Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Páskua in Baukau: Kolega foun

Upon waking Saturday morning, I went for a walk west along the dirt road which passed the small group of fisher people’s huts, up on to the plateau past the rice paddy fields and down again to another white sandy beach which included the remains of an old Portuguese fort and a no longer functioning bathroom.
The bird calls were again melodious and I managed to spot a colourful kingfisher before it flew off further away into the tree foliage. At least one tree was deciduous and it had begun to drop its very large red leaves. I wondered what species it was and wished I had a reference book on the flora and fauna of Timor. Upon ascending another plateau I spotted a number of fishermen in their boats out at sea, and some of them called up to me “Hello Missus” and Senyora. I was amazed at how far their voices travelled as I also heard a number of them singing. It was a very pleasant hour’s walk.

Following breakfast on Saturday, we got talking to the Australian couple and soon found we really enjoyed their company. They were thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, and humble people with an obvious left of centre social justice bent.
Originally from Adelaide, married at 22 years of age and had their first child a year later. In 1986 at the age of 26 they left Australia for a two year post to Vanuatu where he worked as a secondary school teacher and she gave birth to their second child.
They then moved to the Solomon Islands for four years where he again taught and she gave birth to their third and fourth children. She also home schooled the eldest two while studying for her BA part time over ten years initially through the University of the South Pacific.
They spent six years in the Pacific before returning to Australia in 1992. He went on to do post graduate studies including a Masters by research on how Solomon Islands children learn and a PhD thesis on how the different generations of Vietnamese immigrant children in Australia fared in the education system.
His last paid position in Australia was as an academic in the faculty of education of a public university in New South Wales. They have come to Timor for three years as he has a contract working on primary education with UNICEF and she is doing her master’s by research on the friendship city agreements between Australia and Timor.
Although Daniel could be their son (I am a little too old for that), the age difference between us didn’t matter a bit (in fact, throughout my life I have always preferred the company of older people).

I told them about my “problems” with living in Timor and for the first time since arriving in Timor (Daniel excepting), I received an empathic hearing. They too had experienced the same issues, such as the dependency of the locals including the dollar sign on one’s forehead and the total lack of interest people show towards you and what hard work it is to form relationships. Not to mention the deeply entrenched patriarchal nature of many of the societies and how completely and utterly repressed and oppressed most of the women and children are.
But they persisted in trying to form relationships even though they indeed had to do most of the work, and in the end they found it worthwhile, although it wasn’t quick or easy. What it took was pasiénsia (patience), an often used word in Timor, which I do not have in abundant supply.

They asked us if we had any plans for lunch and we said that we wanted to go to the Pousada which they had also planned to do. So they drove us up the 7km steep and windy road which explained why I was so exhausted after the “3km” trip down! Lonely Planet’s guide to East Timor states it as a 5km walk and the online Unofficial Guide to East Timor a mere 3km! Well I’m here to tell you that both are wrong, it’s 7km!

The Pousada’s restaurant is absolutely gorgeous with the best architecture I’ve seen in Timor. The windows are floor length which command beautiful views across Old Town down to the ocean. Unfortunately the food didn’t match the architecture as the offering for vegetarians was paltry (Portugal is not renowned for its vegetarian cuisine).
So we settled on a very small vegetable soup (a broth with only two kinds of diced and chopped vegetables) and a very small salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomato and carrot. I was still very hungry so ordered a vegetable omelet which in contrast to the first two dishes was so enormous, I went halves with Daniel. We followed this with a crème brule type dessert which was too runny and not very tasty. Still we enjoyed the atmosphere and more importantly the company.

Our new friends shouted us lunch (they know from experience what it’s like to live on a volunteer allowance) and Daniel and I then walked the short trip to the Piscina de Baukau for an afternoon swim in the stream fed pool.
It soon began to rain, sending the hordes of children and teenagers scurrying for home, which pleased us as I couldn’t decide how to enter the pool in a modest fashion. Despite my one piece bathing suit, there was no place dry near the pool to drop my sarong at the last moment, so I sat on the edge of the pool in both my sarong and t-shit and slowly took off the former and quickly took off the latter before jumping in (hopefully) unseen. I proceeded to do about twelve laps and that just about did me in (I haven’t swum laps for a couple of years although when I lived in London, I did so a couple of times a week). I then swapped with Daniel as one of us needed to keep an eye on our personal belongings.

We paid 50c each for the swim and went and sat outside the gate to wait for a number A3 mikrolete back down to Osolata. We waited and waited and waited as we watched the A1s and A2s pass. Daniel asked a group of young Timorese men and later young boys, if the A3 ran on a Saturday and they all said yes until 6pm and that we should keep waiting. We waited for what turned out to be nearly an hour and a half with me fast losing my limited supply of pasiénsia.
We guessed by the position of the sun that it was around 5:30pm and in all the time we waited, hadn’t seen an A3 come back up from Osolata. Perhaps they’d decided to all take the afternoon off; after all it was páskua. Daniel stopped a private mikrolete and negotiated with them to take us down for $3. They originally wanted $10 which was extreme given that the fare would normally be 10c each!

When we finally arrived back at the bungalow just before 6pm, we told our Australian friends about our misfortune and they said that they were soon going to come back up to see whether we were stranded. I thought this was very considerate of them and my affection for them both grew more.

Dinner that night was again etu mutin, kankun, sopa mie and salada with mantolun da’an and two more mantolun da’an each in a spicy chili sauce. I was wondering what my cholesterol reading would be like after four days of eating so many mantolun!

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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