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.

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.