By Dianne Hanna
Dianne Hanna is a qualified finance and business mentor working with Holy Cross Parish in Maliana, Timor Leste to develop the financial literacy and accounting skills of local staff and to develop a strategy for the training of new staff in these administrative processes.
Returning to my placement in Timor Leste [Maliana] in July 2019 I was quite sheltered from all the news on coronavirus. I would get messages from home about the insanity that had fallen on shoppers in a panic to buy what they considered necessities but I was still out and about as I always was.
For those that know me I am a bit of a walker and I find it isn’t just the walking that I benefit from but the people I pass along the way.
In this way communication is a powerful tool and while they say that communication is 90% non-verbal I have come to appreciate the importance of words. While a welcoming smile would help to engage with a person I had just met, the words that I was beginning to learn brought new faces into my world and have helped forge new friendships. Friendships which thankfully I have been able to remain in contact with after abruptly returning home through the messaging of words.
Learning new phrases can be tricky
While acquiring a new language there are some words I can vividly remember learning the meaning and use of. I had been in Timor Leste for a few months and the Bishop was commenting on how I couldn’t speak any Tetun. At that time I was more focused on remembering peoples’ names but after his comments I decided I should try to learn a few words each week. I thought I had learnt to ask the time and as I built up the courage to ask him I thought I should try my new phrase on the young girls that lived in the boarding house across from the Church. I was very appreciative that I did this and after receiving some stern words from the religious sister responsible for the girls I learnt in that moment how to properly ask the time and swear at people.
The meaning of some words
Then there are some words I have been fortunate not to know the meaning of until some time had passed. On accepting my new placement I learnt that a friend had a terminal illness and might pass before I had a chance to return to Timor. Fortunately I was able to spend 5 weeks with him before that end. Throughout the time he bore his pain with no complaints and I enjoyed meeting his family and enjoying some memorable moments. Then on one day he spoke some words to me which I did not understand so I gently smiled at him which he returned to me also. About an hour later he became unconscious and passed the next day at 3pm. After some days had passed I went to my word finder to look up the word. On reading the meaning I wept as he had told me he was suffering terribly. If I had known at the time what he had said I don’t think I would have had the courage to gently smile. For this I am grateful but I will now never forget the meaning of that word.
Words are now more important than ever
So now that I am out of my isolation and am able to leave the house to buy necessities and to exercise I notice how little words are being exchanged. It is as if this virus has made us all afraid to speak to each other in person.
Now more than ever we need to remember to stay in contact with not only those that come to mind but those that we might have passed on the street and stopped to talk to as we may have been the only conversation they had that day. We need to be conscious of the words we use when we are communicating responsibly within the guidelines provided to us in this rapidly changing world. To exchange words that will communicate the love we have for each other allowing us to remember we are not alone.
The featured image is of a cow herder on the road to Tunubibi that Dianne passes each day on her way to work
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