Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Presidential Election in East Timor


Next Monday is the final vote to choose the next President who will hold the position for the next 5 years. Stickers are going up on walls, meetings are being held around the country and I’m sure the whole thing is on the news every night. (Although many Timorese have access to a TV, I am still yet to get one – things of the devil, really, those TVs) Must be much the same as the American presidential campaign. Except here, people travel in the back of trucks along muddy roads to get to one of these “pick me!” meetings while someone’s scrambling to set up a generator to run the loudspeaker because the electricity is on the blink. Some folks are probably wondering whether its worth going on a 4 day, dangerous and trying journey to make their 5 minute vote count.

IMGP0002IMGP0001 (2)IMGP0004

So its between Taur Matan Ruak (Two Sharp Eyes) and Lu Olo. Xanana Gusmao (current prime minister) is supporting Taur Matan Ruak while Lu-Olo is backed by the mighty Fretilin Party. I myself would probably go for Taur Matan Ruak but, as a stab in the dark, I think Lu-Olo might win. The most important thing for this country is that we get through the next 5 years with peace.

Below a UN security guy gives us a wave from the top of his beast – he’s going to leave this thing for me after the UN pulls out ;)  The election posters to the right are to encourage people to not be violent (hapara = to stop).  The middle picture shows martial arts representatives doing the whole group hug thing to show its all good, no hard feelings

Note that it has just been announced that the Parliamentary election will be held on July the 7th.



IMGP0007I have been travelling through the mountains teaching maths to agriculture workers this week. That means 4 days away from Cynthia, Serenity and Israel. Why maths? Well, because maths is just the greatest subject in the world! Apart from that … hmmm … oh yes, numbers do come in handy when you’re trying to grow enough food for a nation. For example, I want to set up grain storage in sheds holding 20 tonnes. My plan is to use 2000L Silos but corn is not 1kg = 1L (like water) so I’ll need 12 Silos. Who cares? Well, I want to run this as a financially viable proposition so that the farmers actually pay for the facility through corn sales. So we need to explore the cost of the silos ($640), cost of shed ($3000?), income from sales at 50c/kg etc etc. I rang a company today in the mountains that said they buy about 8000 tonnes of corn a year and want to double it. Do the maths right and it means $4,000,000 worth of corn (remember that 1000kg = 1 tonne). And they buy it all from Thailand because its cheaper and better quality. In 2010, they added in just 10 tonne of Timorese corn which just happened to have too high a level of phytotoxins. It contaminated their production line and the plant was shut down for 4 months – ouch. Its not a simple game. But I hope to God I can win; I hope, for the Timorese sake, we can win. That’s just a small reason why maths is important.

So what sort of things does a maths teacher carry on the road in East Timor? Well, I’ll need some Bibles to share along the way, then there’s the multimeter because, sure as eggs, some long lost missionary in the mountains is going to have a solar system not quite working, then there’s the battery drill because when I arrive I’m going to have to hammer drill into a concrete wall to mount a white board (which I also threw into the back of the ute), a toothbrush as I’ll be away for a few days and amongst all this is a data projector which leads ultimately to a scramble for a generator because inevitably the electricity is on the blink … again.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Change in the Wind

IMGP0003 (4) (450 x 600)  So I’ve started my job at  Seeds of Life which is going well.  There is a certain scepticism I have about the hype around climate change.  Its all very dramatic and if the world is not going to end in the next 5 years then its probably not worth talking about.  Has anyone noticed a “world is going to end” sort of theme going on for the last 20 odd years?  When I was in high school it was the nuclear war that was going to kill us all.  I suppose that lost its flavour after a while so we moved on to the hole in the ozone layer – we’re all gonna fry!  Pretty soon that started shrinking, which was handy, because we had to get ready for the doom and gloom of the year 2000 when all our cars, computers and fridges would stop working.  The world almost ended.  Thankfully, very smart computer programmers were able to change 1999 to 2000 and so we moved on.  Terror reared its ugly head when those planes crashed and suddenly we’re all gonna die again.  But no, thankfully we were saved by a few ‘pre-emptive strikes’ variously aimed at oily folks.  Once that was sort of mostly squished, there seemed no one else to turn to except big Al – the slick, sophisticated and educated face of global warming.  Now just in case things take a swing and we start cooling instead, lets just cover our bases and call it “climate change”.  And thats where you find me – saving the world once again.

If my new boss reads this post I should add, in all attempts to be serious, that I am very passionate about the environment.  Globally and Locally.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!  Yep, thats me, a true hippy who owns a chainsaw because all the trees I’m planting are getting so darn big.

IMGP0004 (3) (450 x 600)Ok, I’ll have another shot at being serious.  Thankfully the job is as much about climate “variability” as it is about climate change.  What that means is the Timorese are finding it hard to cope with the great variation in rainfall that they are experiencing already from year to year.  Rainfall is expected to increase by 10% over the next 40 years but Timorese already experience some years where the rain is 30% higher or lower than average.  How do they plan crops and last through hard times when it changes so much?  This is what my job is about.  Helping the Timorese from government levels up to the humble farmers who work hard in their fields.  I’ll be working as a scientist and doing some research as well as developing some posters and info sheets to spread around the country so that farmers will be more informed about their climate.  A part of this is bringing together all the weather data.  Some very nice automatic weather stations have been installed around the country but it seems the people responsible for collecting the data cant find enough money for transport to go out and collect it.  The pic at the top shows a weather station I inspected on the south coast.

 DSCF3480 On a sadder note.  Last Sunday, a worried father came down to the beach looking for his 9 year old boy who’d gone for a swim and didn’t return home.  The father’s sad and wistful voice called out through the night for his son.  Many gathered down by the beach to search for him.  Its common to swim naked here and all his clothes were found on the sand.  The following few days they borrowed our boat with Gomez as the skipper but to no avail – he was not found.  They held a simple memorial service for him at sunset a few days ago.  Its not easy sometimes.


In memory of Simao who died at sea, 1/4/2012.