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.

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.

Eltham – home again

We arrived back in Tullamarine airport Melbourne on July 5 at 6.00am. Our flight from Korean was thankfully boring and uneventful. It is good to be home. The garden is lush and needs attention and winter has settled in. It’s interesting how quickly we forget the seasons and what being cold feels like. It’s away with the Mongolilan summer clothes and the search for last seasons winter attire again. Where we’re my boots…

Trish kindly came early and open our house, turned on the heater and dusted the last two months emptiness away. How lovely to come home to a lightened warm house with a kind smile for a welcome and a little sartie poodle dancing frenetically all over us. We felt welcomed hme and loved. And Trish had even brought in fresh milk for Mervyn, and rice milk for me. A cup of tea. So good to be home and with the familiar.

I think it is important to go away at times just to realize how good we have it in Australia. I know now we have our own little paradise at home. We have a good house, land for a garden and studios to work in.

We stayed one night and then headed off to Digby to check out our Digby dacha. It has been many months since we have been to Digby. We were greeted with a mice plague!

The mice had been partying through out the houses even the bedding had to be washed and dried before we could go to bed sometime in the early morning! Lesson: – never leave a house vacant for so long. All of the cupboards with food, or even without food had been raided. It could not have been worse. We through out all our food and washed and cleaned everything. It was too disgusting to make a cup of tea and all I could think of was selling the cottage as it seemed too far and too difficult at that time of night to contemplate keeping!

Anyway, the next morning after it was all clean and snug again and we after that blissful quiet country sleep I was once more pleased to have our little cottage. It is safe for the next while… And we vow somehow to come down here more often.

As I write it is Tuesday and we will leave tomorrow for ELTHAM. Much of our Digby the has been spent doing nothing. Relaxing and contemplating the past two months in Mongolia. There is much to do to catch up back in ELTHAM, but that can wait…

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Mongolia to Korea July 3/4

The last day of Our two month journey to Mongolia. We had an restless sleep last night, Mervyn was sleeping sitting up because he was coughing too much and I, well, just could not sleep.

In the morning we rechecking our packing and adjusted every thing again to get correct weight in our bags. We were just a little over and hoped that would be ok. A lot over means the dreaded excess baggage. Tugsoo came down and suggested we really aught to post our painting home instead I’d paying excess on them. There are 10 kilos in the works on paper and photographs. So off to the post office we went and the strange shape didn’t concern the ladies who know us now. Cost, $130 instead of $400 at $10 kilo excess baggage on korean airlines. And onelessbaggsgeto worry about. It should follow us home in about ten days. The ladies are great, they scotch taped the whole package to waterproof the cardboard outer case.

More rest then lunch with Tugsoo’s family. And we watched a movie of dollops choice. Toy farm or so,etching like that. She had already watched once today. She is starting to say a lot of English words. She wants very much to learn English. She is only four and I am certain by our next trip she will be speaking good English.

Apparently there were two more newspaper articles published today about our show in Mongolian newspapers. Unfortunate that we were. Unable to get any to being home. I am hoping Tugsoo will send them on.

The family came to the aiort to see us off on our midnight flight. They decided it would be better to get out of city early because of the traffic and head out to the hill and enjoy the last moments of Mongol countryside.

Well, was that a surprise. We drove out up into the beautiful lush green hills to the national park only to see the development of large houses that would not look out of place in the wealthy suburbs of Melbourne. Large McMansions some three and even four stories taking several block sizes to bu old. There were new apartments being built. Houses and houses under constructional there were paddocks that did not look anything like Mongolia anymore. Fences everywhere. Steel picket fences, timber fences, dry stone rock fences, cement block rendered fences. Some with a ger sndno house inside the fence. It appears as if the community here had come out and out a tape about a plot of land and made their claim. All the the bu idling work is illegal. All of the houses and apartments are build in the national park. This is what the Mongol political corruption is all about. My friends say these houses are owned by political party members and embers of parliament. Some want the houses to be demolished. The law forbids houses to be built on this national forest and still it goes on with a ferocious intensity. The houses are on cleared land and I wondered what came first because the back houses are in the thick treed forest.

In this forest live all of the wild Mongolian animals. Bears, wolves, deer and the small creatures. The land houses sit on have the remnants of herders flocks of sheep, some cows and horse roaming through the building sites. It all appears incongruous.

