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a. Pulling down cut coconut trees, helping weavers, visitors
b. Pulling down cut coconut trees, helping weavers, product development, visitors, meetings
c. Pulling down cut coconut trees, helping weavers, visitors, political campaign discussions new visitors, babysitting, building, more weaving, meetings, more visitors, training, administration, cooking, product development… sleep
One month in Australia, five sleeps in hospital in isolation, ETWA’s birthday, a few meetings and a trip to Canberra and… I’m back already. Did that really happen? Feels like I blinked. Dengue brain we call it. It was really nice to be home (albeit a little under the weather); seeing loved ones and new members of the family (little angel she is!) and eating mud cake and getting my head ready for life in Aus in a few months. But it’s also nice to be back in sleepy Lospalos and I will try and lap up the leisurely pace while it lasts.
However there’s much to do and much happening (in a Lospalos-kinda-way). Taryn held down the fort while I was away (you’d never know she also has dengue brain!). She worked with the Lospalos group to dye almost 200 skeins of cotton using new recipes and different combinations of local plants and the colours are gorgeous. She has attracted new and amazing people to work with us over the coming months. Kat, our Designer is Residence, has finessed our production room and is inspired to collaborate with and create for CTKDS weavers. Mel will be coming to help us work on natural remedies for the wider community. We’ll have visitors over Easter and the second round of the Presidential elections will occur in the blink of an eye. Elsa and I will be preparing and planning and refining and the time will never be enough anyway. Amelia and Ona and Tia Regina and the dozens of weavers and other community members will continue to grace us with their presence over the next few months, so as usual there won’t be a dull moment here in Lospalos. I’ve been very blessed.
Timor time is real and living. It’s slow, relaxed, restful, forgetful and dreamy. It’s fickle and has a pace all its own. It’s understood only by locals and there’s no telling when it’s going to change. Big development doesn’t like it but it’s a precious thing in rural communities. It works really well when there’s lots of it but doesn’t work so well when there’s not.
I’m in the ‘it’s-not-working-so-well-for-me-right-now basket’ (which is also full of oh my god I leave in about four months and there’s not enough time). But it’s not about me … I keep trying to tell myself! If the people we work with are happy with the pace and results are happening in sync with their expectations … well, that’s the pretty ok yeah?
So obviously the big dreams will take a little longer. I may not be here during the whole dream but I’ll always know I was there at the start and helped build the storyline.
Seriously though; why would anyone with lots of time on their hands choose to throw that away? At the end of my two years here in Lospalos, the main thing that I know will be most difficult is adjusting my energy to the extremely busy pace back home and forever wondering ‘why does it have to be this way’. So to help my ‘re-entry’ (yes- that’s a real term used by an agency who shall remain nameless), maybe I should start now and build up to working at a manic frantic pace before I go rather than enjoy the slowliness of Lospalos for my last few months here?
Hmmm… choices choices 😉
Here’s the pics of our beautifully decorated verandah here at CTKDS.
More news to come soon. Hope 2012 is looking promising 😉
I can’t with any honesty say that the past few months have been easy and uncomplicated but thank goodness there’s a more positive spirit in the air here in Lospalos as we approach Xmas. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s in less than five days because without the Xmas trees, Santa, tinsel, junk mail, TV commercials and numerous other reminders we’re accosted by back home, it feels like any other time of year really. It’s going to be interesting as the focus here isn’t on consumption as people can’t afford to consume. When I asked my colleagues what they eat for Xmas lunch, they simply said ‘whatever we have’, meaning a bowl of rice with fried leafy vegies. The traditional roast and spending time with my family I’ll miss but there’s a certain freedom that comes with the simplicity of the festive season here. No presents; no commercials; just families coming together from all over the country – if you haven’t booked your seat on the bus yet you’ll miss out!
It’s going to be interesting to see what people do here on the 25th, other than going to mass of course. The verandah at the office here is decorated with the most beautiful nativity scene, courtesy of Ona and her helpers (I’ll load a photo when it’s completed) all made from local materials- except the ‘disco lights! Ona will be waiting – for what I don’t know – with her creation on Xmas day, that much I do know and I’ll be joining Tom and Monica for lunch.
To all my dear friends and family in Aus or where ever you are, I hope that the true spirit of this important date on the Christian calendar brings you and yours together to celebrate just being together; I think that’s what will happen here in Lospalos.
