A little bit of paradise

Monday, day 29

I have been in Timor four weeks today. I’m writing this in Lospalos, sitting on my verandah, looking out towards the street (the ‘motolori’, I’ve been told it is called – I’m not sure if that is the name of the street or the name of that kind of street… but apparently ‘motolori’ is my address) and people-watching. As I sit here, having eaten a breakfast that someone else prepared for me, and having chatted with people as they’ve passed by or dropped in or wandered over, in a leisurely way, before settling down to do some work, I feel incredibly privileged. I’m enjoying a luxury of time and space today that is in harmony with the people around me.

I have very friendly and welcoming company – both malae (international) and local. Yesterday I had the opportunity to join with a group of Australian volunteers who were passing through the district and on their way to Jaco Island, a little piece of paradise right on the eastern tip of Timor. It’s a pristine landscape. White sand, blue water, thick tropical forest. We bought two freshly caught fish (a tuna and a trevally) and cooked them over an open fire, and ate them with chips and salad we’d brought with us. Then, for $6 per person, the local fishermen took us in their boats across to the island where we snorkelled, played soccer, did handstands in the water, tried to float cross-legged in the water (and all those other time-passing water-based activities we could remember from childhood summers in the backyard Clarks above-ground pool). A storm rolled in, and rolled out again, then more rain came, by which time it was time to go home anyway.

I also met some of the Australian soldiers and policemen posted here. One of the soldiers gave Deb (another Australian posted here) and I one of their 24-hour field ration packs to check out. We were amazed at how much food gets packed into one of these packages. All sorts of things, including tubes of vegemite and sweetened condensed milk, biscuits, crackers, chocolate, high-energy fruit drink (tropical flavour, of course), chicken curry, boil-in-the-bag rice, 2-minute noodles, and the thing that got Deb really excited – a FRED (which apparently stands for F*****g Ridiculous Eating Device). It isn’t ridiculous at all, it is a can opener that doubles as a spoon.

However, I won’t really need these emergency rations, as Mana Er has arranged for someone to cook for me, and generally be my housekeeper. You can see why I say I feel privileged. Of course I could do this for myself, but I am not someone who particularly enjoys cooking or making decisions about food. Also, as someone living by herself in a big house, it is probably expected that I will employ someone to help me. Even though there isn’t really that much to do! Valda is young and fun, and I think she takes particularly pride in taking care of me. The sister of my landlady (whose family lives on the same block) is a friend of Valda’s from school, and they hang out together in the house. I was worried I might be keeping Valda from school but I’ve been told this is a pre-exam period, designed for study. So the two of them can study here together and there is probably more peace and quiet here for them than there is anywhere else. So it seems to be a mutually agreeable situation, where I feel happy to have someone do the cooking (and free my mind up from those decisions) and Valda can earn some money, and at the same time be away from all the responsibilities she would probably have in her own home, where there are lots of small children and people to look after. As the youngest in the family (and also a girl), she has lots of jobs to do there.

My house has a verandah and is set back off the road. It has coconut palms and banana trees in the front yard.

The family that owns the house lives out the back in a house that they have built with the money from the two months rent in advance that was paid earlier this year. They have four children and the husband is a teacher. One of the children – the second, a little girl – is quite a singer. She goes to pre-school and has learned lots of songs there, and will run through the entire collection when requested, taking a deep breath, standing up straight, and counting herself in in Portuguese (“un, dos, tres”). She sings fast, high, and usually incredibly loudly.

Today I managed to slow the little girl down enough to write down the words to one of her songs (in the hope that I might be able to sing it with her). Then I sang The Little Green Frog in English, and explained it in Tetun. Then we tried translating Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes into Tetun, and that was when Valda decided to give me my first Fataluku lesson.

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