The Sisters of Dominican Convent – Tuesday 2 July

At the Convent – 2 July 2013

I can see it’s going to be difficult getting a journal out. With the constant black outs – or brown outs as the nuns refer  to the frequent daily power failure – things to do and slow internet only available through my phone ‘hotspot’…

I will try to catch up on the activities of the recent days – but to begin from this morning…

The morning meditation bell is sounded around 5.00am. It is still dark but at least a little cooler. The overhead fan is on all night, as the two small fans – as much to keep the mosquitoes away as anything else.

I was up for a bucket wash in the shower cubicle this morning and just as I was half dressed the bagging began. The bagging of the motor of the mosquito spraying machine. It was so loud. The sisters had called the spray man because two of the residents, one sister and one novice have contracted dengi fever. The girls have been washing the floors in kerosine for the past two days. The place stinks of petrochemical.

As I hurried to dry myself and put on some clothes to the loud pump noise I began to see a fog coming through the wooden louvers of the shower block. I quietly began to panic as the stench reached my nose to the loud banging sound. It was too much as half naked I started out along the corridor for my shared room. I could not see in front of me for the fog mist of the insecticide spray. Open my room and Mervyn and Chris were also cowering from the fumes. It was so thick we could not see each other. I held my skirt to my face and closed my eyes. Then I noticed Mervyn had gone. Sat on the bed with the cloth across my face and after a few minutes Mervyn came back and said we needed to get outside. i had thought that would have been worse. At the back of the convent the spray had begin to dissipate and we sat there coughing and choking into the stench. Soon the air cleared a little – like a fog rising from the early morning dew. We tiptoed through the mist back to our room and opened the door; but it was still too thick in our room and returned outside and waited.

Even now, several hours later I am in my room writing to the smell that will be here for some time; I think. I have a little bottle of lavender oil and have sprinkled that onto our beds to cover up the smell.

It was time for breakfast which we had with the sisters and novices. There are 11 people living in the convent full time and several others coming and going. Always active; visitors and members of the order passing through.

After breakfast I was to bake a cake and work with the children. But first; needed to go with sister and Mervyn to buy more plumbing needs and building materials from the highway. Mervyn has now become the convent driver. He is also the supervisor for the construction and repair of the library and other outbuildings. He says he is not a plumber and would rather take orders; but he is now plumber, builder and painter; driver…

Yesterday I worked with the 4 and 5 year olds. There are 75 pupils for the community attending the school. The families pay $10 a month which covers the cost of the oil to cook the children’s lunches. The rest of the teaching costs and food are paid by the convent. There are 20 children paid for by scholarship from an Australian church parish. The cost to the parishioners is $20 a month. That’s about a cafe latte a week. Maybe more of us could spend a coffee  a week on sending a child to school. Being here has shown me just what is needed and how the poorest of the Timor Leste people live. The convent is situated in the poorest part of town. I will post photographs as I can. And maybe not until I return to my first world computer desk and fast network to make it happen.

This morning a group of visiting Australian students passed through led by a Catholic church volunteer. Mervyn is out there alone trying to fix the shed and the sisters are concerned there is no one to help him. I suggested to the visitors that one of their strong men could assist Mervyn. The answer was ‘Oh no, couldn’t allow our visiting Australians to do more than look. Work safe and heath thingo’s back home wouldn’t allow the school children to touch anything…’ They can look and go back home and share the problem. Form what I can see from here we need more than that.

a little later…

I’ve come in from teaching the young students again. Today we walked around the garden and chose a leaf to bring in and put on the table while observing the difference in colour and shape. I then demonstrated how I would draw and paint the leaf and then one by one they came to try for the first time my brushes and how to hold the brush. Thought this would be first way of teaching how to hold and put brush on paper.

Last night Sister showed me the bags the women have been making from the outer community. They are like lined shopping bags and beautifully sewn by hand decorations. I have bought a number of them for the gallery.

Sister asked one of the local youth to climb up the coconut tree to pick coconut. Unfortunately when he was up in the high branches of the tree he was stung by a bee and it was very painful for him. I had some anti-histime pills and gave him one. So what happens at other times? He was quite distressed. And yet he shot up that tree like a monkey. Many of the community come to the convent during the day. It is like an oasis among the hessian and concrete homes. Some whitewash would be great here too. Some people are managing to build homes from concrete blocks and it is possible to see the beginnings of a loved abode.

Last night Ian had arranged a dinner for the new tribe of Rotarians that arrived the night before. We had promised Sister to take her to the market along the beach. We missed the dinner but instead had a great experience of shopping Timor style. The beach is lined with stalls where the locals come to sell their produce. I hope I can find time to return to photograph. Stalls with taro, pumpkin, bananas, greens I do not know, cocos; all beautifully displayed. The prices were varied and bargaining was not successful. Sister tried to bring prices down but the stall owners held their own.A pineapple was $3,50 – $5.00 and water melon $7.00; and that’s for a small one only.

