Archive for the ‘Lospalos’ Tag

Presentation – integrating Timorese music into workshops

Last Friday night I gave a short talk and video presentation to the Melbourne East Timorese Activity Centre in Richmond, inner-city Melbourne. This is a group of Timorese and Australian activists and Timor supporters who meet at the start of each month to hear about various initiatives and developments taking place in Timor, to eat together, and keep in touch.

As you can imagine, it is a lovely group to present to. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in the room, and also an appreciation for all the work and initiatives that are taking place in East Timor. I decided to focus my presentation on the ways that I’d integrated the aspects of Timorese traditional music that I’d learned about during my residency – songs, instruments, stories – into some of the workshop work I was doing there. I created three new videos for this presentation, showing the gradual transition from a song or story being learned, to being integrated and then shared more widely.

I got some very warm and appreciative feedback after my presentation. Several of the Timorese people talked about how important it is that the traditional culture is maintained. However, they said, “We don’t really know how to use it in workshops like this. It’s an important way that outside visitors like Gillian and Tony can contribute and assist us. There are lots of music people in Timor, but they don’t have these skills of working with children and large groups of people.”

Here are two of the new videos I presented that night. The first one shows the integration of a traditional song into workshops – from the first time I learned it sitting on the back of a truck:

The second one shows a Musical Story-telling project I led in Lospalos, about the nearby Lake Ira-Lalaru:

The only time I visited Lake Ira-Lalaru (which is enormous), it was flooded, and the causeway that you travel across by car proved impassable. Here are a couple of photos from that day, taken through the car window:



Video of the Toka Bo’ot event, East Timor

I’ve just uploaded another video from my East TImor residency. You can view it here:

This one was a true labour of love to edit – you’ll have to forgive a few odd transitions, and please admire all the segues that line up the musical phrases without skipping a beat, as I was working with very fragmented raw footage for this project!

Forever Young in Fataluku

Here is another video from my four months in East Timor. One of the enduring songs during my time in Lospalos was the pop song Forever Young. Initially I decided to translate the song in the local Fataluku language (with the help of local people of course) as a gift for the teenage girl who cooked all my meals for me, because she liked the song so much and wanted to know what the words meant. Later, the song took hold with the group of young people who used to gather on the veranda each afternoon for a jam session.

I created a simple accompaniment on the chime bars for the song, and a teenage boy volunteered to be our Chief Guitarist. We ended up performing our version of this song live on local radio one evening.

This video shows the progression towards that performance:

More songwriting in East Timor

I’ve just finished editing another video from my East Timor residency. This one shows clips from the songwriting workshop I led at the local English language classes in Lospalos. About 40 students took part, and elected to write a love song.

Songwriting can be a very engaging and interesting way to encourage people to use the English that they know. They discover that they know more words than they expect, and they also learn new words very quickly, because they use them in context straight away, and attach them to music (which helps embed them in the memory).

I loved the sentiment of this song. Favourite line?

I’m happy because I found another love.

We met at the market, buying some bananas.

Of course! What better place to chat up a new love interest than at the banana stall? You can read more about this project here – it’s the post I wrote at the time of doing the project.

The dilemma of donations

A dilemma that comes at the end of many projects in developing countries is what to do with the materials you have been using, or that have been donated, once your project ends. It’s a dilemma about realities and likely scenarios, about ownership and power, access and equity.

Years ago, when I worked with War Child in Bosnia-Hercegovina, all the kindergartens in East Mostar had just been refurbished. A donor gave every kindergarten a collection of instruments, the idea being that when the War Child musicians came in to lead workshops, each kindergarten would have instruments for the children to play. But when the workshops started some weeks later, almost all the instruments had gone. Where, no-one seemed able to say. Stolen? Perhaps… but when people are poor, and suffering, and have so little, it is also likely that donations like this can end up in people’s houses, available only to their children and no-one else. Perhaps this is under the guise of safe-keeping. Another common occurrence with donations in developing countries can be how quickly things get broken or damaged. Perhaps this is because equipment of the kind we are used to in wealthy privileged Western countries is completely unfamiliar to the people receiving these donations, and they don’t know how to use them with care or awareness of their potential fragility. Perhaps it’s because there is no suitable place to store things when they are not in use, so they get shunted and knocked about. It might also be that the quality of the donated goods was not robust enough for the local environment. Many things can happen, some of which are within people’s control, and some that are not. Bear in mind too, that the energy required to take on responsibility for something new, can be enormous, especially when you are functioning on just one meagre bowl of rice a day.

So therefore, it is tempting to leave them in the care of an organisation or institution that has the capacity to store them and protect them. I’ve seen this before too. It can mean instruments that were designed for children to play with, explore and experience get kept locked in a cupboard, with no-one considered special or important enough to use them. It can mean that the custodians see them as a money-making opportunity, charging exorbitant fees to those who wish to use them, whether for educational purposes or otherwise. (I had direct experience of this kind of entrepreneurism in Baucau).

Basically, I think there are no great solutions about who to leave your things with, and certainly no hard-and-fast rules you can use to find your ideal solution. Ideal solutions would be – a safe place where instruments can be stored, where other people can access them freely, but where someone is assuming a custodial role, ensuring expectations for care and responsibility are met by those borrowing the instruments. In that way, donated things become a local resource, and can be used by the people they were intended for.

In this project, we had made a number of instruments from recycled materials (bells from bottles and drums from buckets), from local materials (the kakalos, using Maun M’s design and guidance), and from donations (the chime bars). We weren’t planning to take any of these with us, and the question of where to leave things was one that generated much discussion between Tony, Kim and I.

Tony was the person who had made the kakalos, and he pointed out that they were in fact easy to make. Surely the most significant thing here was that we knew the maker! If the instruments got broken or lost (or burned for firewood, or any other such event), they were easy enough to make again, as they only required bamboo (locally available), a saw (easily borrowed or purchased) and a machete (the number one can-do item in most Timorese households). We could just distribute the ones we have out into the community, he suggested.

But, I countered, there is value in having a set. It creates the possibility of an ensemble. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, as a result of our time here, some of the local boys decided to continue playing, and created an ensemble? That would be much harder to do if the instruments got disbursed widely. Also, we know that new things in any household get shared by everyone, and the youngest children in the household are rarely in any position to lay claim to them, because of the way the family hierarchies work.

