Life in Timor

Friday, February 04, 2005

10 days in Oecusse

I am back from another field trip. Which would have to be ranking up the top. There were a few Oxfam staff who visited a district called Oecusse, an enclave in East Timor, which is situated in the west and actially surrounded on 3 sides by Indonesia, and the other side by water.
Oxfam were running a nutritional program due to some recent surveys showing relatively high levels of malnutrition in children aged from 6months to 5 years. The program involved us visiting a small community in the mountains in Oecusse. Absolutely gorgeous. You are surrounded on all sides by mountains, but very basic aswell. Within each cluster of houses, there is a communal water source, electricity isnt available, and the housing is a mixture of tin roofs and bamboo stalk walls, to the traditional style houses with the thatched roofs going all the way to the ground.
Each morning certain mothers and thier children would gather and we would conduct nutritional programs. Which basically meant a group feeding session, intertwined with health messages. The approach used is called 'Positive Deviance', but i will save that explanation for anyone who wants to know, rather than mumbling on. But of course if anyone is interested for more onfo, just ask.
I was lucky enough to stay with a timorese family for a few nights aswell. Sleeping on tarps, attempting to comunicate in Bahasa, gathering water and attempting to help out with the meals made up most of the afternoon. It was interesting to see how close they are to the land. For example, to have a meal, you have to pound the husks off the rice, sift the rice to leave only the 'white bits' then do the usual cooking. The vegetables are picked from the garden or surrounding area- mainly pumpkin leaves or cassava leaves mixed with salt, and then if meat is on the cards, you do it yourself of course.
It was funny actually, a few mornings before we left, they were preparing a party for us, so i saw one of the eldesmen of the community grab himself a spear, saying, 'i am going to hunt pigs'.
Within the family, there were a few small children who had relatively bad foot infections, one child has burnt her foot, the other had stepped on a thorn and gone a fair way through her toe. There wasnt much in the way of medicines or antibiotics around, except for an orphanage about an hours walk away. The children were struggling walking with their infections, so two of us ended up carrying then to the orpganage. This orphanage is run by an american priest who has been here in timor since the 1960's, so needless to say he is definately regarded as one of the community. He also took part in physically defending the orphanage when it was attacked by the Indonesian military.

The village also put on a party for us on the last night. Which involved someone bringing a tape recorder and some older tapes. THe elders of the village (called 'catuas adat'), asked if i would like to share a drink with them to celebrate. Of course my initial thoughts were of a good cultural experience as these guys hold the traditional authority in the community and i am hoping to return there for study later on. Yet after one drink of locally made quite strong alcohol, i realised that i couldnt leave 'the cicrle' until it was all finished- 2 litres. Not the best result the next morning obviously.

I am hoping to sort out how to put up some photos on this site for you to see, as its definately worth having a look at the community, and the countryside.

Back in Dili now, which is nice. Yet there have been some strong health warnings by the ministry of health (this was done by driving around in cars with loudspeakers). Dengue has quite a large presence in Dili, and over 80 people have contracted it, a few friends and the Youth ambasador manager, so we all have to be abit more careful in regards to keeping the mossies off us.

Other than that, back to the life in dili. My supervisor arrives back from Aceh later on today, so i look forward to some interesting chats and the health is fine.

Now that i am back in communication, ill catch up with you over a personal email aswell, but dont hesitate.


  • Very interesting indeed, looking forward to the many and varied photos. Glad to hear all's well.

    By Blogger stephs, at 10:57 PM  

  • Heya Jungle Boy,

    Sounds like quite an amazing field trip- glad you enjoyed it!

    Good News- Cuba is happening. Managed to rope someone it to come with me. Can't wait.


    By Blogger George, at 6:34 PM  

  • Howdy James,i see you enjoyed getting 'back to basics' in Oecusse. I knew you'd love it there. It would have been quite a long hike to the orphange, and hot, good work!!! The American Priest would have been great to speak with. Keep on lathering on that mosquito repellent. i'll write you an email tomorrow, well you know me, i'll try!!!!

    By Blogger Leah, at 12:34 AM  

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