We had a lovely drive out to the other mission a couple of days ago – up high along a dangerous mountain road. Perhaps more dangerous the way Ian drives; though he has tried to convince us he has been driving and avoiding events for many years. He is a good guide for certain bits of history – anything to do with the unrest and the Australian Peace keeping forces. He has been here many times over the past few years, firstly as a army major and now as a rotarian bring teams like us along.

He has quite a job on his hand keeping the three convent sites repairs flowing. Getting anything here is difficult; though I think not as difficult as Mongolia! It’s about the time and process of driving.

Yesterday there was a killing. A Timor Leste student who had attended the St  Dominican convent as a student was killed for visiting West Timor. He was studying the language and the local killed him for being perhaps in their eyes a traitor. He was from this community. I am unsure of anymore details other than we heard many sirens in the streets yesterday and they seemed to go forever. There was retribution. So the tension is still here, barely beneath the surface.

On our first night one of the sisters; Helen, visiting from the highlands had warned us to not run over any dogs. What did she do the next night but run over and kill a neighbours dog. That was bad enough but she didn’t stop. We are wall warned about being out at night alone and for a sister to get out of her car in the dark is considered dangerous; so she kept coming to convent. The dog owners were furious and in general terms to run over a dog will cost $50. They came to the convent and tried to negotiate $500. The farce ended up at the police station. The dog owners said it was their special guard dog who protects their shop. All at the convent were nervous because of the short fuses of the local and it does not take a lot for the unrest and frequent stonings to begin. They threatened to destroy sister Helen’s car.

will write some more later.

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Preparations for Timor Leste

Much time has been spent contemplating the ‘right’ materials to take, the camera gear and speculating as to the conditions ahead of us for our three weeks in Timor. Each journey is different and requires a focused preparation. It’s not as if we can just throw a few clothes together and jump on a plane.

There have been inoculations – many of our previous inoculations have served well for this trip already. This time we have had three lots of ‘rabies’ vaccinations – and even then in the unlucky event of being bitten by an animal we need to be rushed to hospital and then on the first plane back to Darwin; because there will unlikely be any meds to treat a bite. The hospital situation we understand in Timor is far from what we know and are used to in Australia. We have to carry our own ’emergency’ kits and medications. A web site praising the new hospital in Dili explains the most common meds given are panadol. Anything else is in pretty short supply – and that’s antibiotics and pain medication.

We expect temperatures to be around 30C. Packing on these chilly days with a view to the tropics and not putting in warm clothing seems odd.

Then there are the art materials to consider – what can I take with a view to space and protection? Probably I will take gouache, pastel and watercolour. No point even considering oil. Acrylic too seems a bit bulky in this event.

The most important equipment for this trip will be my camera and video camera. My job will be to document the activities of the rotary members and work on a combined film with Ian Toohil who wants to produce a film Rotary can use. I have my own agenda; to meet the artists and in particular women weavers and document them at work. Contacts have been a little illusive so I plan on making my own introductions and hoping for a welcome.

It would be lovely to make some contact and friendship between Eltham and the Timorese artists. We have much to give, but even more to learn from meeting the people and artists who have gone through difficulties we (I) cannot understand. We (I) come from a society that does not know war or true community unrest. The most unrest an Elthamite like me has had to contend with on a personal level is the local political environmental and artistic spates. This compared to the places we (I) have travelled seems very petty.

Enough contemplating for now – on with the packing.

Eltham to Timore Leste

ImageThis photograph is NOT how we will be travelling to Timore Leste from Eltham. The photograph above depicts a traditional Mongolian Nomadic family moving camp with their Yak train for better pastures.

We will be flying from Melbourne and arriving at 1.00am in Darwin. Sleep for five hours on the terminal floor; seats, whatever we can and waiting until 6.00am for the 1.5 hour flight from Darwin to Dilli. Leave Melbourne winter behind and arrive in around 30C tropics.

Purpose of our trip? We are part of an NGO team from the Eltham Rotary Group involved with the building of an accommodation unit at an ophanage 25 kilometres from the capital city, Dili.

July 3 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This morning we packed and replaced our bags several times relocating items until each bag appeared to weigh somewhere around what is the maxium baggage allowance for Korean airlines. We are much the same as when we arrived with our exhibition of works. Expect to pay same as our flight Australia to Mongolia.

