My First Five Weeks in Timor-Leste

My First Five Weeks in Timor-Leste

Primary school teacher Rhoe Price is working with the Paroquia St Teresinha do Menino Jesus (St Therese of the Child Jesus Parish) in Bedois, an outer suburb of Dili, to improve educational outcomes for both students and teachers. Five weeks into her placement, she’s shared an update on her journey so far.

In preparing for my journey to Timor-Leste, I tried not to form too many expectations. Whether this was a good thing or not is a different story. When I arrived I was instantly overwhelmed. Driving through the streets of my new home perpetrated quite a kick in the guts. I saw a world that vastly contrasted my own and I began to wonder if I have bitten off more than I could chew.

When we arrived at my new home, as well as school (Santa Terezinha Do Menino Jesus, Bedois) I was greeted most hospitably. All the students and teachers had formed a guard of honour. I was welcomed with cheers and plenty of smiles. This was a welcomed change from home. If you are walking down the street in Albury, a small country town where I grew up, people are on their phones or too busy and distracted to look up and give you a smile. Not here though. Everyone greets everyone with a “bon dia” (good morning) or “boitardi” (good afternoon).

I had my first week to get my bearings and settle in. Even though I was eager to start my teaching, I was grateful for this preparation time. My first venture to Timor Plaza was a successful one. Catching my first yellow taxi though was an experience. The windscreen was next to shattered and the driver had no rear vision mirrors. I immediately thought I made a mistake picking the taxi but soon figured out that most yellow taxis were like this. Despite this, I got to the destination safely, as I have every other time. Except that one time where the taxi kept conking out, but that’s another story. After enjoying my first beer with the most beautiful view of Dili, I then started to fall in love with my new home.

Palms Australia volunteer Rhoe Price at the Christo Rei statue in Timor-Leste
Rhoe at the base of the Christo Rei statue in Dili, Timor-Leste

My first week was a relaxing one and I was definitely ready to start teaching. The class sizes were a little bigger than I had become accustomed to in Australia (biggest classes being 56 students) and I also had to get used to writing on a blackboard. There is a knack to it. But I really enjoyed it and even though the students were very shy and giggly at first, every week they welcome me more and more. Of course there are challenges in the classroom. The adjustment of teaching strategies, not having constant resources, enforcing different behaviour management strategies and, of course, the language barrier. I team teach for grades eight and nine but grade six has been a cocktail of charades, patience and google translate.

Cooking has also been interesting. Since I’m not big on cooking to begin with, it’s hard to be motivated to try new meals, especially with the limited cooking utensils. I have been giving it a go and although I have burnt the meat plenty of times trying to figure out my electric stove or the rice has turned out all gluggy, I’m getting there. Most of the time I don’t even know what vegetables I’m cooking, I just thought they looked nice at the market.

My first weeks at my new home have been eventful and I know my time here will be no walk in the park. Whether it’s adjusting to the Timor time schedule (or lack thereof), realising that most of the time I will be covered in sweat, going shopping or into town or conquering the language barrier with charades or just futilely repeating the English word slower. But I am confident that with the incredible scenery, the smiles and lovely greetings I get every time I walk out the door, the inspiring love of the Catholic faith, their readiness to help whenever I need and just their kind nature will ultimately defeat the hardship I’ve endured.

You can find out more about Rhoe’s placement and support her work here.