The East Timor Diaries – Pre Departure

Soon, I will be heading into the Pacific to East Timor with a small bunch of students to spend a couple of weeks examining the “Development-Peace-Security Nexus” in post-conflict societies. I am expecting my ideals to be challenged, my worldview to expand and my brain to possibly explode from the truckload of readings and new theoretical concepts I am being introduced to.

I am excited. I am also freaking out a little, as continuing in my habit of getting sick at very inconvenient times I am currently melting from a slight fever and an incessant cough that is beginning to sound quite nasty. And so every time I get up to pack or study a little more I find the world spinning and shortly end up back in bed. Am frustrated and feeling a little overwhelmed about all I need to get done, but hopefully this cold/flu/bronchitis/whatever will run its course quickly and I’ll be up and at em in no time.

But I certainly can’t wait to get there. East Timor has captured my heart.

Quick History
East Timor. A land of breathtaking scenery, a wonderfully pleasant climate, and possibly the most resilient people of the world. Also a land of great suffering and hardship, East Timor sat under Portuguese rule for over 400 years, were briefly occupied by the Japanese during WWII, and after finally declaring independence in 1975, were invaded by Indonesia a mere 9 days later.

The world turned a blind eye as the occupying forces of Indonesia reeked havoc across the nation; pillaging, burning, raping, killing; it was a campaign of terror designed to subdue the East Timorese until they willingly submitted to Indonesian ‘integration’. Horrifically, approximately one third of the East Timorese population died from conflict related causes during the Indonesian occupation. Amazingly, the strength of the East Timorese did not wane and they continued to fight against Indonesian invasion both within the country and outside the country.

Their indomitable spirit paid off when following the fall of the Suharto regime, President Habibe called for a referendum in East Timor; this would decide whether East Timor would become an autonomous state within Indonesia or not (consequently regaining their independence). In spite of the intimidation and violence by Indonesian military and Indonesian sponsored militia groups, an overwhelming 78.5% of the vote was against autonomy (that is, for independence) and East Timor was free once more. Sadly, the violence was far from over, as the angry militia and military went on a rampage – burning everything in their path as they retreated to West Timor.

Since then the nation has struggled to rebuild itself, and unfortunately East Timor now gets to carry the label of the poorest country in Asia (according to the HDI). The rapid UN led transition to democracy left many gaps in institutions and relationships of this nation and 2006 saw further violence erupt in Dili.

And so it is to this troubled but beautiful nation that I am flying off too…with a suitcase full DEET spray and spare shoes and little koalas to give away, but most importantly, with an open mind……I have so much to learn, about peace building, about nation building, about state building, about interventions, about ideas of development, about cultures and traditions, about…everything. I have a feeling I will come back with more questions than answers…


Unwanted Shoes

Why I am collecting shoes in order to take them with me to East Timor in 2 weeks:

My lecturer had an old pair of runners that he passed on to a farmer in Timor-Leste. I believe the convo went something like this…
“Here you are, at least they should be useful for you out in the fields.”
Farmer: “In the fields? No! This is my first pair in over ten years…I will keep them just for mass.”

Even though there is a secret part of me that dreams of living barefoot, I realise this really isn’t the best option in life…especially if you don’t have a choice, or live in a nation where parasites can enter your body through your feet. So feeling a little ridiculous that I have so many pairs of shoes just sitting in my closet, I am now clearing out and also collecting unwanted (but in good condition) shoes to take with me.

So shoes clogging your closet? Let me know!

Whoa, so am not as original as I thought.

So I just discovered I am not the only one living a life without icecream. This blogger is certainly a ilttle more focussed and proactive about finding non-dairy food alternatives. unlike my rambling blog. so want some dairy free recipes?? check it out.

and for your entertainment:

if this was tumblr. it would say photo reblogged this from planetuni. but it’s not. so instead, thanks planetuni for the inspiration.

Life update.

Hellooo peeps! Since I write such abstract and often mushy posts, here is what has actually been happening in my life.

In the last week or so I have:

– Experienced life as a child slave by making matchboxes on the floor for an evening. Slavemasters yelling, stomping, punishing, in between trying not to laugh it was actually a profoundly moving experience.
– Caught up with some long lost friends. Yay!
– Pulled out my rather unco african dancing moves at the unshackled concert (Rod and Zii where were you when I needed you!!)
– Played pin the tail on the donkey. And lost.
– Attended my last classes for the semester. Yay!
– Worked. and worked.
– Submitted assignments. Got better than expected grades on said assignments. (Hellooo HD’s!) Yay!
– Drank several litres of tea while doing said assignments.
– Watched a whole lot of movies/docos about Timor-Leste. Quickly falling in love with this country.
– Won movie tickets, a DVD and a $50 sports bra (what the?? the competition was for a holiday…) . Competition winning streak. Yea. Now just waiting to win my emirates return business class flights to london.
– Wrestled all over again with the fact that I am not currently doing the work I desperately want to be doing and telling myself to deal with it and be patient.
– Helped mum through another dramatic collapse. Brave soul she is.

