Cynthia is due to give birth in late January. All is going well so far and she is feeling confident. Pray that we find a suitable midwife to help with delivery in Timor Leste.
The bravest girl I know.
A momentous occasion for which I only have a fuzzy photo.
Samuel signed up officially to The Salvation Army and is now ranked as “Soldier” otherwise known as cannon fodder. He is dedicated to serving God whole heartedly as a true soldier of Jesus Christ. We have been “attending” the Grafton Salvation Army for about 10 years. For about 4 years of that time, in fits and bursts, we’ve living in Timor Leste but have still felt connected to this church.
Last week we went to Australia for I think what will be our annual Christmas visit, except that it lasted only 12 days. We got to see some of our rellies and experience the amazingly peaceful, ordered and safe life of Australia. I still find myself very happy to turn on a tap, put a cup under it and get some water to drink. It must be a symbol of the developed world. Cynthia is very pregnant now and I had planned to stick up a photo here of her big belly but a technical hitch stopped me so you’ll just have to imagine a beautiful lady who usually weighs in at 45kg with a big bump sticking out where her tummy is. Now she weighs 59kg – a 30% increase in weight. To the great concern of foreign folk, Cynthia has decided she wants to give birth in Timor Leste. The Timorese are very excited about this. The way they are talking, it seems like the bub might come out with a chocolate skin colour as its basically going to be Timorese! The other event is that Serenity and Israel have stayed back in Australia to spend Christmas and new years with the family. Meal times are very quiet now and we miss them very much.
Ajina, one of the Timorese girls that lived with us, has left to go back home to Liquica. She came from the districts to live with us while attending an English course in Dili. She is a part of Fini Transformasaun and will hopefully assist the group with English lessons in the future.
The Timorese are starting to plant their corn. The rains have come a little late. Some crops were planted several weeks ago and have failed. Most of the seed from the Los Palos project has been sold and distributed and we need to sit down and work out how funds have gone. People are bustling around getting ready for Christmas. They make nativity scenes here on street corners as a community effort so thatching is happening and cans of paint are applied to brighten things up. There is also a shopping spree here just like in Oz. The women like to go to “Myers” for clothes. This is tough for women on the island so our girl, Emmy, is taking “Myers” to them. We’ve given her a $500 loan to buy selected 2nd hand clothes from the markets. These were bundled onto the boat and taken to a couple of villages on the island. The boat pulls up on the beach and she lays out a tarp on the sand in the shade and lays out the clothes in a big pile that the women (and men) rummage through. In a village with no shops except for small home ‘kiosks’ and no roads this becomes a big day out for them. While this is going on Tobias is negotiating short credit arrangements for farmers to get seed and pay later with cash, chickens or fish. With this well researched seed we hope they can grow more food this year. This is Christmas in East Timor.
Note: we are discussing how to build simple tourist cabins on the island to help improve their income base. The long pic shows the land set aside for this. It really is an idyllic beach.
I’ve always thought that a place like East Timor would benefit from regular country Australians showing the Timorese how they do farming next door. This week we had a visit from Nick (Darwin Helicopter Pilot) and his brother Chris (Western Australian, Tug Boat Captain). Great blokes who have their own farms back home. Among the many adventures they had here in their short stay was building a fence out at Los Palos. This is part of a farming project to provide work, accommodation and training opportunities for young people who come into town to go to senior high school. They have been given a piece of land to work and this has been ploughed. It needed a fence before the rains come. Nick, with funds from the Palmerston Baptists, bought 8 rolls of barbed wire, pliers and some other gear for the fence. Then we made the journey out to Los Palos to show them a few tricks. An important part of a barbed wire fence is the strainer post set up in the corners. Chris really took the lead here – showing the boys how it was done using sign language. They set up the two posts, put in a top rail and then wrap thick plain wire diagonally around this – the diagonal has to go the right way for it to work. Then a stick is poked in the middle of the diagonal and spun around to twist up the wire and make it really tight. I really wanted to do the job with tools that Timorese had so the challenge was to tension the wire just using a steel bar as a lever. It worked very well and got the wire very tight. The Timorese boys were very impressed and I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to do it again by themselves. They still have a couple more sides to do so we’ll see how they go. It will be interesting to see if the quality of fencing improves out there as farmers share these skills with others. What we learnt from the Timorese was to use fresh cut poles from the bush so that when you stuck your post in the ground it would come to life, grow bigger and never rot. The tree that grows from this would then produce more poles for another fence in a couple of years.
