Letters From the Field: Farewell Donna

Letters From the Field: Farewell Donna

Donna Furler has returned to Adelaide after working as a Dental Hygienist in Bakhita, Timor-Leste for two years.

It’s my last week at Bakhita and it’s going to be very sad but also very special as I say my goodbyes. It feels strange knowing that I’m only here for another four nights, the place where I have spent most of my time over the past two years with people who I now call my close friends and family in Timor. I’m really saying goodbye to a way of life that I’ve learnt so much about and have grown to accept and feel so comfortable with. In the beginning, it was so strange and I was way out of my depth. Now, I have gained a deep understanding of the Timorese culture and have met some wonderful people. I have become a daughter of Eraulo, Bakhita. When a Timorese gives you a traditional tais like in the photo at right it is a sign of connection between you and them, or you and their family. The full tais outfit shown signifies me as a daughter of Eraulo. It is the traditional clothing worn when a woman is married.

Palms Australia volunteer Donna and Rosita in Timor-Leste

Tonight I went to Rosita’s house for dinner and to say goodbye to her and her family. Rosita is a health worker from the clinic, we work together every day in the dental room. Rosita works as a dental assistant and has learnt to clean teeth and do dental screening. She has become a very close friend, it was really hard saying goodbye knowing that I won’t see her again for a very long time. Rosita is not working this week as she needs to travel to the village where her husband was born to participate in a traditional ceremony where their ancestors are remembered. The celebration is called Lian. Depending on where you fit in the family you need to either take a cow or a pig, if you take a cow you receive a pig. The animals are killed and the meat is distributed between the family members. It’s an incredible few days of celebration, people travel so far to participate and a lot of money is spent. Last week in a nearby village called Madede, Lian was held and more than 25,000 dollars was spent. People are expected to give what they are asked and if they can’t they go into debt to other family members. Cultural tradition is important, but apparently this tradition has changed in the last ten years with the change in the economy. Today there is more money exchanged, people have less livestock so need to buy cows or pigs in order to give them. In the past, people had many, many cows, so to give one wasn’t a problem as they would have more calves the next year. It can be very destructive, leaving families with little money for school fees, food and clothes. Many people don’t really agree with aspects of this tradition, but they must follow it.