A comfortable one-hour flight from Darwin, in the Northern Territory, will have you in Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, one of the newest nations on earth, and leaving behind many of the comforts of home. Tourism is a fledgling industry here but it is a country where one is so warmly welcomed and the people give much of themselves to visitors.
A small, basic building serves as the international airport and is a far cry from the slick commercial ones we are used to. The local yellow cabs look like duct tape is used to keep them together. They are a reminder we are in a third-world country. The shattered windscreen and scraping mudguards accompanied by plumes of exhaust fumes do little to instil confidence that these vehicles can make the trip into the centre of Dili. Car ownership and even motor bikes or scooters, are beyond the reach of most East Timorese. Other than taxis, there is the local Mikrolet, a mini-bus used by most to travel around town or to the more remote parts of the country. Colourful and noisy, they remind one of public transport in India. For other people, walking long distances is common.
The taxi ride from the airport is an experience. Our laden suitcases tax the suspension of our hire car. We are carrying extra luggage because we have special supplies for the village of Venilale, with which we have a partnership with back in Australia. The boot of the car where our suitcases are stowed, is also home to a rather large black box which amplifies the rather loud, grating music for our driver’s entertainment. Obviously, proud of his sound system, for me in the back seat my poor ear drums were under assault. We politely requested that it be turned off!
We spent our first three nights in Dili at the Hotel Esplanda, with comfortable western-style accommodation. The up-stairs restaurant overlooks the sea which provides a cooling breeze and respite from the humidity. The southern Australian winter months is a recommended time to visit East Timor.
When in Dili there are some essential places to visit to get a feel for the country, its people, history and Timorese culture. If you are keen to buy some authentic souvenirs from Timor Leste, then the Tais Market, is a must. Here you can choose from several different stalls hand-crafted items utilising this traditional woven fabric which is often used as part of their national dress. It is a great opportunity to see local women operating the hand-looms up close. There may be some bargaining but it tends to fairly low-key and not as aggressive as you find in other Asian countries.
One aspect of travel in East Timor, is using American dollars as the local currency, which seems strange at first, given how far away America is. Also be prepared to carry plenty of cash because credit card facilities are not common at many of the markets or retail shops run by local Timorese. Most items are not particularly expensive compared to back home. Grab a hand of bananas from a street vendor for $1US for a quick cheap snack!
Other places of interest with powerful stories to share are the Santa Cruz Cemetery, and Chega, the truth and reconciliation museum. I wrote about Chega in an earlier post The importance of storytelling beyond once upon a time… if you would like to read more about why recording people’s stories is paramount to the healing process.
Preceding the violent events of 1999 when East Timor’s fight to become an independent nation was international news was the Santa Cruz Massacre on November 12, 1991. On that morning the Indonesian security forces violently suppressed a peaceful procession of some 3,000 Timorese people to Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery. This led to the deaths of 271 East Timorese, 382 wounded and 250 reported missing afterwards according to local accounts (Braithwaite, Charlesworth and Soares 2012). To better understand the events leading up to the Indonesians opening fire on those present, I would recommend the reference link below to the ANU (Australian National University) publication.
This was my first trip to East Timor and in all my travels I had never encountered a graveyard like this one. Bearing in mind the horrific event of 1991, the place has a surreal feel with its ramshackle collection of monuments and tombs to honour the dead. Unlike our orderly English-style cemeteries, with footpaths and signs, Santa Cruz, requires scrabbling over graves to get anywhere. I found myself constantly apologising to those below for stepping on their final resting places. Shrines celebrating the dominant Catholic religion of many East Timorese and a legacy of 400-years of Portuguese colonisation, are plentiful and varied in their design. Mini-church buildings and praying hands are among the more unusual decorations. On my way out of the cemetery, I found a dead cat lying on top of a grave, looking as if it had been placed there intentionally. As, I said, it was a surreal feeling.
Another popular tourist attraction for both locals and foreigners, is the sunset walk (or run for others!) to the Cristo Rei statue via a 590-steps stairway passing stations of the cross. The 27 metre high structure stands with the arms of Jesus stretched out to welcome us. Ironically, it was a present from one of the most Muslim populated countries in the world to the predominately Christian country in 1996. Indonesian President Suharto used it to mark the 20th anniversary of Indonesia annexing East Timor as a token gesture to please the Catholic majority (atlasobscurra website). This failed to stop East Timor’s fight for independence which escalated in 1999.
