Dispatches from Atabae

Dispatches from Atabae

Madeleine Minns left for assignment as English Teacher and Community Development Mentor in Atabae, Timor Leste on the 8th June 2022. Madeleine is an experienced teacher across NSW and Queensland engaged to provide educational support for the existing Community English Program and work alongside the local English teacher. Below she shares details of her initial weeks in Timor Leste together with partner Malcolm Gaydon [Agriculturist/Livestock Mentor].

The first week

Mal and I are well and our tummy issues are settling. We are sorting out our house in Atabae and accessing local food options. We missed out on the main Saturday fresh markets by arriving late in the day, but we have sourced some fresh eggs, some local greens and had a backup of tin fish etc. The gas cooker, fridge and electric kettle are being well used, but especially the floor fan! 

Our Home in Aidabaleten, Atabae

Saturday shopping in Dili went smoothly – we bought everything according to the plan, and Maria [and Jhon our hosts] guided us with what household items we needed. Somehow we fitted everything in the small Ute truck and then travelled 2hrs home with Maria and Klif on the back in the very hot sun [see featured image]. We treated everyone to lunch and cool drinks of course. 

Inside our home

Arriving at the Atabae house late Saturday was intense – meeting everyone, working out water access, setting up the gas cooker (thank goodness for Mal) and the best way to handle toilet waste etc.  Senora Maria has moved the pump switch now to the outside of her house so we do not have to intrude upon her for water. 

Sunday was Mass – unfortunately my tummy bug came on while I was at church and I had to run out in the middle of the welcome speech  – oops. A grand start! It somewhat settled though and we both attended a baptism lunch at Senora Maria’s place where we were warmly welcomed and in constant companionship with some English assistance. It was a busy day for the community – 18 children were baptised – Serv and Mana Maria attended two Baptism celebrations. 

Our local church – St Francisco de Assisi

Monday we met the Village Second in Charge and the Police officers, Afon, (a previous English teacher), several students and assorted extended family. It seems that several “important” people attended a St Anthony feast Day yesterday in Dili. We also purchased some additional household items for storing water and were given an extra student size table from the library.  

We have been practising our language on poor confused locals and learning the names of those with whom we live, but everyone has been most welcoming. I suppose I am a bit surprised about the size of the community we are immediately sharing with, but they seem mostly respectful of our space as we are trying to be theirs. Another surprise is the noise and the smoke from the wood cooking fires! The cacophony of animal sounds across the district, the main road (with fast roaring trucks), and close proximity of families is a little more intense than I had imagined and no less quiet than a capital city. Although there are few mosquitoes at the moment, we are naturally concerned about the inability to mosquito proof the house in any capacity, and hope that when the need arises we can stay safe with a combination of DEET, antibiotics and protective clothing. 

The cook house using timber fires

Today, (Tuesday) is the first day we have had to ourselves and we are most grateful for it. We have been able to tidy and organise our home and wash some clothing, and type an email LOL.  

Almost three weeks in

Mal and I are well – and have just experienced a 3-day family gathering here at the household. It was the headstone commemoration for an uncle who passed away (suddenly) 6months ago. There were many visitors from the district and sleeping mats everywhere. Mal and I acknowledged family members but generally stayed out of their way. It was a struggle to have any privacy – especially to and from the toilet/bathroom as the new veranda on Maria’s house has been built in the visual pathway. However, most visitors have no left and the noise is reducing. 

Overall, we are eating well, exercising and I am trying to continue my meditation practice. We are fine-tuning and getting more used to the kitchen and water routine. We try to walk along the beach at the end of some days, to enjoy the beauty and tranquility that exists there. 

Madeleine’s English Role

  • I start teaching English today. Maria and Marlene (Portuguese teacher) with several youths have collected registrations and a fee of $1 per student (I believe). They are arranging the timetable that will see Junior High having 2 sessions per week and Primary students with two sessions per week. There have been many registrations  – Fr Cornelius expressed concern about class size, but Maria is splitting the class into advanced and basic. I am teaching the advanced Junior High while they teach the basic level. The primary will also be split. I think my role is to assist with the primary – more of a teacher mentor than a teacher. We are holding classes in the afternoons from 4-5:15/5:30 at this stage. There is a certain casualness about the process, but I am keeping my hands off. 
  • I have visited the Junior High (public school) and met teachers and the principal and other English teacher, Feri. I was going to visit his classroom but a surprise holiday interrupted our meeting. The Principal has talked to me about running a 2-month English communication course for his teachers through Sep and Oct, when the school calendar is less demanding. He was very welcoming.  
Junior High Principal (centre) & Feri (English teacher)
  • My aim is to work WITH the English teachers in the community, and not run English learning in opposition – I hope to support THEIR programs and not reinvent the wheel.
  • I am attending the senior high school on Wednesday and visiting the Year 10 classroom with Erna. I also hope to visit the classroom of year 11 and 12 who are taught by Ezac. I want to run “tutoring” sessions with the senior students … Hopefully I will get more interest once I visit their classrooms. My visit to Junior High last week seemed to spark more interest in registrations. 
  • I am yet to speak with Fr Flori and meet any of the Catholic school staff – he is a busy man – but hopefully this week. 
  • I have been doing private English with Madelene, Jhon’s younger sister, as a contribution to the family. Our communications are slow but we will conquer with persistence. As I am keen to improve my Tetun, I am also starting a session with Jefan, a bright year 12 student who hopes to become a doctor. However, her English is also stilted, so hopefully she is the right person to assist. If she is, I will compensate her for her time. 
  • The library has been moved to the church grounds – it is an old building full of dust but they are adding some windows soon. The teachers before me have compiled resources and books – some may prove useful eventually. All of them are covered in thick dust and need a lot of sorting. 
The library

Malcolm’s Animal Husbandry Role (from Mal) 

  • After my initial meeting with Fr Corneilus, I have understood my role is to curb the disease and death in pigs, chickens and even dogs. 
Malcolm inspecting his pig pens with Father Kornelius
  • Currently I am researching to find ways to improve the situation with natural, easily available and sustainable options. Previous programs only lasted while the funding lasted. 
  • I have organised a small team – Bascillio was assigned to me by the youth group, but I recognised that I would need Anuse’s English skills (whom I met on the beach) to bridge the gap. I have called us the “three amigos’. He just happens to be Bascillio’s uncle. We begin with a meeting tomorrow to discuss how we go about visiting local properties to inspect their animal facilities and assess some possible issues. Most importantly, this will give me a chance to build relationships and hopefully trust.  
You can support the Atabae community in these grassroots projects by making a donation to Madeleine’s role of English Teacher and Community Development Mentor and/or Malcom’s role of Agriculturalist/Livestock Mentor.