Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Volunteer Dianne Hanna, from Sydney, reflects on just how different life is for her – but also what is most valued – a month after commencing her placement in Maliana, Timor-Leste.

Having spent over a month in East Timor I am asked, what do I miss about home?

Reflecting on the things I miss, I notice that there are many things that do not make the list. For example, I have not watched any television, listened to any music (apart from the church choir) nor seen any movies.

I have though had the time to attend daily mass, to try and engage people in conversation so that I can learn another language and smile at all the people that I meet as I walk to the market to buy my groceries for the day. I have had the opportunity to listen to the many sounds and see new things that often go unnoticed with all the noise and distractions in our life. I have been able to share the little food I have with the children that live just outside the diocese grounds.

I do not miss having a regular flow of water or electricity. When they are down I have quickly learned to laugh and to do other things. I have also learned to see how fortunate I am to be in accommodation with these facilities as there are many around that do not have these things and must walk long distances to collect their water.

I do not miss having a car to drive wherever I want whenever I want for this has helped me learn to graciously receive the generosity of others and to rely on those around me to do everyday things like buy groceries. For I do not need to be independent from others, but rather one with others. As it is said, no person is an island. Also walking has allowed me to meet many people and interact with them much more than driving in a car would allow. The other day on a long walk I saw a young girl pushing her three siblings in a cart. I offered to take over and push them all home and then up the hill. We had such enjoyment from a simple task.

I have started to have to cook for myself, keep my room clean and to wash my own clothes. Being almost 36 years of age you would have thought these are all things I am accustomed to doing. I am a little embarrassed to admit that my mother and father have lovingly done these things for me. The girls up at the boarding school, from the age of 10, have been able to do all these things for themselves and others. Though my cooking skills are still being developed -and I pray will continue to improve- I am proud that I have been able to do these things and I don’t miss my parents for not having these things done for me. I have also learnt the joy cooking for others can bring.

On parents, family does make the list of things I miss. As I walk along the streets I see the kids playing with each other and in the evening jumping and splashing in the canals that line the streets. In the markets I see the fathers looking after their children while the mothers are at work and on the streets I see the grandchild driving their grandmother up the hill on a motorcycle. When I see and hear all of this I think of my nieces and nephews and I long to see their faces, touch their skin and hear their voices. I regret asking them to be quiet when my favourite program was on TV, or not having the time to sit and talk with my father when I came home from work, but rather rushed him to get to the point.

Even though I miss not having them near I do not feel despair, but rather gratitude for being given the opportunity to appreciate them, and the simply beautiful gifts that they bring.

I also see the parent yelling at their child for some reason or another and I am told domestic violence is an issue here. I guess there are some things that are not absent from any culture or society.

As I continue my journey I wonder what I will come to miss as time goes by and more importantly if I will learn to love more fondly the things absent from my life that I miss right now.

A contrast of worlds.

Dianne, an accountant, is volunteering for two years as Financial Advisor with the Diocese of Maliana