The kindergarten we had visited at Esperanca Lorosa’e had impressed all of us. The staff were clearly well-trained, motivated and incredibly professional. They wore uniforms to work, and led the classes as a team, all participating and encouraging. Their response to our music workshop had been one of excitement, tinged with disappointment that there wasn’t more opportunity to work with us again. They’d told Kim they were interested in using some of the instruments we’d demonstrated in that workshop in their classes – they hadn’t seen anything like my music workshops before and were excited. They’d loved the thunder-makers and the bottles in particular.

Therefore, we decided to give all the bottles, buckets and the four smallest kakalos to the kindergarten. I also gave them the sets of pastels I’d bought in Dili and some of my left-over drawing paper.

We decided to keep the chime bars together as a set of three complete sets. They were the hardest to find a home for, as it was easy to imagine how quickly the sets could get dismantled – individual bars could get lost, mallets misplaced or broken, bars divided up among a family so that everyone got one coloured bar each as a way of being fair, but without realising they’d be destroying the potency of the set by separating them…

In the end it was decided to ask the local education authority to store them, with the understanding that they were to be accessible by schools and groups in the area (including, I hope, visiting malae working with local children). Tony and I felt sad that we hadn’t been able to find a more community-based home for them. Would the Motolori children ever see them again? They loved playing them so much! And had developed such strong skills on them. We also remembered the way some of the teenage boys from the Plan International band recording program had dropped by the house one afternoon, and after watching the local youngsters playing the chime bars, been eager to play them and utilise them in their own songs.

Tony decided to give the kakalos to Maun M and his family. After all, he had been the inspiration for making them, he seemed to be the most engaged, music-minded adult we had met locally (the recorders Tony and given them were played constantly in that house, usually well past midnight), and his large family had been part of our jams from the very beginning.

I had some misgivings. We’d gathered, even from before the event of the burglary, that people seemed to distrust this family. And at the certificate presentation, I felt unsettled by the cockiness some of those boys seemed to be displaying to the others. When the other regular boys heard of the plan to house the kakalos with that household, they looked distinctly dismayed, even horrified.  Does everyone know who came into our house? I wondered to myself. Do they think that it was someone from this family Are we being gullible fools?

But we’d never know the answer to this. And in the end Tony had the right response.

“Just let the community sort it out. If we’ve made the wrong choice, then the community will put it right. We’re in no position to ever make a decision with all the facts to hand, because we’ll never know all the facts! And we can’t control what happens after we leave anyway.”

So that was how we dispersed all the musical materials. And despite my concerns about the fate of the kakalo collection and the opportunities the local boys might have to play them – or any other instruments – from now on, I couldn’t help but nurse some small hopes. Wouldn’t it be great, I mused to Tony and Kim, if, when we or Many Hands come back, there is a kakalo ensemble here in Motolori? Maybe they will organise themselves and continue to play. Maybe someone will take notice of them, and they’ll get to perform. Maybe in a year or two, the Lospalos kakalo players will be invited to Ramelau Festival, or the Dili Independence Day Cultural Festival!

That would be a great outcome indeed. We also gave Maun M’s name to the kindergarten teacher. “This is the man who can make more of these instruments”, we told her. Another wonderful outcome, therefore, might be about a change in status for this family and for Maun M in particular, recognised as cultural contributors, as the go-to guy for all bamboo instruments and musical ideas. This too, would be a great thing.

Legacies are hard to attribute or predict! In any case, this residency was more about cultural exchange and learning, than about me leaving some kind of legacy in Lospalos. But during the time that we were there, some things did seem to change. From the time that we started to play our instruments on the verandah, other wind instruments began to appear in the street – bits of pipe, a recorder, even an ancient old buffalo horn. These were heard everyday, at all times of the day. People also sang a lot. They do this anyway, but lots of the songs that we heard them singing were songs we’d taught or sung in our verandah sessions.

Also, children played games together in our garden who at the beginning, didn’t play together at all (such as the landlord’s children, who at the beginning always went back to their house as soon as the dirty, noisy, rough boys from over the road turned up to play). Maun M came with us to play live on Community Radio, after having a recorder for just a day, and his skills as an instrument-maker attracted the attention of all the ANAM students as well as us. (This may have resulted in resentment towards him from others in the street, which may be why he was fingered as the culprit in our burglary – this was one theory that was posited).

Who knows, all of these things may have happened anyway. Or they might be part of the natural cycle of life and activities that is always unfolding in Lospalos. But there we were, living amongst that community for one small part of that life. We instigated some new activities, and I do hope that those experiences and interactions with us have created some new senses of possibility and change for those we met and engaged with. I hope that all the people we worked with have been changed by the experience as much as we have.

Final celebration

For our last day in Lospalos – Sunday – we knew we would have a Final Jam with all our regular participants. But I had a further plan in store – for the last few days I’d been making a list of everyone’s full names (Timorese full names tend to be very long and very Catholic), and Mana Kim had brought over a number of Many Hands International certificates with her, so on that last day we decided to present certificates to everyone.

Things took a dodgy turn early in the day when I showed Valda the list of names I had. There were a couple of spellings I wanted to check, but as Valda read through the list she started to exclaim and scold the two nearby children in tones of immense outrage.

Aat liu!” she shouted [=terrible; very bad]. “Very bad words they have written here!”

Oops. Looked like some naughty participant(s) had written some very rude words in Fataluku on my list of names, hoping they would get written onto certificates and called out during the presentation by some unsuspecting malae. Tony and I both had to suppress a giggle at the thought of this; but Valda was really appalled, and she insisted on writing the list out again.

The trouble was, when she gave her list to me, there were only 18 names on it. There’d been 52 names on the list I’d been compiling throughout the week – Valda had obviously culled some.

“I’ll still need the other list back,” I explained to her and the boys. They looked around them confused. What had they done with it? “I need to check it,” I told them again.

“But mana, very bad words,” Valda said. “No good.”

“I know, I know,” I reassured her. “It’s okay. But I still need to check that the real names are the same.”

The three of them then retrieved the list from the front garden, where it had apparently been screwed into a ball, ripped up, and flung out in many small pieces. We set out reconstructing it, tiny crumpled jigsaw puzzle that it was now, and eventually I was back to a list of about 40 names.

Even so, I had a horrible feeling someone would be left out, and as Tony and I wrote out the certificates, we kept a few blanks aside, just in case.

At presentation time, which was after our last local jam, all the children sat down on the verandah on my large workshop mat. They started by sitting in a circle, out of habit and expectation, but I told them they could use the whole mat, so many other children who’d been waiting at the edge of the verandah came and filled up the middle of the circle.

