Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Sunday thoughts

Yesterday’s impromptu group music session was clearly a success. I have come out to the patio this morning to eat a late breakfast and do some writing, and the local children keep stopping by the gate. They wave and call out, and wait for a few minutes, just watching me. I greet them (“Bondia alin”) and ask them how they are (“Diak ka lae?”). Good, they reply, and remain shuffling by the gate, playing the long chain and padlock. “La musika agora,” I tell them (no music now – at least, that is what I intended to say!). “Musika orsida.” (Music later). Then they race away, sometimes singing Ram Sam Sam at the top of their voices.

My housemates Craig and Sarah and I have been brainstorming other songs we can sing with them. The best songs have a lot of repeating words and can be learned quickly. You can sing Rama Sam Sam as a round, and also as a partner song with London Bridge is falling down and Pease Pudding Hot. Sarah suggests Ging Gang Goolly – a scouting classic. But I don’t know the all words so she teaches me.

I feel like I am piloting a potential recruitment model here, with this Patio Music. If the children come back for more each day, then this is the way that I can build up a project. Holly in Melbourne has told me that the house I am renting in Lospalos has a lovely porch out the front, so hopefully this is how I will be able to draw a pool of participants towards me initially.

I am still thinking about the ‘soundworlds’ idea for Lospalos, and still feeling that the most effective way to engage with the whole community will be to start that engagement with the children. We can use music games to establish some foundational music principles – taking turns, working in different groups, working in unison – but hopefully I will be able to gradually introduce ways for them to contribute their own material, and little by little we will move towards group compositions that depict their local soundworlds.

The Pied Piper of Comoro

I’ve fallen into a pleasant daily routine here in Dili. I go to language school in the morning until 12:30, then cycle into town to have lunch and do my homework, and when I get home in the afternoon I play my clarinet or flute on the front porch and watch the world go by.

Generally I find that the world also watches me as it goes by, and the young children in particular stop and listen. When they stop by the gate I wave, and if they wave back I tend to strike up a (halting, broken) conversation with them in Tetun. It’s great practice for me, and in return for my music they sometimes share their own music with me.

Today – Saturday – there were more kids around than usual, some older ones that I had met earlier in the week (and interviewed for my Tetun servisu uma (=homework) so I knew their names), and some younger ones that I knew by sight. One of them mimed that he wanted to have a try of the clarinet. I now have enough Tetun to explain that sadly, he can’t, that only I can play this clarinet.

Do you know any songs? I asked them. One or two shyly admitted they did. Mana Dina, who lives on the same block as the house I’m staying in, wandered over to our group, and she explained to me that some of the children go to school but others – she patted them on the head in turn to show me which ones she meant – were not yet at school.

Mana Dina encouraged the school children to sing a song from school for me. They sang a song with actions that I copied. Then the rain started up so we moved over to the patio. Mana Dina instructed all the pre-school children to sit on the tiled floor in a huddle. The older children commandeered the seats. Now that they were warmed up and in place on the patio, they began to sing with great enthusiasm, with an older boy calling out names of new songs to sing every time one finished.

The pre-schoolers looked mostly lost or overawed. It was interesting to see how the school-goers were completely au fait with systems of learning and getting organised, but the younger children looked like it was all going by way too quickly.

I taught them to sing Ram Sam Sam. It’s a good song to start with because it has very few words and they are nonsense words, easy to remember, with actions. I taught it phrase by phrase, using the word ‘prononsia’ that the teachers in my Tetun class say when they want us to repeat a new word after them.

We sang it through a couple of times, and they did very well. So then I got ambitious, and divided them into three groups. I grabbed the words hamriik (stand up) and tuur (sit down) from my memory and told them in my pidgin Tetun to stand up on certain words and sit down on others. This turns Ram Sam Sam into a kind of game, with each team aiming to make sure they only stand up on their words and not on someone else’s.

“Lalais!” (faster) I suggested after each time, and we sang it again faster. Then the children also starting calling for it to go “lalais”. At this stage it was still raining heavily and some older children had turned up with huge golf umbrellas – presumably to fetch their younger siblings and bring them home for tea. Suddenly the group ran off, slipping into their flip-flops and racing away through the downpour. As they ran back home I could hear them singing Ram Sam Sam at the top of their voices.

Dili Orientation

It was really hard to build a picture in my mind of Dili. Everyone I knew who had been here contributed descriptions, but some of these would conflict with each other, and some were so extreme it made it difficult to even begin to imagine the situation…

But now I am here, and I can report my own perceptions and discoveries, based purely on my own experiences. I suspect Timor Leste experiences are by their nature inconsistent – while there are lots of foreigners here, travel systems here are still somewhat figured out on a case-by-case basis, I think. In other words, people are figuring things out as they go along!

