November 3 - 9, 2013: Issue 135

 A different way of experiencing the world… 

by Lucinda Rose 

Bondia fellow Australians, artists, collaborators and friends! 

You may be wondering what this is all about – these rounds of synthetic material you are burning over a lone candle long after the sun has disappeared behind the mountains, and way before it rises… why on earth you are cutting milk bottle lids in half, melting them over a fire on skewers, twisting the melted plastic around with a knife, plunging its twirling mass of blue-green in cold water and marvelling at your recycled creation… and then you string them together and WEAR them!!! 

Ha-HA! Well I can give you no justification for these acts of mild craziness, but I can tell you a little story about why we commit ourselves to hours of craft per day, ecstatic brainstorming sessions at ungodly hours and exhilarating outbursts of ideas to friends and family, who stare back at us in either surprise or alarm. 

It begins as I mentioned, long before the melting sun can excite the roosters, pigs and water-buffalo, down the far end of a long hallway, the hallway of a 100 year old convent. This sacred place rests in the hills, the heart of Soibada, perhaps the most religiously devout place on earth, or at least in Timor-Leste. The bell chimes and we take our places along the old wooden pews in a church that seems somehow impossible to exist here; its walls reach to the Gods creating an atmosphere of birth, death, life, all simultaneously. And what makes me shiver here in the hot, sticky morn is not the sickening heat yet to come, the slow rocky rides along precarious cliff roads, or even the overflowing plates of steaming white rice; it is the harmonies of seminarian tenors that suddenly lift to the perimeters of the church and beyond, lifting into prayers proclaiming the fulfilment in simply existing.  

We are taking slow steps up the dusty road before I can register once more that I am here, right now, in a place of dominating bougainvilleas, white buildings, and surrounded by a people more heartwarmingly friendly than I have ever known. The mass takes hours but I don’t mind. My heart opens a little more when each song is performed, and I sway side to side, my eyes closing. The heat is so intense I can barely stay awake! Their reverence for not only mass, but the way they move in collecting water, preparing food and gathering the children, feels to me like a divine act of spirituality, a different way of experiencing the world in which exercise is not done for joy, but as a sheer act of survival.  

Suddenly we are surrounded by a group of chanting, clapping, singing children. Is this the same day, I cannot tell! We are treated like royalty, seated amongst plates and plates of fried meat and green vegetables, and I don’t need to mention the rice! And then there are the bowls and bowls of fried cassava, taro, potato and banana, all made into chips. The sight is quite extraordinary, not to mention the smells! Plates are piled high, and food is devoured, yet the bowls holding the hard-earned bounty never seem to empty, and although stomachs are filled and glasses are tipped to and fro, conversation never seems to cease.  

It may be the life-energy of the Timorese, their resilience to the land or their weathered skin and tough bodies, but the perception of all that is around me becomes more and more familiar, as if I had always been here. What’s more, time operates in a different fashion. It is not that weird that we are rising before 5am, lowering after 11pm and are not tired! It is as if every breath, every subtle, tiny movement and whisper is held in my memory, slowly moving through different constructs of experience and culture. 

As the colours intensify and the fires burning rubbish cease, we take once more to the verandah where we light our own fires in candles and slowly, patiently begin our burning. Though time is different, the days blur into one another and we sigh a sigh of contentment. At this exact spot in the dawn, horses will rip up the dewy grass and all we will hear is this noise, not even a shadow. 

We will go to dinner now with a priest and a nun and a whole community of Timorese, and we will walk back up a blackened road with the intent of developing creative, sustainable practices they can use to transform their own lives. We are here to teach them skills, not to give them clothes. We are here to build and develop long-lasting relationships, to implement artistic, innovative practices that are in harmony with their values, traditional and contemporary ways of living and cultural needs. The very thought of helping others to whom we are indebted arises something very pure within us, and satisfies a sense of purpose so truthful to human existence that I will leave you with this thought, and we can continue next time with some exhilarating and quirky adventures… 

What I will also say, is that this vision of sustainable development and artistic expression within Soibada, Timor-Leste is a collaborative effort, and has heightened momentum from the small, consistent efforts over a long time period to be at this place right now. It will continue to grow, change and evolve as different people become involved in their own unique way, offering something that intrinsically and extrinsically helps all involved. This is what fascinates me about cultures – cultures of people, experiences, places and art – and how we are all connected with one another for the evolution of life experience.  

Report and Pictures by Lucinda Rose, 2013.

Lucinda Rose is one of the team of volunteers who accompanied Pittwater Friends of Soibada to Timor Leste recently. Passionate about making a difference in this beautiful place, this 20 year old is a current COFA student and is seen here with Therazina of the Women's Craft Cooperative. Luci did a lot of work with the women in Soibada recently.