A small group of parents had also come along to watch (at the end of the Jam I’d asked the children to go home and bring back a parent or ‘significant other person’ to watch the presentation. A few had done this, which was lovely, as we had never really got to meet many of their parents). Tony, Kim and I stood at the end of the verandah facing the children on the mat. Sarah emerged from her malarial sick bed to be part of the proceedings too.

I held the stack of certificates, and read out each of the names. The crowd greeted each name with a round of applause and further hearty congratulations (eg. “Celestinu, yeeaah, whoooo!”), and the recipients stood up and walked to the front and shook first my hand, and received their certificate, then went on to shake Tony’s , then Kim’s then – quite often – Sarah’s.

It was lovely! Perhaps it was more formal than people might have expected for such an informal program of music-making on a verandah, but I liked the way it really did feel like an ending. Earlier in the week, I’d had the impression that, despite us talking about it as our last week, that we were soon to leave, people weren’t really taking it in. We’d come and gone from Lospalos a few times already in the recent months – perhaps people thought we were taking another short trip away. This presentation, late on a Sunday afternoon, had a sense of finality about it.

At the end of the presentation I looked across the group of children on the mat, checking they all had certificates. There was one boy who didn’t, and at this stage his big dark eyes were looking incredibly anxious and glassy, and he didn’t seem to trust himself to speak, he was so upset. I apologised to him, trying to reassure him that of course we knew he was part of the verandah jam group. I explained to everyone the confusion there had been with the lists earlier that day. We found out his full name and wrote a certificate out for him.

At that point, unsurprisingly, it turned out there were many among the assembled crowd who also thought they should probably have a certificate.

“Mana,” said one young regular to me, with great solemnity and authority. “This girl here doesn’t have a certificate yet.” The child in question was aged about 2 and I’d never seen her before. I explained to her benefactor that the certificates were really just for those who’d participated, and that she hadn’t actually participated in anything. I added, “She can have one next time we come, when she is old enough to join in. At the moment she can’t even read!” We kept writing until all the blanks were gone.

Certificates are important in Timor Leste. I don’t think people get to see their names in print very often, there is perhaps not a lot of celebration of people’s individual contributions or developent of new skills, and certificates are much-prized acknowledgements. People don’t mind what it is they are getting the certificate for, and they don’t get too old or mature for certificates. And are never too young, it turns out!

The last verandah jam

Kids were hanging around all day that last Sunday, waiting for us to start playing. It was a busy day for me – there was a whole house to clean and pack up, people to farewell, and certificates to write out. We told them we’d start playing at 4pm.

Rain started to pour just as we started the jam. As always, the udan boot [heavy rain; literally, ‘rain big’] was heavy and noisy and relentless, the kind of big, wet rain that drenches the ground in minutes and that always seems to inspire Timorese children to fling off their clothes and run around naked. It inspires the same in me, truth be told, but I exercised great restraint and stayed clothed and dry under the roof of the verandah.

On this day, the kids came over and got the instruments out themselves, and just started playing. I loved it when this happened – it showed what a wonderful learning journey these energetic, slightly chaotic boys had been on with us, and how their approach to the instruments and music had changed since they first started joining us on the verandah. They established their playing to the backdrop of the udan boot thundering on the roof and ground.

Tony has a memory of one very satisfying moment in that jam:

They’d got started playing, and they were all sitting in the groove for quite a few minutes – all without any guidance or leadership from us. But then – as if all their concentrations had started wavering at once – the groove started to get shaky. But before anyone called attention to this, and before it fell apart completely, it pulled back together, and locked in again. It was as if they all realised they were about to lose it, and with their intuitive sense of ensemble, rescued it and got themselves back on course.

“Let’s keep this jam for just the kakalos and buckets,” Tony suggested. The chime bars were packed up and in their boxes, awaiting their transport to their new home. The kids hadn’t got them out.

Tony and I decided to play our instruments, Tony on the now famous alto sax (that which had got away, and come back to us), me on the clarinet. This too, was a development for our jams. Any player of wind instruments will tell you how tricky it can be to get to play your own instrument in a jam session that you are also leading… leading nearly always requires use of your hands and your voice, as does playing! But on this occasion, the boys were solid enough to give us space to play with them and not throw them off course.

We improvised all together for a while, and then Tony put down the sax in order to lead some call-and-response rhythms with the boys. I continued to improvise in the gaps, and somehow, what I was playing began to morph into Oh hele le, one of the most well-known Timorese anthems. We hadn’t worked with this song before, but of course everyone knew it, and they began to sing along as they played. The rhythms changed too, so that they became a simple, pulse driven accompaniment for the song. Other people – new faces, including some girls – started arriving when we played Oh hele le.

This morphed again, into the traditional Fataluku song we had sung in the Toka Boot the day before, and again the boys sang along. Mostly we all just sang for ourselves, not necessarily projecting our voices out into the group. This felt like our most organic jam yet, and perhaps the most equal. It didn’t really need a lot of leading.

At the end, we told them about the certificate presentation. We asked them to help us put everything away, and then to go home to get a parent or someone important to them, to come and watch them receive their certificates. We would start again in 30 minutes. The boys gathered up the instruments, now well-schooled in how to do this without dropping them, or rushing and pushing each other. Certain boys automatically assumed roles of authority, collecting all the sticks, instructing others where to put things. Then the group dispersed, and we cleared the verandah and put out the mat, ready for the presentation.

Who were these Motolori boys?

I’ve written quite a lot about the ‘Motolori boys’ who were our main participants in Lospalos. In this post I want to try and assemble what it is that I know about them, and the kinds of impressions they made on me. Together, we went on quite a learning journey.

Motolori is a sub-sub-district – like a suburb – of Lospalos. The town is divided into these areas. Others have names like Bee Moris, Natura… Motolori (I’m not sure if I’m spelling it correctly, but this is how it sounds) is near the river, and seems to refer to the houses that line the main road leading into town. Thus it is close to the town.

The house I live in is solid and old, from Portuguese times. It’s on relatively high ground, and is surrounded by grass. When it rains, the land surrounding the house isn’t immediately reduced to mud. Most of the other houses in Motolori aren’t like this. Most of them are simple wooden structures, with dirt floors and walls made of palm leaf shingles and flat rooves. No ceilings. Most of the land is not grassy, but bare earth, so on rainy days there is a lot of muddy, or slippery brown earth.

Over the road from us, there is a long row of houses – I think of it as a kind of family compound. To reach the houses from the road, you have to cross a stream – perhaps more like a drain, in a deep ditch. There is a rather precarious looking crossing point a little further down the road (a bridge made from bits of scrap wood, it seems), but if you want to cross over immediately opposite the block that my house is on, you have to scramble down the ditch and jump across the stream. I think this is the way the kids usually do it, because who could be bothered going all the way down to the crossing point?

