Linh Nguyen: Linh Nguyen’s CommUNITY News no. 3

Linh (fourth from right) with students, singing at the beach
Glimpses of my life….
In this picturesque village in the hills: The muted colours and sounds of dusk, the day winding down, people going home, people strolling, smiles in greeting. Blue-green-grey mountains stretching to the horizon like a watercolour, silver lined clouds and pink patched skies… God is truly an artist. The lush verdant greens of the wet season, the furious drumming of the torrential afternoon rain, the stampede of girls running to get their washing as the first drops fall and the bright coloured crowd of umbrellas. In the boarding school/convent of 95 teenage girls, 9 sisters, 11 staff (including one volunteer): the daily life din of speaking, stepping, shouting, scolding, singing. Music in the air: harmonious hymns floating to heaven, pop songs sweetly sung solo, songs of patriotism belted out, romantic sounds of a distant guitar, the joyful laughter of girls and sisters. Oh… and the dogs barking, pigs snorting, roosters crowing, mosquitos buzzing, bells tolling, wood-chopping, water flowing.

In Linh’s internal world: There’s no place like home, ummm…. home. I wonder what everyone is doing? I love being such a part of life here. Where do I belong? Hello, anybody see me? Everyone loves me. Am I a good teacher? Am I making a difference? What am I doing here? Why don’t they get it?! That was a great class, they really enjoyed it! My students love me! I’m wonderful, I’m the best teacher ever. Deep dark depression. Has the whole world forgotten about me? God save me, reach into the darkness, grab my hand and lift me out. The world is beautiful. Wow, it’s amazing to live here. Laughter bursting forth. Contentment, peace dwelling all around and within. My spirit soaring.

And little stories like this: One day our water was cut off due to damaged waterpipes so I helped with fetching the water. When I got to the spring, all the orphanage girls had just finished their bathing (at the spring) and were now carrying water back, the little girls (about 8 years old) were carrying one 5L gerri on their head and one in each hand walking effortlessly up the muddy slope. The running joke is that I become a feto foun Timor (literally, new woman of Timor but with the meaning of in-law ie. Get a Timorese guy). My standard response is that I don’t know how to tutur be (carry water on my head) but today I thought I’d give it a try. It wouldn’t balance on my head, so hold it there with one hand and then grab another gerri in the other hand. Here, I go… ladidadida up the hill AHHHH…*squelch* raucous laughter from all. Having slipped on the muddy slope with no hands free, my face went straight into the mud. The sister tried to summon up sympathy hahaha… does it hurt?… hahaha. It was the thongs! I said wiping my face, I could feel the thoughts silly foreigner, she’s so dopey. With muddied bare feet and muddy clothes, I continued to carry the water and laugh with those laughing at me (which grew as the story spread). The rest of the day, I was greeted with cheeky smiles from a distance before I heard you fell… hahaha…. it was worth it.

We were about 130 crammed into the back of two trucks like cattle.

Linh teaching her class
Now in the last quarter of my placement, the countdown is on. I’ve reached a comfortable level of language ability so that it flows mostly smoothly from my thoughts and listening is no longer an eyebrow-furrowing exercise. There is the comfort of knowing what to expect in the school calendar and collective reminiscing of this time last year. Teaching is much easier, having a good supply of resources and experience (don’t be too disheartened by the sleeping and yawning students just before lunch, it’s just hunger and fatigue. A soft ball pitched at their heads usually wakes them and the other students up with laughter.) I celebrated the start of a new decade for me on foreign shores. I took an excited school of girls to the beach (most of them might only have a chance once every few years). We were about 130 crammed into the back of two trucks like cattle and those in the middle falling over stacked on top of each other when the truck braked too hard. But, the air of excitement was so thick, you could almost grab it. There was waving all along the road, calling out to people and joyful singing.

The situation in East Timor appears to be healing.

It’s been a different year for me living up at the school (instead of tucked away in a little house). I am surrounded by the pulse of life here. For the girls, the day starts early with personal laundry, then prayers and mass, breakfast and cleaning the floors. School goes from 8am until 4.45pm with a 2 hour break at lunchtime. After school, just half an hour for afternoon tea and recreation before prayers and homework time, dinner then short recreation and time for bed. It’s a pretty intense schedule.

The situation in East Timor appears to be healing. In the capital, rock throwing is no longer a main topic of conversation, roads have improved, the city is getting footpaths. In Venilale, life has reverted back to normal, soldiers haven’t been seen in the area for several months. The sound of helicopters always brought an ominous feeling (reminiscent of war planes) but they too are now absent. There are lots of changes happening in the school. With a very capable and assertive new principal at the wheel, many developments have taken place; the school has several new computers, a room has been fitted out to be the new English laboratory (with equipment for self-guided learning), training courses galore have been run by external trainers. Being a mountain girl, I have limited knowledge of what is taking place in other areas but if other schools and institutions have this same level of activity, East Timor will surely move forward in leaps and bounds … hopes can crystallize into reality.

Ho dame (In peace), Linh.

P.S. Written before the shooting of President Ramos-Horta and attempts at Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. Everyone is following news closely but life goes on as usual and there isn’t the fear and anxiety of incidents past, just a sense of relief that the worst was avoided.

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Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have. - Emile Chartier