Monica Morrison: Monica Morrison’s CommUNITY News no. 2

Chrys and Assis on guitar
It is some time since I have been in touch but we have not had a server here at the college in Baucau for some time so we are not able to email. It seems that we have forgotten how to get in touch any other way. There is a post office here but I have never seen anyone actually use it, whereas visitors return to Australia looking like the village postman. I suggest volunteers bring a supply of Australian stamps with them plus cards for all occasions!

Since second semester commenced at the end of July we have been working very hard with our students who are completing their Masters degree in Education through Australian Catholic University in Australia. It is very quiet around the college because there are no undergraduate students around, just the staff. After the third years graduated, there was no new intake of students planned until January next year, to fit in with the broader plan of all schools closing for staff and students to complete courses in the Portuguese language. Our staff will need to translate all their teaching materials into Portuguese now but at the same time we are stretching their English to complete two units towards their higher degrees.

We were all very excited about the visit from Dr Gayle Spry from ACU Brisbane who was to spend two weeks with us early in semester to lead us through the framework for these units in Research Methodology and Shared Leadership. She proved to be an amazing teacher who fully understood the needs of working within another culture due to her previous professional experience. Gayle stayed in my compound and quite apart from the full-on exciting, but exhausting days of stimulating teaching strategies and fine honing of our academic skills, she was a perceptive, thoughtful and fun-loving companion as well.

The participants in the research had appreciated being asked their views on educational processes, and someone showing interest in their teaching.

On the Sunday night when she was helping me cope with providing dinner for the eight Australians who are on the staff here at the college, she fell and broke her elbow. We had a dramatic night of ambulances, hospital, and considerable shock plus assisting her over the next few days until the decision was made to fly her back home. The students were very disappointed and so were we, but poor Gayle was in considerable pain. There followed a tense time for all of us as we battled altered schedules and had to pick up the reins of becoming instant academics overnight, but the Timorese have been supportive and helpful and they were so excited when they came back from doing their interviews of teachers, it was a joy to see. The participants in the research had appreciated being asked their views on educational processes, and someone showing interest in their teaching. One student said in her report “When they started to tell us about their experiences we could not stop them” and another one said “We had to get permission from the husband and family to interview the teacher”; another one said “We had to provide food and drink for our focus group interview, because that is our culture.” We had not thought of any of these things in our planning so we learnt a lot from them as well.

Monica shares a birthday with Manecas' niece
While the schools are closed many of the senior school students are being provided with English classes by more wonderful volunteers from Australia. I had no idea before coming here to Baucau, that there is this whole subculture happening of regular part time volunteers some of whom have been here previously on longer assignments, and who come here to do all sorts of things such as solar power installations and building of infrastructure for alternative technologies. Sometimes groups of men come here on their long service leave or even in their own vacation time. We joke with them that they are having a break from their wives, but seriously they are doing great things, and seem to have great fun at the same time judging by the laughter at the cafe tables.

Apart from work, there have been some wonderful moments over the past few months. One Friday night a group of singers from Melbourne came over to give a concert and some of our Timorese staff provided support acts. The women sang and the men played their guitars. When I saw them on stage I was just as teary as when my own kids were in their school concerts and suddenly I realised how much they meant to me. Somehow their warm smiles, their gentle humility and their utter simplicity just shone through. I was so proud of them. Perhaps I am becoming something of a mother figure to them as they are all so young. One day Nina wasn’t feeling well, so she put her head on my shoulder and said “Sing me to sleep” so I sang a few bars of Cradle Song. She said “Oh I wish I had a mother like you.” Domingas joined in with “So do I… My mother is always tired, always cranky.” but I pointed out that she had spent her day carrying water and wood, coping with the babies at home and cooking for the family. Of course these girls have to help when they return from college, so it is not easy for them to study.

Anche is our feisty member of staff who lectures in Health and Nutrition, and is flying the flag high for the rights of women at all times.

Nina with Domingas' baby
Another one of our students Chrys told me one day that he would be quite happy to adopt me as his mother, because he lost his own mother when quite young. Chrys has a pregnant wife in Dili and he often asks me questions about what to expect during the progress of the pregnancy. They are not married yet as he has not paid all the balake. Culturally, this is quite acceptable and the wedding does not occur until the bride price has been paid. Traditionally it consisted of buffaloes and goats but increasingly a house or education for family members is offered and received as an acceptable bride price.

A highlight for all of us was the Tour de Timor, Ride for Peace. You probably read about it in the papers. Our very own Anche competed in this, the only woman rider to be chosen in the Timorese team. She is our feisty member of staff, who lectures in Health and Nutrition, and is flying the flag high for the rights of women at all times. The race came through Baucau and rested here for the night. You can imagine the build up of excitement waiting for Anche to arrive. We all joined in the chant of “Anche Anche Anche”. She belonged to all of Baucau that week. She did not gain a place but she finished the course all around the rugged roads of East Timor without a scratch! Congatulations Anche!

On the night the riders were in Baucau they held an open air showing of the film the Balibo Five, but it was too much for many of the Timorese so they left the arena. What pain it must have brought back as it is all so recent and so many families affected by the events of that time.

Until next time my good wishes to all the staff at Palms and thank you for all your ongoing support and understanding of the needs of those of us out in the field. There is never a dull moment here, but I could do with a latte or two from Glebe.

Kind regards

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What a terrible thing, to have lived quite comfortably, with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections politically, economically, socially, lacking nothing, having everything. - Oscar Romero