On either side of our house are other family compounds. One side has families that are the relatives of my landlords – the women often sit together with the youngest children in the shade of the trees that border the two properties, and it was on this neighbouring block of land that Tony and I bought our first long piece of bamboo. The houses in this group are a mix of Portuguese brick houses, and more recent wooden structures.

On the other side lives the family of mostly boys that my landlords didn’t seem to like much. We got to know this family one evening when Tony was offered a coconut from their tree and went around there to seek their help in opening it up with a machete. That evening they had a visiting family member, a young woman who’d only recently returned to Lospalos from working in England. She was pregnant, and as she and I chatted, I asked her about her plans. She explained that after the baby had reached six months her plan was to leave it with her family and that she would go back to England. Such is the scarcity of work in Lospalos and Timor, and the significance of what she could contribute to her family by continuing to work in England. My heart ached for her when I thought how difficult it would be to return to England without her baby, her first-born.

The first time children from our local area came to jam on the verandah with us, they were a big, noisy group. They were excited to play music, but they snatched and grabbed at instruments, and weren’t very good at listening. In those early jams, we did a lot of unison rhythms and call-and-response patterns. On the days when some older boys came too, we tried out some more structured ideas – these would only work if we had a critical mass of people who understood what we were trying to do.

I’d noticed way back in Dili in my first verandah jams that there was a marked difference between the children who had experience of school and those who hadn’t. In Dili, the difference tended to be revealed by the children’s ages – there, some of the group were too young to have started school. Here in Motolori, I started to get the sense that some of these boys (and they were nearly always all boys), no matter what their age, had had very little experience of schooling. They weren’t used to being organised as a group, and they didn’t know Tetun. It took me a while to figure this out. The lightbulb moment came when I realised the boy who was telling me the words for “it might break” in Fataluku wasn’t doing this for my benefit, but in order to translate what I was saying for the boys who didn’t understand Tetun.

I wasn’t always sure I liked these boys at the beginning. They were hard to read. They didn’t like making eye contact, and sometimes they were so rowdy and aggressive with the instruments it worried me, and made me want to pack everything up and send them away. They would hit things until they broke, if we let them (which by the way, I know to be a standard thing for some kids, the world over. It certainly happens at Pelican Primary where I teach in Melbourne). I also found their apparently short attention spans frustrating, and wondered if, with this group, we would ever be able to develop some more detailed musical ideas. Also, they were all boys. I’m particularly sensitive to how quickly music can become a very ‘gendered’ activity, with girls electing not to take part if it becomes dominated by boys. I had hoped to avoid this kind of all-boys scenario, and wanted to model female music participation for the local girls and young women who might be looking for ways to get involved but needing a female leader to guide them.

For Tony, it was a bit different. They loved calling out to “Maun Tony” in the street, and giving him high-fives. He was a bloke, he was twice the height of most men they’d seen before, and he had a pronounceable name. I used to grumble good-naturedly about Tony’s apparent charisma for the children but actually it was an important part of the relationship-building in the local community. I was just as friendly and approachable, and I was the person with the language skills, but I know that without Tony and his bloke-iness, we might never have built the in-roads we built.

Basically, our impression was that these kids were the ones with few opportunities. Only some of them went to school, when school resumed in January, and even then, they didn’t seem to go everyday. When I began to compile my list of complete names for the certificates, one of the boys came up to me to say that “those boys there can’t write their names, because they don’t go to school.” “Well, can you write their names for them?” I asked, and he was happy to do that. Another boy’s ‘complete name’ turned out to be just one word, one name. This seemed highly unlikely in Timor, where a typical ‘complete name’ will honour various Catholic saints and relatives and can have up to four names in it. But the boys writing the list said to me, “He doesn’t know it.”

Whenever all these boys turned up at our house to play, the landlord’s two children would quickly and quietly leave the group and head back to their house, behind mine. I asked their mother if everything was okay.

She told me, “They don’t really like playing with those other children.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Oh you know…. They are very dirty. My two don’t really like to play with children whose clothes are so dirty.” She looked at me and explained, “In Timor, if you go to someone else’s house to visit, you should put on your clean clothes. When these children come to your house in dirty clothes, you should tell them to go home and get changed.”

I laughed in surprise. ‘I couldn’t ask them to do that!” I said. “I’d feel embarrassed to say something like that. I don’t mind what clothes they are wearing.”

“No, you should tell them this. You don’t need to feel embarrassed, it’s your house. And that’s the way it works here.”

It started to seem like a division of class and advantage and I didn’t want any part of it. I thought about how there could be loads of reasons why these kids might not have clean clothes to wear very day. There might not be easy access to water in their homes, so water usage might be prioritised for washing food, drinking, and washing bodies, rather than clothes. They might be the children of a single mother, who was doing the best she could just to keep looking after all her children. And, given the way these children seemed to spend most of their time hanging around the street, just entertaining themselves without any adult input, I wondered how many of their parents even knew they were coming to our house each day. The kids weren’t likely to think of changing their clothes all on their own. Music on the verandah was just another activity in the day of play.

In time, I began to see how the group of boys who came to us most regularly were becoming the leaders of the jam ensembles. They were the ones most familiar with the instruments and with the cues Tony and I used. They could still get rowdy, but they knew how to quiet down when asked, and they were beginning to shush others who were less familiar. I saw how, as Forever Young became part of our repertoire, they took it in turns to play the chime bars, and would watch all the players before them very intently, memorising the progression of eight chords so that they had a good idea of what to play by the time it was their turn.

In fact, I’d say the Forever Young chords were a big motivator for the Motolori boys. It was something that initially seemed complicated and difficult, and that sounded very musically proficient, and yet, one by one, they saw how each of their peers was mastering this pattern. They took me by surprise too – I hadn’t imagined everyone learning how to play this pattern. In fact, I’d only taught it to two of the older boys and had expected they would be the only ones to play it. Instead, others began to pick it up, and would take over the mallets at every opportunity once they’d learned it.

At one jam early on in the last week, a melody appeared that I knew had been invented in the very first jam by a teenage girl named Linda who’d never returned to any subsequent jam sessions. Amongst ourselves we called it the Brown-Eyed Girl tune, as it reminded us of a riff in the Van Morrison song. One of the Motolori boys must have been there that at that first jam, had learned the melody, and was now rejuvenating it with a new group. As with the Forever Young chords, it was quickly learned, peer teaching peer, by others in the group and became part of the repertoire.

