Palms volunteer Guida Cabrita writes of the excitement in returning home for Christmas, and finds the same excitement when heading back to her host community in Dili, Timor Leste.
When most people think of Christmas, they think of spending time with their family.
Family is really important in Timor Leste and the extended family is very tight knit, to the point where children call their aunts and uncles (depending on whether they are older or younger than their parents) big mum/dad (amaa/apaa boot) and little mum/dad (amaa/apaa kiik). Every time I go anywhere with anyone from Timor Leste, it is commonplace for them to pass by several cousins along the journey. I have to travel the globe to achieve a similar result.
So, when I let my community in Bedois, Dili know that I would be going back to Australia to spend Christmas with my family, they completely understood.
Back at home, after the initial jitters of driving at 100kms/h on a highway (you are hard pressed to drive past 40kms/h in Timor) and the sudden impulse to drink water straight out of the kitchen tap (running, drinkable water is not available where I live), I seemed to slot into Brisbane life as if I had never left.
I dressed in all my old clothes, went to all my old places, saw all my old friends and reconnected with family. I was run off my feet, but I wanted everyone to know that even though I live far away, I still think of them and that they are important to me and I wanted to tell that to them in person. I started a hug bank and every hug I received has been stored for use in difficult times!
Re-entering Western society wasn’t as confronting as I thought, although every now and then I did find myself marvelling at the small things such as running water, the seamlessness of our traffic systems and the sheer variety of things we can get our hands on.
Timor-Leste and my community literally seemed a world away.
That is what startled me.
If life is going along ok, it is so easy to forget our neighbours, whether we are talking about our global neighbours or the ones next door. Getting out of our comfort zones seems to be the hardest thing to do, but it is what we all need to do if we want to see positive change.
In turn, when life is getting too hard, it is so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture – everyone is going along this road called life and trying to get by too.
Whilst I was home two tragedies befell Australia, the siege at Martin Place in Sydney and the multiple homicides in Cairns. That these tragic events occurred over the Christmas season, highlighted how precious the moments are that we have with our loved ones.
Coming back to Timor Leste, was also not the struggle I had envisioned.
On my way back in Hilly, the old Hilux donated by USAID, driven expertly by my fellow Palms’ volunteer Sam Haddin, I passed my friend Stacey. She was walking along the road and we shared a smile as we both recognized each other (I had met her at a friend’s farewell party). It was then I realised that is really what feeling ‘at home’ is about -the small ways (like smiles) we let people around us know that we are all in this together.
When I arrived back, to a much greener and vibrant Bedois (thanks to the rain) there were more hugs for my hug bank and heartfelt welcomes everywhere. This place felt like home too.
Before I left, someone very dear to me, who lives with mental illness told me something simple, but profound, she said, ‘Thank you for being my friend in this crazy world.’
Wishing all readers and fellow travellers on this bumpy road called life, a year of reaching out in friendship and solidarity and hoping you all in turn receive the very best in 2015.
I am looking forward to a year of working together with the Bedois community to improve education outcomes. If you would like to support my placement, please visit the Volunteer page