The planting season is almost here in Timor Leste. Farmers have been working hard to prepare their land for the rains and they are finally starting to come. Farmers rely on these wet season rains to come every year so they can grow their corn and rice to feed their families for the rest of the year. Some of the corn seed from the Los Palos project has come to Dili and will be taken to the island of Atauro. This will be the first season that the islanders will get to grow the improved variety of corn researched by Seeds of Life. We are also distributing drums donated by Mission Aviation Fellowship to the farmers to store the corn. Farmers will pay $10 per drum and $5 for a 5kg bag of seed. This payment could also be made to the skipper via a catch of fish. Hence, we have the scene on our beach of sacks of corn seed, 44 gallon drums and an old fridge in our boat. Tobias, the skipper puts ice in the fridge so he can bring fish back to Dili to sell. This is a market driven approach to development work where the farmer, the transporter, the ice maker, the skipper, the fish monger and many others all play a role in lifting the economy of the country. The bloke like me works to make all the connections and to inspire them that it can actually happen. It has to be financially supported to some extent initially but we hope in time that they will find the way to make it happen themselves.
I hope the corn grows well this year.
Recently we went to a church service that was a little hot. They started around 8am in the morning but in the tropical heat of Timor Leste we all got hot and sweaty pretty quickly. The elderly men and women found it particularly hard. But this was not a church service to miss. The week before, someone had decided to burn the church building down. They had been threatening to do it for quite some time and now it was done. Now all that was left was the concrete floor and the chairs that were saved from the fire. The Church at Sidara had bravely persevered through years of taunting and threats. Over the last year or so, the group was finally starting to be accepted by the wider community as a legitimate gathering of people just wanting to follow Jesus. I remember back in 2004 seeing Branca go up to the village with her medical kit in her hand bag to treat the people. Back then she sat on the foundations of a small clinic being built to do her work. Now there is a thriving centre with the clinic, birthing centre and preschool. Only the church building was built out of thatching and bush materials. After the fire, the burnt poles were chopped down and the floor swept ready for the Sunday service. There was a real feeling of solidarity and never-say-die. When the service was over the men began to talk over the details of rebuilding. This will be a challenge. Decisions will need to be made about materials, quality, dimensions etc and I think these decisions are difficult for any group in any part of the world. Pray that God’s Spirit would carry them long after the smell of ash has gone and the hard work of rebuilding has begun. If you’re a member of a church somewhere that has nice things like carpet, electricity and perhaps even a kitchen then whisper a quiet thanks to God for these things and pray that He would set your Church on fire.
We have been getting a number of donations of materials lately from a number of different sources. All this stuff needs to be stored and sorted and packed for delivery to a destination where it can be of most benefit. Sometimes its time consuming, heavy and dirty work. But sorting coloured pencils is fun. Our house looks a bit more like a storage area sometimes with lots of stuff coming and going.
We have also been receiving seed prepared in Los Palos as part of a small business agricultural project. The challenge is to find ways of marketing farmers produce so that they can derive an income. This is connected with the silo project last year and part of the income from sales of seed is used to repay the cost of the silo. It is hoped that we can then use that to buy another silo and continue the process. Its about sustainable development rather than handouts.