The changes in the group that I am writing about now are things I am becoming aware of only in hindsight. At the time, we were just responding to the groups day by day. They were always noisy, highly energetic and exhausting groups – the fact that there were small but significant changes taking place was not always immediately apparent in the jam itself. Only later, thinking back, would I realise that there was a level of musical independence and clarity emerging in the way the group worked together.

A key day for me started with a boy sitting on the bridge into town calling out to me, “Hey malae! One dollar!”. This kind of thing could happen in Dili but I’d never experienced it in Lospalos. I don’t like being called ‘malae’ in this way, and the ‘one dollar’ thing is not something any of us should encourage. Culturally, begging is something that is frowned upon in Timor and it’s unlikely any parents would approve f their children asking neighbours for money. I looked with annoyance over at the boy and saw that he was one of the boys coming regularly to my house. I gave him my usual joking response to that request (“One dollar? Why should I give you one dollar? Or do you mean you are giving me one dollar?”) but he could see that I was angry that someone like him, who knew me, would ask this and he ducked his head down quickly.

I was so cross! I imagined barring him from all future jams as I continued on my walk to town. But when I saw him again later, my irritation had subsided and I was walking chatting with Sarah and waving to the kids I knew. I waved to him, and he flashed me such a cheeky smile that Sarah commented on it. “Hmm, yes,” I said grimly. “He knows he was out of line with me. I think he’s relieved to see he’s forgiven.”

At the jam that afternoon, this little boy held my eye when he smiled at me. Others did too. I felt like a good, trust-based relationship was starting to build there too, finally.

I’ve already written about the day of the burglary  – Wednesday -and the good energy that seemed to flow on from that. That Wednesday evening was the  live radio performance and it is worth pointing out that all the participants in the community radio broadcast turned up in different clothes to the ones they wear for playing throughout the day. They were all clean and smartly dressed, well aware of the occasion.

The following day – Thursday – was the day of the kindergarten project, and a small team of local boys had very enthusiastically, proudly and professionally assisted us to bring the all the instruments to the kindergarten in the centre of town. The boys followed us into the kindergarten hall and helped us get all the instruments unpacked and set up on the table. Then they stayed in the room, milling around, their usual energy abundant and happy, but certainly not causing any problems for anyone. Lots of other parents and older siblings were hanging around in the room too.

The kinder children had started to assemble by around 9.20, I’d say. As it got time for the class to begin, the three kinder teachers very gently but firmly ushered excess parents, older siblings and our team of Motolori boys out of the room.

“That’s not fair,” Tony said to me indignantly. “Our boys should be allowed to stay. They are our assistants. Besides, we’ll need their help at the end, to get everything home!”

He was right, but I had a few tiny concerns that the boys might end up dominating the workshop if they stayed. I also felt insecure about stopping the teachers doing what they were doing. I didn’t want to tread on their toes. I also probably wanted to focus my language efforts on what we were about to do with these sixty or so very little children. But in hindsight, I should have had a quiet word with the teacher about letting these boys stay. The teachers didn’t know they were with us, and that we know and trust them, and appreciate their help. They were in fact much more disciplined and considerate (by this stage) than I was giving them credit for. This enforced departure at the beginning of the workshop frustrated Tony in its unfairness; also that he himself didn’t have the language skills to sort it out himself.

Later, he told me,

It annoyed me also because it seemed like such an assertion of class power. Our boys are the kids who haven’t been able to go to kinder, and now they don’t get to go to school. They weren’t all ushered out of the room gently – some were physically manhandled out of the room, one by his hair! It was like a support of the belief that ‘education is a privilege, not a right’. They start off with just as much potential as everyone else, but the environment and opportunity shapes who they will get to become, and what they will get to access… Still, if some boys off the street wandered into Scotch College, the same thing would probably happen. And those teachers didn’t know they were with us. But it made me angry at the time.

The last big event of my residency was the Toka Boot, on Saturday 22 January. In a way, I’d planned the music of the Toka Boot with the Motolori boys in mind. We imagined them being an important part of the event, taking on roles as section leaders, their skills and experience with us now being brought to the fore for all to be impressed. We were planning to incorporate their Brown-Eyed Girl riff (now renamed melodia Motolori) in the first big section of music.

So we were a bit alarmed to meet a significant group of them – all our favourites, in fact – decked out in football kit heading into town at 2pm, an hour before the start of the Toka Boot.

“Where are you going?” we asked them.

“Football,” they told us.

“Oh…” we said in dismay. “Whereabouts do you play football? What time does it finish? Do you know about the Toka Boot at 3pm and 4pm? Can you come?”

“Football at 2pm,” they told us. “It’s near the Old Market, we can come afterwards.” They assured us they would be there.

So we weren’t able to follow through with our plan to have a mini-parade through the streets at 3pm, bringing all the instruments to the Old Market with the wheel barrows and Motolori kids, as we had hoped. Instead, we enlisted the help of the ANAM students and some of the local children – more girls this time – and walked in a very laden way to the market. We passed the football game on the way and saw lots of our kids. They were happy and interested to see us, but made no moves to leave the game at that stage.

In the end only a few Motolori boys came along to the Toka Boot. Lots of the football boys never made it. The rest of the neighbourhood gang (including lots more girls now – interestingly, ever since the burglary affair when everyone heard me scream, more local girls had been venturing over to our place to join the music) were waiting for us at our house when we came home at the end of the afternoon. Perhaps this also tells us something about the kinds of psychological and cultural barriers that might be present for kids taking part in something in another part of town. Perhaps venturing to a more public space felt quite threatening and risky for some of our kids, despite the level of comfort and familiarity they feel with Tony and me. Perhaps some people in Lospalos are more segregated or separated than we can really understand. Or perhaps an event like this – any new event – needs a few repeats before it can really get embraced by a large group. People don’t always like to participate in something that is new – they want others to participate first, and then tell them about it.

And ideally, an event like this wouldn’t clash with something as important as the first day of the local football program! No-one in Lospalos should find themselves torn between two nice things to do. However, you obviously need to be even more embedded within a community to find out about the soccer program – I’m not sure who we’d have asked to find out it was on, and obviously no-one knew or thought to tell us. Never mind. The Toka Boot was still a huge success, and it meant that our relationship with the Motolori kids remained close to home.

Workshop at the kindergarten

On the last Thursday in Lospalos Tony and I did a creative workshop for the local kindergarten program at Esperanca Lorosa’e. We were accompanied by Kim, observing and photographing. The ANAM students and Holly had grabbed the opportunity to head to the beach with UNPOL.

