28/12/2015 So consider my comfort zone violated. I’ve heard about culture shock before but never really experienced it. I even googled the definition of culture shock, it said something about disorientation, about feeling angry and confused about being taken out of familiar surroundings. Well here I am. The smells, the sights, the sounds, everything is alien. I wasn’t under any illusions, about the conditions here but still you can’t prepare for what you have never seen. I thought I would come and be moved by the poverty, that I would see poor kids, poor families, and be moved, and I am. I mean, I never pictured myself as an Angelina Jolie, loving all the beautiful brown people, but I have felt the genuine love of God for this nation and I thought that when I got here that flow of love would dominate my emotions. It doesn’t. I didn’t count on watching my teenage girls constantly, the attention they get is palpable, particularly the older one who at 16 looks like a woman, while the younger one still looks pretty much like a child. Ms16 is sticking to her father like glue, that part is kind of nice. The smell is also distinctive, smoke, and dust and diesel. Its not offensive as such, its just everywhere. Like coming back from camping when the smell is lingering on all your clothes and gear, but here it seems to imbed itself in your nostrils. I asked Lucinda if that smell is always there, she didn’t seem to know what I meant. I think the dominant emotion is just the feeling of being foreign, of landing in a place so close to Australia that reality is so different. And by different I don’t mean miserable. This is Timorese land, they own it, they have fought a long and bloody battle for it and they make the most of the limitations of their economy, people seem for the most part happy. I have no intention of judging them or approaching this with condescension. I don’t have any emotions of guilt or that I am more privileged or lucky or any of the cliched things people go on about in relation to visiting developing countries (although I do reserve the right to kiss the ground when I return to Brisbane). I just feel like I don’t belong here, I feel like nothing I ever do will make a difference to these people.
29/12/2015 Given the culture shock, we decided to start the day latter, sleep in and see how we went. Had a bit of an unusual breakfast In that we were the only people in the restaurant. Four wait staff and two security guards seem to be all for us, By the time Lucinda came to pick us up it was really a little late to start the day in Dili heat but we needed the space. The kids were struggling still with this strange “Holliday” we had decided to take them on. It felt a lot different today driving around Dili and I lost any need to save the word for a moment. The world it seems, already has a Saviour. So we spent the first part of the day running errands and going to the Tais markets.Tais is the lovely hand weaving the Timorese people do. Having Alina (native Timorese woman) and Lucinda (Australian and speaks Tetum) with me was great. I was able to talk with some of the stall holders about how we could get some scarves made by traditional weavers in modern patterns and colours. Alina and my daughter also have a great eye for fashion so they are going to help us design some scarves that are both beautiful and useful and will provide a diversification of product for the weavers and stall owners. It looked like the sale the stall owner made to us may have been the only one all day. The barriers of language are not the only problem are facing though. The literacy levels of some of the weavers means that producing a product with consistent sizing and quality for a western market may require a business minded Timorese middleman or middlewoman, and we need to be able to access that without either driving the cost of the product too high or completely defeating the purpose of the project and exploiting the worker. We will not accept a solution that involves the latter at any cost. Lunch by the sea in a nice restaurant helped a great deal with the heat and the frustration of trying to do business in a culture I haven’t really the first clue about. We finished the day with Burger King in front of the TV.
30/12/2105 Today we had plans that didn’t quite eventuate, and we are learning to be flexible. We did however do a lot of grocery shopping in preparation for our trip to Weberek tomorrow. Grocery shopping is a little different in Dili. The markets are crowded with a strange variety of products. They have the basics that you would expect in a supermarket, just far less variety and wildly inconsistent quality and pricing. The meat is all frozen and the vegetables are strange and not always fresh. The freshest fruit and vegetables seem to be in roadside stalls and men who walk around with long sticks over their shoulders with seasonal fruit hanging from them. It is also on the streets where you buy your data, from guys who hang around out the front of the shops and markets, they also sell cigarets. You can buy the data for the same price in the store but Lucinda says she likes to buy from them because it gives them some income. The most distinctive thing is the attention you get, as if people are expecting you to break out in song or something. As we left the supermarket a little kid pointed to us and screamed “Mali Mali” (foreigner, foreigner). Glad I wasn’t feeling alien and sensitive anymore. The streets seem to be wild and perilous. Although Lucinda negotiates them with ease, to a Mali they seem to be without appropriate rules and boundaries. Helmeted adults scoot around with completely unprotected children on motorbikes, streets have no lanes, apparently for the convenience of the user choosing to make two or three lanes at their own discretion, some streets are one way and others are not, but there are no signs indicating which it may be. When I asked Lucinda how you could tell, she told me you just have to “figure it out”. Pedestrians cross without waiting for traffic to stop and “right of way” concepts at intersections seem to be based on who is the fastest, has the strongest traffic flow or is the boldest to hit the gas. The children are still finding it hard to adjust but they cannot help but be changed by what they see here, and I am thankful that Lucinda is giving us a very real view of the country. Today we passed the Australian Embassy, a distinctly clean, white, large building behind a massive fence and razor wire. As we drove past I did look at the beautiful new land cruisers with a little envy, but I was glad to be in lucinda’s old ute seeing an unedited version of these beautiful people. One of the stops today was the pharmacy where Lucinda stocks up for supplies. The clinics and hospitals she works with frequently run out of basic supplies, like paracetamol, ibuprofen and antibiotics. Northern Illawarra Uniting Church give Lucinda a quarterly donation that she spends topping up supplies of the regional clinics and hospitals. Outside the clinic was a beggar with rotten teeth and a crippled foot. One of the Timorese women with us went and greeted him, it was her uncle. I was really shocked. Latter she told us his story and that he had been unwise with some life decisions. She seemed a little embarrassed by his situation. I told her that in Australia when we have relatives that fall on hard times because of bad health and unwise life choices, the state looks after them, the healthcare is free and they can usually access safe accommodation on welfare payments. I wanted her to know, the reason I was so shocked was not that we are better, or our country is more advanced, we don’t have uncles begging in the streets because we have a more prosperous economy. Tomorrow we go to Weberek for more adventures.