Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Burden of the Funeral Ceremony

Last night was the big funeral ceremony amongst our Timorese family called “Kore Metan”.  This means “cutting the black” or taking off the black mourning clothes.  It was this time last year that my closest Timorese friend suddenly passed away.  It was a very difficult time for us.  The widow was left with 6 children to raise and many young people that they were supporting through school and university.  She has been living mainly off the proceeds generated through a house investment that I started with this man, Maun Je, in 2008.  One year after a person dies they have a special ceremony.  This ceremony is bigger than the actual burial ceremony and preparations for it have been going on over the whole year.  The grave itself has become a monument to local Timorese art.  I know of at least 24 families that are involved in this and each have specially agreed obligations for what they must give and receive around the time of the ceremony.  Lots of cows, pigs, goats, chickens, rice and alcohol have exchanged hands.  This requires substantial logistics to transport all the gear including various cars, trucks and even our boat going to the island (for cheaper pigs).  I have taken this opportunity to start my veggie patch as there is so much cow poo around and I know the animals will all be dead soon.  Extra kitchens and sleeping huts are built to accommodate the families coming for the festival.  Lots of sitting around, gambling, smoking and drinking (bingo for the kids) occurs in the days leading up to the festival as a sort of social activity.  At the time of the ‘festival’ itself, a large, 4-tier cake was prepared, 300 chairs hired, massive speaker stacks  and a huge feast was laid out on long tables.  A ceremony is performed where flowers are placed, prayers are recited and a ribbon is cut.  Traditional weaving is exchanged between the two main divisions of family groups.  The last of the mourning takes place and the black clothes are removed.  After formal speeches, we ate dinner at 10 o’clock.  (If you’ve ever read Asterix and Obelix comics as a kid then you’ve got some idea of what the feast may have looked like.)  After dinner, the music is cranked up and the party really starts.  All the young boppers dressed in full night club gear come out and boogie.  If you thought you were a party animal staying out dancing ‘till 1 or 2am then these guys will give you a run for your money – they dance all through the night until the sun gets up (6.30am) and then some.  Its not a real party unless you dance ‘till sunrise.  Don’t bother calling the police at 10pm for noise issues.  As far as parties go, it went fairly well.
Ok, thats what I call a fairly objective take on the whole deal.  But we, from the developed countries, are prone to making judgements so I will let a little out.  I think it was a bit over the top really – all this effort and expense (more than a year’s wages) being poured into a one year anniversary of a person’s death.  That’s trying to describe my thoughts mildly.  During the preparation a few days ago one of the three main ladies involved who was 7 months pregnant started to bleed and was taken to hospital (working too hard).  Her husband, the last remaining man of the three main families we live with went to visit her, taking Cynthia’s main sewing lady, Sinta, and had a motorbike accident on the way. 
We will support the two widows over the next month or so with money for basic food to survive as they have no money left and have even gone into debt to put this party on.  Sometimes people look down on Christians who go to other countries as ‘missionaries’ and try to change culture.  I’m not claiming to be a missionary but I am saying that, in the name of Jesus, if I could somehow influence these people just to take it back a peg or two and put a bit more DSCF2921effort into the living and a little less effort into the dead then I will.  Before you ram cultural tolerance down my throat I’d suggest you come and put your life on the line alongside these guys and see just what grips them.  On the theme of cultural judgements, I think we in the developed world could learn something from the Timorese and give a bit more attention to the dead.  Tucking away our rellie’s ashes into a neat box in a brick wall seems a bit too efficient and tidy for my liking.  I’m speaking about general things and not individual situations so I apologise if I’ve offended you.  I’ve probably just succeeded in offending the whole world… oops.  It has been quite painful watching our Timorese friends around us carry this burden so we are glad in a sense that it is over.  I too will try to move on from losing my good friend so suddenly last year which was who this ceremony was for.
This picture shows the detail on top of the grave – Jesus carrying the burden so we dont have to.  Thanks God.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Our Wedding and our new baby

