In my last newsletter, I was filled with the excitement of the new world being opened up to me. A year later, seeped in the joys and sorrows of Venilale and the continuing uncertainty of the political situation in East Timor, I find the tone of this newsletter more subdued.
A year of change for me …
One school year is over and it’s hard to believe that half my placement is over. I feel like I’m just getting started. In the last school year, I’ve been just as much a learner as a teacher. There was a lot to learn: the language, how things are done in Timor and how the school operates. On a personal level, it was making the transition from cosmopolitan Sydney city life to developing country rural life, with the special element of living with the holy sisters in a practically male-free zone. It’s pretty easy peasy now, although the Aussie army boys do get a second glance and chorus of giggles from me and the girls.
We’ve had a year of feasts and fashion shows, serious study and laughs, good lessons and lessons where it felt like I was beating my head against a wall. My favourite days were the cooking practicals where I was taste-tester of freshly baked biscuits and other delights. The sewing students displayed their handiwork in a fashion show and on the sidelines, I showed them how to walk with a bit of a jaunty sway to the hips. It was with great sadness that I farewelled my third year students last June and watched them leaving to go out into the big wide world. The first students to get work were the two with the strongest English, in one of the restaurants. I will miss them very much, each student’s uniqueness and cheekiness.
I can only get an inkling of the essence of living in a country fraught with a long history of violence which continues to date.
What a year it’s been politically for East Timor. I can only get an inkling of the essence of living in a country fraught with a long history of violence which continues to date. I came last year in September whilst East Timor was still cleaning up April’s crisis (sparked by the sacking of 600 soldiers which fuelled the division between East and West and resulted in house burnings and thousands of refugees, mostly in Dili). Then in March this year, the rebel Alfredo Reinaldo broke out of prison and the Australian soldiers were scouring the jungles looking for him. It was feared that Australians would be targeted so I was evacuated back to Australia in a very emotional and hasty departure. I felt like I was abandoning my students and it seemed like they did too with the amount of tears that flowed. Then recently, the post-election protests from Fretilin in opposition of the new government (the AMP party, headed by Xanana Gusmao as the Prime Minister) led to further house burnings and refugees, this time in the east including the Baucau district (my area, but I was away at the time and it has calmed down for a couple of weeks now).
There is a shroud of sadness as people shake their heads saying, we got independence but the violence never stops. This time, it’s not the Indonesians against the Timorese but the neighbours that are burning the houses. People live in uncertainty with bated breath, listening intently for news, for signs of things improving and having a bag packed with essentials should the need arise to flee. Even the religious veil is no longer immune; abuse is hurled at the nuns and priests as well. We live in an environment where you’re told not to laugh too loudly because you don’t know who will resent your happiness and try to take it away. But the people are resilient and admirably brave – life goes on, accompanied by lots of prayers and hope.
There is a shroud of sadness as people shake their heads saying, we got independence but the violence never stops.
Hopefully, the political situation can be controlled peacefully. Hopefully the ambiguity around their coming to power will especially motivate the government to follow through with their election promises of improving the quality of life for the people.
My school has started again and this year’s first year students are just as brightly cheerful as the last lot. The students are more interested in translating love songs than dwelling on politics. That kind of vocabulary is not going to be the most useful for work for a tailor or hotel but at least they’re enthusiastic to learn. The English progress is slow as usual due to the huge range in ability but this year I’m equipped with a year’s worth of resources and experience of teaching in Timor. I’m looking forward to the year with greater confidence, little projects to be realized, good stories waiting to be revealed and optimism….
Ho esperansa (with hope), Linh.