The Sisters of Dominican Mission – Timor Leste

This is the first opportunity I have had to post a story to the blog as the power blacks out without notice and it’s taken a while to sort out the telephone technology and yeah, I am using my phone’s hot sport to write.  I have purchased a local sim card for $50 so we can keep in touch with the other members of our rotary team, and I wonder how long that amount of money will last. Perhaps not so long if I use it for computer work.

Anyway; it’s been an interesting few days. The flight from Melbourne was through the dark hours of the night. Mervyn and I had a sort of upgrade – we had the number one seats in the jetstar plane. Thinking this was pretty cool it was in fact perhaps something I would not jump at again. Cool was the description. There seemed to be an icy breeze coming from the door. We had the door and in case of emergency had to ‘assist’ other passengers. Yes, sure we can help if the plane nose dives into the ocean beneath us. We had lots of leg room, the front toilet and the cold. Jet Star cuts costs on entertainment – there was none. We bought a toasted ham & cheese sandwich for dinner. It was heated up in the plastic bag and toasted yes, but still ‘white’. Must remember to eat ‘before’ boarding the next Jet Star plane.

Arrived at Darwin airport around 1.30am. Next plane to Timor Leste left at 6.30am. We were grateful for the little piece of carpet outside the loos we found, amongst the many other traveller to lay our heads down. We formed a  circle of our group.

We are travelling as the first head group to set up the volunteers. We have as our chief leader Rotarian retired army Major Ian Toohill, builder and shire councillor for Macedon Ranges, Bob, or was it Graham. He is also former army. Then there is Chris, the nurse and Mervyn and myself. We are getting to know each other on the trip; though I have known Ian for many years and ran out of excuses to say No to this journey, with Mervyn.

We boarded a full plane for Timor Leste in the early hours and landed at Timor Leste to a wall of wet humid heat, around 7.30am. First impressions? GREEN everywhere. Mountains, green, sea green. Tropical palms; coconuts, bananas, cocao and trees I have never seen before. I guess i have never really been to the tropics. I have always managed the dry climates of the polar arctic ice and deserts of of Australia and Mongolia.

We were all pretty tired. Through customs; $30 cash American for a passport and then bags fed through customs and we were out amongst the heat and myriad cars and people meeting family and friends. We were met by one of the sisters and a driver who took away our luggage and put us on a bus. Strange feeling to see your bags disappear down the back of a truck by total strangers and there is nothing you can do about it.

The bus dropped us off at a hotel with other visitors. Not like the hotels we are used to at home. This was a collection of detached colourful buildings. From here we hired a troupe carrier. While Ian did the paper work we stayed out and noted the locals and numbers of roosters and chickens wandering the camp. A lady was propped against the front fence selling strings of tiny sweet bananas. I wandered over to some guards and began photographing the beautifully coloured game rooster. They laughed at me as it began stalking me. They shouted at the rooster to leave me along. Of course in this country one of the most revered sports is cock fighting. I believe it’s illegal here but common.

We were settled in nearby to the convent across the road. The Sisters of Dominican Mission. It is located down a narrow street at the end of a community. Green everywhere. And the orchids! Striking orchids of many colours were handing from trees. Carefully cultivated garden and green. Two white dogs also greeted us. We felt quite at home among the garden and dogs.

The sisters showed us to our rooms. The boys, Ian and Graham have their own rooms, with a toilet and running water. Mervyn and I are sharing our room with Chris. This is a turn around as we were originally having ‘a married couple room’ where I could work without disturbing others late into the night. It’s all sort of working out.

Conditions are not as we know at home. The ‘shower’ block consists of three cubicles for showers; with shower heads and a cold tap – and a bucket and dish. It looks as if there has never been any water connected to the showers. To bathe one has to pour cold water onto the body after filling the pail with the cold water. Just as well it is so hot and sticky. It’s actually quite a relief to pour cold water over the body, several times a day. Have to remember to take a glass of bottle water to the shower room for cleaning teeth. We are not to drink the water. There are three toilet cubicles. Again, the water is connected but the cisterns do not flush. After using the toilet you need to fill up a bucket and return to the toilet and pour quickly. This is what the nuns and novices live with. It would be great if rotary or others could send in a plumber to make these women’s lives a little more comfortable.

But then, if you look across the fence and into the homes of the community; this is a palace. Next door and many of the neighbours live in houses with wooden frames and hessian. Coconut leaves and banana palms form the roof. The constant sound of roosters, chickens and pigs is a pleasant change from the Eltham traffic. There are even bird sounds and the occasional singing of girls from the convent.

The nuns are beautiful people, permanently gracious and smiling. They are not complaining about the heat and yet if you ask, yes, it is as unseasonably humid for them.