper consulates and embassies in North America), but it honestly is a concern here… last month, when the government was essentially suspended, all government offices were closed and everyone applying for a visa at the time had their passports “trapped” until further notice. I’m told that various embassies here issued temporary travel documents during the emergency, but I’m just very thankful to have two passports.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I can’t foresee another emergency in the near future. After word that the Aussie Embassy reduced their travel advisory, the US Embassy followed suit and lifted their mandatory evacuation order.

And just as life in Timor is reverting to normal, things in my immediate life are returning to normal – if I can use that word considering I’ve only been here a month? Remember I had been living with the director of my ngo and her fiancé, and their house was completely ransacked a few weeks back? After salvaging what little was left by the thieves -- perpetrators? neighbors? I never really know what to call them -- we moved into a hotel until they could find a new place to live… the old house was not only too unsafe -- robbed twice, could be robbed again, and in a now sketchy neighbourhood -- but the idea was just too traumatic. So, they just found a new home, and we moved in a few of days ago.

The place is pretty amazing for Timor standards: three spacious bedrooms, high ceilings, AC, and a large living room-dining rooms… and it also has a nice view of the Balide Church across street, with the hills in the background. Unfortunately, the place was furnished with relatively tacky furniture quite reminiscent of classic Eastern European design ☺ but that’s easy to remedy with a little home decorating. If anything, it’s just so nice to settle into a real place… again. After living out of my two bags for seven weeks, it felt good to put stuff on a shelf and eat breakfast and dinner at home.

ahhh…such a novelty!

In other news, I've *finally* figured out how to load photos onto this site. Yah! Definitely, there will be more to come...

balide church

balide church, originally uploaded by melissaintimor.

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