It's been quite a while since I wrote on this blog. Call me busy or call me lazy, but I put it to rest for a while to focus on enjoying the present. Anyway, today marks the five-month mark of my year in Timor-Leste, so I thought a little reflection was warranted.
Where to begin...
The rainy season is upon us. I heard whispers and rumors about this time of year from the beginning. "The storms are insane," they said. "It will be unbearably hot," they said. "Watch out for the pot-holes...they fill up after storms and the road looks flat," they said.
I've learned to take Timor gossip with a grain of salt, but these...these were all true. I'm blown away by the consistency of these storms. Every day, around 4pm, the tin roof above my head makes the most deafening noise, and my co-workers all look at each other as if to say, "(Sigh) Damn it."
The flooding of the roads brings flashbacks of the corner of Zimple and Broadway, and that's when I start to think that maybe some things happen everywhere.
With all of this rain, though, things are finally in bloom. On my drive into work this morning, I looked up into the hills behind the office and was shocked by all the green. I'm excited for Timor to take on a more tropical look after five months in the dusty drought.
Movin' on from that, things are going well at work. I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable speaking Tetun, the language of Timor-Leste. It's a unique blend of Indonesian, Portuguese, and over thirty indigenous dialects. There's actually no official dictionary yet, as the language remains rather fluid. In any case, I've been practicing with our neighbors and my coworkers, and I've at least gotten command of the key verbs and the key food items, so I think I just might survive.
Yesterday, I was allowed to write my first blog for the organization. As a volunteer from the United States, I usually remain in a back-office capacity. Fundasaun Mahein has such weight in the community because of its local voice and origins, so I am happy to work on systems-level and donor-related work. But yeah, I got to write a piece yesterday about corruption in Timor-Leste. About a week ago, Transparency International released its yearly 'Corruption Perceptions Index,' and the results for Timor-Leste were unflattering but not altogether surprising. According to the CPI, corruption has worsened in the past few years, an observation that seems rather consistent with recent events, including alleged embezzlement and corruption by the Minister of Finance and a con-man fronting as a 'petroleum expert'. Anyway, the blog was a bit sobering, but I was grateful for the opportunity to put my writing skills to the test and dig a little deeper into the political enigma that is Timor-Leste. The post will hopefully be up soon on the website (www.fundasaunmahein.org).
Since I last posted, I've done a bit of travel. Some of my dear friends have left Timor-Leste, but we went out with a bang, with trips to Mt. Ramelau, Jaco Island, and more. The journeys to these places were every bit as exciting, if not terrifying, as the places themselves. The roads out in the Districts leave much to be desired, but the terror is all part of the experience. Anyway, we did a sunset hike up to the top of Mt. Ramelau, at around 10,000 feet, where I experienced 'cold' for the first time in Timor. Weeks later, we went over to Jaco Island, a sacred island at the eastern tip of Timor, where we snorkeled, had a campfire jam session, crushed perhaps a bit too much wine, and left with wicked sunburns just about everywhere.
I've gone from a ghost to a celebrity in the neighborhood. Though my name is difficult for my Timorese neighbors to say ('Jace'? 'Chance?' 'Jance?'), it's awesome to know that I'm known 'round here. Usually, my name is followed by a hand gesture that I've learned means, "Frisbee time...?" I've taken a few kids under my wing and started training them, getting their flicks and pivots on-point. On any given night, though, I'll walk to the community soccer field and soon am surrounded by at least 20 kids, all of whom are incredibly hyped to play this weird little sport where you use your hands instead of your feet (though some still kick the disc, much to my chagrin). It's been an awesome form of cultural exchange and a way to keep a little bit of home in my life. Am I fine with the fact that my best friends in this country are six years old? Totally.
As Christmas approaches, I'm getting real stoked to get off the island for a bit. On the 24th, I head over to Bali for a six days of exploring solo on a motorbike. I'm still charting out a route that will take me past many of the notable temples, volcanoes, and rice terraces. Very excited to just get on the open road and see what I find. After that, I head to Bangkok on New Years Eve to meet my dear ol' brother Drew. We'll be hanging out in Thailand for a few days before coming back home to Timor, where I'll show him some of my favorite spots and get his tempeh game up to speed.
Anyway, that's a verbose lil' reflection of my recent adventures, experiences, and thoughts here in Dili. Crazy that I've already been here for 5 months, and I continue to be surprised at how natural it all feels to wake up here in the morning. My definition of 'home' has been challenged quite a bit in the last few years, between time spent in Florida, Louisiana, Morocco, Haiti, and now Timor-Leste, but I'm finding that it truly is where your heart and where your friends are. I've been blessed to find what I need here, and I'm looking forward to seven more months of perspective.
Peace and love,
|The crew, huddled for warmth at sunrise atop Mt. Ramelau|
|Standing on a rock west of Dili on the way back from Liquiçá|
|Our bungalows in Tutuala. Possibly Dharma Initiative...|
|The main road and cemetery in Maubisse district.|
|A fishing rig at Atauro Island|
|Dili Beach at sunset.|