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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Timor-Leste day 3

Village family
I woke up at 6:45am and proceeded to wash up. Breakfast was at 7:10am, consisting of fried noodles and assorted foodstuffs. Today was going to be our trip to a village to assess its needs. After packing my cameras (video and still) and ensuring that I had enough tapes and batteries, I met the rest of the group at the hotel lobby.

We stopped by Alola Foundation at 8am to pick up a local volunteer. Then it was an hour's drive to Liquisa. The drive took us through the city, then along the coast next to a hill, and finally an inland journey with grassland on both sides. We also overtook a group of goats. We were excited by the sight, which made us look like country bumpkins!

We arrived early at the headman's house, and the villagers were in the midst of preparing lunch. Seated on the dirt ground, they cut carrots and other vegetables. Further in, in a bamboo hut with a zinc roof, they cooked the dishes over open fires. This was really a throwback to a simpler life. On one hand, it was unhygienic. On the other, it was totally retro.

Since the villagers weren't ready, the WorldVision volunteer suggested visiting another village, but after driving for half an hour and realising that it was at least another hour away, we turned back. Instead, we went to a community centre for women and children. It was a simple one-storey building built together with South Korean assistance. Inside, there were various rooms for study and play. In the playroom, we saw plastic tables and chairs decorated with Mickey Mouse and Teletubbies. There were also board games and stuffed toys.

Outside, we found a few young children just hanging around. A few of us got to talking with them and learned that they were below 10 years old and waiting for school to begin in the afternoon. In the meantime, they just played by themselves. I should probably mention that the place seemed quite desolate, as if civilisation had totally forgotten about this area. And perhaps it had; one small boy had a parang for a toy.

At 10:30am, we returned to the headman's house to meet the villagers, consisting mostly of widows and children, though there were a few men, the survivors of the massacres of yesteryears, as well. After a Catholic prayer, we listened to them one-by-one as they related their needs. Most of the requests were the same: money for education, money for homes, money for businesses. But they also mentioned that this wasn't the first time they had made such requests, and they hadn't received any aid then, so they were understandably more wary of us.

Lunch was at 12:30pm. On the menu was white rice, bittergourd stew, stir-fried beef, fried chicken, bean soup and bananas. After lunch, my church group and two others followed a 19-year-old girl, Zeila, to visit her house. It was a bamboo and concrete building with four main rooms, and an external kitchen/bathroom. She lived there with her sister, niece (daughter of sister), and grandniece (daughter of niece, granddaughter of sister), a cow, a pig and a few chickens. We looked around at their living conditions, which were decent but not what a Singaporean would be used to, and asked her about her life. She'd already graduated from high school, but needed a job. When asked about what she hopes for her future, she gave us a blank look.

At 1:30pm, we visited a high school. One church, which had been there previously, donated two laptop computers and several old CD-ROMs of encyclopedias. After talking with the principal for a while, we adjourned outside, where he called all of the students (about 100) for assembly. He introduced us to them, and the kids hushed when the bishop in our group was mentioned.

While the principal conferred with a few group members later, the rest of us wandered around the school, which consisted of three one-storey buildings, with three rooms per building. Ruth from my church took up the challenge of teaching to one class of about 20 students. Using an English-to-Bahasa Indonesia book, she taught them the English words for certain body parts. The rest of us supported her with "eye power".

At 2:30pm, it was time to leave and we returned to the community centre area to survey two buildings. LoveSingapore plans to build a hostel for about 200 children in that area, and now we were going to look at two potential sites: a former magistrate court and a former family planning clinic. Both of them were totally destroyed due to the riots and massacre in 1999. All that remained were the floors and walls. Even the roofs were gone!

At 3pm, we left Liquisa and returned to Dili. We went to Delicious Cafe and Bakery to discuss what we had learned that day from our discussions with the villagers. I had a mango iced bubble drink for US$1.50. Later, while some others went to the statue of Jesus, I and a few others stayed behind to relax. We talked for a while with the bakery owner, who was a Chinese Indonesian but has since settled in Dili. He talked about fleeing Timor Leste during the massacre and returning after independence. One of his helpers (or son, I'm not sure) also told us about the hard life as a Protestant, e.g. not being able to worship openly, being shunned when applying for jobs, etc.

I had an evening snooze at 6:15pm at the hotel. At 8pm, we went back to Golden Star Restaurant for dinner. I had lamb stew (US$5) with rice (US$0.50) and a bottle of water (US$0.50). This time, it was just a chance for us to socialise with one another. After dinner, I sat with Pastor Dong, who talked about "luring" single men to his church instead of letting his single women go out to others. Ha.

At 10pm, it was back to the hotel for the night. I bathed, this time facing inwards, then while waiting for my hair to dry, I watched a badly cut "xXx".

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