Monday, January 16, 2006

Return to work

I returned to work this morning and to my surprise and delight, my colleagues were very happy to see me and most gave me the customary two kisses (one on each cheek) and inquired after my health. I found this to be a positive turn of events as I have experienced my Timorese colleagues as being quite uninterested, diffident and almost resentful of my presence (although of course they do like to call upon me when they need money!). I have tried to understand this in terms of the 24-year brutal occupation by Indonesia, which has justifiably made them suspicious and untrusting. I don’t like to think that the “genuine” Timorese culture is so unfriendly. Then again, perhaps they are also envious of what I have and therefore represent. My colleagues like to spend time looking over my things and asking me how much things cost. I’m very conscious of this and try not to be too flashy eg I rarely wear jewellery and once when I wore small gold earrings, I received a lot of attention and compliments. However, I have to bring my laptop to work with me because there is not a spare computer available (my only other “malae” colleague does the same) and even though I purchased it second-hand in Australia, it cost the equivalent of at least five months salary of most of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, I also discovered that I had been moved (yet again!) from the air-conditioned office back out to the open plan mosquito infested section where my team of two reside. The United Nations Fund for Women in Timor-Leste (UNIFEM) have sequestered the office for three months to work on a joint project with my NGO to get more women elected to parliament at next year’s national elections (all for a good cause and one that I wholeheartedly support). However, the lack of consultation that goes on at my NGO (and perhaps Timor?) is simply staggering (another example perhaps of the individual versus the communitarian). Because this is the second time in six months that I have been moved without my concurrence, I’m not as fazed by it as I was the first time. It does mean that I get to work with my colleagues again although it also means that I must douse myself in DEET every three hours in order to keep those Dengue mosquitoes at bay.

My second care package was also waiting for me. It took 6-8 weeks (the first one took 3 weeks) as it appears Australia Post decided to send it via surface not air mail this time (the vagaries of the postal service when it comes to sending things to Timor-Leste/East Timor). Very excitedly, I opened the box to find the books, DVDs and unscented deodorants I had ordered from my Aunt. Our house is now beginning to feel like a mini (and I mean mini) library much to our great satisfaction.

I talked to the coordinator of my team about the impending arrival of her fourth child who is due in six weeks. She will give birth in a clinic near the Comoro Market where the resident doctor is her cousin (remember, everyone knows everyone in Timor; they’re all somehow related to one another which is not hard to fathom in a country with less than one million people and an average birth rate of 8 children per woman). I plucked up the courage to ask her about contraception and to my surprise, she told me that she used the Calender method and that her first three children were all planned but that this current one was an accident. That’s pretty good given that she is 38 and delayed having her first child till she was 31 which is very late by Timorese standards.

My colleague had her first ultrasound in Bali during the first trimester (week 7). She was too early to have a maternal serum sample blood test (week 10) but I asked her if it was offered and she said no, so I assume that just as in Timor, women in Indonesian are not offered this test to detect the risk of chromosome disorders such as Down’s Syndrome and Edward syndrome or inherited genetic diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis. Nor are they offered a nuchal translucency ultrasound. I am now worried for my colleague and the Director of my NGO who is also due in 6 weeks time as they are both older women and the chances of them having a child with Down’s Syndrome for example is great. I just hope that they will both be blessed with healthy babies.
My colleague is going to pay $8 to have a second ultrasound in Dili in the coming weeks (only one free ultrasound is offered to pregnant women in Timor; in Australia it is three). However, she told me that the machine is often broken and the test cannot be performed (this is just so typical in Timor; late last year Dili experienced ongoing and ever frustrating power blackouts because one of the generators had broken down and there was no one in the country with the skills to fix it; the one and only cinema in the whole of Timor closed before we arrived and I have since speculated that perhaps this was due to the projector breaking down and again there was no one with the skills to fix it).

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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