Kazamentu 3

After a restful afternoon, Sam was set up watching Mr Bean with Emily, our super babysitter, and eating Burger King for dinner. While the invitation said the evening began at 6pm we were doubtful that things would begin at that time, we thought we clued in well enough to Timorese culture to know that much. But just what would be the best time to arrive, well, we just weren’t sure. I was a little anxious that we would somehow get it wrong, but with nothing to guide us, we just guessed. We left home about half past six, to pick up our Timorese MAF colleague, Aldo, his wife Julia and three month old son Achilles from their home. They didn’t want to ride late at night on the motorbike, so we offered to be their taxi. On our way, we received a phone call from our MAF colleague to say the groom had called him to say we needed to be at the reception venue by 7.15 and seated by 7.30 for things to start. Again the groom was looking out for us and making sure we knew what to do. Feeling good that we had judged the timing correctly, we collected our friends and arrived at the venue at about 7.

 

There were many people already there, so we went inside, signed the visitor’s book, were given a glass memento and gave the people there our envelope with money, in lieu of a gift. An usher then showed us into a large ballroom and indicated that we should sit in the front row of a bank of about80 seats. The centre of the room had a carpeted walkway, a large table with a huge wedding cake, surrounded by champagne bottles, with more walkway, leading to a stage ornately decorated  and with some chairs spaced along the area. In one area was a band, food tables were around the room, some with main course type foods, other with desserts. And there we sat.We people watched (the dresses, high heel shoes and hairstyles were quite amazing), we played with baby Achilles, i struggled with my Tetun knowledge trying to chat with Julia, we made faces at Achilles making him smile and waited. The two other couples of MAF staff arrived and we sat and waited some more. Took photos. Looked at photos on our phones and cameras. People watched. Chatted. Jason and Aldo passed the time by trying to guess when the dinner would start.  People continued to arrive in groups. Until most of the seats were filled, at an estimate we guessed there was about 700 people in attendance.

 

 

It was about 8.30 when the bride and groom arrived. Just like in weddings in Australia, the important family members and guests were introduced as they entered. I couldn’t understand most of what the MC was saying, but he had the audience in fits of laughter often. The official part of the evening began with speeches, cutting the wedding cake, surrounded by special guests popping champagne bottles and the bridal waltz. Everywhere the couple went they were followed by people videoing and photographing the special moments on phones, cameras and notebooks. One little girl of about 7 or 8 stood with her IPAD like device videoing the whole bridal waltz from about a metre away, her little face totally captivated by what she was seeing and perhaps dreaming of the day she would get to do the same thing.

After grace, at a little after 9pm, it was time for dinner. As the foreigners in the front row we were told to go first, an honour i felt reluctant to take up, but i was really hungry, so the need for food forced me to obey. A buffet table bursting with pork, chicken, meatballs, fish, vegetables and various unknown items sat before us. The pork, pulled off the whole pig with head still intact and looking at you, was beautifully cooked. I wanted more! We ate and chatted with the people in the row behind us who wanted to know who were and why we were at the wedding, in Dili and where we we were from. A trip to the bathroom was an adventure, weaving through groups of people, through the kitchen where food was being prepared to the outdoor bathrooms. I couldn’t help but notice ladies sitting on the ground surrounded by dirty plates, scraping scraps into buckets and beginning the process of washing perhaps over 700 plates. I hoped they didn’t have to do it by hand, but at the same time knowing that jobs are difficult to find in Dili. It seemed in stark contrast to the glamour and party atmosphere inside the ballroom.

Then it was time for the dancing. We had been told that it was rude to leave before the first dance and we found this to be true. The floor became packed with dancing couples. I stole baby Achilles and sent Aldo and Julia out onto the floor. I remember life with a newborn, so Jason and i entertained baby Achilles, with many odd looks from passersby, while his parents enjoyed a dance. We noticed people lining up at the stage and realised to say goodbye you needed to go to the stage and greet and thank each person there. It took some coordination to climb over the flower arrangements in high heels, but we greeted each person, thanking them for allowing us to celebrate with them and experience our first ever Timorese wedding.

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So the day had arrived! Today Julito and Nindi were getting married, and we were their invited guests. We took time to make ourselves look as dressy as we could. Filled the small handbag instead of my usual big one, with tissues, a fan and a few other odds and ends and off we went. We dropped Sam off at his birthday party and headed off to the Cathedral near the port. A beautiful stone building we have driven past many times but never visited. As we arrived, we found the groom and his family posing for photographs under the trees while guests mingled in the church yard. Beautiful singing came from the choir inside the church, as there was already a wedding in progress, before the one we were invited to. It was a relief to realise your standard of dress fit with everyone else. We did stand out as the only foreignors or malae in attendance, and we were honoured that the groom came to have photos taken with us, and also to let us know when we should go into the church. Not sure exactly where to sit, do sides of the church matter in Timor-Leste? We weren’t sure, so we picked an aisle and created the row of foreigners.

 

 

An order of service was given to us, which made the service a little easier to follow. But in downsizing my handbag i had left my Tetun dictionary at home, which was frustrating. It was interesting to see the women family members of the bride and groom wearing the same colours and fabrics, but different styles of dresses. Both parents escorted their child down the aisle, followed by girls containing baskets of food and statues.

 

Words cannot describe just how beautiful the choir was. Seated not far from us in an alcove off the main church, the sound of their singing was magnificent and gave goosebumps. As the service progressed it was interesting to hear little bits of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Sister Acts “I will follow him” sneaking into the music in between the more traditional hymns and Ave Maria.

