Tuesday, November 30, 2010

True life

As if to confirm everything I'd learned and wrote about in this previous post, I got to take photos of a bunch of awesome stuff the just the very next day.

I left the house late and the sun was already blazing down. Walking past the nearby swamp, I noticed a few men casting nets. Despite the heat, I decided to turn around and get my camera.

The men were really nice, and were totally okay with me taking photos of them (I asked). After chatting with them about how their day was going and what they'd caught, they carried on fishing and pretty much forgot about me, allowing me to take a whole bunch of photos before I thanked them and left them later.

They're so incredibly skilful at throwing the net. It flares out perfectly with the flick of the...wrist? the arm? I can't even tell how they do it.

The sun was really intense. I was burning up just sitting there taking photos. It must have been tough working under the sun.

untangling a net in deep water

The water looks terribly dirty, but I ate fish caught in that "lake" at a friend's house and they tasted fine (actually great: they were boiled with chiles and Thai basil), I wasn't sick the next day either.


Pretty soon, my four favourite troublemakers showed up.

The little boy has taken to hugging and hanging on to my leg, and the rest of them are in stitches when I peel him off and hold him upside down. He's always super happy to see me around these days and constantly asks me to take photos of him.

Closer to town, I investigated some music I heard, and found a whole gaggle of kids in a tree, banging on cans and singing. They were shy at first, but after I showed them the first photo I took, they were excited for me to take more. They even let me shoot a video of them.

unfortunately, I'm having a lot of trouble uploading this video. Perhaps I will do it properly at a later date with a back-link to this post.

The fun continued until a grumpy old man showed up and took the lead singer and his sisters home.

lagi bibi

little baby goats
wake me up at five am
with wild jungle cries

Friday, November 26, 2010

Have courage

I've always liked a good photograph --I've even been awed and moved by them-- but I've never really understood the photography that goes into shooting a good photo. Everything that I snap that's remotely good is pure luck.

Just the other day, I was talking to Pyl, a French graphic designer who's recently got into shooting pictures and video, who's doing a movie here in Oecusse for EDC, an American NGO.

He's a good teacher and speaks about the subject very well for someone who's only been at it for a year or so.

I learned a lot of things about photography that I had never understood before and with it I found an appreciation for photography as a craft in and of itself.

Pyl showed me some awesome examples of what you can do with very simple cameras. To make short of it, photography is about balancing just three things: shutter speed, aperature, and sensitivity (also known as ISO. you can buy film in different sensitivity, but with a digital camera you can set it with the touch of a button).

All there is to photography is being able to use these three things to create the effects and lighting you desire.


The real lesson I learnt from him is how to be a good photographer. This, he in turn learned from a friend who used to do shoot photos for the UN. The whole trick is courage.

Counter to all intuition, you'll get better photos in most situations by being open and forward with the camera than trying to conceal it. A fair number of people don't mind being in photos, and others often forget that you have a camera with you if you sit with them for long enough. This allows you to get really natural shots of families working in the fields or sitting at home.

Also, your body language is much more natural and unsuspicious when you're not trying to conceal a camera. You might also be more likely to annoy people if they figure out you're trying to take photos without them finding out.

It's also possible to tell from peoples' body language whether they will be alright if you walked up to them and BOF! (French for "pow!") took a picture inches from their face.

Chances are, if they aren't comfortable, they won't even let you get close. Chances are, if you smile, you can get away with it (almost anything, really).

Also, a really good bet to fall back on is to ask: "bele sai foto?" Sometimes, it pays to be more aggressive: "sai foto, ya? okay obrigado!" The important part is being clear about what you want.


I spent last saturday morning on the road with Camilo, who works at FEEO. I took some photos from the back of his motorbike as we rolled on bumpy Oecusse roads.

We visited the welding shop to hurry them on the jobs we're having them do, and we drove around a bit, and bought some corn from the nicest old lady I've ever met (to use when we learned how to make corn shellers).

Alas! I was too shy and mentally tied up in the things that we had to do that I forgot to get good pictures of the two most important things: the nicest old lady ever, and Camilo. I didn't really get any good photos that day.

I promise I won't disappoint next time. I wrote you a haiku to make up for it. (scroll down)

bibi bebee

little baby goats
jumping around Oecusse
pooping everywhere

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Double feature

I'm not on my computer for the first time in a long time, so I can't include some recent pictures, but rest assured I'll put them up the second I'm able. I'm in Dili right now trying to import some stuff. It's complicated and slow.

To make things worse, some kids stole all my bananas this morning. They were really agressive, and pretty much accosted me and robbed me in broad daylight: I couldn't say no to them. Keep your bananas close in Dili, friends.


Since I don't have any pictures this time, you can enjoy a picture heavy blog I wrote for Kopernik, and another one I forgot to link to.

(I particularly like the title "post in translation")

Friday, November 19, 2010

still kicking

Been drinking (solar-irradiated) tap water for two days now, with no problems or discomfort.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sun sun sun, here it comes!

