South to Suai

In mid-November, before the rains came, we set out from Dili over the mountains through Gleno, Ermera, Letefoho, Atsabe, Bobonaro, Zumalai and down to Suai on Timor’s south coast, then back home via Same (pronounced Sah-may), Maubisse and Aileu. With Pat at the wheel of our rented Toyota Landcruiser 4WD, and Kiwi volunteers Del and Tony by our side, we hurtled 500km in four days at an average speed of 20km an hour. Along the way, we encountered dire roads, a harsh landscape, grandiose churches, hardy people, exuberant kids. Not a typical tourist jaunt but another fascinating glimpse into the rural lives of two-thirds of Timor’s people.

Click on the photo gallery below for the full story.


Grandfather Ramelau

Timor’s highest mountain, Ramelau, stands at an impressive 2963m, higher than New Zealand’s Mount Ruapehu. It’s revered by the Timorese as shown by its local name Tatamailau, which means ‘grandfather of all’. Fortunately, you can get most of the way up in a grunty 4WD if you have a stomach for bad corners. In mid-August, we climbed to the top to see the sunrise with fellow VSAers Del, Tony and Julia. Click on the first photo for a slide show of our trip, including a shopping expedition at the Maubisse market on the way home.

PS Dili Dally will be on hold for a few weeks while we’re in Boston visiting our son Liam and his fiancee Aurora. We’ll be back in October.

Until then, haree dalan/take care


The tais that bind

I got a rare chance to observe the ancient art of weaving tais (pronounced ‘ties’) when 10 women from Oecussi – a small Timor Leste enclave surrounded by Indonesia  – brought their skills to Dili recently.

Grupa Feto Fitun Fronteira (The Women’s Star Frontier Group) spent two weeks at the Xanana Reading Room showing visitors how they spin, dye and weave home-grown cotton into beautiful cloths, using techniques and designs handed down by word of mouth from their mothers and grandmothers for up to 2000 years. It’s part of a bigger project supported by two local NGOs, Timor Aid and the Alola Foundation, to preserve and promote textile development throughout East and West Timor.

This 15-year-old girl has learnt the mapa'uf weaving technique from her grandmother. The back-strap on her loom maintains the cloth's tension but can cause painful pressure for the weaver.

This 15-year-old Oecussi girl has  learnt traditional tais weaving from her grand-mother. Scroll down for a full photo gallery.

I went back to the uma mahon (shady house) at the Reading Room several times, drawn by the women’s skill, patience and teamwork, not to mention their fortitude in sitting straight-backed on thin mats for long spells, legs stretched out under their looms.

The art of tais is performed only by women, often as a social activity that provides income, binds communities and underpins many cultural practices. The fine cloths are used for ceremonial occasions, everyday wear, decoration and as objects of exchange. These days, as weavers cater to modern demands, you can buy tais handbags and scarves, shoes, book marks, place mats, cushion covers – in fact, almost anything you can think of  –  in a bewildering array of designs, patterns and colours unique to each of TImor’s 13 districts. 

Many modern tais use synthetic dyes and cottons. However, the Oecussi group’s goal is to preserve the old ways, time-consuming and labour-intensive as they are. As with many indigenous communities  – including Maori in New Zealand  –  traditional weaving is in danger of dying out, a process hastened in Timor by the wholesale destruction of people, materials and cultural knowledge during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

The Oecussi enclave has the most diverse range of tais production techniques still left in the country. The women of Grupa Feto Fitun Fronteira, the guardians of this sacred heritage, are fighting for its survival. To see their craft for yourself, click on the first photo below and scroll through the photo gallery.

To’o tempu oin/Till next time


Christmas in Timor

Christmas is a big deal in Catholic Timor. On the side of the road In every village and neighbourhood, young people build Prezepiu (Nativity scenes) that include life-size religious figures, coloured lights and music. Once the Prezepiu is completed, they guard it round the clock until 6 January, proudly welcoming visitors, photographs and contributions.

Church, family, food, singing and dancing are the staple ingredients of Christmas Day here, with thousands of people travelling from Dili to their home districts on rickety buses and motorbikes.

