Water is Life

In the West we buy water that’s more expensive than gold, while the runny stuff coming out of our taps is free from bacteria.  OK, so I believe that we should filter all those nasties out that the Govt is so happy to put in, but we don’t need to buy a plastic bottle of water. We all just do – it’s habit.

There’s no shortage of exquisite waterfalls here but not many are not safe for drinking

Here, in Timor-Leste, just as in many other developing countries, people drink whatever they can lay their hands on.  Stomach problems are part of everyday life and therefore so too is dehydration.  It takes a very short time for someone to die of dehydration and it’s a familiar sight, tragically.

The progress in clean water delivery is worth celebrating, though.  On a daily basis we hear of someone working on fixing this problem, for the long term. It’s sometimes as simple as fixing a well or a bore, other times it’s the laying of pipe. More complex solutions such as those in WASH (Water Sanitation & Hygiene) programs out there are making a big change too, as they also try to prevent the contamination of the water source in the first place.  Brian’s employer, Engineers Without Borders https://www.ewb.org.au/, is involved there and achieving great things, as are many others.

This water thing is close to our hearts as Brian is happily involved in the ‘clean drinking water’ project called Bee Lafaek (translates to Crocodile water, crocs being revered here, nothing to do with the water having crocodiliac properties 😉   You can see more here https://www.facebook.com/beelafaek/ but it’s a beautiful thing to be involved in and the extra bonus is that it’s an Australian product being used, and it’s good – it works.

Rain here is a double-edged sword: water needs to fall from the sky to sustain life yet when it does, illness often follows. I often ask “are you sick?” and they simply reply “Udan, Mana”, meaning “it rained, Sister”.  Rain brings soggy yards, contaminated water and a range of illnesses.  While we malae (foreigners) celebrate the relief it brings, many Timorese see it differently.

Also, imagine when the rain refuses to stay ‘in the great outdoors’: you are dripped on while sleeping and when you wake, your bed is in mud. Then the sometimes-deadly mosquitoes arrive…

Yesterday a Timorese friend took my two sons and I to the Nazareth Foundation as we’d heard that they produce filter systems for household drinking water.  Her family, who lives in a remote mountain village, collects water daily.  That’s an understatement as the collection is quite a mission that can take many hours in extreme terrain.  Of course, the water has to be available (seasonal) and the end result is sometimes a jerry-can full of tummy-bug.  We can’t have that, as these people are our friends.  What we found at this run-down-looking industrial site nestled close to a bridge in Dili was a group of young men sporting huge smiles and an array of obvious physical disabilities.  Being deaf, I was sporting my own, and therefore entered the yard with a soft spot for these men who have obviously been given opportunity by the Nazareth Foundation to lead a healthy, productive life.  The yard is small and full of articles in various stages of production, eventually for sale; water filters being one of them.

such a thrill to meet these guys who are producing such a simple & affordable piece of life-saving equipment

My friend provided much needed language support as I stumbled through a Tetun conversation about filters, water and hope, generally.  The leader of this group tried so hard to talk in English which was where my Tetun was 6 months ago: now that is a real disability, not being able to communicate holds a person back more than any physical ‘difference’.  Saying that, our home country doesn’t look after the disabled anywhere near well enough but over there you’ll live an easier life with a disability, I believe.  Medical services here are a mix of basic and non-existent and add to that the lack of smooth footpaths and a fair degree of social stigma and you’re better off here not having something wrong with you (another understatement).  I feel privileged to be the customer in this yard, not the worker.  I can pop in my expensive & high-tech hearing aids and go about my day while the amputee or polio victim navigates slippery mud, rocks and uneven ground.  He will be wearing a big Timorese smile and a positive attitude; that’s an absolute given. It reminds me to wear mine.

Youth Smiles Without Any Reason

Youth smiles without any reason. It is one of its chiefest charms
Thomas Gray 1716-1771

This strikes a chord with Brian and I, and at the moment more than ever, as we both work with young people in Timor-Leste, a nation emerging from oppression and war.

Our oldest being befriended by 3 delightful high-school students who are out and about at Malae (foreigner) hangouts hoping to engage in conversation & therefore improve their English.

The majority of Timorese are under the age of 30, and it shows; just stand in the street as thousands file out of schools across Dili, resplendent in their squeaky-clean, distinctive uniforms.  They hold hands, laugh, unwittingly cause major

The flag: they proudly wave it, wear it, paint walls to resemble it.

traffic disturbance and simply shine with their energy, hope and well, youth.  They have the odds stacked against them for a successful career and financial stability but odds don’t come into it; they have heart.  There are simply too many of them for their paths to be an easy one.  There are also few employment opportunities, today.  The lucky few may get a chance to study in Indonesia, Europe or Australia although the majority will be competing with the tens of thousands of peers with similar education.  If statistics are to be believed, things are improving steadily for these young, soon-to-be-leaders of Timor-Leste.

The young guys Brian works with are wonderful young men, in their early 20’s, recently completing their studies in electrical, welding & plumbing trades.  My Dad once told me that young, innocent people have a glow that is simply joy for an older person to witness.  Brian and I must have slipped into the older demographic, as we truly find it a joy to witness.

The Kids & their mentor about to board their first flight to Australia, as part of their ongoing education. A truly special moment for all of us.

Brian refers to his students as “the kids”, with great affection, and they refer to him as “the big boss”.  At 6’4.5” his presence is felt in any room but it’s his gentle, unassuming nature that they like.

He has the patience of Job and the wisdom that getting involved and making mistakes gives a person.  Add to that a big heart and yes, I think that these young boys have a great Mentor.

I say, Mana you are ALWAYS smiling”. She grins broadly and says “Of course, Mana” (Tetun word for Sister, used to address a woman/peer).

The young people I am lucky to work with are also delightful. I bring the average age up by 20 years by being in the building.  I sound like a Nanna when I say that it’s difficult to not feel young around them, yet on some challenging days I feel old, out of touch and clueless, but they’re also feelings that keep me on my toes.

It’s election time in Timor. This is what a few hundred hopeful youth look like on the campaign trail. It’s the picture of happy chaos, provided no one gets upset with anyone else… but that’s fodder for a separate blog post.

As I type this I can hear the usual sounds from over the fence; Latin tunes like Duele el Corazon and Despacito.  These embody the spirit of the young people in Timor-Leste today and you won’t go into the street without hearing them.  Passionate, Portugese blood definitely flows through many veins here and throw in the affinity they have with Reggae and you have a pretty good feel for the tone of the place.

The Timorese can move and groove and despite their shyness they’re quick to respond to a beat or a strum of a guitar.  In the corridors at work I constantly hear them sing as they walk towards the coffee pot or return from a meeting. If the power goes out, which it does often, out comes the guitar and they all adjourn to the verandah for a singalong.  Their bodies begin to move and their faces light up with smiles, as my skin tingles.  I hope they never sacrifice this joy for a serious workplace like we endure in “developed” countries.

This is the fresh face that I met one day in a village, as he was walking home from school with his mates. I wish my Tetun language stretched beyond 5 words at the time….