We followed the lead of those around us, reading, praying, kneeling and standing. Lots of careful observation is an important skill in cross cultural life, but certainly during a different style of church service. Jason tried following the lead by laughing with everyone else during parts of the sermon that were apparently funny, even though he had no idea what was being said.

It was hot in the church, and again due to my handbag downsizing,I didn’t have my usual water bottle. Thankfully my friend Deborah had two, which helped to ease the dizziness from the heat and lingering sickness. The poor priests at the front of the church seemed to be feeling the heat too, wearing traditional church robes and performing their second wedding service for the day, they looked ready to drop at some moments. And making much use of their handkerchiefs.

 

The service ended and a list of photos to be taken began to be progressed through starting with family and other official guests. We followed the lead of others and made our way from the church. Noticing the time, it was almost time to collect Sam from his birthday party, so home we went. Yes we were the severely overdressed parents at the birthday party pick up. At home we revelled in the air conditioning and had a long nap, rebuilding our strength for the evening part of the wedding.

Kazamentu – Part 1

More than a year has passed of our life here in Timor Leste. We have learnt to do many things in settling into our new home. We can communicate what we want or need, most of the time. We know where to go to buy what we need, most of the time. We are getting used to heat and bugs. We’ve experienced most of the public holidays and know what to expect, sort of. As we spend time with newly arrived friends and we realise anew just how much we have learnt, experienced and become aware of in the past year.

And then it happens…. an unforeseen moment, that throws you back to the beginning of all cultural learning and makes you feel like an expatriate baby all over again…. you are invited to a wedding! What an honour and a privilege to be invited to help celebrate this important day, but as i sat with my Swiss friend and fellow invitee to the wedding, we began to wonder….

What do we wear?
The invitation says no kids to the dinner, can we take Sam to the church? Do we wear the same outfit to the church and evening celebration?
The invitation says no presents, rather an envelope with money, how much do we include?
The invitation says 10 am and 6pm for starting times of the various ceremonies. Do we really go at those times? Or if we go then will we be the only ones there for an hour or so?
Do the guys need ties? Are jeans okay or should we buy them trousers?
My good dress is black, can i wear black to a we
dding in a country where black is saved mainly for mourning?
I need shoes. I can’t wear sandals or thongs. Where do i buy shoes?
How do we rsvp?
My dress doesn’t have sleeves, is that okay to wear in a Catholic Church here?
How long will it go for?
Do we go home in between ceremonies or are we there all day?
Where is the church mentioned on the invitation?
Where is that reception centre?

So the following week was spent in consultation with our friends more experienced in Timorese culture and weddings than we are. We asked these same questions again and again, receiving slightly different answers, but some clear enough guidelines to follow, so that hopefully we won’t cause too much embarrassment to ourselves or our generous hosts. And with everyone we asked, there was always the disclaimer, “Don’t worry, if you do something wrong, people will understand because you are “malae” or a foreigner!”

The next step after all our questions and answers was to make sure we had everything needed for the event itself… time to go shopping! I mentioned before that in adapting to life in Dili we have learnt where to go to buy what we need… most of the time. But shopping for wedding clothes, shoes and accessories was new territory for us, we needed more advice, this time about where to go shopping. More questions were asked of our wise friends and numerous shopping trips were undertaken between the three MAF families. Lucky for us Jason and I are the same height as our Timorese friends, so i didn’t think it would be too difficult to purchase trousers for Jason in the local market.

On a Saturday afternoon, my newly arrived friend from Australia attacked the market for plants for her garden and clothes for Jason, with four children tagging along. The adventure of hunting for treasure in tarpaulin covered stalls is fun for awhile, you do feel a little like Ali Baba in his caves of loot, until the sweat starts building and before you realise it your look and feel like someone has thrown a bucket of water over you. You are wet through, skirt, underwear, shirt and hair are dripping. Eeeeghhhh! Such a gross feeling! But the treasure is found after a little hunting, two shirts and two pairs of trousers for $16. The risk of these clothes not fitting was high, as most had no size labels attached, or used a system of sizing unfamiliar to me. But thankfully my friend had her trusty tape measure in her bag, allowing us a little more accuracy in our selections. Proud of my purchases we returned home, 100% success with the shirts, both fit Jason well. Trousers, not so good as only one pair fit, oh well, I guess that is what he is wearing now!

p1110294smallYesterday, my Swiss friend Deb and i tackled the shops again, this time looking for shoes. A new area of town i had never visited before was our destination to hunt down wedding style shoes, so i wouldn’t be attending this event in my thongs (flip flops), sandals or running shoes. I had driven down these streets many times, but had never explored the contents of the stores. Little did i realise that inside these stores is a treasure trove of clothing, shoes, bags, sunglasses, and more. Ladies shoes with heels as tall as Mount Everest are common here. Bling, diamontes, skulls and cross bones and dinosaur like studs were all found frequently on the shoes we looked at and even tried on. While i will likely never find clothes to fit me here, my tiny feet (Thanks Ma!) meant show shopping was a simple task. The challenge was to find something my uncoordinated self could balance and walk in, rather than what would fit.

p1110299smallIn the course of our two hours of shopping, we encountered many friendly Timorese shop staff all eager to help us, especially after we got out the dictionary and learnt how to explain that we needed shoes for our first Timorese wedding. We posed for a photo with the shop staff in one location, as the photo was a bargaining tool to lower the price of the shoes i wanted to buy. We discovered that the bargain bin in some shops contained shoes and bags that were disintegrating they had been there for so long. We found padded underwear for ladies with small behinds, something that looked like bulletproof vests and very cute three piece suits for little boys. (No excuse to buy one this time as Sam has been invited to a friend’s birthday party tomorrow and so will skip the wedding this time.) Mission accomplished. Wedding shoes purchased. Dressy handbag purchased, wasn’t sure my normal back pack bag would suit the occasion, new shops discovered and so many fun, laughter filled conversations with the staff we met.

p1110298smallToday has been a day of ironing and hemming Jason’s pants, in between the power outages, baby sitter booked, so let the celebrations begin….

