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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Timor-Leste day 4

Beach boys
Today was going to be another eventful day of visits. It started in the morning at 9am, when we met in the hotel lobby. From there, we went to a kindergarten-cum-adult school, which was near the airport, or at least I thought it was, judging by the direction that we travelled.

When we arrived, with our cameras in full swing, the kids immediately ran to us and started performing. We recorded and photographed them, as they posed and laughed and pointed and showed off their artwork. I think there must have been 30 of them and were around five years old. Later, their teacher organised them in class to sing a welcome song in Tetun.

After being entertained by them (or was it the other way around?), we talked to the teachers, who were Portuguese missionaries, and found out more about their needs. Some of their computers -- which incidentally came from DBS Bank (I don't know if they were purposely donated) -- weren't working and one of the group said that it could be due to software corruption.

Aside: when Windows isn't working, it's always a software problem, with only one remedy: full-scale reinstallation of the operating system.

The school didn't have the installation discs on hand, so there was very little that could be done. I suggested copying all of the files from one working computer. We did it for about half an hour, then the group member decided to pull the plug on the process because "it was taking too long".

I didn't want to argue, and went to explore the rest of the school. Besides the classrooms, there was a playroom (complete with a "Finding Nemo" poster), a kitchen, and some other classrooms for adult education. I found another missionary teaching a group of about 10 adults some simple English.

At 11:30am, we went to Oportunidade Timor Larosa'e (OTL), which is part of the NGO, Opportunity International. This organisation provides business loans to fund small local businesses, like provision stores or farming needs. It works on a loan-and-repayment-with-interest scheme so that the lenders don't think that it's a handout.

Apparently, there had been a mix-up about our arrival, because OTL had arranged a village visit for us, but that had to be scrapped due to our schedule. We listened to a presentation by the OTL staffers about their work in Timor-Leste to understand better how we can work with them to benefit the Timorese.

After that, it was time for a buffet lunch at a Chinese restaurant. As seems to be the custom when dining at a Chinese restaurant, a few pastors chatted with the owner and befriended her, thus possibly smoothing our way into Timor-Leste, or at least Dili. Over lunch, I chatted with a few others about church and youth matters. For instance, I learned that at one church, teenagers are discouraged from going on one-to-one dates. If any of them flout that rule, they are counselled, possibly scolded, and worse comes to worst, forced to break up. Quite bizarre, in my book.

There was nothing planned for the afternoon, so I and a few others (Kevin, Li Shan, Eu Lee, and Ernie) went to attend the demonstration by the seaside. As soon as we arrived at the scene, some organisers approached us, as if to prevent us from proceeding further. Fortunately, we had two things in our favour:
  1. Eu Lee, who could speak Bahasa Melayu, and
  2. we were foreigners, and therefore had no ties to the government.
We were escorted from one end of the road to the other, about five minutes away. As we walked, bystanders gazed at us. It was both intimidating and fascinating, and quite the experience of a lifetime to be at the edge of suspicion.

At the other end of the road, we found some tables with statues of the Virgin Mary, and two banners hanging overhead. There was also a police guard, looking all serious and threatening. As I was taking photos, a local approached me and started talking. He introduced himself as Benjito, and had just returned home after working in India for a while. He explained that the demonstration was primarily to demand for religious education in the school's curriculum. Each of the Virgin Mary statues represented a province in Timor Leste. He also translated the banners roughly: "There is money but the people don't get it. Who is responsible? The government." and "We don't want dictator Alkatiri" (the prime minister).

Some time later, we learned that a group from the province of Bacau had just arrived and would be demonstrating down the street. There were about a hundred of them, with a single nun in front who led the chants and songs. I don't know what she was saying, because she spoke in Tetun, but as in any demonstration, her words were accepted and repeated by the people.

We stayed for about an hour, taking photos and recording more video. Li Shan had made contact with a local journalist, who told us the same thing that Benjito had told me. This journalist then led us out of the area to the nearby beach. As we walked down the sandy shore, we saw a group of young boys swimming and playing in the open water amidst a run-down jetty and some wooden boats. When they saw us with our cameras, they started performing, like waving their arms and making exaggerated dives into the water.

Most of all, what I remember is that they were naked. Not a shred of clothing. Imagine finding that in Singapore!

We stayed for a short while, then made our way back to the hotel. Along the way, we passed the Xanana Reading Room, which is also a museum for the president. We found photos and journals recording the country's fight for independence, and the man who inspired them. There were also awards and medals from countries like Indonesia, South Korea, some European countries, etc. Interestingly, I couldn't find any medal or trinket from Singapore.

The reading rooms were filled with story books and magazines from all around the world. There was also a souvenir shop, where I picked up a CD, "Ita Nian Rasik" ("Our Own") by Teodozio Batista Ximenes. Li Shan had been talking to the volunteer at the front desk, Marcopolo Albino. We learned that he's a Christian and therefore discriminated against in this Catholic land. But he lived with it and managed to get by.

On the way back, we browsed in a music and video store (US$2.50 per pirated DVD) and a grocery store, Cold Storage.

I rested in the hotel and prepared for the night. At OTL, the staffers mentioned that they would be giving a presentation at a village that night, and invited a few of us to attend. I was one of the five who was picked (the rest went to a prayer meeting at WorldVision). First, it was dinner at the hotel's restaurant: fried vermicelli, kway teow, and an omelette.

The five of us departed for the village at 7pm. It was about an hour or so drive out of Dili, following the road to Liquisa, and halfway up a mountain. There was a moment when a cow was standing in the middle of the road, and we had to wait for it to cross to the other side.

We arrived at the headman's house in Mausoei at 8pm. The presentation was already underway. We talked with two OTL staffers, Litu and Felisarda, and learned a few things about the village and OTL's involvement there, such as:
  • there were about 200 families
  • there were about 25 clients with loans starting at US$50
  • businesses include a bakery, coconut sweet shop, broom shop
  • coffee is grown on the hills
  • there is no electricity after dark
The presentation consisted of a video detailing OTL's services, and a case study in Ghana. Almost everyone sat on the dirt ground, with some sitting nearby on the hill. We were ushered to plastic seats and given tea and cubed banana with bitter beans or seeds embedded inside. The latter was yucky, but the tea was nice. However, I was partly afraid to finish it for fear of getting an upset stomach.

After the presentation, a movie was shown, apparently to draw villagers. This time, the movie was "Mercy Streets", an independent action drama hailing from the U.S. of A. We were amused when the audience gasped as the male and female leads kissed. And they were enthralled by the climactic fight scene. I don't know if they understood the movie since it was in English, though it had Bahasa Indonesian subtitles.

At 10pm, after the movie ended, we returned to the hotel. I met a few people at the restaurant, who were having a late supper. We talked about a bunch of stuff, but it ended with us bad-mouthing a fellow church member. Ah, that was evil.

I returned to my room at 11pm and, after bathing, watched the tail end of "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story", then went to sleep.

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