Tobias has been a faithful worker. Besides running the boat trade route he gains employment doing odd jobs that I come across and assists me in various ways on our projects. Here he is learning some metal work modifying electrical fuse boxes to secure electrical components of weather stations. Learning how to punch a hole in metal, control the speed and pressure of the drill and avoid snapping the drill bit is all a bit of a challenge. You cant be too precious about tools in this country as they get a hammering from learning hands.
Books, pencils, clothes, first aid kits and medical supplies being delivered.
Over the last week or so the US Navy has been doing some training with the Timorese Army. This has meant a lot of helicopters and other strange machines such as massive hovercrafts and ferries etc. All of these things somehow launch out of a big mother ship. Very interesting for us and very strange for the Timorese (and bringing back some memories for them)
The hovercraft was very noisy and a strange looking beast – bit of a technological leap from the dugout canoes in the foreground. Why are there such differences between two nations?
Big fancy US helicopters which can carry vehicles and other gear to deliver out the back.
All this stuff comes out of the mother ship – you can see one of the helicopters sitting on the back.
I’ll think again before I declare war on these guys – I guess thats partly what its about – showing off the toys!
Washing your hands is one of those things that a person in a rich country is taught from an early age. Its usually pretty easy to do with clean water coming out of a tap and soap nearby. In a country without things like this it can be very difficult. Water may need to be carried for a long time, stored in dirty containers and often there is no soap. Even if water is available, it doesn’t come out of a tap. In Timor Leste, like most Asian countries, to wash your hands you usually have a dedicated scoop for the purpose. The rule here is to never dip your hands into the container storing the household water. Instead you need to scoop a little out with another container and tip it over your hands letting the water fall to the ground. So, if you can imagine it, you scoop the water with one hand and are left wondering how to wash the other hand on its own. You can make the hand wet, quickly put down the scoop and rub your hands or try to make some other fast manoeuvre to make the most of the water – usually somewhat inadequate. People are starting to invent ways of washing your hands in a world without taps and where water is scarce. What follows here is a simple description of a place to wash your hands set up at a little restaurant on a beach on the south coast of Timor Leste.
You take something like a sturdy 5L bottle. Here they use the bottle that cooking oil is commonly sold in. It has a handle at the top. A cordial bottle in Australia would perform a similar function.
Put a 3-4mm hole in the lid of the bottle. Thread in a sturdy, 3-4mm thin rope and tie a not in the end so it wont pull back out.
Put a 5mm hole below the lid about 8cm down and on the opposite side of the lid to where the handle of the bottle is.
Fill the bottle with water and set it up with a stick through the handle sitting up about 1.2m off the ground.
Tie another stick about 60cm long to the other end of the string coming from the lid of the bottle so that the stick rests on the ground at one end but the string holds the other end up off the ground about 15cm. You may need to adjust this to get it right.
To wash your hands, gently place a foot on the stick to tip the bottle and a stream of water should come out of the 5mm hole in the bottle.
With a little practice you get good at it.
You’ll soon realise that now you’ve got a hands free system with your foot controlling water delivery and you don’t waste heaps of water spilling over your hands and lost to the ground.
Very cool and very cheap and easy to set up.
After a long time of plugging along, the school final got a big boost thanks to the effort of 3 guys from the Gold Coast: Rob, Mat and Pelay. Rob is a carpenter, Mat a roofer and Pelay also works in construction. They made a top team. The job was to try to bring the school building up to lock-up stage in an effort to start using it. They raised funds to pay for materials and loaded up a yellow dump truck to get up the mountain. Its not far from Dili, maybe 30km, but it took them over 3 hours to do the journey. That should help you understand the terrain. As it was a single cab taking other Timorese, the guys had to sit up on top of sheets of reo laid over the top of the truck – we gave them a mattress to make this bit a little more comfortable. One of the big bonuses of this team was that Rob speaks Indonesian which reduces the need for me to sort out as much stuff for them. The guys were able to lay the slab for the 20x6m building, close in walls with mesh, put on doors, seal off windows and make a little loo.
