A stumbling block a day…
Wednesday, day 70
I am now getting used to the small stumbling blocks that my project and best-laid plans come up against on a regular basis. The first of the week was on Monday, when we went to meet with a local representative of the Ministry of Culture who, the first time I met him, smiled constantly and happily agreed to work with us in creating a music project for children here. He would gather the children for us, make the Ministry of Culture workshop venue available to us, and yes, he was even happy for me to participate in his traditional music group that meets three times a week, to indulge my interest in Timorese traditional music. The second time we met with him, he told m sadly that I would need to write a letter of permission to his boss if I wanted to learn any Timorese traditional music. I did this, and I know that he got a reply from his boss giving him the go-ahead. When I met with him this week, he told me I couldn’t learn any traditional music because I wasn’t here for long enough, and it wasn’t worth it. And he didn’t think he could gather any children because, didn’t I know it was school holidays? (a fact which he’d thought would make it easier to gather them, the first time we met). Lastly, he didn’t think we could use his venue. Well, we could, but we’d have to pay for it. “But Senor,” said N, the person assisting us. “You have already promised Mana Gillian she can use the venue at no cost!” Ah yes, well, that was then. The situation is different now.
At that stage, there seemed little point in continuing. In anyone’s culture, this person had zero interest in seeing this project come together through any help of his.
“Don’t worry,” N reassured us as we walked away, incredulous. “He is not the only culture person in Lospalos. We can talk to other people about all these things.”
“He’s just a public servant,” said Tony. “He doesn’t want to do anything more than he needs to do. It’s the week before Christmas, he gets paid regardless, there’s nothing in it for him, he just wants a quiet week sitting behind his desk, looking important.”
The second stumbling block came in the form of a text message for me first thing this morning from the woman who has had the role of assisting me in this project from the beginning. She was invaluable in Baucau, translating, kid-wrangling, keeping everything running smoothly, and having umpteen ideas about how she’d like to do it differently in Lospalos in January. Her text message today told me that she would no longer be working with me because she has taken a job somewhere else. But not to worry, because she has replaced me with her sister, who speaks English “even better than me” and who is “just the same as me”. She just hasn’t got the benefit of all those earlier experiences. I’m not saying the swap won’t work out – it may. But it is certainly quite a surprise.
My third stumbling block has been developing an unexpected allergy to fish. This came up last week, and I thought it was part of the Chikungunya virus symptoms. But when I ate fish from a stall on the way to Lospalos from Dili last Friday, I came out in a horrible rash (worse than the Chikungunya rash of the week before), all over my limbs, and accompanied by itchy, swollen hands and feet. It’s taken all the protein out of my diet – I was eating fish nearly every day here before this allergy decided to emerge! So today I asked Valda if she could find me a chicken. “Sure,” she said. “You can buy a chicken.” (There are certainly plenty running around). “But do you know how to prepare it?” I asked her. (Because I certainly don’t!) She just laughed reassuringly. Sure enough, she came home this afternoon carrying a chicken, still alive. But not for long. We had barbecued chicken for dinner, rubbed in a marinade made with onions, fresh turmeric, ginger, and limes. I’m happy to have had a protein hit in my diet tonight. Apologies to all the vegetarians who would prefer I stay on my music education topic.