This is really turning out to be a week of innovation.

Despite the fact that I can proudly shower with the same amount of water as some American toilets flush with (1.5gal / 6l), I (still) wallow in misery and self-hatred at my use of plastic bottles.

Then, in what can only be described as epiphany, I realised that I can stop buying plastic bottles completely. I don't even need to buy water at all. I can solar disinfect all the water I need! After all, if there's one thing this place has, it's sun. I'm never going to buy any more drinking water, ever!

I can't believe I've known about this for so long but have never applied it. I'm starting today.

(In case any of you are worried about the whole plastic bottle business, turns out that PET bottles are safe for SODIS)


Here is the article text (from SODIS website)

Indian study confirms that PET bottles for SODIS use are safe

29th of June 2010 - Samuel Luzi

In India, already more than one quarter million people use the SODIS method to treat their drinking water. However, especially in India, reports on hazardous substances in PET bottles have caused uncertainty among users and prevent a rapid dissemination of the method. In particular the family of plasticisers has recently given rise to discussion. While no plasticisers are used in the manufacture of PET, traces of these substances have already been detected in mineral water from glass and PET bottles. In 2008, Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research examined the risks involved in the application of the SODIS method (Schmid et al 2008). A recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai with PET bottles from India now confirms the results of the Empa study: during the SODIS process, only very small plasticiser quantities are released in the water, and the WHO limiting values for drinking water are never exceeded. Therefore, the SODIS method does not constitute a health risk if applied correctly – the people in India can safely continue to drink their SODIS water.

Certificate from the Department of Civil Engineering, India [pdf]
Project Report, Department of Civil Engineering, India [pdf]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Best idea comes second this week

You might be familiar with the bucket shower: a very low-tech way of washing. In a place like Timor, barely anyone has a shower that sprays water-- only bucket showers. How it works is that you use a little plastic hand-bucket to lift water out of a large sink or barrel, and pour that water over your (soapy) self.

It's fun, and I like it a lot.


I know of a couple of other "bucket" showers... I used one kind at an army camp in Australia where water was scarce, and the shower was designed for great water efficiency: you would fill a two gallon canvas "bucket" from taps, and then hoist it overhead with a rope. A tap in the bottom of the bucket allowed you to release a shower of water to clean yourself with.

With this method, the cleanliness as a regular shower is possible while using very little water. You can get surprisingly fresh and clean by vigorously scrubbing under a small stream. Another advantage is that you can determine the exact temperature of your shower, which you cannot with the old school bucket method.


What I have invented today is a hybrid method: the bottle shower. I feel terrible about the number of plastic bottles I use here. Despite concerted attempts to drink as much (boiled) water as possible from the pitchers at restaurants and only to buy water in the most efficient size (can't drink from the tap here), I've still got a few big plastic bottles on my hands.

If you're thinking that what I do is to fill them up with water and than shower with them, you're absolutely right. It affords me not only better aim and flow rate control (it's easy while taking a bucket shower to dump out all the water from the hand-bucket and completely miss yourself, or to simply pour more than you intended) but also helps me keep track of how much water I use, by counting the number of bottles.


This is my contribution to the world today. You're welcome.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tumble jumble

I'm learning Indonesian and Tetun so fast it's crazy! Well, so fast my brain hurts anyway. I recently talked to a family and arranged to live in a room in their house (and expressed my profound gratitude) speaking only Indonesian (look, ma, no English!).

It's really curious how I'm learning Indonesian with a vengeance after not even trying in Bali. It really wasn't the language, I think Indonesian is great. It's probably because of how much less useful English is in Timor, as well as how much less people insist (like they do in a tourist town) on communicating with me in the language I feel most comfortable.

Usually, I like to try to pick up the local language if I'm in a place for awhile...


I've recognised a few distinct stages of this learning (at least for this non-classroom kind).

1. You start out writing every new word you know, and even sentences
2. Your learning accelerates and you find yourself unable to write down each new word because there are so many. Not to worry, so many of them are common-use words that you have no trouble remembering
3. You start to learn grammar instead of following patterns, and you start writing things down again.

There are stages after this one but I don't think I've ever got past number three yet.

Come to think of it, this is pretty close to the phases of learning how to dance as well...


I was thinking about all this language learning and devised a new system for proficiency, where your ability in a language is measured in years.

No more joking around that you "have the vocabulary of an eight year old". It's an accurate and useful statement to make!


For example, with English, I'm pretty seasoned, perhaps even an old man, although when I'm tired I'm about six years old.

-in Chinese, I'm maybe ten or so. Probably more like eight.
-in Spanish, fourteen or thereabouts

-in Indonesian, I'm about three years old (got all the food words, as well as yes, no, want, more, less, again and a few other auxiliary words). I'm getting older, I can make small talk with the landlady now, as well as with the folks at my favourite restaurant (out of all five of them) in town. I really like the main guy there, I can only describe him as a huge teddy bear -- he's big, gentle and really really nice, always smiling and singing or humming to himself, and constantly making jokes and laughing with people.

where was I?

