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.

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Banshees in Baucau

The Aussie girl’s arm was still swollen. A few days earlier, she’d been bitten by a giant centipede while she slept at the Pousada, the imposing pink hotel built during Portuguese times in Baucau. She’d woken screaming and seen it scuttle away. It was about 10 inches long, she said.

Baucau's pink Pousada built by the Portuguese in the 1950s

Baucau’s pink Pousada, built by the Portuguese in the 1950s, has a sad history as a place of Indonesian torture.

The young woman’s Timorese colleagues extracted some of the centipede’s venom, then took her to hospital. Continue reading

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

Burials and bingo

On a hot afternoon about two months ago, a humble black flag appeared at the gate of our family compound. Visitors started streaming down the driveway, the men in black shirts and trousers, the women in black dresses and headscarves. Many carried small white boxes.

Death of Eusebio's uncle IMG_0377web - Copy

A black flag at our gate marks the death of our landlord’s uncle.

We learnt from our landlord Eusebio that his uncle had died. The white boxes contained candles to light up his shrine. His uncle was 97, Eusebio said. This seemed incredible in a country where the average life expectancy is 67.

Continue reading