Naps, movies and lots of germs

It’s Saturday afternoon. Jason is snoozing. Sam is eating lollies and watching Planet Earth on DVD and I thought it was time i wrote a blog. It’s been awhile!

Our past week has been one of naps, movies and doing as little as possible. Days of using Netflix to entertain us with new movies or tv shows. Sam and i mostly enjoyed Marmaduke and Alvin and the chipmunks. Jason and i watched Roman Holiday. We all enjoyed some episodes of Plane Resurrection. Minimal cooking, just enough to ward off starvation and use up food items before they go bad. Cuddles with Sam during the day and night. A bed for each of us to sprawl out and enjoy. NO washing! Dishes when the pile gets big enough, but Jason and i have managed to share that joy between us. Household jobs have lapsed. Novels have been read at strange times of the day and night. Sam returned to school on Thursday and Friday, with a lunch order special treat for him on Friday.

Does it sound like an idyllic week to you? I guess that’s the power of words and perception isn’t it! We’ve enjoyed our quiet week, as one by one each member of our family got hit by a terrible sickness, contaminating us with fevers, aches and pains, headaches, sneezes, coughs and generally feeling revolting!

It began with Sam on Sunday evening, hit Kim on Monday and Jason on Tuesday! I was very thankful in the midst of feeling rotten though. Thankful our visitor is coming next week, not this week! Thankful all three pilots are back in Timor now, which makes Jason a little more relaxed about missing work due to illness. Thankful for the bus that picks Sam up from home and takes him to school. Thankful for three bedrooms, so we could all cough, sneeze, shiver and sweat during the night, without disturbing others. Thankful for cooler weather this week, which has made shivering under two blankets with fevers a little more tolerable. Thankful we had restocked the cold and flu tablets, nasal spray, vicks vaporub, children’s panadol when we were last in Australia. Thankful for spaghetti bolognaise sauce in the freezer. Thankful for chicken noodle soup and leftovers to eat. Thankful that i don’t have to wash clothes by hand all of the time, like i did on Saturday.

A few other things made our week of sickness a little worse. We have a blocked pipe leading away from the house which means using the washing machine, showering and doing the dishes need to spaced out to avoid flooding the bathroom AGAIN. The washing machine needs to be avoided, to avoid flooding the bathroom AGAIN. The plumber we called on Day 1, came to look at the pipes at the end of Day 2 and called at the end of Day 3 to say he didn’t think he could fix it. So i was thankful our illness was a coldy fevery bug and not a gastro one, with limited washing capabilities.

So today i handwashed clothes in the bathroom, sitting on the closed toilet lid, scrubbing clothes in one big basin and rinsing them under the shower head. We could spin them dry in the machine, without flooding the bathroom, so in this manner we have some clean clothes now. Jason’s uniform is clean for when he goes back to work. Jason has now tried several other techniques to solve the drainage issue, so we’ll see if that has been successful, or whether we need to try finding a more successful plumber.

About lunchtime, while i couldn’t make a decision about what to eat for lunch, we discovered the power was off on the big freezer AGAIN. This has happened once before, and thankfully both times we have discovered it fairly quickly… Today wasn’t quite quick enough though as the mince, tandoori chicken and beef schntizels on the top of the freezer were defrosted. So tandoori chicken went in pocket pita bread for lunch, schnitzels became the featured item for dinner tonight, and chicken mince will now feature on tomorrow’s menu…. not sure as what yet!

We are looking into getting the wiring in our house replaced as we’ve had some quirky happenings lately with powerpoints stopping from working and giving us small zaps through appliances. Thankfully Jason has grounded all the relevant powerpoints which has improved things significantly. So thankful for a handyman hubby!

A household of people with fevers is a funny thing. Last night after cooking in the kitchen and doing the dishes i was hot and bothered. I put the AC on and closed up the dining area to enjoy the AC there too. While we ate dinner i was enjoying the coolness and the cold water tasted oh so good! On the other side of the table, the men of the family, we were looking uncomfortably cold, asking “Do we really need the air conditioner on? I’m freezing!” Even with yourself the fever challenge is annoying one, feeling chilled and cold, i decided to make a cup of tea. Ironically, by the time i had boiled the kettle, made my tea and sat back down on the couch, i was feeling hot and hot tea wasn’t really what i wanted.

It’s now Monday and i better post this blog before it becomes too out of date! The landlord was able to tell us about where the pipes go, so we may have solved that problem! Sam is happily at school today with five objects that are special to him. Oh the balance of objects that are meaningful and ones you really want him taking to school…. Yikes! We’ll see what makes it home again. Jason got up and ready for work, then went back to bed for a nap, so we’ll see if he makes it to work today. The only one pressuring him to work is himself! And i am going to see if i can plan a lesson on the air and wind for Hera on Wednesday. Thanks for reading…. if you are one who prays, we would value your prayers for our health (Sam especially) and for sorting out the quirky traits of our house. Oh and the defrosted mince from the unplugged freezer made great sausage rolls for tea last night!

Packages and prayers

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The request for prayer from a medevac patient’s family on the MAF Timor-Leste mobile phone, sent members of our staff into prayer for this family. As they responded to the request, arranged to visit the hospital and prayed for this Timorese family, there was a sense of gratefulness in our hearts. This was the moment we had dreamt, planned and worked for over the past year. Thank you God!