We had the privilege of hosting a beautiful beach wedding at our house – “Sonrei House” (sunray).
We met Delinda, a lovely American lass, last year while she was working with the youth in the Nazarene Church. She was young, very sweet, intelligent, beautiful and single.  She was also assigned a similarly handsome young man to transport her around for her various duties – on the back of a motorbike.  It all seems very obvious to me even though I am quite a naive country bloke but it seems the Church itself was not so readily approving of what developed.  But that’s all history now and we had a great wedding on the beach in front of our house.  The bride was prepared in one of the rooms and came down the staircase to meet her man with two little Timorese bridesmaids, to be married off in a beautiful sunset ceremony.
Oh, and the new baby – we purchased him from a man down the road in our village for $20.  The locals thought that was expensive but we wanted to give this little guy an opportunity at a life that he might not get in another household.  He is very sweet, has brown puppy dog eyes, soft skin and a cute button nose…..
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Bibles, slaves and smelly things

Here’s a little catch up on our recent frivolities in East Timor. 
  • There’s been  a Youth Conference in the Catholic Church where young people from all over the country came to Dili for three days.  The exciting thing for us was that we have been coordinating with a group to sell Bibles at the conference.  We’ll let you know what the interest was like.
  • We also helped move the last of the MAF gear (Mission Aviation Fellowship) including a heavy generator requiring 9 guys straining to lift it.  We also assisted with a bit of plumbing. DSCF2835
  • We’ve got ourselves a slave! … er … servant girl  … er … young lady staying with us who helps out with the cooking and cleaning.  Her name is Emmy, and its great having her help with the chores which frees up Cynthia to teach and run the sewing room.  She gets a small income and gets to learn English and foreign culture plus she gets food and her own room which is more than where she came from sharing two small rooms with six young men, a 12 year old girl and a baby – eek.  She is very happy to be here.  She is from Atauro and attends a business college here in Dili.  Youth accommodation is a big problem in this city and can lead to unfortunate situations like prostitution in order to survive.
  •    We’ve had some church meetings in our hew house.  I gave a talk on Nahum in the Bible – its the sequel to Jonah if you’re interested.  A nice piece of wartime poetry.
  • We also had a baptism and a wedding at our place so Cynthia reckons I should just go and get some minister’s licence.
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  • We tried to go on a holiday which didn’t really work out as I got stuck renovating someone’s kitchen and bathroom in the mountains. 
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We did manage a visit to some incredible hot springs tucked away in a remote location amongst old Portuguese ruins.  It was very hot water and a bit smelly with that sulphur (Shrek fart) smell.
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Leaving the hot springs we planned to continue on down the road to Zumalai but decided, pretty much off the cuff, that we’d had enough and decided to turn right instead of left and head home.  Quite convenient really as that night and the following day several people were murdered in Zumalai and over 100 houses were burnt down.  I am tempted to use this outcome to justify my workaholic tendencies (had I not spent too much time working we may have ended up in a the middle of a little bloodbath) but I should really just say it was God and his angels doing their thing yet again and keeping us from a rather nasty event.  We’ll try to go on holidays again some time but I dare say it wont quite be the same as your average aussie venture.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Build Your Own Solar Hot Water System

Last week, my job was to go to Baucau and provide solar power and solar hot water for a friend working in the Seeds of Life Program (agriculture). It was a great opportunity to put in a gravity fed solar hot water system which we are building here in East Timor from locally available materials. Just in case you wanted to build your own or were intrigued as to how I did it here’s my little explanation. Its a rip-snorter of a system really.
DSCN0306You’ll need a 44 gallon drum (204L general fuel drum), about 8 lengths of 1/2” plastic pipe, 4 lengths of 3/4” plastic pipe, a bunch of T-fittings and other plumbing bits, some 3”x2” timber, insulation, flat sheet metal, glue, screws and nails etc. Basically stuff we can buy here from the local hardware shop.