We arrived there with the help of the Motolori boys. We’d borrowed a wheelbarrow to help us transport all the instruments from home into town, and as we stacked it high with chime bars, kakalos, drums and boxes of bottles, the local boys who weren’t at school jumped at the opportunity to wheel it into town.

This was the day after the burglary and its resolution, and our sense of being welcome and a part of the community continued that morning. The boys assigned one of their group to be the ‘driver’ (and indeed, the person they assigned the role was a skilled and steady driver); others carried the chime bar bags, others the buckets, and still others were happy just to walk with us and be part of the group.

There are lots of people out and about at 9am, and many people asked our little band, “Where are you going?” “To the kindergarten, to do music with the children,” came our reply. At which they would smile and wave.

As often happens when we arrive somewhere new, things were a bit chaotic at the beginning. We were there before the teachers, and before most of the children, so at first we were just waiting out the front, standing in the shade under a tree. Then one of the teachers arrived and she opened up the big room and invited us to put our things out. The room was the same one we’d used for the English language class project two days earlier. There was a large dark-blue, dusty tarpaulin on the floor at one end of the room, and the other end had some long tables lining the wall so we arranged our instruments there. Our team of helpers stayed in the room. Gradually other parents, children, and teachers began to arrive.

The teachers started the class. All the children assembled on the blue tarpaulin mat (old but not dusty, I discovered – just faded). The lead teacher, Tina, stood at the front and called them to attention. She asked a series of questions, building up their energy and motivation for their morning at school.

“Are you going to be good today or not?

“Good!” they chorused.

“Are you ready to learn or not?”


“Do you come to school to be educated or not?”


It sounds harsher than it was – I’ve noticed this kind of “or not” questioning pattern is a key part of teachers’ group leadership strategies in Timor, and it is often quite fun. If the response the children give isn’t loud or enthusiastic enough, the teacher will ask the same question again, bringing the volume or the tone of voice up a notch. I even started to use the pattern myself in some workshops!

Then they sang some songs with actions. She asked someone to nominate a song they’d like to sing. I already was familiar with the songs from this kinder, thanks to young Dona’s daily performance of them on my verandah back in my first weeks in Lospalos.

After the singing, she settled them down again, and explained that today they would have visitors. There were some very nice music teachers from overseas who were going to do some music with them. It would be fun, she told them. And, she reminded them, there is no need to be scared! These malae might be new people but they are very nice people, so there is no need to be shy. If one of them asks you your name, you can just tell them your name. You don’t need to get upset.

I was quite amused by this introduction and translated it for Tony as best I could, while listening out for the next gentle admonishment of fear she gave them.


We ventured over to the group, with just our instruments – me with the clarinet, Tony with his sax and flute. I asked the teacher if we could sit in a circle, and she quickly instructed the children to sit in a circle. The other two teachers helped, as did some of the many parents who were milling around, watching the whole class.

In fact, there wasn’t room for everyone in the circle. Some of edges had two rows of children, and Tony and I ended up positioning ourselves in the middle. We’d decided to start with just our instruments, as a way of introducing ourselves initially. We smiled at each other, and Tony started to play.

One girl almost immediately burst into loud racking panicked sobs. On reflection, perhaps it was all too overwhelming. This strange pale-skinned man, taller than anyone she’d ever seen before, making noises on a strange instrument she’d never seen before. It was a lot to take in. Other people just stared, open-eyed and tight-lipped.

I then played the clarinet. I decided to play a tune that I hoped was familiar, the song Ikan hotu nani iha bee that I’d learned from Dona months earlier. (Truth be told, I could never be 100% sure if I had the melody right. Dona’s preference is to sing all her songs at the absolute top of her voice, and the melodic contour only began to be revealed after a large number of listens – and even then, only an approximation of a contour. So perhaps my version wasn’t all that familiar after all!)

Tony unpacked the saxophone and joined in with me on this melody. At its conclusion, we put down the instruments and smiled at everyone. I introduced us, and asked everyone to try saying our names. They got ‘Tony’ fine (it’s a common nickname in Timor apparently) but they struggled with ‘Gillian’ and were very hesitant with ‘Gill’. Mine is a difficult name for people to get their heads – or tongues – around here.

Ram sam sam

I asked if they would like to sing a new song with us. “Do you want to or not?” I asked, echoing their teacher’s style of questioning.

“Want to!” they answered, uncertainly.

“Do you want to or not?” I asked again brightly.

“Want to!” they called back, this time with a bit more energy, and with reinforcements from the assembled watching parents.

So we learned Ram Sam Sam. I taught them the words on their own, the children repeating after me, with the actions. Then we added the melody, and sang the song through. They seemed to be engaging well at this point, with most people joining in with both the singing and the actions, or just one element. I decided to got further.

“This time,” I suggested, “When we sing the words ‘ram sam sam’, we all have to stand up. When we sing the other words, we have to stay down.” I squatted down so that I was balancing just on my toes, poised to spring up. “I’m going to sit like this, so that I can stand up quickly.” The teachers bustled around, encouraging the children to copy my position.

In this way we sang the song again, springing up on the words ‘Ram sam sam’ and squatting back done for ‘goolly goolly’ and ‘ah ravi’. After a few rounds of the song, they had the hang of it well. I started to get ambitious. We had so many children, and so many helpers – could we try the next stage?

We divided the group into two halves – half with me and the lead teacher, the other half with Tony and the other two teachers. Tony’s group would continue to stand up on ‘ram sam sam’, but my group would now stand up on ‘goolly goolly goolly’.

I could see everyone – the teachers and the children and Tony, who hadn’t yet been given a translation of what I’d said – looking a bit confused. “Tony and I will demonstrate,” I proposed, and gave the bewildered Tony a quick explanation of what to do. We sang the song facing each other, and he sprang up, as required, every time the words ‘ram sam sam’ were sung, followed by me springing up on all the ‘goolly goolly goollies’. We then tried it with the whole group, and sang it through two times, and ended with laughter – some relieved, some confused, and we all sat down on the floor again.


After a few moment of general dispelling of energy (chatter, movement) I pulled the group’s focus back to me again by clapping a rhythm. It’s a common tactic in classrooms in Australia, but I’m not sure how familiar it is in Timor. The great thing about this tactic is that you only need one confident person to know what to do – everyone else ends up following their lead.

On this occasion, my one confident person was Tony. The teachers and some of the parents saw what he was doing and followed suit, and gradually the children figured it out and joined in too. Thus, without words or explanation, we segued into some very satisfying ‘call-and-response’ rhythmic work.