Tomorrow we join the exodus home to family and friends in New Zealand. Thanks to all of you who have followed our blog this year. We greatly  appreciate your interest, comments and support. We’ll be spending a month recharging our batteries before returning to Timor towards the end of January 2014. In the meantime, click through these photos that capture the spirit of Christmas in Dili.

Feliz Natal/Happy Christmas

Pip and Pat

From rescued to rescuers

A chance to repay the kindness of the Timorese after our car broke down on our Mount Matebian trip three weeks ago came sooner than expected.

Tony, our guide Guido, Pat, Pip, Julia and Del at the entrance to the Loi Hunu caves.

Tony, our guide Guido, Pat, Pip, Julia and Del at the entrance to the Loi Hunu caves.

We spent last weekend at Loi Hunu, south of Baucau, with Julia, Del and Tony, three other Kiwi volunteers. It’s my favourite place in Timor with impressive limestone caves and a beautiful river hole (see my Gals’ Weekend blog).

On Sunday afternoon, as we were contemplating another swim, there was a loud crash. Everyone in the village went running through the trees, followed by Julia and me. To find out more, click on the photos below.


Matebian, mountain of souls

The climb to the top of Mount Matebian is the toughest day walk I’ve ever attempted – lucky I didn’t know that when we started. The name of Timor’s second highest mountain means ‘Mountain of Souls’. It’s a sacred place where Timorese believe the spirits of their ancestors reside. Pip’s Tetun teacher warned her that terrible things might befall us if we ‘greeted’ any animals or pointed out the scenery.

Sometimes Matebian is referred to as the Mountain of Death. Japanese forces, who occupied Timor during World War II, created a vast system of caves and tunnels in the area for their camps and arsenals, and killed many people there. The Indonesians did the same when the mountain became the stronghold of Falintil, the Timorese resistance movement. After the Indonesian invasion in 1975, around 20,000 Timorese took sanctuary on Matebian, among them the parents and grandfather of a workmate. Staying on the lowlands meant accepting Indonesian rule, he told me. But after three-and-a-half years, hunger forced his family down off the mountain.

With this history in mind, we set out one weekend in October with Kiwi couple Paul and Liz Fitzmaurice, and Abrau, a Timorese student who I’ve met through teaching English. Click on the photo gallery below to find out more.


Our neighbourhood

Living in our suburb Bidau Mota Klaran is like living in the country. It’s on the east side of Dili, only five minutes walk to a busy intersection. But here you’re more likely to hear roosters and pigs than car horns and revving motorbikes. Here’s a few pics to help you get acquainted.

Our driveway with an average-sized pothole just waiting for the next rain.

Our driveway with an average-sized pothole just waiting to fill up in the next rain. Normally a dog sleeps in the middle of it, only moving at the last minute for the motorbike.

Behind our house a big boy uses a big, pink comb to give a little boy a spiky hairdo like his own.

Behind our house a big boy uses a big, pink comb to tease a little boy’s hair into a spiky hairdo like his own.

School girls coming down our street

School girls walk down our street: our driveway is on the left beside the log. There are no street names or numbers which would explain why we haven’t had any mail yet.

Our street and river

The river runs alongside our street. Taxi drivers don’t like the street because they’re likely to lose a chassis in the deep pot holes.

Poorer housing on the other side of the river.

Poorer housing on the other side of the river.

Little boys playing in the river and the rubbish

Small boys play in the river and the rubbish. They catch crawlies and little fish in plastic bottles. Pat says it reminds him of many happy hours he spent in the Waiwhetu Stream as a boy.

Friendly Timorese kids: 'Hi, malae (foreigner)'

Friendly kids are everywhere in Timor. They call out ‘Hey mister’ (to men or women) and ‘Hi, malae (foreigner)’

To get to town, turn left at the bridge.

To get to town, turn left at the bridge.

Then follow the people walking to Mass

Then, if it’s Sunday, follow the people walking to church.

This Catholic church round the corner from us was built with Spanish soccer star Renaldo's money. Mass is so popular on Sunday morning that it's broadcast onto the street for all those who can't fit inside.

The lovely Catholic church round the corner from us was built with Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo’s money, we’re told. Mass is so popular that it’s broadcast onto the street for all the people who can’t fit inside.