Labors of Love

>> 01 December 2014

So now that I've gotten more into a groove, I've found that my time is occupied much differently than I thought it would be. Before I started working in my ministry, I had imagined long, rewarding days, weekend trips to the districts for teacher trainings, conferences, presentations, interviews with important people, hand-shaking, school visits, and doing lots of important work. HAH. In reality, I share a 2x3 desk with another girl, and we both hunch over our netbooks for 8 hours a day in a dark corner (the lights are broken) of a building that is not even physically connected to my ministry. I do work on things, but none of them are very important, and are often just dead-end projects clearly given to me to keep me busy. Oh, there is important work to be done, and I am actually qualified to do most of it, but it never seems to be "the right time," so I don't.

Instead, I have thrown my whole self into volunteering. This weekend I went again to Atauro to begin doing a program evaluation for a locally run NGO. They run English language and computer skills classes, as well as a restaurant for disabled or widowed women, and are trying to get an eco-lodge off the ground to use as a hospitality training center. The problem is that all these initiatives are largely driven by the impetus of one man, who has just received a full scholarship to study in New Zealand. I'm doing the program evaluation so that he can start creating proposals to other NGOs to send a volunteer teacher to at least keep the school going. Hopefully a solid review highlighting the past success, current infrastructure, and future need will be enough to convince someone to help him. It's a huge project for me, and involves interviewing lots of people and writing a lot, but I think in the long run it could really help.

I've also been hosting fairly regular writing workshops- what started as a once-a-month plan has turned into "please please please can you teach us how to write _____ because we need to learn ASAP!" I have no long-term plans to do them as often as I have been lately (each workshop is about 3 hours and takes me another 6 or so to prepare for), but I'm starting to seriously consider taking on a few students regularly. The students I've been working with are so curious and so hungry for knowledge and they encourage me in a way that students in the US never have.

And then there's the thing I'm procrastinating doing right now... volunteer ESL teaching. I am not a certified ESL teacher, but it hardly matters. The classes are free, most of the students are different every time, and this is probably the easiest kind of teaching I've ever done. The only new information (unless we start talking about cultural things) is language, and because there are no grades, homework, or tests, we mostly just play listening and speaking games. In the past I've just been there as an assistant to my friend from choir, but tonight I'm actually taking on my own class. Our night classes have gotten so popular that we're going to have to split them into beginner and advanced, and I've been assigned the beginner level. I've taken beginner classes in 7 languages throughout my life, so I've pretty much got the format down ;)

I pretty much have my hands full here but I'm always looking for more ways to contribute. After Christmas, I'm going to start looking more seriously into hosting some language workshops- I've actually been asked to do a 5-day series through my ministry, but I'm not holding my breath that it will actually happen.

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My a-ha moment, finally.

>> 25 October 2014

The reason I chose to work in Timor-Leste is because I developed an unlikely love (or at least a deep sympathy and vague understanding) for this country and these people. But since I've been back this time, I've found it much harder to feel comfortably at ease. Living and working here is hard in so many ways.

During the violence of 1999, the people of Dili fled the city or flocked to the UN compound to escape the horrific chaos that pro-Indonesian militia were wreaking on their town. I heard stories of women, denied quick entry, who were throwing their infants over the razor-wired walls with no guarantee that anyone was on the other side to catch them. Knowing these things is one thing, but when I recently drove past the UN compound and looked up at the height of the wall, I completely broke down. I don't have any children, but the thought of being so terrified that a person could be driven to this choice opened up an endless ache in my heart.

My neighbor is very sick young woman around my age, and likely suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from having grown up in Dili and living through things I can't imagine. She has a 5 year old son. Sometimes she has screaming fits and attacks him, other times she becomes unresponsive for hours. He knows what to expect and what to do, and our other neighbors always come to make sure he is safe and well cared for. The depth of his understanding of her illness fills me with grief. I think about typical 5 year old little boys in the West and I get so angry at the unfairness. Compounding that anger is the fact that he was born with a cleft palette and the family may never be able to afford to have it corrected. He may never be able to regularly attend school, and then what kind of future can he expect?

Poverty, a violent history, and an unstable future are hard truths to live with, but people here manage to do it every day. They fall in love, they have parties, they play games in the streets, they sing, they laugh and they are healing. East Timor is also called Timor Lorosa'e- Timor where the sun rises. This week I've finally been reminded of the beauty and the hope that can be found if you can clear your mind and open your heart to it. A friend from work took me on a drive and a hike at sunset up to a local landmark called Cristo Rei where we watched a beautiful sunset and the mountains in the east shadowed in blues and dusty gray. This morning I went on a hike 600m up a mountain and watched the sun rise over my sleepy town and the mountains in the west turn red and pink and orange. And finally I had my a-ha moment where I remembered that I have friends here who have also experienced these events and the emotions I am going through, that they understand, and that I am not alone. For now, at least, my heart is full of hope.

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Dili Musings

>> 19 October 2014

I'm now well into the third week here, which means I'm nearly through the first month, which means only 9 more to go (hah)! Some days are really great, and some days are really awful, and some days are a combination of both extremes.

One of the things I am of course struggling with is the language. I feel really confident speaking Tetun unless I'm around certain people, especially those who call attention to the fact that I'm new and assume that I can't speak Tetun. Sometimes things come out of my mouth completely spontaneously and actually seem to make sense. Last week I stopped at the Tiger Fuel station to ask the guy not to fill me up, but to open the bike up to physically look if there was any fuel in there. For an entire day, the fuel gauge needle was at the halfway mark, but then the next day it was at the full mark, so I thought it might be broken. He popped it open and we determined that my motorbike was, in fact, full of fuel (a miracle that has not yet been accounted for because I only asked for half a tank and paid for half a tank), we both had a chuckle over it, and I went on my merry way. This entire exchange took place in Tetun, and I was comfortable and confident that we understood each other.

Another thing I struggle with is water. In my house, if the power is out, then the water is out, and the power goes out a lot (developing nation, what can you do?). We have a huge bucket of reserve water for showers, and our drinking and cooking water all comes from bottles, but it's still maddening. More maddening is how often I forget that my cooking water comes from a bottle. When my meal is drying out and sticking to the pan and I dash to the sink for a cup of water to thin it out, I pay for that single cup of water later. Usually what happens is I become unbearably drowsy, fall into a sweaty sleep, and wake up later with significant gastric discomfort, which usually lasts for the rest of the day. All because I put a cup of tap water into my rice and greens.

Something I have definitely been enjoying is the food. I had sort of forgotten that if I don't cook here, I don't eat. This is a huge problem for me in the mornings when I just want to drink a gallon of coffee, but for the most part I really like it. The grocery stores are such a wonderful adventure of weird, un-readable products in every language imaginable. The produce is so cheap and plentiful and my house has a really well-equipped kitchen. Still, I'm so glad that I brought my Wusthof knives with me (and had just had them sharpened), and that I brought a pint-sized gelato's worth of nutritional yeast. Besides loving the taste, the nutritional yeast makes up for the lack of meat in my diet by providing my body with protein and B-vitamins.

On the subject of things I'm glad I brought, my PAINTS!


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