This got us warmed up and ready for our body percussion rainstorm. I started by tapping two fingers into the palm of my hand, and gesturing for everyone to copy, and do it at the same time as me. Taking their cues from my changes, we moved from two-finger clapping into whole-hand clapping, then into patsching [hands hitting thighs], then chest beating, and then, after counting 1-2-3-4 out loud and with my fingers, everyone did a jump, creating the sound of thunder.

We cycled through these sounds a few times then returned to two-finger clapping. There was a lot of talking among the parent group that was making it difficult to get a real sense of the sound of rain being created by the finger claps.

“Everyone can do this,” I said, “all the mums, dads, grandparents, older brothers and sisters – everyone!” A few more people joined in.

“Listen now!” I said next, in a quiet, almost-whispering voice. “If I listen carefully – very, very carefully – I can hear the rain coming. Can you hear the rain?” I paused, and I could see I was starting to get their attention with this question. It wasn’t raining that day – it was fine and sunny. To make them connect with their imaginations this way I had to completely commit to the idea.

“Can you hear the rain?” I asked again. “Try, with no talking, and only this sound. Try to hear the rain.” The finger clapping continued and the talking got a little quieter. Smiles of complicity were starting to appear on some of adults’ faces.

Magic, and the magic of sound, is such an important element in early childhood music, and that’s what we were trying to create here. We paused the clapping for a moment so that I could leave the circle. I came back with the two boxes of thunder-makers.

“Now we can make a big rain [udan boot],” I told them. “Here I have something new, that will help us to make thunder.” I’d just checked this word quickly in the dictionary, and glanced at one of the teachers to check I’d said it right.

Rai-taratu,” he corrected, and I repeated it after him. I’d said rai-tatura.

I took the two thunder-makers out of their boxes and demonstrated how to make the sound, by letting the long spring spin around in small circles, without touching the floor.

“Who would like to make the thunder?” I asked. (I got the word wrong again – rai-taruta. “Rai-taratu!” one of the smiling mums called out to me. I just could not make that word stay in my head. That same mum corrected me each time I said it wrong. I loved her – she was completely entering into the fun of the whole session and thought it hilarious that I found so many ways to get this one word wrong).

The teachers were quick to identify two children to be the thunder-makers. The length of the spring meant that these little kids had to hold the thunder-maker way above their heads in order to create the sound. Ideally, we’d have had a couple of low chairs or ArtPlay-style boxes for them to stand on.

We were ready to create our rainstorm. I asked – with a hand cue – the thunder-makers to start their sounds. Then we began the two-fingered clapping. Following my cues we went through the cycle of sounds, climaxing with the 1-2-3-4 finger cue for the jump, at which point we went back to the two-fingered clapping and performed each of the sounds again. We ended the rainstorm quietly, with two-fingered clapping, ssshh wind sounds, and the gradual petering out of the thunder.

I could see that by now other children would be wanting to try the thunder-makers out, so we repeated the rainstorm with new performers. The children were completely engaged by this piece now (though some of the adults continued to have conversations – the culture of silence during music performances is a Western thing, I think).

Instrument jam

In the last part of our workshop we wanted to give every child the opportunity to play an instrument. With Kim’s help and that of the teachers, we brought all the instruments we had with us into the centre of the circle and began giving them out. It can be hard to distribute instruments. Many children – especially girls – shy away if you approach them. You have to watch for the tiniest little signals they give out that they are actually hoping to be offered one, but need you to make the first move. Sometimes it is a tiny hand gesture, sometimes it is just the way they meet your eye. We gave out everything, including each of the chime bars individually, and lots of pairs of bamboo clapping sticks, but we still didn’t have quite enough to go around. I figured we would do a swap midway through the activity. In any case, I knew that Timorese children are very good at initiating their own swaps.

We didn’t try to establish different groups or contrasting rhythms in this activity. We revisited the ‘call-and-response’ rhythms that we’d used earlier, and I also taught them the cues “1-2-3-4-STOP!” [1-2-3-4-PARA!] and 1-2-3-PLAY! [1-2-3-TOKA]. We tried to get a really clean stop to the sound and for a bunch of 3- and 4-year olds, holding instruments en masse for the first time, they did extremely well.

I sang the song Ah ya zahn and Tony and I taught them the rhythmic responses:

Ah ya zahn [ti-ti ta]

Ah ya zahn [ti-ti ta]

Ah ya zahn el abedin [ti-ti ta]

Ya whirr [ti-ti ta]

Ya whirr in fata, baya el basadin [ti-ti ta]

It’s not completely straightforward because they need to listen carefully to the song and the length of the melodic phrases to know when to play the [ti-ti ta] rhythm responses. It takes a few tries, and by now the group was showing some early signs of tiredness.

However, they got it. The song has quite a Middle Eastern, melismatic feel to the melody and I love singing it and playing up to that quality. It got the attention of the adults as well as the children as it is such a different musical sound to their own children’s songs (although has some relationship to Arabic-influenced Indonesian pop). Some of the adults started to join in with the song as they became more familiar with the words.

We interspersed the song with whole-ensemble playing, where the group just repeated the [ti-ti ta] rhythm over and over in unison, until I called the 1-2-3-4-PARA! cue. In this way, we established a sense of structure and the discipline of not playing instruments at the same time as singing. They also improved their ability to stop together on cue, and play together on cue. Midway through the activity we called for an instrument swap so that children could try some different things.

Finishing up

By the end of the instrument jam we were all tired. We asked the children to come forward with their instruments and place them in the middle of the mat, then I suggested to Tina that we could finish with a song that the children already knew, all together. “Could we sing ikan hotu nani iha bee?” I asked. There was a little confusion at first, where she told the children I would teach them the song, but this wasn’t my intention – they already knew it! I wanted us to do something familiar, all together, as a way of finishing. Tina and I had a quick conversation where I clarified this, and asked if she was happy to lead this singing. She was, and so together we all sang the song, complete with actions.

However, I still didn’t get to clarify the intended melody of the song! It still wasn’t clear.

At the end of the workshop all the children and parents went outside for their break. Timorese schools and kinders usually have a group of women, and sometimes children, who wait outside school from before classes start and until classes end, selling things like katupa rice packs, and other home-made and mass-produced snacks.