Another place worth checking out while in Dili, is Arte Moris a centre for fine arts established in 2003 and described by Lonely Planet Guide as “quirky”. It provides an outlet for the youth of Timor Leste to express themselves through various artistic mediums of contemporary and traditional forms. The place has a real reggae feel and features dark and humorous pieces. The building with its broken ceilings and run-down surrounds are due to lack of money for such things and believed to send a political message by the artists about the lack funding for the arts (Yin Hooi 2017). In a country still dealing with the trauma of the past, here is somewhere to create with the future in mind. If you are interested in buying any of the works, a phone call is made to the individual artist to negotiate a price.
Dili, is a fascinating city with much to offer but for its people there is much work to do to improve the lives of everyday Timorese and build a stronger, positive future for all. The nation’s capital makes a great start to any travels beyond Dili. But be prepared for the roads leading out…
Braithwaite, John, Charlesworth, Hilary and Soares, Adérito (2012), Chapter 6, Santa Cruz Massacre, 1991, Networked Governance of Freedom and Tyranny: Peace in Timor-Leste, by ANU E Press, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p174961/pdf/ch061.pdf
Ying Hooi, Khoo (2017), How arts heal and galvanise the youth of Timor Leste, Myanmar Times, 14th June, 2017.
Winter arrives with the icy fingers of frost and heavy fog in abundance. Jack Frost is laying claim on our wide open spaces with great delight, as temperatures dive down to minus zero Celsius. The appearance of snow on the nearby mountain peaks, has brought the best ski season in five years attracting visitors and tourist dollars to the region.
I began this post at the start of winter and here it is with only one day officially before the start of spring. Life and other distractions have kept me away from finishing this blog about my tree-change during the cold months. My blogging was focused on Creativity and Innovation, my latest university unit towards my agonizingly slow process of getting my first degree.
It has been an exceptionally cold winter. The wood heater is working overtime and the woolly jumpers and fur-lined boots busted out of the wardrobe. My two furry friends, Friskie and Rambo, have increased the snuggle factor as the temperature gauge drops overnight.
My respite from the cold was a two week trip to East Timor (Timor Leste) in July with a local friends group of 16 which included eight secondary college students, teachers and community members such as myself. This was a life-changing trip and has increased my passion for this emerging nation and its beautiful people to do more to support them. I will post separately about my travels to Timor Leste and share my observations and experiences. The morning I flew out to 30 degrees plus temperatures, it was minus 5 at home! Very cold by Australian standards.
Our frozen landscape!
With the cold weather, also came a wet winter. Many of us thought that last year’s big wet after almost 10 years of dry weather was a one-off and not to be complacent that the same would happen again. Obviously, we were optimistic when we bought our 22,000 litre water tank to catch the run off on our shed in April – it is now full. Both our dams have filled as well which is a bonus. Bolly (my hubby) continues to clear up around the place and is making some significant inroads. Where he has cleared the banking between the dams, is now a clearway for visiting kangaroos. We do see some big holes which belong to our burrowing wombats but not near the house thankfully. Rabbits were also on the increase but their numbers seem to have tapered off. My city cat, Rambo, caught his first rabbit the other day and his second one the next day. We are not sure if it was the same rabbit or not! Not bad for a 11-year-old cat who sleeps most of the day.
Sadly, we had to have one of our old cows put down recently. The extra cold mornings and the deterioration in her health, meant that it was the most humane thing to do. The other two despite their slow movements are happy munching grass and treating us with the contempt they think we deserve.
Although the chilly days bring their challenges to keeping well rugged-up and warm, the landscape is always changing and giving us new vistas each day. But seeing the early daffodils nodding in the breeze gives one hope of warmer days ahead.
Innovation is another one of those terms that gets tossed around frequently, but do we really take the time to think more deeply about what it means? We all strive to be more innovative; whether it is to make a difference in the world or come up with a product or a service for a ready-made market. This week I received my regular cosmetics’ brochure and there were at least six or more new beauty products all boasting innovations. From the small to the big things, innovation can cover a multitude of uses. We are also told there is a difference between being creative and innovative.
It is easy to become enraptured by the ‘big guns’ such as Tesla with its driverless electric cars or Virgin with plans for holiday space trips to Mars; and neglect the quiet achievers. Innovation surrounds us everywhere and we probably take many inventions and other activities for granted.
