Well I am sitting down, forcing myself to write this. I’ve been back in my community in Perth Western Australia for about 2 months – I guess that’s long enough. The title is a lame attempt to sum up what the content of this entry is – you know like titles used to. I’ve not written for a while a number of reasons; writers block call it.
My wife and I were refused entry to the UK in early September, this event adding further interest to our Sabbath year. (We have been involved in a car accident, were in Melbourne at the time of ‘Black Saturday’, an old friend was murdered, we were not paid for work we did in Australia … I’m sure theres more)
Our experience at Heathrow was another first. We came to the gate at about 6 am local time and after a short conversation were placed somewhere for special people – in detention. After 4 or so hours we had a secondary interview and then told of our imminent return to our last port – Singapore, a cool 12 hour flight.
There was this sense in rubbing up against a beast, so large that even if we pushed with all our selves we would not move it. We resigned ourselves to returning. The beast was the UK’s Home Office.
The Home Office said that we were lying about our intention to come for a holiday for 5 months – that we were going to work. I’m a nine on the enneagram (I think) so I’m great at seeing other people’s point of view. I can see a little of what they meant, in our lack of preparation.
But, they wouldn’t let us access the internet to prove our cash resources, didn’t give us independent advice about our options, were not transparent about either processes or laws and relied on theories of what people will and will not do. I’m white and my first language is English and I was confused and frustrated by my treatment. I cannot begin to imagine the experience of others who were there. We met with people who were arbitrarily detained from Africa, Sri Lanka, and Brazil all of who were allowed in after some hours (their visas were fine only the staff took a disliking to something). Spending time with them was great, we would try to comfort them, explain things to them and talk with them.
Our experience of Timor Leste in brief.
I’ve been to poor countries before. I did a few months learning about poverty in India in 2004 and spent a few weeks in Timor Leste in 2006. But this trip was a little different.
To start with it was for 5 months. Also, we, Amy and I had not previously spent significant time amongst the poor in a poor country.
Timor is an amazing and beautiful country. Its extensive cliffs and severe mountains are matched in tone by its years of colonial neglect, oppression and blood. It is the most mountainous country on earth – as a percentage flat to mountains. It is a country struggling to find its feet economically struggling to find its identity apart from violence.
We were able to learn the language – tetum – to an extent that enabled casual conversations with locals. With such a friendly population, I found this the most satisfying experience of our time. Walking down the street alongside an old man and talking about where he lives and what he does with his life. Our bothering to learn a relatively ‘useless’ language (spoken only in Timor, and mostly in Dili) left a positive impression on all we met.
Amy – a trained speech pathologist – spent a great amount of time with many organisations. Other than her time spent teaching English (which everyone wants to learn) she worked with a lot with children with disabilities. The level of education and understanding of issues around disability is surprisingly low, and there are depths of sadness that emerge from that. It strips people of power. Many Timorese, especially in the villages, do not name their children until they are six months old or so.
I spent most of my time getting hot and sweaty establishing a food garden. My training is in Permaculture. It’s a concept that I do because it fills me with hope for the future. It is certainly about a rethink of the way that we produce food and the way that we structure our economy. Its also a challenge to the concept of what is ‘good’ and what type of life we aspire to.
The food garden I worked hopes to educate people who come for care to the malnutrition centre and to help feed them. It uses pretty simple concepts in a way that Timorese can engage with – well that’s the hope.
Theres lots more at www.hiamhealth.org
We hope to travel again to the UK shortly, we’d love to meet some people and see some of the country. That is ofcourse visa pending…