We drove up through the houses to the gates of the old soviet hotel Tugsoo wanted to show me only to find guards and a gate barrier. Nope. We were not allowed any further. The guard said th ey were repairing the road, but his comment seem thin on the truth. What was happening further up the hill? We may never know.

We go elsewhere,Tugsoo said. We came back down through the many builders carrying soil and materials by hand and w it’s buckets. We went up another hill and this one was so beautiful… Till we noticed the white marks in the grass and tape carving up the landscape. This alley too soon will be an illegal housing lot. This is the new Mongolia. Welcome…

At the back of this road we came upon a ger camp. It was the best kept ger camp We have visited. Historical, clean. There were gers constructed of the earlier time ger with the higher roof and these gers were highly decorative. Missing was the broken glass, papers and rubbish strewn around other ger camps. The largest ger on the world claims fame here too. The camp is set beneath a forested hill.

We stayed here for dinner.the Restaurant ger was clean and decorated its the many skins of wild animals. Most of them I am saddened to report were the grey and white skins of snow leopard. At first I could not believe these skins could be real as their were too many. Hundreds! They had come from confiscations at customs we were told.

During dinner we were also accompanied by a wonder traditional young man playing the horse hair fiddle and singing a throat song.

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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July 1 2012 Ulaanbaatar

The realization we are leaving here in a day or two has just hit us as we headed into the UMAGallery to pack up our exhibition. The last few days have been a little difficult as we begin the wind down being in Mongolia and think again of Eltham. Not much food shopping anymore and we are working out how to get all the stuff home. Yes, still stuff as well as the boxes we have sent by UB Post. It’s is far cheaper to send goods to Australia by regular post as to pay the $40 excess baggage fee at the airport. We will probably still have excess baggage as we have the paintings to bring home.

This morning we three visited the nearby monastery to do as the monk artist yesterday suggested. He had told me I needed to visit the monetary 58 times and pray. Tugsoo had offered to continue the good work on my behalf after we leave.

The process was a little different to what I had understoodl I was led to believe we would see a monk and he continue the good words of guidance. Instead, Tugsoo and I lined up at a glass window where several women were taking money. It seems you have to tell the ladies what you wish to pray for and pay what you think is reasonable and say how many times the monk will say a prayer for you. Tugsoo suggested I pay 5000tg approx $4.00 and the monk will pray ten times. My prayers will be read tomorrow morning. Oh, I was a little disappointed. I had expected a meeting with a priest and a sense of enlightenment. This instead was just a monetary transaction. All I received was my receipt with the tg amount and the number of prayers. I understand it is up to each individual to offer the amount of money and number of prayer times.

After this transaction we were ready to head into the city. I wanted more. I headed into the beautiful temple and Tugsoo and walked around the large carved hard red wood timber rosary that lay at the feet of the enormous gold Buddha. As I caressed each giant red wooden ball I was reminded of the small redbud balls carved years ago by hand by Grace. She would have really loved to have seen these giant red sculptures. The wooded balls were shiny from the many human hands that had touched them.

We were given at the door a little packet of holy water in a plastic sealed bag. This was to be used in the evening to wash. Tugsoo said it was ok to add more water to the concentrate. We were also shaded in a sealed bag some ground cypress to burn. I think and hope it is cypress for it looks and smells very similar to marijuana. You can s mell if often burning in small cal drums around the city and in particular at the black market.

I had also been told yesterday not to receive gifts from anyone offering a patterned cloth. It was ok for me to buy and pay for a patterned item, but not to receive as gift. If I did receive it I was to pass it on to someone else. I would also benefit from white and green cloth. I bought a white and green silk from the Buddhists, and a green set of beads.

As we left the temple and headed by foot into the centre to the gallery a dog began to follow us. He was limping a little. He had kind eyes and Mervyn and I liked the company. I did not have any food to give him. Mervyn though the dog just liked to be with us for the company too. He crossed roads with us and stayed within a foot step or two. I gave him a pat but also remembered we had not had our rabies injections. Dogs here we have been told can pass on rabies just by licking you and it is not a good thing to catch. So we all kept a healthy distance while enjoying each others company. At one point we crossed the road or ‘j’ walked really and had to step over one of the small iron fences in the street. oh dear, momentarily I had forgotten our friend and as I stepped out of the way of the traffice saw the dog looking st how he was to get over the fence. Now if it was our poodle sartie he would have just jumped; or slipped tween the iron bars. Our friend dog was too large. It happened just near us was a bit of fence with a iron rod missing. I showed our friend dog the whole as as the traffic started bearing down he got it and stepped though. We were all together again stepping though the rough streets and deadly man holes without covers together.

