“I’m no longer a complete stranger to this place” – Finding common ground in Timor Leste

“I’m no longer a complete stranger to this place” – Finding common ground in Timor Leste

By Martin Moignard | Introduction by Roger O’Halloran

Palms prides itself on the training and support we give to those preparing for assignment.  Its evidence based on nearly sixty years of experience, but applicants with strong emotional or saviour motivations, can find it difficult to open themselves to that experience.  Here we have an example of adopting the advised strategies in the first six months that enable adaptation to a new environment and the greatest potential for sustainable skill exchange.

At the January 2019 Orientation Course Martin Moignard was one of the participants always engaging with the material presented, leaving me in little doubt that he respected the process and the experience of Palms.  This doesn’t mean his first six months were without culture jolts and uncertainty, but the process has seen him arrive at that anniversary with enthusiasm still high.

Martin’s writing below was in the context of seeking advice from Christine in her program support role.  He recognises a possibility, but is appropriately circumspect.  I expect he is cognizant of the lessons in preparation about not taking on too much, or taking over and undermining local capacity.

“Sometimes the pace of work at Klibur Domin seems to be in great contrast to the pace of everything else here in Timor.  Last week I was very busy supporting two groups of ACU students who are visiting the patients here.  One group are physiotherapists, and the other occupational therapists.  

It’s always entertaining meeting people who have just arrived in Timor, and I find myself answering endless questions.  I used to be the one asking all the questions.  I guess I’m no longer a complete stranger to this place.  I met an Australian recently who came here in 1999 and except for a year or two, practically never left.  He still feels very much a foreigner. If that’s how he felt after twenty years here, I guess I’m doing ok feeling as comfortable as I am after less than one.

I guess it comes back to the point that no matter how comfortable you become, you will occasionally be reminded of just how much of a foreigner you really are.  I’m fine with that.  But I think, at least at the moment, that I’m starting to get past the confusion, resistance, and frustration that arises early on.

(c) Martin Moignard 2019

I did a Tetum course at DIT not long ago. We were a group of six.  The course was well structured and effective, but not as advanced as I was hoping.  I can generally comprehend what is being said in Tetum day to day now, but I can only make small talk or give very short comments and answers.  Its progress, but I would say I’m still a long way off fluency.

Sometimes I surprise myself by just blurting out a sentence in Tetum and then I have to check the dictionary later to see what I actually said. Fortunately I have been saying what I mean, but I think it’s just luck most of the time.  I want to take my Tetum further so I will need to consider private tuition.

One of my counterparts, our Finance manager, was upset to hear that I was taking Tetum classes, she said something along the lines of “I want to speak English!’.  I made a deal with her that we can work in English, but chat in Tetum.  That seemed an agreeable compromise.  Another suggestion that I was given was to request that I first be spoken to in Tetum, and only if I can’t understand, then to repeat in English.  I like that idea. I will adopt that strategy as well.

This week we are completing the mid-term report for our Friendship Grant.  We have pretty much completed the project and everything has gone well.  However, our media campaign hasn’t gone as well as I have been hoping, mainly because I want Klibur Domin to produce the content rather than doing everything myself.

I am very keen to expand my ‘roles and responsibilities’ to include an additional objective of building capacity with our communications officer. Reason being that working with our comms officer is taking up a lot of my time already (at the moment it is a component of my goal to support fundraising activities, but it’s much more than that.  I feel like I should make a formal plan out of it. It would basically be supporting the comms officer directly, and continuing to support my counterpart Carmen (the communications officer’s manager). What do you think?”

Perhaps next month we can ask Christine to reveal her advice and get an update from Martin on how it is panning out.

All the hero can do is be ready. If we set our own heroic path, it will be no more than our own heroic path, what we call ego. That’s the false hero, finally the anti-hero. The real heroic path is created for us. We know someone else is preparing it.

Rohr, Richard, Quest for the Grail, 1994.

Martin Moignard is working as an Operations mentor delivering training to staff at Klibur Domin across the areas of finance, human resources, administration, and support services. This work will support the effective operation of the healthcare services offered at the centre. You can support this project by making a one-off or regular donation.