Finding the heart of the people – Travel blog 6

After we left Same hospital we were hungry as well as weary. We found a little restaurant that served very reasonably priced local fish and chips. Fish and chips and Coke was just what the doctor ordered, or more precisely what the midwife ordered. It turns out Dr Nicho had been unsuccessful in collecting his wages and was home again so he could return to Same the net day for a midwife conference and to collect his wages. One of the gifts we had purchased Weberek was LED track lighting for the clinic so the doctor could conduct examinations at night without the use of a torch. When they built the clinic they did not make provision for water or lighting. The Peak Hill team had installed water with a solar pump to the clinic and Lucinda had asked us to bring the lighting. As we were returning to Same the next day on the way back to Dili we dropped in to Dr Nicho’s house to see if he wanted to come back to Weberek with us so that Richard could show him the new lighting system. He was happy to come and we were able to drop into his house and have a drink and meet his family. Nicho is one of seven and his sister is a journalist and one of his brother studies English at the University in Dili, so it was nice to be able to chat with his brother. He had hoped to get a scholarship to study in Australia but had been unsuccessful. I could be mistaken but I thought I felt a sense of frustration in him, with Australia or with the difficulties in finding a way ahead in this country.  I apologised to him for the little our country seemed to be doing, and he thanked me for the sentiment, which even to me, seemed very empty.  Here was a bright young man with so few avenues to pursue in his life. I thought of the young men that I so frequently see on my Facebook feed that are graduating from Churchie or State High and going to top level Universities to study Law or Medicine or Finance and I didn’t see any difference in intelligence or drive, but I wondered how on earth this young man would ever be given an equal footing on the world stage.  It is merely a dream of course, but one I hold dearly not only for him but for all the young men and women of Timor Leste.

When we returned to the house the gate was open and a great crowd of children were lingering outside and in the front yard. “Ohh the kids program” Lucinda mutters. She hadn’t forgotten that the kids program was on a Monday afternoon, she just thought it would be held elsewhere in her absence. When Lucinda didn’t turn up to the kids program a few of the local kids went looking for her and found some interesting foreighners. Richard had at that point finished a list of jobs that needed to be done around the house in Weberek and on the ageing car. He was about to have a shower when these first little scouts turned up, then a few more, then the word must have got out that there was a new kids club host and 38 children turned up at the house and started to unstack the chairs and get ready for the days program. Richard Ms16 and Ms14 were a bit perplexed, but the champions they are, they entertained them, for three hours. They taught them English, they taught them rock, paper, scissors, Ms16 taught them high five (up high,down low, too slow), they showed them a glossy newsagent paper, photos on their iphones and generally had an interesting cultural exchange. Richard said for him it was the highlight of the trip. The children were so hungry to learn and approached these new foreigners with curious enthusiasm, it was such a nice break from the “whatever” generation at home.

When the kids cleared Nicho and Richard worked on the lights and Alina and I made dinner. It was such a pleasure to spend some time with Alina. She is such a quiet strong person and I was happy to talk with her about her hopes and dreams for herself and her people. Alina’s mother died when she was just a teenager and it has been difficult for her and her family. After talking a while I plucked up the courage to ask her a stupid question that had come to me on our return to the village, as I watched a woman work in her dirt floor dwelling. “Alina, do these people know how poor they are”? “Yes, they know”. “Do they have any hope, you know that things will be better for them or their family?” She paused a while, “If they have an animal they have some hope, but they may also just spend that on a festival for a dead ancestor and then they have nothing”.  Animals are currency in these villages which is what has given us a heart to develop a project for small scale chicken farms. It is fair to say that the Timorese are their own worse critics. Their love for elaborate funerals and festivals is sometimes mentioned as an imprudent indulgence by Timorese. Alina has a love for her people, but there is also an annoyance there, which is probably true of all cultures. There seems to be a sence with the Timorese that they have failed in the plight to pull themselves into the modern world, almost a shame. Everywhere you go the Timorese apologise for the home they have welcomed you into, and the meal they are serving you. It’s like some sections of the society live in a state of denial, spending there meagre assets on festivals, and the others see only the lack and continually apologise for the poverty that they have inherited from their turbulent history. It actually makes me a little angry and ashamed of my own people for what they have done and what they have failed to do for Timor Leste. Dr Nicho joined us for dinner and we found him to be a delightful young man. His English is not great so most of the conversation was translated through Alina and Lucinda. He spends the week in Weberek and goes home to his lovely family on the weekend. Our journey was taking us through his home town the next day and he wanted to show us the beach on the way and host us for refreshments with his family before he went on to the conference.

It was the end of our last full day in Weberek and as corny as it sound I knew that they really had taken my heart and I would carry them with me when I left. I was also very thankful to Lucinda and Alina for the opportunity to show us the heart of these people, and the parts of the country that most tourists (or the UN, Lucinda reminds me) would never see.