First Impressions of Venilale, Timor Leste

First Impressions of Venilale, Timor Leste

Palms participant Carolyn Hadley has been in Timor Leste for four weeks and in situ as a Vocational English Teacher working with the students and teachers at St Maria Mazzarello vocation school, Venilale, for three. Below Carolyn shares her first impressions.

I arrived in Timor Leste with great anticipation and some trepidation, but I need not have been concerned because the warmth and gentle hospitality of the people here is palpable and most especially from my hosts, the Salesian Sisters, who have enveloped me in their care and support from the moment I stepped out of the airport. 

Many things surprise me every day and I am certainly learning to expect the unexpected. Maybe one of the most surprising in my first week spent in Dili were the barefooted ‘mobile greengrocers’, hawking their wonderful array of fruits and vegetables at 5.30am from a huge cart, so bulging with produce that they can hardly see above them as they head down the roads bustling with Microlets and motorcycles. Every item on their carts is meticulously laced together to produce a beautiful display and they handle their huge carts with the dexterity of an acrobat. 

I always knew the culture here was highly respectful and welcoming, but to encounter this first hand has been a deeply humbling experience. When I arrived at St Maria Mazzarello Vocational School in the breath-taking mountains of Venilale, the young men and women gave me a beautiful reception with a dance and a woven Tais cloth scarf, symbolising my inclusion into their family. Beautiful words and prayers were spoken and the students plus staff were there, late on a Friday afternoon, just so they could say hello and tell me how happy they were that I was joining them at the school. It was so touching and we immediately bonded as language barriers dissolved. I could not help but know how much they wanted me to feel at home. 

The Easter celebrations have been focused on the passion and resurrection of Christ and what seemed like the whole town spilled out of the church to worship at each and every mass held in Holy Week. The commitment and depth of faith is inspiring and the students, in particular, have a level of reverence that I have not seen before.

Bondia (Good day), Botardi (Good afternoon) and Bonoiti (Good night/evening), with a quick look at my watch before saying them, along with obrigarda (thank you) and diak (good/well) are my go to ‘staple’ words in the vocabulary that I am very slowly developing. I’m afraid I have a long way to go with Tetun, but these key words at least let everyone know how much I feel welcome and grateful to be here. 

New sights sounds and smells surround me on a daily basis. Dogs, roosters, chickens, turkeys and 90 boarding students are all outside my door, but they are joyful sounds and sleeping is no problem as everything settles in for the night and the peacefulness of this rural area takes over. 

I have arrived at exam preparation time for the students of this vocational school and I have made a small start by working with the wonderful teachers here on revision and English pronunciation within their simulated guesthouse setting (see photos below). The adventure has begun and I am looking forward to giving it my all in the coming months.