Chicken and tractor are two words heard often around CTKDS. ‘Chicken Tractor’ is Meg’s nickname because she helped Leo and the boys build a moveable bamboo chicken pen that doubles as a mini tractor because of the way the chickens’ dig – we haven’t got any chickens yet but that’s beside the point. There are many funny stories associated with the chicken tractor since it was built early last month but there’s a serious side as it’s a cheap and simple permaculture technology that helps with breeding chickens and preparing soil for planting. But our chicken tractor also helped with the drying organic cotton- ah so versatile!
Things move so very slowly in Lospalos and more often than not it’s the spontaneous things that are the most effective and worthwhile – like the chicken tractor. For most of October this is what happened anyway; plans that didn’t happen left room for other things to happen unexpectedly. We started focusing on product development and doing more time trials to determine fair trade comparable prices. Eight weavers spent a day with us at the office after collecting leaves and barks from the local forest (and around the office) to dye the plain cotton we purchased in Indonesia earlier in the year. As to be expected the colours and the process are amazing- although the weavers assured us that the colours would be richer and more diverse if other plants were in season. There’s much more integrity in dyeing cotton locally although the weavers worry about the extra work it creates. This is why we’ve been doing time trials to attempt to determine the real cost of the weavings. Timor is poor but the cost of living is so high that for the handcrafts industry to compete globally, we have to rely on the consumers’ understanding and willingness to pay a higher price than they would say in Indonesia for a similar product. Letting ‘the market’ determine prices will just confine women to poverty not free them from poverty so working through this issue has been our main priority over the past month. ETWA has some of our new products see www.etwa.org.au . Fingers crossed we keep opening markets for this amazing cloth.
Along with our community volunteers Ona and Amelia, we’ve had Meg and Emily with us since August, teaching English amongst other things; but we were also joined unexpectedly by Peta and Kelley who stayed for a week or so and did a range of tasks including setting up a recycling and composting system and a Facebook page for CTKDS! The small and spontaneous again made a massive difference.
The office can be a hive of activity, and these busy days suit me best as I find the down-time a little humdrum. We (meaning us Aussies) can keep ourselves busy but the best way to do things is definitely in collaboration with the locals. However as October was also a difficult month for many of the local people who we work closely with, there were many days where we were just waiting around. So thank goodness for spontaneity as it inserts a bit of sanity into the down time.
Sadly, Emily’s student placement finished with CTKDS this week. It’s been an absolute joy having her here. The English students will miss her energetic teaching style and I’ll miss her silly jokes and support (a fellow Piscean we have much in common!). No doubt Meg will miss her too. We all hope she travels safe and has a bright and happy future, whatever she decides to do.
Emily Kate if you read this, my new nickname is NOT cool! 😉
We arrived back in Lospalos last week after a few days in scorching Dili, a week in tepid Tonga and ten days in freezing cold Melbourne. There’s been a change in the weather here in the last four weeks; it’s getting hot and seems the dry season has arrived even though it’s way too late. It must be all so confusing for farmers, but then they have their own way of understanding the change. There’s also been so many people pass away over the past few days here but there’s also a local understanding as to why this is happening. In both cases – broadly speaking – according to local belief, the active connection to the spirit of the land and ancestors has been lost and so the whole system has been thrown off balance. Now people focus on ‘money’ and ‘development’ so the rituals that maintained the connections with the things that kept the balance have faded away. Sad…welcome to capitalism!
Our three-week ‘international’ sojourn was interesting and a wonderful experience. This was Elsa’s first time out of East Timor and as is to be expected, it was difficult for her to adjust. Our first destination was Tonga to attend the ACWW (Associated Country Women of the World) triennial conference, hosted by the Country Women’s Association of Victoria. The ACWW is a global women’s organisation with over 9 million (yes- 9 million!) members and the CWA are one of the many organisations involved. The organizational model of the ACWW is pretty amazing. They’ve divided the globe into nine areas and Australia and the Pacific fall into the South Pacific Region. The conference was more like a big meeting where member organisations present their activities, vote on resolutions and generally get together. Two Tongan women’s organisations managed logistics for the conference with support from the South Pacific Area President and her helpers.