The majority of the flights MAF Timor-Leste does in this country are medical evacuation flights. People who are sick or injured in remote parts of the country, often need to be transported to Dili National Hospital, for further medical care that the clinics in the districts just cannot provide. Due to the rough, bumpy and unpredictable nature of Timorese roads, road travel is not possible, especially in situations when blood loss is severe, such as from a pregnancy or a severed hand. Three MAF pilots and two Gippsland Aeronautics Airvans, make it possible to provide an air ambulance service for those in most need of significant medical care.

Recently, MAF Timor-Leste experienced its busiest month ever, completing 31 medical evacuation flights, transporting 37 patients. The situation that faces our medevac passengers is a daunting one in many ways. The patients generally arrive to the plane with one family member and small bag of personal belongings, they often didn’t expect to be needing our medevac services that day. For most, this will be their first time to fly in an aeroplane and possibly even their first visit to the nation’s capital city of Dili. They may speak a different language to what is spoken in Dili and in most cases they or their family member are seriously ill. As MAF staff our hearts often ache with the scenes we see and hear about, during these medical evacuation flights. Pregnant women are the most common evacuation passengers, with complications involving blood loss occurring often. Small babies and infants who are struggling to breathe from lung conditions. Victims of trauma such as road accidents or a boy who impaled his arm on a tree branch. The reasons for the flights vary, but the response of our pilots doesn’t. As our pilots, seek to show the love of Christ to each patient and their family, during this time of tremendous distress, by transporting them to Dili and caring for them as lovingly as possible.

But as the pilots carry out these flights, their wives, who often hear the stories and pray for safe flying, especially when the weather is bad, were dreaming of something more. As MAF staff we wondered if perhaps there was something more that we could do for these medevac patients that we transport. Was there any practical needs we could meet? How could we communicate that we were praying for them in this time of illness or trauma? Was there more that we could do?

As a team, we began to talk to those we knew who worked in medical field, those who live and work in the remote districts and an idea began to form. The dream of a care package for each medical evacuated patient began, as a way to communicate to these families, that as an organisation, we were here doing God’s work, we did care about them, we were praying for them and we willing to help if there was a need.

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Dreams take time to become a reality. Planning, revision
s, project proposals and funding all need to be arranged. In creating these care packs we wanted to use local services as much as possible, so we arranged for a local women’s sewing centre to create the bags and re-usable pads for us to include. The Gospel of Mark booklets needed to be sourced from a local Christian organisation. Colouring books that tell the story of Jesus in Tetun, were bought from another mission organisation. Then the supermarket needed to be tackled, with several boxes of supplies being bought for just the first month’s needs.

p1100473smallThe MAF pilot wives, Angela, Deborah and Kim, took over the MAF office one morning as they assembled all the supplies together to create the care packs. Four slightly different packages were created, one for women, one for men, one for children and one for babies, based upon the needs of each group. A card attached to the strap of the bag says, “We are sorry for your sufferring and illness at this time, and pray that you will recover quickly. We would like to give you this gift. We hope it will bless you during your hsopital stay. If you would like someone to visit you to pray with you, please call us. We would love to hear from you again with any updates about how you or your family member are recovering from your illness.” It was so exciting when the first care packs were finally being distributed, with Aldo, our Timorese staff member giving the pack to the family with an explanation of what it was.

Not long after the care packages began being distributed we received the phone call mentioned previously. The family of a medevac patient was requesting that we come to the hospital to pray for them and the patient. Two of the MAF team, along with several other Christian friends, who are fluent in Tetun, went to the hospital and were greeted by many family members and many curious onlookers. People were interested in the “malae” or foreigners who were there to pray for this Timorese man and his family. It was a bittersweet moment for our staff, as the injured man had passed away before they arrived, but we had been given a precious opportunity to reach out and love a family in their time of sadness and need. Jesus words, recorded in Matthew 25:40 often echo in my heart as i think about the patients who we transport on our planes, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Living in a country like Timor-Leste presents you with many needs and very quickly we have come to realise that we can’t solve them all. But when we listen to the Spirit’s leading and work together with the team God has assembled to be MAF in this place, we can make a difference in the lives of many.

MAF Families

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When God calls a pilot or an engineer to serve Him by working with MAF that often means He is calling a spouse and even a family too. The world wide MAF family is made up of people who are single, married, families with children of all ages and the widowed. He uses each person for His purposes in the places they live in, be that Milingimbi, South Sudan or Dilli, in Timor-Leste.

For a pilot and an engineer, the job description they receive when they begin working MAF is pretty straightforward. They are to fly the plane or maintain the aircraft to the best of their abilities. Of course, their days in reality are filled up with many more tasks than that, but they have a starting point to fulfilling their role.img_4855small

As wife to a MAF engineer or a pilot, the task of what to do in this new place is often not so straight forward. Sometimes the options are so numerous, they don’t what would be the best usage of their time and energy. In other places, the opportunities are more limited, or perhaps the stage of family life with small children, limits what can be done outside the home.