The weather

Oh yes, it is hot and humid. But there is also a cool breeze that comes along every now and then – like a fleeting mini version of Melbourne’s fabled ‘cool change’. And the last two days have been comparatively comfortable – even cool. My bike rides each morning to the Dili Institute of Technology for my Tetun classes have perhaps acclimatised me to the temperature. Or perhaps the temperature at DIT is more intense than elsewhere in Dili, given its location on the edge of an apparent jungle.

The susuk (mosquitos)

It is not as if the air is swimming with them in Dili. We sit outside on the patio for breakfast and dinner, and it is pretty evident when the mozzies are out in full force. We go back inside on those occasions.

At the same time, despite all my precautions to wear long-sleeved, long-legged garments, and put repellent on exposed skin, I have 4 little bites on me. I don’t know if these are from mosquitos or other little bugs that might be around. What could I get from mosquitos? Dengue is the big one, as there is no vaccination, and no treatment. You just have to suffer through it with the help of paracetamol. Then there are the various strains of malaria. I am taking anti-malaria tablets but these only protect me from four different strains – there are many others, apparently. Then there is Japanese Encephalitis, which I’ve been vaccinated against. So, don’t get the idea that I am feeling complacent about mozzies. There are lots of reasons to remain on guard. But the mental image I had before coming here of an environment thick with them was definitely on the exaggerated side of things.

Mosquito nets

My dear Tiny gave me a double-sized, DEET-impregnated mosquito net before coming here, but when I unpacked it on my first night it was barely wide enough for a single bed. Luckily my colleague Kim had had the kindness to leave her mosquito net for me in Dili and I collected it the next day, and this one proved to be a more robust and practical size. Honestly, Kathmandu – what is your concept of ‘double’?

Meanwhile, Sarah, our resident UN intern arrived on Saturday and was minus a mosquito net. My host SH found one for her in the local shop – $5! So if you are planning a trip to East Timor and have missed buying your mosquito net in the camping shop sales for $50, you may like to plan to buy one here for $5.


Everyone who arrives in Dili can get a 30 day tourist visa at the airport. You fill in a form, it gets the most cursory of glances, pay US$30, and voila! A visa is yours. For those of us intending to stay longer than 30 days, you then have to apply for an extension, which is apparently a long, drawn-out, Dili-based process.

In theory, if you apply for a visa online before arrival, you can get an authority for a longer visa. I tried to do this. I filled out the form, and sent off all the necessary additional forms and scanned documents including a doctor’s certificate, a police check, copies of my professional affiliations, such as the Victorian Institute of Teaching, and so on. I sent it all off in good time, but the visa never eventuated. A contact in the Ministry confided that he didn’t know of anyone who had managed to get one of these visas ahead of time. I leave Dili at the end of this week, so hopefully the extension process can be ticking over while I’m out in the ‘the Districts’ (as all parts of Timor-Leste that are not Dili are known).


I was told by lots of people that people drive really slowly in Dili. That’s not true –  in my experience, cycling around the city every day, I’d say people drive pretty fast. Perhaps they have given up trying to model good behaviour to the drivers of UN vehicles, who by the reports of many might be considered to be contemptuous of driving behaviour that would support general road safety, as they charge around town in their big white 4WDs. (Still, I rode in one of these today, so I can’t be too critical).

Learning Tetun

I am loving my Tetun classes at the Dili Institute of Technology. Firstly, there is the setting. DIT is set back off the road, not far from where I am living in Comoro. To get there, I ride on a series of nice, sealed roads, but then turn into a dirt track that at a critical point is currently overwhelmed by a large, deep puddle. Each day it seems to get a little harder to traverse. When I get to the school, I cycle up the entrance drive (also unsealed), past grazing goats, fossicking chooks, and the occasional cow. All around, the landscape is lush and green. The mountains that ring Dili loom in the distance, and below them appear to be thick jungles of coconut palms that come all the way up to the edge of the school grounds. It is pretty stunning.

The classrooms are simple, equipped with a white board, a ceiling fan, a rotating fan and desks for all the students. There are five students in my class – four of us are returning next week. The power goes off every day (‘ahi mate’ – ‘the electricity is dead’ – we say knowingly, when this happens, rolling our eyes) for at least part of the class, so it can get pretty steamy. But the breeze still comes in through the slatted louvre windows. Every hour or so we take a five-minute break (‘deskansa’), wandering outside to sit on the edge of the verandah; and midway through we stop for morning tea where we can drink tea or coffee and eat sweet biscuits and chat among the students and staff. I love it.