I have just finished watching the final episode of the SBS TV series Michael Mosley: Queen Victoria’s Slums (2017) which involved families and individuals living the life that their ancestors did as slum dwellers in London’s East End during her reign. The reality of life for the poorest of the poor becomes evident very quickly. One has to admire the ingenuity and survival skills living in the slums required. The final show moved onto the new age following the death of Queen Victoria, and the attempts to introduce welfare reform. Among these was a mass clearance of slums. While some people remained at the bottom of the rung others managed to work their way outside of the slums for a better life. Due to exposure in local newspapers with photographs and stories highlighting the dire circumstances of many individuals living in poverty, there was a more acute awareness among those with the power to change things.
With the rise of trade unions for better conditions and pay for working men, the women’s right to vote movement, and cooperatives which supported families, innovations were coming to the fore as part of a more progressive society. One example, the cooperative store provided a range of quality goods at competitive prices to consumers as well as social support. There were free first-time outings to the countryside away from the squalid city conditions for cooperative members and their children.
While poverty has not been eradicated with many disadvantaged groups still struggling today, the introduction of social security payments and subsidised medical treatment offers safety nets for those who need financial assistance in Australia. Innovative thinking was behind welfare reform but as we face different challenges and changing needs of the population, innovation is required again to avoid entrenched poverty becoming the norm.
Our lives have changed but for good as I reflect on the first few weeks of our permanent tree change. But don’t mistake this comment as meaning everything is perfect. As with any change, it’s like learning to wear a different suit of clothing that may need some adjustments here and there.
Bolly (husband and life-partner) says he is working harder in retirement than in his previous employment! But he is enthusiastic about his new adventure and tells people he is loving it. This property needs a little bit of attention and there is no shortage of projects and tasks to be done.
For me, a move back to the country was always my dream. My life as a naive country girl to city dweller has shaped and moulded my outlook on the world and my place in it. As I unpack my life contained in countless boxes of stuff collected over four decades, I am learning to let go and move on. Some things end up back in boxes and on shelves, while I bid farewell to others. It’s a gradual process. My husband was concerned that unpacking boxes and finding homes for our possessions was not a mentally stimulating task for me; knowing all the other grand plans and activities I want to pursue. But creating order and spaces to fulfill my ideas and vision for this place is a priority for this procrastination-inclined individual.
Daily accomplishments vary from small to large. Turning a house into a home has required some effort and will be on-going for some time yet. Memories of cold, frosty mornings have been replaced with dry, hot summer days. Outside jobs have taken priority to make sure we are “fire ready”. Removing leaf litter, cleaning gutters on both the house and shed, checking the fire-fighting pump at the dam and the various sprinklers around the house are now completed. We have also managed to paint some rooms which has provided an instant facelift.
We are becoming much more aware of the local wild life with visits from kangaroos, foxes, frogs and snakes. The frogs manage to find a way into the house but thankfully no snakes yet! We love the views across our valley and to the hills behind us; always conscious of the weather and its changing patterns. Watching the sun come up as it gradually spreads its light across the paddocks and dip down in the evenings is a joy. When a full moon bursts forth from the nearby hill and I can watch it set in the early morning from my bedroom window, there’s a sense of magic. Cliche as it sounds, humans need to connect to nature; well this human being does!
When we are not communing with nature, we are doing battle with a large telecommunications giant to get internet connection installed. Because we are in a rural area it is a little bit more involved but the level of frustration and time wasted in the process is unbelievable. Plenty of customers are venting their rage over the mismanagement of our new national broadband roll-out.
Trips into town are planned and an opportunity to treat ourselves to a lunch-time treat. Being a tourist town means there is no shortage of places to dine at so we are working our way through them. Got to try them all so we know where to take our visitors for the best experience. It is also an opportunity to get to know many of the local business people and join yet another loyalty program! We are slowly slotting into a new church community. While a smaller and more traditional church, we are getting to know people and feel warmly welcomed. Town gets busy on long weekends and school holidays so we are fortunate to live in such a peaceful spot.
We are meeting our neighbours in the shared drive-way and over the fence. The winter rains provided good feed for cattle producers and good prices for stock at the sales. Our property sits between two cattle farms of about 150 acres each. We are baby sitting three extremely elderly cows who seem content to see out their days here. Our two city-slicker cats seem to have accepted country life and continue to make an art-form out of sleeping.
I’m trying to set a rountine which includes walking and writing everyday. The walk takes twice as long when you meet your neighbour driving down the laneway who stops for a yarn and writing gets put off because I keep seeing things that need to be done. But as my husband and I are discovering there will always be something that needs doing and we just have to ignore it if we want to enjoy doing other stuff. Each day is an adventure and there is a bit of Dora the Explorer in me!