Samuel hard at work on the left. Rob with samuel’s battery drill – an old ryobi hot wired to a car battery (we were desperate).
We had a bit of an issue with some of the locals being angry about the work taking place. I hope that this can be sorted out. Please pray for Mateus, safety and the school. The next plan was to get the school furnished. After finishing up this work, I got a call from Jill in HIAM Health with a large load of school desks. She set aside 130 chairs and tables, some filing cabinets, teachers desks and notice boards as well as stationary supplies. These were trucked up a couple of days ago. Just another one of God’s miracles – its like its a daily occurrence here. He still amazes me. Mateus says he has 125 kids now.
As an aside, I have been panning a reroof of the local Catholic Church in our village. It was in desperate need of doing. I have found that due to all the needs around the country that I often overlook my own village. They are actually better off than many mountain folks so I tend to put them down the priority ladder. Anyway, it came time to do something before the next wet. We ordered the material and God ordered the skill. I didn’t know that Rob’s mate, Mat was a professional roofer! They came back from Liquidoe with a couple of days to spare and thats all it took to get a professional finish on the Church roof. It looks sensational – Mat did a great job!
We thank the guys for coming and being so generous and caring and the spiritual input they had into our lives and the lives of the Timorese.
Recently, my good mate Rohan and I went on a trip to the island of Atauro off the north coast of Dili. It was a place I had not been to before and was keen for a bit of adventure. The good thing about Rohan is that he is very gullible and seems to be able to cope with any disaster that we can fall into. The unfortunate thing about Rohan is that is name is a Tetun word which could be translated variously as “the left over bit at the end”. So it became the butt of a few jokes. We took our boat to get over to the island. It was great to get a bit of use out of it myself rather than packing off other people. Unfortunately, since the roll over, Tobias (the skipper) had not quite got the carby cleaned and the boat konked out close to the southern cliffs of the island. It was a very strong current there which was going in the same direction we were going which was nice and later Ro was able to get the boat into a massive eddy by the cliffs when we thought we should slow down. We sort of fixed the problem with the motor enough to pull into the next village where I got to swim some Bibles ashore – the Bibles faired well but I swallowed rather too much water in the effort. Here the locals showed us a cave. They were way too scared to go in. Down the back of the cavern was a tiny entrance into another cavern where we found a bat colony and a truck load of bat poo which would make awesome fertiliser if only the locals could be brave enough to get it out.
After Tobias put the carby back together we got around to Atekru which would be our base village where Emmy’s dad and mum live. We arranged some canoes here and took off the next day for a paddle down the coast glad to leave the motor behind. These are dugout canoes made from a log with some planks on the side to make it bigger. It has outriggers on the side made of bamboo. We brought a piece of cotton for sleeping which we could use to rig up a simple sail. Atauro is a beautiful tropical island with lovely people. We paddled past a village or two until we found a mostly deserted beach with a few rock caves to choose from to sleep in. Some boys came out of the mountains and got talking to us. They were surprised, I think, that we paddled there in small canoes as most foreigners they’d talked to here were Australian soldiers who came in helicopters out of the sky and landed in the field nearby. They said that they would not offer them coconuts because the soldiers came quickly from Dili and had full bellies and they would soon return. But they figured that Aussies who’d paddled there in a small canoe must surely be thirsty and therefore it was only fitting that they should be given a coconut. Without further a-do, the youngest fellow was sent up the palm and dropped 4 coconuts. It was true we were very thirsty but 4 coconuts was too much but they wouldn’t share in eating them so we saved them for the meal later. It actually meant we had bowls to eat out of which we’d forgotten to bring. We had time for snorkelling, walking and cliff climbing – well, we thought we had time. The sun had other ideas and ran away before we could get off the cliffs leaving us doing the final descent by tree roots in darkness. We returned to Atekru the next day with a stop in the bay to do an awesome snorkel (northern end of bay) along the drop off being pulled along by our canoe and its little sail. That night I got to participate in a small youth conference where the local churches were wrapping up a week of youth events. I had brought a bunch of scriptures for the occasion and handed them out to youth selected by the leaders – it was a bit auspicious, us having white skin and all.