Near Future:
– 1 exam,
– 1 presentation,
– 5,500 words to write (Then semester one = done. Degree = halfway done. Yay.)
– A car to get serviced
– Hair to get styled
– Many more poor neglected friends to attempt to catch up with
– Timor plans to make, readings to read, assignments to do (yes semester 2 assignments already! aargh)
– Semester 2 subjects to plan. Sooo excited about starting french. Stuck on deciding on my last elective. Field trip to Arnhem Land? Studying Asian economics?? African studies?? hmm decisions.
– Work, work work.
– a 25th bday party to plan.

There you go! updated. not so exciting ey. give me time. got big plans for my life. just taking me awhile to get there.

When solitude is too much.

The view from outside my room.

It had been another full, busy, new, exciting week early into my stay at the girls home in Guatemala. 5am starts, herding the 12 little girls off to the school bus, cooking (and burning) meals for 18 people each day, staff meetings that went for a million hours, herding the girls back from the school bus to the house, showers and homework and washing clothes and washing dishes and moderating turns on the one working bike and then crashing into bed at 10:30pm each night.

And it was on one of these evenings, when I had cooked and prepared supper, uniforms were laid out ready for the next day, when suddenly the house parents disappeared upstairs with their kids to their own private room for awhile and the girls ran off to their bedrooms to plan acts for the evening’s talent show.

Suddenly, I found myself standing alone in a pitch dark dining room.

I made my way outside and settled down on the top step outside my bedroom door. The metal door was cool upon my back, the breeze fresh on my face. Concrete wall to my left, barbed wire to my right; stars above, palm trees standing dark upon the horizon.

The universe spread out before me, tiny me, fenced in with barbed wire.

While embracing the chance to stop and catch a breath and ponder, as my hectic world suddenly ground to a halt I found myself alone.

So alone.

Solitude, and, isolation. Intense isolation. There were no tears. Just an intense realisation of the sensation of feeling entirely isolated. A sense of almost being trapped in a world completely by myself, disconnected from everyone.

I was alone. I needed to talk to someone. Laugh with them. Tell them what I feeling. Hug someone. Connect. It was so deep; the intensity shocked me.

Blame the long working hours, the fact that I was living at work, the weariness, the newness of my friendships, my poor spanish, the cultural differences and my lack of internet access or any sort of connection with the world outside of Chimaltenango; it certainly wasn’t that I didn’t like the work I was doing or that those I worked with weren’t amazingly welcoming and accepting.

It was just that circumstances had conspired against me to place me temporarily in a place of solitude.

In that moment, I realised…relationships – all types – really are the most important thing in life.

And yet also in that moment, I realised that on another level, each of us, to a certain degree, has to walk our paths through life alone.

And I also found that in the pain and intensity and emptiness of that moment, I was still so aware of the presence of something so much bigger than myself.

So I got up, tucked my iPod away, told myself it wouldn’t be like this forever, and went down to watch the talent show.

“Never forget…

…justice is what love looks like in public.
– Cornel West

The Waiting Game

Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander. – Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC.

I feel like a bystander.


I am spending my hours learning, reading, watching, and discussing conflict, wars, human rights abuses, poverty, and basically everything that’s wrong with the world.

And I am spending hours writing essays and preparing presentations on the topics….so that one single tutor can read/listen to them and mark them.


Massacres in Timor-Leste, endemic rape as a weapon of war in the DR of Congo, corruption in every government that exists, massacres (one last week!) in Guatemala, hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty, horrific treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, more slaves in the world than ever before – the world is a nasty place for most people who live in it.

And I am one of the lucky ones. But what am I actually doing about what opportunities I have for these issues?


I know I have chosen to devote the limited energy I have primarily to my studies so that in the future I can hopefully do something significant about some of these things. But I hate waiting – I feel such an urgency to be doing something concrete now – any injustice is too much injustice – any part of humanity suffering should mean we all feel their pain.

How can we incorporate strategic and change invoking activism into our every day lives filled with work and bills and sickness and housework and homework and family? There must be a way. Petitions and fair trade purchases and letters to MP’s barely scrape the surface…

Aaargh – the waiting game. I don’t like it. The clock is ticking.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.