Deborah Moser and Kim Job have been serving in Timor-Leste for just over a year, both educators by training, they both wondered how they could use their skills, passions and interests in their new home. As they settled into life in a new country, there was lots to do. Many new people to meet, homes to set up, a new language to learn, a hot and humid climate to adjust to. Learning to do life in a new place takes time, as even simple tasks like grocery shopping are so much more complicated than in our home countries. So as they adjusted to life in Dili, Timor-Leste, they happened to meet a missionary lady who had been in Timor-Leste for some time. One of her tasks here had been to assist at a centre for disabled people in Hera, a town just east of Dili.img_4814small

Deborah, who worked with disabled children in her home country of Switzerland was very eager to hear more and so went to visit and began volunteering there each Wednesday morning. The centre, Liman Hamutuk, (Hands Together) was established by a Brazilian missionary named Branca who has worked in Timor-Leste for fifteen years. Working to help the people of her community in Hera she has established a clinic, a church and this centre for the families in the area who have a disabled person in them. Each Wednesday, the centre’s mini bus collects students and their carer, bringing them to the centre for a morning of activities, breakfast, songs and lunch, before heading home again. A doctor is usually around to help out with medical issues too.

Deborah says, “On my very first visit at the centre I met a group of kids with no chance of getting some education because of their disabilities but with a hunger to learn and to embrace life. Among their mums I saw shame and insecurity. And I saw Timorese staff with a heart for these people but with very little knowledge and resources to meet this needs. My heart went out to these kids and I knew this was God’s place for me to be a blessing. “img_4830small

Meanwhile Kim was in Australia, visiting supporters and family, wondering what God’s plans for her in Timor-Leste would be. Once back in Dili, with her son off to school for the first time, Kim was able to visit the centre at Hera with Deborah to see what she was doing there. Kim’s background in Australia was a school teacher and while she taught many students with special needs, visiting Hera was a new experience. The students she met were so happy, they loved any game or activity done with them, but they had so little support, except for what they received from their families and the staff at Liman Hamutuk. For Kim, she knew that if these same students lived in Australia, the support and resources they would have access to would be so much greater. And so with a sense of this injustice and a growing love for these determined new friends, she returned each week with Deborah, using her very minimal language, and non existent knowledge of sign language.

Over the past six months, Deborah and Kim have been volunteering each week at the centre in Hera, and planning, dreaming and working towards supporting these young people and their families. Teaching in another language is hard. Learning sign language is difficult. Working in a country where resources are limited, means you need to be creative and make lots of things yourself. But the rewards of these efforts have been so encouraging. A gift of a colouring in pack was given to each young person who visits the centre, after the mother of one young man had begun borrowing pencils each week for them to use at home. Colouring pencils and crayons were a luxury this single mother of two sons, one with cerebral palsy, just could not afford. It was with tears in their eyes that Deborah and Kim looked at the completed colouring books and pages of detailed pictures that were shown to them the next week. The desire to learn and be artistic is very present in these students, they had just been lacking the opportunity to write and draw.

img_4863smallPretend play with old kitchen utensils, baby dolls with clothes and a blanket and dress ups are now part of the program at Liman Hamutuk. Deborah and Kim can sing, “The wheels on the bus go round and round” in Tetun and sign language, so that the whole group can join in on the fun. Any lesson taught needs to have options for those who can hear, those who can’t, those that can write or draw, and those who can’t, those that sign and those that can speak. There is so much diversity in every task that is planned for the group. But the joy on the student’s faces as they begin to write for the first time or recognise and read a written word is so precious. That it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

The students and their families know that Deborah and Kim are in Timor-Leste because their husbands are MAF pilots. Several of the young boys are particularly interested in planes, and often use the sign for plane, to tell them when they can hear a plane flying over head. These boys, and their families, have never seen an aeroplane up close, and certainly never been on one. So Kim and Deborah, inspired by other school groups they had seen, began to plan a trip for the families of Liman Hamutuk to visit the MAF Hangar at Dili International Airport.img_4795small

Planning for the outing went rather smoothly, even when Kim and her husband had to try and order lunches for forty people for the next day, in Tetun. Writing and translating a letter into Tetun, asking airport security for permission to visit was another first for Deborah and Kim. Their Tetun knowledge allows them to teach and buy things at the market, but writing formal letters to people in authority was rather difficult. But the day arrived, two mini buses of students and carers arrived at the airport, with smiles on everyone’s faces.

img_4870smallPilot, Daniel Moser gave the group an explanation of where the airports are in Timor-Leste and explained how they use the planes to medically evacuate sick people from the remote parts of the country. Aldo, MAF Timor-Leste’s Timorese staff member acted as translator and helper as a volunteer student lay down on the stretcher to be lifted into the plane. Babies, children, young adults, parents and even several grandmothers took their turn at exploring the planes. Wearing a headset was a new experience for most. Smiles of joy were seen on the faces of many, even as they just sat in the plane seats.
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As people who are around aeroplanes often, we often forget what a novelty it is to see a plane up close. But for these families, they found the sight of the Airnorth plane, an Embraer E170, which has about 72 seats, landing and taking off just two hundred metres from where they stood utterly captivating. The looks of awe and even fear on some, was a special moment to watch. Many members of the group stood watching the Airnorth plane unload and reload. The bag trucks, the refuelling tanker and the moving staircase were all something new for them to see. When the two helicopters based at the airport arrived to land there was again great excitement.

The group had a picnic lunch in the hangar, watching the larger planes come and go, and still wanting more opportunities to play pilot, by sitting in the planes. The excitement levels rose again when pilot, Daniel Moser, took the plane out of the hangar to do his preflight checks on the aircraft. Watching the lights turn on and the propellor begin to turn had many students spell bound. We would have loved to stay to watch the plane take off, but unfortunately the booked charter flight for that day continued to be delayed, so that wasn’t possible. So all our friends returned home to Hera again after their first visit to the airport.img_4904small

Deborah once remarked that she was in living in Timor-Leste because that’s where God and MAF had led her and Daniel as a couple. It was Daniel’s role as a pilot that has them living in Dili and Timor-Leste, but how exciting is it to know that God’s plan for them included a role for Deborah that perfectly matched her skills, passions and qualifications.