We passed a golden statue of a man in boots. The sculpture was leaning against a pole. I was surprised to see the dog see the bronze boot and shy away. It was as if he knew what a boot can do…

We made it to Sumbucca square and Togsoo went off to gallery while Mervyn and I went in search of last minute shopping such as the Mongol Messenger and the artists book we looked st yesterday. I also admit, I did want to buy a fury camel I had seen some weeks ago. Tugsoo had said to visit a bookshop across from the square. We had hoped our friend dog might meet up with the other dogs that hang out in the park by the city square but no. Our friend dog was still with us. This time he stayed close as we all together negotiated the road. We went into a book shop and he sat and waited. Did not find the book. It was hot now. The street too sunny and for friend dog too, he was looking a little tired and hot but he kept with us and waled in any shady patches in the street. At another road crossing (with lights) he sat Dow in the green grass under a tree and we thought perhaps now he had enough and may stay in the cool. The lights turned green and up he came with us.

Across the other side of the road was a small stall selling drinks and sweets. I bight a bottle of water, and a paper cup. The water was cool. I poured a cup of water for friend dog and held it out to him. He would not drink. I put the cup down on the path and he drank gratefully. It was time to leave each other. I put the cup to the edge of the street in the shade. Friend dog seemed to know it was for him and we parted ways. He sat with the cup of water and did not follow us any more.

There was a man selling street paintings on the corner too. He was smiling with amusement as he watched me buy water for the dog. He seemed a kind person and i like to think they two shared some time together.

Eventually after eating Indian food for lunch at a great little restaurant we came across, buying last minute items we, we made it back to the gallery to pack up our show. Already the next batch of artists were waiting for us to leave so as they could hang the next show.

It didt take too long. Back at our apartment we repackaged the works and Mercyn took all of the canvases off the stretchers and rolled them up again in readiness for our flight on Tuesday.

Dinner with another Mongolian Tugs poet, and Tugsoo as well as two Soroptomist members from New Zealand. We met Tugs yesterday when she delve us around to the Mongolian artist collectors gallery apartment.

Two more sleeps to the airport…

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June 30 2012 Ulaanbaatar

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These pics were taken at a textile stall in the Black Market. Traditional braids used on traditional clothing. Textiles and sips are among some of the memories I will take away from Mongolia. If there is one thing Mongolia does well it is the beautiful clothing using traditional and modern silks to make deals and shirts and all manner of clothing. Most smart restaurants cloak the chairs and tables with fabric and much is used in curtains and all manner of things.

Today we visited yet another of Tugsoo’s artist friends. This time a wonder painter of ink work and a sculptor who also happened to have a gallery home housing amazing antiques from hundred of years and mostly Mongolian relics. He is also from a buddhist monk dependency and was the keeper of some ancient hand written works by monks. He was very interesting and gave me a reading from the knuckle bones and coins. I am to go to the temple 58 times to pray. Tomorrow Tugsoo and I will return to the temple nearby to begin my work. As we are leaving I’m a few days I will not be able to complete my prayer work. Tugsoo will complete it for me.

Interesting, it is the temple which is nearby and which we have walked through several times and of which I stopped in a photographed the Hugh wooden balls that reminded me of Grace’s carved Red gum balls. They are actually prayer beads – enormous ones.

I bought one of his ink paintings as I had admired them greatly in the History museum and was very pleased to meet the artist today,

After our visit we went back to the UMA gallery and sat with our show for a while. Mervyn and I went off in search of a book of the artists work we had looked st in his home. It was a long shot as it was published in 2006. Could not find it anywhere and presume it is well out of print. What was special was that it had photographs of Mongolian landscape and then his ink drawings printed as overlays of ancient warrior drawings and other ancient life activities that would have taken place at the place of the photo. It helps the viewer see the modern landscape with a sense of history’s I have never seen this before.

Elections are over and it still the democratic party seems to have the majority of votes. The result is like Australia, close to a Jung parliament. Deals are being done and. As our friends said maybe 10cents worth of change.