There was quite a bit of food left in the cupboards which I donated to the lady under the stairs for herself and the two small children who live with her. I feel sad about her situation and try nt to think too much about the hundreds of people who live in utter poverty here and whom would think our lady fortunate to have the space under the stairs in the apartment block.

I heard a out a scheme yesterday that helps women in hardship fund a ger on condition they also learn to grow food. One of the criteria in the scheme is that the applicant needs to own their own land. So what happens to the people under the stairs?

Tugsoo, Unench and daughter Dooloo came and picked us up to take us to their country dacha ger this afternoon. We had such a wonderful day in the summer sunshine looking at the green grass filled hills. Saaina, Tugsoo’s husband is living in the ger at the mo,ent while the rest of the family are in our apartment upstairs.

After lunch we drove down to the river and enjoyed the edge and watching a horseman ride his horse into the river and many people playing along the banks. We came across a group of young people with a car all smashed up and bogged in an awful muddy piece of road. It looked as if they were tagging and hooning around. Never the less Unench was able to winch them out with his strong prado vehicle.

A little further on we came to a green plain with a herder shifting his flock of goats. He was on a horse as well as leading another horse with foal. He sat still on his horse for me to photograph him. I will not be able to upload pics until I get home and to my camera.

So now we are here at the final night in this apartment… Watching Q & A on a grainy tv on Australia network after a great dinner at the Wang restaurant in Chingis khan hotel.

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Hustai National Park

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the Hustai National Park is now the only place where the wild Monglian horse can roam free. The Takhi (Prezwalskii) horse became extinct in Mongolia and through a world breeding program have been reintroduced to this 50,000 hectare park.

The park is approximately 120 kilometers from UB.

Saruul, our Mongolian artist friend invited us to stay overnight in a ger camp with him and also Tugsoo. Saruul is director of the History Museum. We Had a driver and a large Land cruiser to travel through the park.

The west of UB road to the park in also the road we travelled to khorkhorin two years ago and thankfully in a much better state than back then. It did however take us back over the atrocious muddy roadworks of recent trips. The cars slide about all over the place and in parts are still directed through service stations and I hope the servos are being compensated for no one in their right mind would try to stop to buy petrol!

Also along this stretch is the most beautify green steppe. The dry hills have turned green since our last journey here a couple of weeks ago. It is truly a glorious sight to see the great green plains of the steppe country wander into the mysterious horizons.

For first time we saw long stretches of fences with crops and possibly potatoes growing for miles. The new food basket of UB? The trouble with fences is it cuts down the herding options for the nomadic people who have had their own kind of boundaries for hundreds of years.

Small towns along the way service the cashmere and wool industries, buyers, sellers, rough looking fenced factories and all sorts of industry on the Edge of UB.

Turning into the park area we drive once again through little Gobi sand dunes dotted with small trees. These sand dunes far more lush than further south. There are many wild flowers coming out and small herds of horses sheep and goats.

We stayed at a large ger camp on the edge of the National Park and decided on having a large lunch and a siesta so we could drive into the park in the late afternoon and watch for the horses to come down from the rocky hills and feed in the river valley.

It was a sensible option. We headed ten kilometers on from the camp into the beautiful park and saw many marmots and prairie dogs scampering about their burrows. We came across a herd of goats and sheep, though herding was also banned in the park… There was only one fork in the road and we had taken the wrong one, as usual. We headed into some really stunning landscape and stopped many times to take photographs. We met another vehicle asked the way and offered to follow the truck back to the other fork. In the back of the truck were two very unhappy looking goats, guess someone’s dinner tonight. And Nadam Festival is coming up soon and goat is always a celebration meat on the menu.
Back on the right track wevery soon came across out first small family of wild Takhi horse. Not so far off the road there stood a group of small chestnut horses with their distinctive short main and stocky build. And one white horse with foal. It was something special. Able to take some good photographs with canon camera for downloading later at home.

As we moved around the park we were lucky to come across about 50 of the horses. In one beautiful valley we stayed and painted for a couple of hours. Many small rodents, grasshoppers and insects played a concert for us.

As the evening approached and the air grew cold we saw more family’s in growing herd numbers up to a dozen or so horses together.

It was nearly dark by the time we returned to our ger and prepared a slap up meal by the warmth of our ger stove. And a delicious sleep again under the covers of sheep felt in the round walled ger room.

We gave ourselves a generous sleep in this morning. It began to rain and we returned to Ulaanbaatar satisfied we had a good session with the wild Takhi horse.

it is election day tomorrow. All the faces posted across Ulaanbaatar have vanished and we have been still urged not to go out tomorrow for the fear of riots. This stems from the riots in recent years after elections. The warning has gone out to American nationals and other western peoples in Mongolia. We had planned to sit in the gallery with our exhibition with Tugsoo.