-in Tetun, about one and a half...
-I plan to speak Portuguese one day but can't yet, so I'm a foetus. Ha ha! Due in a couple of years when I move to Brazil.


The best part about this system is that it doesn't involve keeping track of how many words you know and which grammatical hoops you can jump through, and it gives an accurate picture of your ability to use the language in practical settings.

It's easy to find out your proficiency, simply compare yourself to native speakers of various ages.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Some kind of mixture

If you're wondering what I do besides walking around Oecusse saying "wow...Wow... ...WOW!...WOWW!!" (..."double rainbow!!"). This country is intensely beautiful, really amazing people, living in green green rugged mountains and fields...

Here's a taste.

Here, and here are a couple of blog posts from Kopernik that give some insight into my daily activities and future plans.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

too cute

I just found out today the name in Indonesian for a corn cob that has no more corn on it.

It's "tulang jagung": bone of corn.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

tale from the hood

last sunday morning
played with some kids by the beach
we were shy at first

after skipping stones
we ran around for a bit
laughing and smiling

we sat in the shade
they played with my camera
i think we had fun

Aren't they the most beautiful children you've ever seen? They had just come walking down the beach with their dog...

I found recently that they live really near to where I stay. I walked by them on my way to work and gave them some bananas...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some kind of nature

It's been awhile, and the last week was busy. This post will be a little long.

I managed to get my visa paperwork figured out, and after a slow weekend in Dili, I now find myself in Oecusse (here's a page that talks about Oecusse, it's linked to an article about Timor too).


The main way to get between Dili and Oecusse is an overnight ferry, which is like taking a train in India, except more expensive, slightly more spacious, and with less variation between the most comfortable and least comfortable situations.

I was not surprised to find the ferry packed way over capacity, and ended up sleeping on the deck surrounded by Timorese who were also sleeping on the deck.

It didn't help my peace of mind that there were two lifeboats and a bunch of inflatable rafts whose cases were unsealed and weren't marked with previous or next maintenance dates, on a boat that had perhaps twice as many people as it should have on it. But I made it!

loading up the ferry at the dock

the lower deck, crammed full of stuff. the price of the ticket includes anything you can fit on the ferry along with yourself.

Not long after setting out, a man started talking to me, giving me my first chance to practice the local Tetun language I've been trying to learn. My pitiful vocabulary limited our conversation, but my faint understanding of Indonesian helped a little (people here mix Tetun, Indonesian and portuguese like red, green and white bowtie pasta). Maun --the word for referring to and addressing a man, lit. "brother"-- was very friendly, and offered to share his dinner with me.

upper deck scenes. besides sitting all over the place, you'll notice people sitting on top of the life raft cases and outside the safety railings.

It rained on the high seas, and I was fortunate that both my bags were waterproof. These later became pillows as I lay down on the deck after it had dried. After watching a cockroach crawl over a wall with nervousness and trepidation (there is nothing that more fills me with fear), tiredness took me and I fell asleep. It was just like sleeping on the floor of the Bangkok train station two years ago!

boa noite!


The sun is strong here in Oecusse, and the heat and humidity can get oppressive by the early afternoon, but the weather can be surprisingly comfortable with the cool sea breeze blowing. It's also been raining, which is uncharacteristic of this time of year.

welcome to the lost world. this is the view literally fifty yards from the building I stay in.

Oecusse is quite an undiscovered treasure. It has a stunning natural beauty (clear, unpolluted water and dark sand beaches), friendly residents, and fast internet. I don't think I've ever been able to amuse people so easily. All I have to say is "Bondia mana/maun" (good morning, miss/mister) and people burst into wide smiles and rapid speech I don't understand. They probably think I look funny.

This weekend I'm thinking of tagging along on a trip with some new friends who work with a local organisation, to go beyond the lush, steep hills that rise suddenly from flat ground a little way inland, and see the districts and villages further inside the enclave.


Last night, I followed Merita and FEEO staff to another NGO's office where they were celebrating loron feto: women's day. FEEO is the NGO that Kopernik is working with locally here: more on that real soon.

It was a little awkward at the "party", not being able to understand anything people were talking about or really talk to anyone. There were a few things that were neat to see:

-women and men talking loudly, laughing and interrupting each other
-women and men eating with hands from the same plate
-women and men drinking the same booze!

I realised that there was a pretty good representation of NGO's headed by women there: FEEO by our very own Merita, Centro Feto (the women's center), and the host organisation, FFSO, and that may have something to do with it.

A last, interesting observation, as the night grew darker, and the men put on some tunes crowded round to finish the booze:

-music from Timor sounds the same as music from Ghana sounds the same as music from Tanzania and so on...
-men from Timor dance like men from Ghana dance like men from Tanzania and so on...

Which is to say they dance well! Cute little gestures with their hands and heads, and very nimble dancing with their hips.