Daniel Gilfillan: Daniel Gilfillan’s CommUNITY News no. 3

Beth sitting on our verandah
Beth and I moved up to Gleno on the 21st of November, nearly a month after Beth arrived in East Timor. The photo on the left shows Beth sitting on our front verandah – our prime relaxation location. Recently we came home and found the family we live with all out on the verandah, reminding us that it is not ours to use alone. Our house is opposite the Australian Army barracks in Gleno, and just behind the Timor-Telecom office, so we have generators going on two sides 24 hours a day, something we are getting used to now.

We rent a room in Senhora Nina’s house. We share the house with eleven other people. Nina and three of her sisters: Bia, Nini & Eta; Eta’s husband Azo and their children: Aday (3) and Ina (1); and Nina’s children, Adai (13), Ato (8), Ataco (7) and Carvita (5).

We share the house with eleven other people.

Some of Daniel's housemates
They are a very nice family. They have made numerous comments about how much they enjoy having us as boarders. Senhora Nina has rented out rooms to quite a lot of foreigners, but she often says how nice it is that we cook at home and spend time with the family talking with them, apparently something of a rarity. Of course we do spend a lot of time doing our own thing and they doing theirs – there are still gaping language and cultural chasms between us.

The house was partially burnt in 1999, and none of the windows have been replaced – they are simply covered with plywood. Above each window there are holes that let a little air and light into the house, but the first time it rained these same holes let a good deal of rain into our room. We covered the inside with Beth’s sarong and a t-shirt of mine, however this blocked all the extra light, and with the windows closed the inside of the room felt like night, even at midday. Only having one opening window didn’t help matters. It might be hard to imagine why the householders haven’t replaced the glass in the windows in the last eight years. Of course part of it is economics, but our Timorese friends talk quite a lot about the trauma that still haunts Timorese people, and the idea of spending money on a house that may just get burnt down again often doesn’t seem worthwhile.

The house was partially burnt in 1999, and none of the windows have been replaced…

Dan fixes a broken window
After a week of living in the dark, Beth and I decided that we had to do something about the light situation, although Beth did say she could live with it. Beth is doing ‘Compact’ (if you’re interested look it up on Google), whereby she can’t buy anything new for a year (she started on the 1st of May 2007), and so lighting up our room wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I wanted to ignore Compact, and buy some clear plastic sheeting to cover the air vents with, but Beth wasn’t keen. We argued for a little while, I suggested that we could build a wall from glass bottles and then Beth came up with the cunning plan of cutting up plastic drinking bottles and nailing them to the wooden frame.

It took an afternoon, and we had a lot of help from four of the boys in our host family. Ataco made it his job to hold plywood, nails and hammer for me and pass them to me as I needed them. Beth started cutting the bits of plywood we used to secure the plastic in place, but she was replaced after a little while by Ato, who provided us with some very artistic impressions before he came to a full understanding with the plywood. We were (or at least I was) in renovating mode, and the success of our window-making up high made me consider more ambitious light enhancing projects, and so with a little help from Beth, and continued support from Ato I built a window to replace half of one of the plywood sheets.

It occurred to me that the plywood (very much C-grade) would rot very quickly if we didn’t put some paint on it, and so we had another tense discussion about the value of Beth’s Compact in East Timor, before Beth suggested we could ask for some old paint from the Australian Army. We sourced some leftover paint from the Hope Orphanage up the road, and the Army gave us two old paint brushes. The ten or twelve litres of paint was more than enough to paint one small sheet of plywood, so we decided to paint the inside of our room as well. It was supposed to be a day off, time for Beth and I to share each other’s company, and she was quite upset with me for beginning to paint, however we both agreed that it was worth it when we saw the change in our living quarters.

Before we moved into the home renovating we spent a day building a concrete bridge across the drain in front of the house. Fr Adrian bought two bags of cement, we paid for the sand and delivery as well as part payment for the plywood (anticompact), and the family provided tiewire, reinforcing and all the tools. Azo and two cousins and I did most of the work with assistance and advice from the children and Senhora Nina and Beth. It took all day, and the following day I was shattered, and reminded that I’m now a little old to engage in heavy physical activity from a cold start.

Today we continued our home improvements, building an undercover clothesline, as the weather was cool and wet this morning (the rain has only been coming in the afternoons for the last two months). This is the back of the house, looking into the bathroom and toilet, with the back door at the far end of the clothesline on the left.

Beth and I hope you’ve all enjoyed this brief glimpse of our home life in Gleno.

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The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. - Charles du Bois