Elsa was invited to speak on the last day of the conference and blew everyone away with her heart-felt presentation. We also signed CTKDS up as members of ACWW and in true Timorese fashion gave gifts to the organisers and host organisations. It was very moving. Sadly, the way things worked out we didn’t get a chance to see much of the landscape and visit the rural communities but we did see many beautiful cultural performances and even a recording of ‘Search for a Star’ which was recorded live at our hotel!
After even days in Tonga, we headed to Melbourne, totally unprepared for the cold snap that hit the day we arrived- this is where the culture shock hit hardest (and not just for Elsa). The city, the speed; the cold, the language… the busy-ness of it all. Rachael picked us up at the airport and we spent our first two nights with Sally, Marcus, Maleve and Mira in Footsacry. ETWA then ran a beautiful event which was very special as I got to see so many, many great friends and Elsa finally got to meet people she had heard so much about. ETWA members as always took care of us and welcomed Elsa with open arms. I caught up with family at my niece’s baby shower the following day and hung out with Clinton for a few days before our next major event in Archies Creek down near Leogatha. This was a black tie event organised by the crew from Change the World… an amazing and highly lucrative fundraiser raising in excess of $20k for our work here. Thanks to David, Anne, Wayne, Belinda and the team for your incredible hard work! Also a big thank you to the musicians and the owner of the venue and his hard-working staff.
Other activities included meetings with the Friends of Lospalos, AVI, Rotary and Andrea, the beautiful architect who has volunteered to design the Sustainability Centre. Dinner with the Santos family; lunch with my family and a party at our apartment in the city to say hello-goodbye to friends was a lovely end to the social side of our visit. Our last appointment was an afternoon tea with the CWA of Victoria in their heritage listed building in Toorak thank you very much 😉
In both Tonga and Melbourne we made great new contacts and opened up opportunities for partnerships which will support our work here. It was a whirlwind and a wee bit overwhelming at times but the memories will linger through the stories we’ll share here with everyone here.
Thanks to everyone for your support and generosity during our stay, particularly Clinton, Sally, Rachael, Marcus, Sophie, Darrylin and ETWA members and Machelle from the CWA.
Until next time!
Mid August… um… how did that happen? Time is a slippery concept. We’ll soon be off to Tonga and Melbourne but we’re not ready and before we know it we’ll be back but we still won’t be ready to go (hehehe). But time isn’t the only thing flying. Last week, Maleve and I got to fly from Dili to Lospalos in a light plane with a film crew – what a high (pardon the pun)! The crew had visited us with a lovely bunch of Australian women who travelled over with Shirley from Timor Adventures. It was sad to say goodbye. Meeting like-minded Aussies is a pleasure and a relief. We’d freshly renovated the office before they arrived- seriously, the paint was still drying- which leads me to the main story I wanted to share.
Often from small things larger cultural differences become so very clear here in Lospalos. A young and very talented local guy agreed to take responsibility to build a wall and paint our office. It was a very informal agreement; no written contract, no risk management plan, no union or association rules to abide by- simple. But of course I never think anything is simple. So what did I do? Half-way through the job, a couple of the other young guys offered to help and I accepted, thinking this would make the job easier for the ‘foreman’ as I dubbed him. Fortunately, my confidant (Elsa) told me that the foreman was no longer motivated to finish the job on time. I immediately apologised and after much discussion, we sorted it out. Troug this process I learned that the informal is as legitimate as more formal processes. Leadership isn’t taken lightly here, even in what seems to us, the most relaxed of situations. For this young guy, to lead means to take responsibility for the people you’re leading and for a whole task from start to finish, but the leadership style and outcomes of that leadership are also very different to what we would expect back home. Everyone- except me of course- seemed to understand who was leading.
Nonetheless, from this small example I’m a little more aware of the boundaries; the social norms that prevent me and offer me a space to intervene. Although I reckon there’s bound to be a whopper one day – a situation where our cultural worlds are so far apart that the situation is irreconcilable. But hey, if this doesn’t happen then I’ve learned more than I think I have.
Elsa and I are travelling to a women’s conference in Tonga at the end of this month and then on to Melbourne from the 8th to the 18th of Sept. There’s a range of activities where you can catch up with us both- just stay tuned to ETWA’s website www.etwa.org.au
Ate loron seluk!