The next day we made an attempt on the highest peak in the island. The island is probably only 10km across maximum but had a mountain of 1000m (3300ft) and we were starting from the sea. We didn’t have offers of guides to go with us as it was considered too ambitious a climb. No worries, Ro and I are old hands with the 1:25000 topo map and a compass. This time we had a GPS too and we tracked the climb which I might show you one day. We got pretty scratched up and a little off track but some Timorese along the way soon found us, supplied us with coconuts (as we must have been thirsty - which we were) and showed us some paths to get us back on track. We made the summit about 2pm and stopped for lunch. The descent was very steep and spectacularly rugged. We dropped into a sharp ravine and followed the beautifully carved rocky creek down the mountain. Soon the sun began to run away and we got out on a ridge to find some desperate farming activity in the dry, rugged conditions. We passed a farmers shack that seemed to suggest severely stunted development especially given the bed inside was barely 4 foot long. Of course, as tradition would have it, the last few hundred meters was done in the dark with a bit of help from the Timorese and we finally met up with Emmy and Tobias who had come around in the boat. We slept there in Maker that night and took off for home early the next morning to recover from the adventure. Thanks heaps for a mate like Ro to enjoy such a journey with.
PS On return I met an experienced hiker in Dili who said he’d made 5 attempts on the summit and still hadn’t made it. Perhaps we just got lucky.
We were blessed to have Graham, Lynelle and Arlene (Cynthia’s father, mother and sister) come to visit us recently for three weeks. This is the first time our family has visited us not including 2004 we when we first came to Timor with my sister Eliza. It was great to be able to share our lives with them so they could get a real feel for what our life is like rather than just sitting there reading some blog. Now they know how much Samuel is embellishing the adventure and how much we leave out.
Graham did grandpa things with the kids as well as help out with odd jobs and tasks around the house. One of these was to make an experimental seed sorting screen which meant a lot of hole drilling. The Timorese can use this to sort out corn seed that is too small and then package up the good quality seed for distribution and sales. Its another small step forward for this country – taking care of good seed in order to get good crops for the next year. Since Graham’s prototype we have employed a Timorese to make ten more which have been sold for distribution to Community Seed Producer Groups within Seeds of Life.
Lynelle did grandma things with the kids. She spent a lot of time in the garden and taught our Timorese girls and Samuel her special composting technique – her key concept seemed to be “a good cooking compost” and worked hard to get it warm. We are still turning it over. Lynelle also spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing meals and experimenting with the new breadmaker that they brought over (woohoo).
Arlene did lots of cool aunty things with the kids. Arlene also has a flair for cooking, or is it ‘chef-ing’? She got the full Timorese experience being pretty sick a couple of times.
We took them on a tour to Los Palos and back so they could see the sights of Timor and some of our work with Pastor Samuel. This included a snorkel at the famous K41 and a night at Baucau. Here we discovered an old Portuguese ruin in some secluded bay which I’m sure someone else knows about but it was fun to find without being told it existed. We went on to Los Palos and talked corn and building projects and Church work. We also stopped in at a little village called Luro where Samuel has been asked by a small community to help them get water from a spring (envisage a puddle – but its all they have and hope to supply 20 houses from it). Samuel is measuring the flow by timing how long it takes to fill a 5L bucket and multiplying this out to find out how much water comes out each day.
Photos in this group from top: Arlene and Serenity inspect a marlin brought in by a small dugout canoe, Israel tempts the crocs at a lake near Liquica, Lynelle inspects baskets at Maubara, drying sheaves of rice cut by hand with a sickle, spiritual house at the eastern end of East Timor, Graham inspects the new youth accommodation in Los Palos, two beauties walk through the garden, checking out the corn mill, inspecting the new sewing room freshly painted.