We chatted with the three teachers for a while. They thanked us for coming, and said how much they and the children had enjoyed it. I thanked them too, reminding them that I’d only approached them the day before about doing this workshop, and how wonderful it was that they were able to make space for us so quickly and make us feel so welcome. Later, in a more detailed conversation with Kim, they told her that this had been their first experience of this kind of creative music activity for young children and they wished they could have time to work with me again. This is a very professional and serious group of teachers – they take part in professional development courses with the Mary MacKillop organisation (who do a lot of work in the area of early childhood development) and they are quietly ambitious, I would say, about the potential for the program they are running, and the possibilities they are able to offer the young children they teach. It’s a shame that my time in Lospalos has for the most part coincided with the kindergarten school holidays.

Getting home again

We were relieved to find that one of our Motolori boys was still hanging around, and he offered to drive the loaded-up wheelbarrow home for us. Of course, one of us could have done it, but I think the Timorese youngsters take pride in helping out and doing these jobs for the adults they like or have a relationship with. This boy found it heavy-going and stopped several times to have a rest. Kim bought some bread rolls and snacks on the way home so that we could thank him with some food.

As we crossed the bridge and neared our house all the other neighbouring boys appeared and took over the wheelbarrow steering. Their presence and keen-ness led to another mini-jam on the verandah because there was no way they would be happy to unload all the instruments and not get to play them. Anyway, we were truly appreciative of their help, and by now were starting to see how seriously they took on responsibility of caring for the instruments as they unpacked them, played them, and packed them up again at the end.

Summary of the week that was

I’m not sure when I’ll get to write in detail about all the music events of the last week since the ANAM students arrived – we did heaps together! So here is a quick rundown of The Week That Was, a week of one-off, self-contained workshops in a big array of environments:


I’ve already written about the workshop at the convent I think – we had about 100 children gathered in the space who cheered as I entered (a big contrast to the silence and shyness that greeted Tony and I the first time round). We created the sounds of a rainstorm using body percussion, sung two African songs and one Timorese song, and created music to tell the story of Lake Ira-Lalaru, and the village submerged beneath it.


We had a big jam on our verandah, introducing the ANAM students to all the children that Tony and I have been working with these last few weeks from our local area. We played Forever Young, as lots of the children now know the chord accompaniment on the chime bars (they learn from each other. One plays, and the others watch and memorise and wait for their turn). We also played with the new kakalo collection, all made at Saturday’s working bee. Maun Tony was still in Dili, taking his daughter’s to the airport. That evening, everyone ate at our place.


We organised a song-writing workshop at the Esperanca Lorosa’e English class. Their teacher had gathered a group of students from across all of his classes. We started with a name song, each person singing their name in turn, then some rhythmic work with words, then invention of verses, choruses and melodies. A fantastic, catchy groove emerged.


One student grabbed the opportunity to go to Iliomar for the day. Tony and I worked through the aftermath of being burgled. Sarah learned she had cerebral malaria. We performed live on community radio, an experience not without its initial challenges in setting up, but a huge experience for everyone involved and one that was incredibly affirming for our work here. This was the day of a full moon, and while it certainly exerted a strange and strained atmosphere over much of the day, we ended on a real high, and walked home bathed in its bright moonlight.


The students had a day off and went to Tutuala, hosted by a group of UNPOL guys. Tony and I went to Esperanca Lorosa’e, this time to do a workshop for the kindergarten. There were probably 50 children there, plus lots of parents. Some of the local boys from our verandah jams came with us to the kinder, lending us a wheelbarrow for the instruments that we were bringing, and making a bit of an early-morning procession. “Where are you going?” many people called out to us. “To the kindergarten,” we called back. Smiles all round.

At the kinder, we sang songs, did some movement and actions, created a body percussion rainstorm with the thunder-makers, and did some rhythmic ensemble music-making with everyone playing an instrument and learning to stop and start on cue. It is a wonderful kinder program I think. The teachers are very professional, and very gentle and warm in their work with the children. They told Kim that they loved the workshop we did – they’d never seen anything like it before and wished that they could do some professional development training with me. It’s a shame the program has been on summer holidays for most of my time here.

Thursday afternoon the community again converged on our house, and this led to further Frisbee games on the front lawn. “It’s like a park,” said Sarah in wonder (emerged from her sick bed to watch the activities). One interesting thing that we observed was that, for the first time, the landlord’s two older children joined in with all the other children. Usually, when this crowd of noisy, boisterous boys with their dirty clothes and high energy levels come over to our house, these two children disappear back to their own house. But now they were joining in, with no apparent qualms. This was a shift.

Games were followed by an impromptu Reading Club. Tony got out all the books that I’d bought at the Alola Foundation (probably the only books currently available for children in Tetun) and the children sat together on the verandah reading them together. We also had copies of the books that Victoria from Kidsown Publishing had made and sent over for us, and these passed around eagerly, with children touching the photos of the children they knew in the books and saying their names, as well as reading the text aloud to each other.


On Friday we took the ANAM students to the nearby village of Cacavei. A friend we had made through the English classes, Tomas, lives in Cacavei and he offered to host our visit, and organise a group of children and a space for us to do a workshop. More than 100 children and adults gathered around the large mat we placed on the ground. We sang our old favourite, Mobakomeeenofway, to get things started, and then passed out the instruments and did some rhythmic work. We started in unison, but then divided the group into sections and set up some rhythmic grooves. Later we created words to go with a simple pentatonic melody I taught. “It’s a song about feeling happy,” I told them. Vaci ica rau rau kanta vaihoho [Today we’re feeling good singing together]. Sing together, then play together, sing together, play together. On cue from me. Ensemble. Fantastic.

At the end of the workshop, Tony, Lina and Rachel all performed for the crowd. Me? I was knackered from leading! Happy to be in the audience! They each played solo then improvised together. They ended with the most beautiful improvised performance of the song we learned at the kindergarten, Ikan hotu nani iha bee [All the fish are swimming in the water]. It was simple and beautiful and in fact quite moving.

Then Tomas took us walking in the nearby jungle, where we made our way through thick hanging vines, spiky leaves and branches, and soft piles of leaves and found the site of the ancient King of Cacavei’s castle. It sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? It was a natural fort site, part made of huge boulders already in place thanks to nature, and dry stone walls made by people.


This was the day of the Toka Boot [The Big Play] and that deserves a whole separate post. One of the biggest jams I’ve ever led. One of the most fun.

Next week?

Today (Sunday) we are packing up the house, and working out who to give all the different things we’ve accumulated here, such as the set of kakalos. Tomorrow we go to Dili. Tuesday I am presenting part of the Professional Development session about community arts for local Ministry of Culture people and NGOs. Wednesay I hope to be able to make a visit back to the house I used to live in when I first arrived in Dili and do some music with the chidlren I met there, all those weeks ago. I know they missed me when I left. Then Thursday…. we leave.