|2nd Visit - April 2006|
Towards the end of my two weeks in Dili in October 2005, I had anticipated the inevitable question. Would I come back again? This was a tough one! I am unemployed, could I justify the expense of another visit to my family? What could I do to make it worthwhile, since computer maintenance was limited? When the question did come, I could only reply “I do not know, you will have to ask God for the answer”.
In the months that followed I wondered, was my enjoyment of teaching and all the great experiences just a novelty? What one would classify as a honeymoon experience. Should I go again and find out? I could almost hear him saying to me. “My other self! Are you brave enough to wipe my blood, smeared face? Where is, my face? You ask. My face is in those who are in need and who look to you for help, and there I look to you, to wipe away our blood & tears.” My reply “I know what you are asking! but it is hard. I pray to you, give me the strength to not turn my back in fear.” “My other self! I will not let your burdens grow one ounce too great for your strength. If you will carry my cross with me, then I will carry yours in return.” My reply “let me show your people not your bloodied, but kind and gentle face in mine.”
He had already done more than help. For the greater part of my life, I had carried the very heavy cross of mental illness. Looking back there were many places where there were only one set of footprints in the sand, then he took this cross from my back. I was given a new medication, which had cured me completely. I had wondered what purpose there was in my suffering a dreadfully painful illness, where going into a crowded room invoked such fear that a normal person would need to face the Roman gladiators arena to experience it. Mental illness is not even understood by those who suffer it, let alone others, but I had come through now with some understanding of the suffering of others. As a young person I was withdrawn and extremely nervous when spoken to. Occasionally kind and sympathetic people would take the time and trouble to talk to me. So I always remembered from the Bible. ‘When I was in prison you visited me!’ I owed the children of East Timor at least this much. The question was what else could I do to make myself useful? I had always been very interested in physics, with a bit of brushing up, I should be able to teach it. And of course there is always English. The young people know that English is becoming the universal language and that it is important for them to learn. When I arrived in Dili and saw Fr. Justin, who was one of the people that I had told to ask God if I would come back. His face broke into a bright smile and he said. “God said ‘yes!”
Baucau is a fascinating place, it is situated about 5km from the sea, but is on the edge of a giant limestone dome and is about 300m above sea level. There are giant rocks with lush vegetation growing on and around them with springs and waterways meandering everywhere down to the sea. They also supply water to the many rice terraces on the way. On the weekends we would walk to the beach, then either catch the mikrolet, which is a small bus that my 6ft body could not sit up strait in. Alternatively one of the Padre’s would come and pick us up, if they were not too busy. On one occasion when the Padre was late we decided to catch the mikrolet. After a short distance we spotted the Padre and there was a clamor for me to get out, as I was nearest the door, but when the mikrolet stopped, an attractive young lady hopped in and sat next to me blocking the way. With an outboard motor between my feet and my head almost between my knees, I was unable to move. However eventually they understood and let us out. That evening at mealtime I said to the Rector Fr. Polomo, that I had a ‘confession’. A young lady had sat next to me on the mikrolet and I did not want to get out. Padre asked me if it was physical or psychological. I replied that it was both. They all enjoyed the joke, adding to it by saying that she was better looking than the Padre that was picking us up and it was all right as long as I did not touch. These people love to laugh and mostly to play music and sing. Sometimes in the evening one of the Padre’s would bring the young people, he would play the keyboard while they sang. To me it was like the pied piper, I would come from my room and sit with them. Afterwards, we would pray the Rosary before supper.
At the school I wanted to take many photo’s of the students, but they are very shy and would try to hide or look away, so I had to learn to be sneaky and pretend that I was looking somewhere else and then snap them when they were not expecting it. This was quite the opposite to the street children who would run up repeating photo, photo and then they would break into a toothy grin when I showed their picture on the viewer. I liked doing this, as they would put their tiny hands on mine to steady the camera. One weekend we visited a village called Venilale, in the mountains. I love mountain scenery and walked the whole afternoon taking pictures of the magnificent limestone crags and escarpments. No matter how remote it became, I never ran out of smiling children, saying “photo, photo”. On one occasion when on a dusty ridge, I heard a roaring sound like an engine. I turned to see two boys running to me, their legs where going so fast that they raised a trail of dust behind them. On another occasion I saw a woman washing a small boy in the open. It was morning and quite cold in the mountains, but the boy made no protest and seemed not to even flinch. The mountain life has made some of these people very tough, but has not deprived them of their gentleness and friendliness. Like many Asians they welcome strangers and although they have little they will share what they have wholeheartedly.