When the Prime Minister travels on a MAF plane

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It’s not common for the Prime Minister of a nation to take photos of himself in a MAF aeroplane. But this is what occurred on July 18th of this year in Timor-Leste, as the Prime Minister, Doctor Rui Maria de Araújo flew on VH-MTX to Suai to attend a celebration of the work Timor Aid has been doing in the area.

“Timor Aid has been working in Suai since 1999, right after the post-referendum period, with a number of emergency and relief programs to assist the people displaced by post-referendum violence. As the general political situation improved, Timor Aid started focusing on the preservation and promotion of Timor-Leste’s cultural heritage,” Florentino Sarmento, Chief Executive Officer of Timor Aid explains.

Since 2012, Timor Aid has been working with international experts to conduct research and document the cultural heritage of the region, which includes textiles, potteries, language and oral tradition, music, dances and sacred places and sites. The results of this research has been documented in books, CDs and DVDs. This work of Timor Aid is sponsored by the Government of Timor Leste, the European Commission, and the Prince Claus Fund, originating in the Netherlands.

pm-and-staffOn July 18th Timor Aid had planned for an exhibition to feature the main motifs of Suai textiles and their function in society and culture. Mr. Sarmento said, “The ceremony was of great importance and the Prime Minister had agreed to lead the ceremony and hand over to the community the documentation of their cultural heritage.” The staff from Timor Aid battled rough and winding roads earlier in the month to be in Suai to prepare for the celebrations. The plan was for the Prime Minister to drive to the region for the ceremony, until the rains came. Florentino Sarmento, Chief Executive Officer of Timor Aid explains, there were “landslides, roads were cut off and fallen bridges caused by the floods, denied access by land to reach Suai.”pm-and-jon

This was where MAF was able to assist Timor Aid, the Prime Minister and his staff. Timor Aid was able to charter the MAF plane to allow the Prime Minister and his staff to travel to Suai for the planned celebration. Mr. Sarmento said, “The MAF plane was vital to fly the Prime Minister and his entourage to Suai which had been isolated and could not be reached by land transportation due to floods caused by heavy intense rains during the second week of July.”

During the flight to Suai, Jonathan Lowe, pilot and Program Manager of the Timor-Leste Program was able to fly over the damaged bridges to show the Prime Minister and his staff how the reconstruction of the bridge was progressing.pm-and-broken-bridge

The actual ceremony in Suai was a public exhibition, with the theme of, “Know our World” or “Hetene ami nia Moris’.The opening ceremony was attended by approximately three hundred people including the Secretary of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Vice Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, top government officials of the Suai Municipality, religious leaders, students, community elders and leaders, the weavers and members of the Suai Camenaça community.

In his speech, Prime Minister, Doctor Rui Maria de Araújo thanked Timor Aid and partners for taking the very challenging job to research and document the cultural heritage of Suai. He said, “we Timorese are distinguished from other peoples and nations because we have our own cultural identity.The act to give back to the community the results of the research is of utmost importance because the communities of Suai Camenaça are the origin, the roots and the owners of their living cultural heritage. The culture of Suai can be compared to a root of a tree with its own branch. Other roots and branches are the culture of other communities from other parts of Timor-Leste. When all of the roots and branches are assembled together, they form only one big (cultural) tree which is Timor-Leste”.

Later in the day MAF Timor-Leste staff were excited to see that the Prime Minister had shared photos of himself in their plane on his Facebook page. He also included photos of the bridges that were being repaired. With his photos, the Prime Minister also commented on his flight with MAF that day. “It was an exciting experience, and am looking forward to flying with you again sometime in the near future.”

“with great power comes great responsibility.”

dr-jasmine-and-colleaguesThere is a famous saying, that says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Around the world today there are many places of need where organisations are working to help. There are nations in civil unrest, where peace keepers are required. Poverty stricken families need supplies from non government organisations to live through another day. Critically ill patients need the wisdom and care of medical professionals, who often come from another nation. All over the world, people are caring, helping and protecting those in need. Making this world a safer, healthier and easier place to live. However, the sad reality of life is that not all of the people commissioned with this task of bringing safety, healing or care to others do what they should. Some, abuse the power and trust that they have been given and further damage vulnerable people. It is this situation that brought Dr Jasmine-Kim Westerndorf and her colleagues, Josie Flint and Louise Searle to Timor-Leste.

Dr Jasmine-Kim Westerndorf, is a lecturer in International Relations at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is a published author and has spoken world wide about civil conflict and the methods for achieving peace. In July, Dr Jasmine came to Timor-Leste as a researcher. Her current project is to investigate the impact of peacekeeping forces. She explains, “There is growing evidence that sexual abuse and exploitation is ubiquitous to peacekeeping operations, although to varying extents, and it clearly undermines the core principles of respect, protection and human rights that underpin peace operations.”

Dr Jasmine was conducting her research in the Oecusse region of Timor-Leste, a small area of the country, surrounded by Indonesian territory. Oecusse is a difficult region to access from the outside world, if you do not travel by air. The alternatives of travelling by land or by sea, are both time consuming and rough. This is why using the MAF aircraft can be extremely helpful to people wanting to visit there. “It was a pleasure flying with MAF – furthermore, due to time and funding constraints, had this service not been available we simply wouldn’t have been able to conduct our work in Oecusse and local perspectives on peacekeeping lie at the heart of our project.”

