Great people

They tell you to surround yourself with great people.  It struck me yesterday that we have.  Sitting at my flimsy little office desk I am as comfortable, inspired and energetic as I’ve felt for years.  There’s no big salary and no high-tech resources at my disposal.  There is, however, an abundance of amazing, talented and keen people. Our CEO is a volunteering Doctor from Australia and is a visionary with boundless energy. His wife is equally talented and generous beyond words. They’re also great fun, and great friends. We are all supported by some brilliant experts in their field of medicine, law, accounting and business, back in Australia.  Mostly though, having a common goal, they are all really nice people.  In our office there’s Mana (Tetun for sister) Lauren, a young Australian missionary Nurse who I am pleased as punch to call my friend. They threw out the mould when she was made. 

Mana Lauren (the crazy one in centre), training the trainers

To my left is a competent and kind (nice qualities I’m sure you’ll agree) Timorese accounts guru and to my right, a proud and strong Timorese Ops Manager who has not been caught yet without a big genuine smile on his face.  Most days there is one or two volunteer Doctors, from Australia & the UK lately, floating around and sharing what they know.  The rest of the 30-something staff are Timorese nurses, midwives, social workers & other health care workers who are share a passion for improving the health of Timorese people.  As young professionals they bring an energy that, if bottled, would be priceless.

A nurse, a Midwife/Trainer and our wonderful cook. We all eat lunch together each day.

They don’t have the preconceived ideas or crustiness that comes with middle-age but they have very little management experience. That’s where I come in: I’m mentoring them, sharing my experience and prehistoric business skills, but secretly I’m having stimulating cultural exchanges and a lot of fun that operating our own business couldn’t provide.

This lovely Dr (centre) and social worker (R) run a group on a remote island, educating & supporting Timorese women.

It’s the old cliché; from adversity grows great resilience and beauty.  My colleagues have endured hardship: it’s hard here to obtain a good education, even harder to secure employment and it’s generally challenging to stay healthy.  You might say we’re lucky to have them all as they are all made of great stuff.

Humour is a big part of our Timorese day. Some days we feel surrounded by giant, warm smiles and riotous giggles even when the odds of having a successful day are stacked against us e.g. the traffic is worse than usual, the rain is bucketing down, our expensive internet service has shot off to another continent, we have another dose of Dili belly and maybe missing someone ‘back home’.  Still, there’s someone laughing, and there’s no choice but to join in. 

The effervescent & kind Dr G getting the kids’ help in opening his Christmas present.

The Timorese have this wonderful affection for human interaction: a conversation is a treasured thing and should be as long as possible whenever possible!  When walking the whole 100m to work I am constantly meeting groups of school kids, all holding hands, giggling, chatting and passing the time happily.  They most likely have few material possessions and have probably felt their fair share of pain but they appear oblivious to that side of life. They are in the moment and they remind us to be in it too.

So here we are, surrounded by greatness.  We are supposed to be cruisers, yachties, gypsies, but we are here, happily by choice still in one of our first ports, enjoying this rare privilege.  The sea will wait.

another 20 people have joined us since this Xmas 2017 photo was taken

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Plastic Fantastic

I should get off Facebook.  My body temp rises every time I read posts from peeps who declare, like one person today, that people living in polluted places should pay for what they’ve done.  How can someone pay more than by having to live among pollution and sewerage?

The island that we’re on is small and does not, for valid reasons, produce  anything much other than Oil & Gas and very nice coffee. Most things are imported.  It is also the poorest country in South East Asia in which most people are living below the poverty line.  So, when someone needs a bowl in which to rinse their vegetables, they need something cheap. Introducing the lightweight, flexible, 100% plastic (most likely containing BPA) sieve, price 40 cents.

The 40 cent plastic sieve
With no alternative offered, this $1 plastic is a no-brainer (wine for scale, and for numbing the pain of buying another piece of plastic)

Next to it on the shop shelves is a pink plastic storage container, plastic plates, plastic tablecloth and some plastic utensils.  We also use one of these sieves as there is simply nothing else available.

When the several hundred thousand of these sieves wear out (soon, due to their cheap & flimsy nature) they will become part of the world’s refuse except that they will remain that way for up to 1000 years. Let not even start on the barrels of oil it takes to produce this plastic in the first place….

Today I purchased the same strong, plastic package of laundry detergent that most people in South East Asia would buy.  I’ve done a diagram of where this plastic goes. It’s not pretty.

Obviously that’s not the end of the packet’s adventure. We only hope that it doesn’t make it into the stomach of some harmless & beautiful creature.

We read the other day that 88-95% of the world’s ocean plastic comes from 10 rivers; 8 of which are in Asia.  Timor’s neighbour was one of the biggest contributors but the Yangtze, alone, spews more than 330,000 tonnes each year, into that ocean we sail on, swim in, and love.

“Recycle”, you might say. After all, Timor-Leste is an eco-paradise, so there’s a good incentive.  The sad reality is that at the present going rate per tonne for plastic scrap it will take a miracle for a recycling centre to be established here anytime soon. There simply isn’t the population to make the figures add up.

It’s too easy to stand high and mighty on our biodegradable soap boxes and berate people living in  rubbish-strewn communities (the styrofoam box could easily have come across from a neighbouring country in the current).  We can continue filling Facebook with unhelpful and unconsidered statements like the person’s I mentioned earlier.  This plastics problem, I agree, is massive. It’s systemic. It’s economic.  It’s disastrous. As long as there is poverty and too little education, it will be a worsening problem.  I don’t know the answer, I am no expert, but I do know what it’s NOT 100% from people behaving irresponsibly and treating their earth with neglect or the creatures in it with disrespect.  It’s the ill-informed and sometimes greedy Big-Decision-Makers who I’d start talking to first. They can install the systems and educate the people, gradually.  The average household here can’t buy a wheelie bin nor can it contribute to an expensive rubbish removal system.  The occupants are more likely to be worrying about the next meal or how they’ll afford to buy the next bag of soap powder.

The next time I gasp at the sight of rubbish on a gorgeous Asian beach I will spare an extra thought for the locals; those who wish they didn’t live among pollution and overflowing rubbish piles.  People usually don’t deserve what they get…

Bakery goods all come in plastic….
Donut, anyone? They’re in plastic too although it’s too fragile to use more than once.
so does fruit, with plastic ties on the plastic bags
The egg production guy might use an alternative package if there was one…
ditto for the Peanuts selling guy…..
Most homes, big or small, have more than one of these inexpensive Chinese chairs.  While they’re only a few bucks, that trend will continue.
This material is particularly nasty as it leaches unpleasant chemical into the apples if left on there too long.
Timor-Leste’s staggering beauty is worth protecting