Coming back to East Timor after almost two years has been exciting, nerve-wracking, a little scary, and immensely rewarding (already!). After a great vacation in Australia with Dean and our friends, Ruth and Mark Walkup, I arrived in Dili on March 15.
I was met at the airport by good friends from my days with that US Volunteer agency and my first impression was that it was incredibly GREEN. I am arriving at the end of the rainy season so things are comparatively lush.
I spent the first week or so dealing with logistics. The Fulbright grant is given as a lump sum….so it is up to me to figure out housing, transport, and so on. Housing here is still ridiculously expensive and there are lots of “foreigner ghettos” (e.g. shipping containers turned into apartments). Fortunately, I have ended up living with our Timorese host family. I am staying in the grandmother’s house, which is a huge multi-generational home where they have already ‘adopted’ me as a daughter. It is great to have a home to come back to at the end of the day and they have also been helping a lot with my Tetun language practice. I also managed to find an inexpensive little car….so I am all set!
I have started the initial work on all three grant components – teaching, research, and training/professional development. I will be working with the faculty in the Community Development Department at the National University of Timor Lorosae (probably helping to team teach a class on field methods). It is a small department and there is a lot that I could do with them.
My research is also underway. The Peace Corps staff have been great about sharing information (who is still here, phone numbers, etc) and I have managed to do quite a bit of networking already. Lots of familiar faces are still here so that really helps! My Dili-based research is focusing on life history interviews with multiple generations of Timorese women. I am learning lots of interesting stuff about the cultural differences among Timorese, Portuguese, and Portuguese-Timorese families ….and also about how various generations have survived during the Japanese and Indonesian occupations and also during the Portuguese colonial era. Here’s a photo of one of my key informants (and great friend), Lili.
Outside Dili, I am also heading out to all the communities where we originally placed Volunteers back in 2002. I am looking forward to talking with counterparts, supervisors, and host families to see how they remember the cross-cultural and development experience. Thus far, I have been pleasantly surprised by how people have remembered me! My first trip out was to the nearby district of Liquića. I caught a ride with CARE and managed to find several people that I know. Only later I realized that they have phone service there now – I could have just called! This portrait of an “old uncle” (he was too shy to give me his name) was taken in a small village in this district. He was sitting next to the dried corn.
Before I sign off, I have to tell the funny story about the electric guitar. Dean is pictured here testing it out in our house in Takoma Park on the night before we departed for Australia/Timor. That night, we attended a lecture given by Nobel Laureate José Ramos Horta, Foreign Minister of Timor Leste. After the talk, Dean and I went to say ‘hello’ to him (and show off our Tetun).
After he learned that we were departing for Dili the very next day, he quickly asked if I could carry something for him. Thinking it would be something small (and knowing that I want to interview him about his role in bringing PC to Timor), I quickly agreed. It turned out that it was this electric guitar (signed by Simon and Garfunkle). By that point, it was too late to change my mind. So the guitar traveled with us to Los Angeles, Sydney, Perth, and then with me to Darwin!
I am happy to say that I have successfully returned the guitar. And now the Nobel Laureate (and maybe the next Secretary General of the UN) owes me dinner…..which will hopefully happen in the next couple of weeks.
Next report….images from the field.