She continues, “Our MAF flight to Oecusse gave us the opportunity to conduct interviews with local workers from non government organisations, civil society activists, and government officials who dealt with foreign peacekeepers. Speaking face to face with people who were privy to the dynamics of peacekeeper relations with the people during this time is very important, because some quite horrific instances of abuse and exploitation, particularly of children, were perpetrated by peacekeepers there.”

Dr Jasmine and her colleagues from the Humanitarian Action Group (HAG) hope to uncover what current policies and factors contribute to sexual abuse and exploitation, thereby providing a comprehensive base of knowledge to try and prevent these behaviours in the future. Because, “without a comprehensive evaluation of this nature, it is inevitable that the policies and factors that result in sexual abuse and exploitation will continue to go undetected.”

Both Dr Jasmine, Josie and Louise are interested in “advocating for better approaches to human security in fragile contexts, and especially the security of women and girls, who are uniquely vulnerable due to their gender. To date, the international community has adopted a range of strategies and policies to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, but they have not been effective, which motivates our efforts to investigate the negative effects of foreign interveners, long after they return home.”

MAF works in Timor-Leste to assist people living in isolated areas. Medical evacuation flights are flown bringing sick and injured people to hospital. Aid workers are transported to improve nutrition and literacy rates. And sometimes, like in these flights provided for Dr Jasmine, MAF flies researchers who can listen to people’s stories of trauma and abuse, and use those stories to recommend changes in policies that just might prevent these atrocities happening in the future.

MAF planes and mosquitoes

12743740_1035963926441975_6864606289943922759_n What creature causes the most human deaths every year? A shark, a snake or perhaps tapeworm, might be your first guess. But with an estimated 725,000 deaths each year caused by mosquito related diseases, this buzzing creature tops the list of the world’s deadliest creature. Bill Gates posed this question on his blog, as his foundation seeks to help prevent the spread of diseases such as Malaria, Dengue fever, Yellow fever, and Encephalitis. Malaria alone is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands people annually.

Around the world there are scientists and researchers investigating mosquitoes, daily adding to the world wide pool of knowledge about these dangerous creatures and seeking to find ways to eliminate the impact of these often fatal diseases. This thirst for knowledge has increased recently as the Zika virus has begun appearing in more countries around the world. Esther Anderson, a recent passenger on the MAF Timor-Leste Airvan, is one these researchers who has been researching the ecology of Aedes mosquitoes in Same, Timor-Leste and experimenting with small scale methods of control. This type of mosquitoes is in the same family which spreads Dengue fever, Chikungunya (a disease which can cause very severe joint pain and fever) and the Zika virus.

waitingformafplanesameEsther began her research in Same as a PhD project with Monash University, based in Melbourne Australia in 2011. But her interest and passion for the country of Timor-Leste began in the 1970s. Her research aimed to do three things; to identify the larval habitats of Aedes mosquitoes, to trial a trap like device which is used in the surveillance and also control of mosquitoes, and to educate the local people about how to reduce the mosquito population. These mosquitoes lay eggs in small amounts of water, so removing rubbish, where water might collect, covering water containers and tipping out containers with accumulated rainwater are simple ways of reducing the mosquito population in the area. While the research for her project, is now complete, she is continuing to conduct surveys of larvae (or mosquito eggs) in the area, as an act of community service and to contribute to scientific knowledge.

Alongside her scientific research in Same, Esther’s visit to the area also has a humanitarian focus. She is a convenor of a group called, Friends of Same, which is group of Melbourne based Australians who financially support a number of projects in Same. Some of their projects include: supporting a small education centre for blind and vision impaired children called Fuan Nabilan ba Matan Aat, or “Shining hearts for the blind”, providing school and university scholarships and providing a women’s group with a coconut oil press. The Same Youth Centre has also been a recipient of the Friends of Same’s assistance where they established a horticulture project and a has made it possible for the young people to make books in the local language, which have then been distributed to primary schools.arrivedindilifrommafplane

Esther explains that the use of the MAF plane has helped her tremendously in her work in Timor-Leste. She writes, “Because I have limited time in Timor, I have to make the best use of the time that I have. Before I  discovered MAF I reached Same by bus which was extremely time consuming, sometimes taking nine or ten hours. Not only did the buses wait until they had enough passengers, with no set departure time, but they would stop frequently along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. The buses frequently broke down, and, because of the dreadful state of parts of the roads, travelled very slowly, and sometimes were prevented from reaching Same altogether because of landslides. The bumpiness of the roads meant that fragile equipment was also at risk of damage. MAF has been wonderful in its reliability and speed.”

12729110_10153400895016409_5367099251307022324_nUsing the MAF plane has also assisted Esther with her work with Friends of Same. Can you imagine what Timorese roads with bumps and potholes would do to a set of laptops? When faced with needing to transport a set of twenty five laptops to Same, to be used in the Youth Centre, again the MAF plane was the answer for quick and safe transport.

Using the MAF plane also allows Esther to share the flight with colleagues and those in need, who could not afford to pay for an aeroplane flight themselves. She says, “on our last flight from Same to Dili, a Catholic nun, Madre Modesta who runs an orphanage and farm came with us to visit her seriously ill brother.” She has also been able to transport people to hospital appointments or to start work or study. “They have much appreciated being able to reach their destinations so quickly, particularly as the buses now travel only at night, leaving Same at 1a.m, meaning that people arrive in Dili the next morning tired and stressed,” she said.

Because the MAF pilots fly customers like Esther to destinations through Timor-Leste, the lives of isolated people are being improved. Esther, and many others like her, provide an important link between the people of Same and the world outside Timor-Leste. This link allows information about mosquitos and health to be transferred. It allows for the meeting of physical and educational needs in the region, with the help of concerned supporters in Australia. And through the work of the MAF aircraft and pilots, these services that Esther provides on each of her visits to Same, are made more quickly, safely and easily.