In my first solo lesson, teaching English, still tired from the adjustment to the heat and dramatic environmental change, my mind went blank and I thought ‘I cannot do this!’ I tried to let the students do private study, but they were so keen to interact, that they were not going to let me off so lightly. They tried to help me and gave me encouragement. One student said he would guide me with what was required of them to learn. By the end of two weeks with such easy to work with people, I had mastered it! I was told that teaching here was mostly acting and being a clown. Although students are well behaved and co-operative, they stay up late talking and playing music. This makes them often lose concentration and either talk or daydream. When they did not understand a word, I preferred to leave the Indonesian dictionary where it was and imitate popular TV game shows by acting until they all said in unison “Understand” If someone still did not pay attention, all I would have to do is walk up to them and ask them a question and then answer it for them. This kept them attentive.
I had many lovely experiences. When sitting in a classroom observing, prior to my own classes. There were two girls sitting in the front row. At various times one or the other would look at me and when I made eye contact their faces would break into a brilliant smile. I could feel the room fill with my Fathers love. It reminded me of an excerpt from one of my religious stories. ‘All seemed to be lost for Cindy, but suddenly there was a flash of ultra violet radiation, a hole appeared in the Dark Princes domain. Rainbow light flooded in revealing two girl angels with powerful blue halo’s.’ Alone in my room, when I thought about this, I once again was overcome with emotion and cried at their beautiful innocence.
In the morning, before class, students walk the school grounds picking up litter. They do this in same sex pairs holding hands. It is a common sight to see students holding hands. For me to go to one of the Priests and put my arm around him and give him a hug seemed natural, a thing I would not think of in Australia. The Priests are hard working and often tired and stressed. They see a lot of sad things. Children who have lost parents to violence. The sick and the dieing, from tropical, third world disease, starvation and lack of medical facilities. A hug is a small thing, but means a lot. The Catholic faith receives much criticism, but if the media gave as much time to the good things done by missions, their newspapers would be full every day. They told me stories about my friend Fr. Palomo. During the occupation, he would approach leaders of the Indonesian Militia with human rights complaints. This was at the risk of being taken away and killed, but instead had positive outcomes. He told me how on one occasion bringing food and supplies to the parish they were held up by Militia thugs who would have killed them had not a rider gone past on a motorcycle making them afraid incase he reported their actions. Fr. was praying for the Holy Spirit to save him, so now we know the Holy Spirit can ride a motorcycle!
During my stay, one of our parish priests, Fr. John O’Kelly came to spend a few days with us. The value of his visit was worth his weight in gold. I could see that this man of God made an enormous impact on the students and community of Baucau. No doubt when he relates his experiences to the community of Bairnsdale it will result in a further strengthening of the bond between our two countries. On one of our trips to the beach we came across a mother whose child had fallen over. When we gave sympathy to the child she, in a very clear and intelligent English, remarked “How kind Australians are!” I informed her that Fr. John was a priest from Oz. He spoke with her and gave her a kiss. I thought to myself, she will carry that kind message from Australia to her grave. How proud I felt, for my country!
Although there is a lot of violence at the present time. It involves only a tiny proportion of the population. The vast majority, are spiritual, gentle people. Many are also very intelligent. It is a pity that some of the common people cannot be the ones to run the country. It would progress rapidly. When driving, the road rules are that there are no rules. The horns go continuously, but they are used as they should be. Just to let others know they are there. I never saw a horn blown in anger. The roads are so narrow that drivers have to blow their horns on corners to let traffic coming the other way know they are there. It is also shared by pedestrians some of whom would be pre-schoolers. The extraordinary thing is that they are alert and stay clear of traffic, which misses by centimeters. It is necessary to keep watch behind, as there is not sufficient room for vehicles to pass and for pedestrians. The children step to one side. To add to the melee, the road is cluttered with dogs and chickens, yet nothing ever seems to get hit. We in Australia could learn a lot from Countries like East Timor.
answer to the question of will I go again? A part of me has never
really left this island of people, who are so beautiful, both
physically and spiritually, yet have suffered so much hardship. I
said to them on my departure. “You are my friends. I have been
shall always be yours!”