We made a rectangle frame of timber and nailed some flat tin on the bottom to keep the mice out – this holds the old drum.
To insulate the drum, we covered it with a mattress which the Timorese make out of kapok – its like cotton wool only from a tree. (In the old days they used to stuff life-jackets with it.) You could use old rags or an old foam mattress I suppose. The Timorese man I was working with was very confused about why I’d want to lay a perfectly good drum on its side, on the roof and cover it with a mattress!!! These white skin folk are truly crazy. By the end though, he was convinced that this was a new business opportunity for him as he could see that he could build solar hot water systems using things he could buy and skills he had. The only thing he lacked was the technical design which he learnt on this day. DSCN0312
This then gets covered over with a sheet of flat ‘tin’ (actually a sheet of zinculume roofing iron). You can see my metal working skills are at a rather fundamental level minus the ‘funda’.         
The fun bit is making the solar collector. We are in the tropics so we just scrapped the whole glass box thing. I really think its superfluous for anyone below the 30th degree of latitude. I just cut all these plastic pipes up at around 2m long and glue them together with T-pieces. Its so simple you should have thought of it yourself. (Note, for those who are actually going to try this, that the sequence in which you glue it together is a bit tricky, put some thought into it)
Plumbing it into the drum takes a bit of thought. Solar hot water works labelledon the principal of thermosyphoning – hot stuff rises (like me really) and cold stuff sinks. So at the bottom of the drum a pipe comes out to go down to the bottom of all the vertical tubes. (Note that I screwed this straight into the small hole in the drum, its a 3/4” fitting). The sun heats up the water in the tubes, it rises up and finds its way back into the top of the drum. I made my own little hole for a 3/4” fitting by using a small drill bit and drilling little holes around in a circle. (For the techno buffs, the messy hole I create receives a 3/4” steel nipple fitting which sort of threads its own hole in and then I plug it up with silicon.) The big hole in the drum is left for inspection and also to allow air trapped above the hot water intake to escape.
The single most important thing to get right is to allow for the expansion and contraction of hot water. If you stuff this up the whole thing could blow up. I just put in a rising pipe which goes up higher than the water in the holding tank (the holding tank is on a small hill behind the house, water comes into the solar hot water system by gravity.
The second most important thing is to make sure that the hot water goes uphill all the way from the vertical pipes into the drum and the cold water in the drum goes downhill all the way to the bottom of the vertical pipes.
And hey presto! Hot water.
The whole thing cost us about $25 in bits. Takes a day or so to build and mount.
PS If you live in one of those rich, fancy countries stuffed with heaps of rules I suspect this would be somewhat on the illegal side, so just forget I ever told you.
PPS If you want to pull this off under a pressurised system (like a pump) there is a simple way. If you cant figure it out, ask your grandfather. If he cant figure it out, email me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Visitors and new friends

Well we met some very lovely people last month.  Here are some pics of the most recent.  Serenity and Israel loved having children visit.  Serenity and Lynise helping out in the kitchen.
DSCN2759 - CopyKeith loves fishing.  Here he is one night on our beach showing Israel how its done.And these are some fish that were caught in the sea out from us.  Unfortunately, Keith didn't catch these. :)
DSCN2765 - CopyDSCN2774 - Copy   This is Alan teaching Israel how to play beach cricket…. With a length of bamboo as the bat….oops it was a bit slippery.     
We took them along to the small home church we attend.  The family currently hosting it just happen to live in “The” most prestige housing complex.   We all walk through it in amazement…ooh ahhh.  kerbing and guttering!  It is quite disturbing though.  Hard to reconcile with what's outside the gates….
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Here they all are having a blast in the tray of the truck.
And just cause he is cute…. the girls were making pom poms and israel turned his into a tail! LOL
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Just to show you that we do manage to fit in a bit of normalish life.  At least me (Cynthia) and the kids do anyway.