Just a week…

I was pondering in the shower this morning, as i often do, what i could write a blog about this week. It’s been a busy week so i haven’t really had time for deep or profound thoughts, so i thought you might like a little glimpse into what a week in our lives looks like…. so here goes…

Friday

Sam’s 6th birthday! Jason’s day off before being on call for the weekend. So presents, party preparations and people filled the day. We went with Sam to school as his class was singing a song in assembly and he wanted us to watch. Sam wanted a dinosaur party, so we found some decorations, ordered a pinata (the time involved in making one is far too great for the cost of buying one here), Jason carved up a watermelon and our home welcomed many of Sam’s friends, some from church, some from school and many from the neighbouring houses. It was a challenge trying to run ‘pass the parcel’ and explain a dinosaur egg hunt rules in both Tetun and English, but i think we got there. Sam and his friends had fun. Parents were pooped! Two years to recover… Jason says.

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Saturday

Jason was on call and headed off before it was light to fly to Same. Sam and i were rather lazy. Sam enjoyed Nutri Grain for breakfast, one of his birthday presents. We spent time on Skype with grandparents and cousins, Sam showing off his birthday presents and Star Wars pyjamas to every one. He kept his new pyjamas on all day. Sam built new Lego sets. Jason came home for awhile, but then had a medevac call so out he went again.

Sunday

Again Jason had a early morning flight, to Suai this time to collect a passenger in time to catch a connecting flight out of Dili. “What’s in the Bible” DVD for church today. More playing with birthday presents and reassembling Lego creations. I love these sets that make three different creations. Sam sat and read a library book to us today, it was a very big deal as this book had CHAPTERS!

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Jason comes home. The flight back to Dili was a bit tricky dodging the grey skies and low cloud that has decided to visit. Not at all normal for this time of the year. Phone calls begin about another flight needed this afternoon. Permission is needed from aviation authorities and our MAF boss, so through many phone calls, Jason plays some Lego with Sam, eats some lunch, but then leaves again with cake in hand for afternoon tea to fly to Suai again. Kim decides rest time is in order, so she relaxes on her bed, while she watches Jason twist and turn on the plane tracker on the computer, dodging clouds trying to get to Suai. The weather is too bad and the clouds too low this time and he has to return to Dili. Plans are made to try again tomorrow. Jason comes home and we decide to make the most of the grey cooler weather and walk along the beach to a favorite pizza restaurant for tea.

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Monday

Jason is off to the airport for his flight to Suai, as well as leading the MAF Timor-Leste safety meeting, which happens by Skype regularly. p1100478smallSam heads off to school. Kim and Deborah (another MAF wife) have plans to create a toy library today for the families who attend the disability centre in Hera, where they volunteer each week. For several months, we have been collecting donations and buying some toys to create a library of toys that can be borrowed by the families. This is a new idea and so we are hoping it will help to reinforce some of the skills and knowledge we teach each week, but also provide them with some toys to play with, as many of the children have very few toys at home. So we organised, recorded and photographed toys. We shopped for some extra things we needed, like a borrowing folder, some white boards and bags to store the toys in. We left with to do lists for each of us! Sam comes home from school. Jason comes home from work and a soccer game begins on our front porch between them both.

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Tuesday

Sam heads off to school for his first school excursion ever. They are going on the BIG bus to the deaf school as his class is learning about communication at the moment. Jason and Kim have a lazy day! Tuesday and Wednesday are Jason’s weekend, so it’s nice to just stop! We go out for lunch…. just because we can! Talk! Do you have a ‘must talk to hubby about’ list? I often do, and it’s on these Sam free days off that we can actually talk about these bigger issues, dream, plan and find “wow, you were thinking that too?…. so was i!” on various issues.

Wednesday

Sam heads off to school, with a lunch order today. Kim’s busyness has meant no scrolls at the moment. Thankfully lunch orders at school are yummy and cheap! Kim heads off to Hera. Time for the “wheels on the bus” and “if you are happy and you know it” in Tetun, lessons on the letter U and finger printing.

p1100705small p1100687smallJason is left at home for a day off, which ends up in a ride on his motorbike up the side of a mountain, calling into Hera to see Kim on his way. He took some cool photos and gained a motorbikers tan along the way. Sam comes home excited with three new readers, one even a Batman one.

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Thursday

Sam heads off to school eager for library day! Jason is off to work and Kim enjoys a cup of coffee in the silence, while she finishes a book on her kindle. Oops now late, she needs to rush around, get dressed, hang out washing and get ready in a hurry for a day of errands. Deborah and I head off to the shopping centre to see how many jobs we can tick off our to do list. Get pages of photographs of toy library toys and Hera kids faces printed. Buy some toys to add to the toy library and as a small Christmas gift for the Hera kids. Five shops later, and still not a realistic priced baby doll to be found. Both feeling tired and over it, we realise it’s lunch time, so a sandwich is in order. Off to the supermarket to buy some storage boxes for Hera, one for our kitchen and a little grocery shopping. Zucchinis are in stock! Woohoo! Now to the airport, to print a letter to request permission for the students from Hera to visit the MAF Hangar next week. Deb and I are organising an excursion and picnic lunch for the students. Letter printed, delivered to the airport authorities, towels put in hangar for care packages, current number of care packages counted and hang out with husbands for a bit. Off to the pool to swim some laps. Just make it home before Sam’s school bus. Laminate photographs. Assemble the bags of toys for the toy library.

Not all weeks are like this one…. but it gives you an idea of our lives here!