We were in Kaula Lumper last week, out for lunch with an ex-college of Jurek’s. Long before we met, Jurek worked 8 months for an IT firm in the ugliest building in the KLCC precinct. Passing through KL this time around called for lots of catching up with friends unseen for years.
This particular friend asked questions I hadn’t been asked for a long time, with a directness that demanded answers, and something I at first mistook for aggression. “So travelling is great, but at some point you have to stop and get a job, what are you going to do for money?” I reacted. Fell into the trap of defensiveness. Fumbled to justifying myself and voiced thoughts about potential development work, courses I may or may not take and other ideas I’m carrying round in my pocket. Answers I’d pull out for a worried grandma.
Later, it appeared the question was masking something quite different, given away by a flippant comment delivered in the same masculine tone, that almost had it slip past me unnoticed. “Yeah, I really hate this company since that happened. But I don’t want to leave until I have the next job lined up. I’m not the type of person who is okay with not having a plan. I mean, I can’t just do what you guys are doing.” A convoluted, backhanded compliment. On surface glance, I’d thought it a stab. A dig that we’re free wheeling hippies who are going to have to give up these idealistic dreams at some point and suit up to an office for a salary like the rest of the world. But this wasn’t it. I examined more closely. The bravo was a cover up. This was about his own fear.
Too sold on the collard shirt, sitting across the table in the nice restaurant in the swish new mall that commerce built, I nodded and the conversation continued without missing a beat. I kept the peace but I missed the opportunity.
Well, there’s a different response I’d like to give to this comment. A turn I’d have liked the conversation route to have taken. I USED TO BE A PERSON WHO NEEDED A PLAN. I’ve sat in that chair. In my mind, I’ve rationalised away the hopes and actions of those who are brave enough to be living out their dreams. I’ve been judgemental of those who actually seem to be genuinely happy. I’ve even been the person asking those questions that pull these people back down to earth from the higher place they’re acting from. All of this because I was scared.
We want you to meet our friends from eastern Indonesia. They’re a student organisation called MITRA, or ‘partners’ in Bahasa Indonesia. It stands for Mahasiswa Indonesia Timur Relasi Asing, or East Indonesian Students Foreign Relations Society. Their goal? To empower the students of East Indonesia. After travelling East-West across Indonesia, I understand why MITRA’s work is so important.
From the outside, Indonesia seems to be another Muslim, South East Asian country. But it’s actually a complex and extremely diverse “empire” ruling over many different nations and regions, with differing languages, customs and even climates. This is a country made up of more than 17000 islands! I didn’t realise before arrival that Indonesia is the world’s 4th largest population! However, 58% of these people live on Java – the most densely populated island in the world. This skewed population density makes for inequality of resources, as allocated by the central-focused government.
During our visit we met a bunch of passionate people with exciting ideas to help shape the future of Timor-Leste. While you’ll find plenty of foreign aid workers in this new country, surely the Timor of tomorrow is best shaped by those who know it best: Timorese people. Here is a brief look at just some of the cool projects we discovered:
– Arte Moris: walking in off the dusty streets of Dili into the Arte Moris gardens is like arriving in the Berlin underground art scene… In a tropical jungle?! Amazing sculptures made almost entirely of collected rubbish. Litter is everywhere in Timor-Leste, with waterways often looking more like rubbish tips. There is no waste system in place and at best it’ll be burned (which of course isn’t good at all!). So to find people using this rubbish as the raw material to make something beautiful is really exciting. The team of artists who live and work at Atre Moris (the vibe is totally ‘artists squat’), run workshops to encourage local youth in creative expression, interwoven with themes surrounding the environment. Inside we caught an exhibition of two local artists, giving insight into daily life in Dili. Other works combine traditional handicrafts into modern works.
The bus pulls out of Dili and starts it’s steep ascent. It’s loaded up with people, luggage and bags of rice. Inside and out. 4 people share the seat across from us: grandma, mother and 2 children, trying to avoid my gaze. However, young boys, who can’t be much older than 19, seem to be running the operation and their cigarette smoke, blasting music and testosterone dominate over the other passengers. The aging engine groans, in its upward struggle. Dili, the sea and further out Atauro Island, are visible below us for the first hour, as the climb reaches more than 1000m above sea level. My ears pop. The bus stops a couple of times and the adolescent males open the engine hatch, hit something with a spanner and it comes back to life.
Hey guys! While I’m having an incredible time, it turns out the overland travel thing can also be really exhausting. Huge trips on rough roads on hot over crowded buses, sometimes with more bags of onions than human passengers, leaves you really tired. 6+ hours on hard floored ferries full of smokers, where you can barely find a clean space out of the sun to lay out your camp mattress (which deflates these days anyway, so provides little relief from the hardness of the metal floor); then just when you’re comfortable it starts raining and you have to relocate in a hurry and most passer-byers will stop to ask for a photo with you, all starts to take it’s toll. Your bum is so sore and you’ve started developing some weird pimples from all the sitting and sweating that it now part of your everyday life – will it ever look the same again?! Looking at a world map in some hotel lobby, leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed at the distance that lays ahead of you… How many more bus trips will that mean? Why am I doing this? What difference would a plane make anyway?
Woorabinda is an aboriginal community in Central Queensland that no one has heard of. Traditionally Woorabinda was part of the land of the Wadja Wadja people. Between 1927-1970 the Queensland Government forcefully removed 1473 Aboriginal people from their traditional lands across the huge state to the Woorabinda reserve, 170km south-west of Rockhampton where the summers are hot, the winters are icy and drought common. These people represented at least 47 different tribes, with different languages and customs.
The first 298 people of Woorabinda were made to walk 200kms from the Taroom reserve, further south. Many of the people walked in chains, though they were not criminals. The relocation occurred due to the proposed construction of the Taroom dam, that would flood the Taroom reserve. The dam remains unbuilt to this day.
“Woorabinda was never a mission” A local councilor told us. “What’s a mission? Either a community run by the church or a vision. Woorabinda was neither of these things.”
This morning I woke up to the sounds of coconuts hitting the ground from the tall palms in the backyard and children gleefully playing in a language I don’t understand. For the first time in many weeks I woke with a sense of being refreshed and allowed myself to emerge from beneath the mosquito net when I wanted to. Entering the kitchen, I found Emily pouring a freshly macheted coconut into a pot with ice for the group of chattering siblings from next-door. The smallest girl looks up at me and eagerly begins telling me something excitedly in Tetum. My “la kompriende” must be confusing to a 5-year-old who is speaking so clearly and confidently. I’m stoked to be in Timor.
To save up dollars for future adventures, we found ourselves cashing up in an outback roadhouse. A ‘roadhouse’ (apparently the concept is not universal) is a glorified truck-stop: a large petrol station, stocking a few, overpriced supermarket lines & housing a kitchen, turning out steaks as big as your face & fast-food fast, to get those travellers back on the highway asap. A place where the whole family can ‘break the journey’, get out of the car, stretch those legs, use the facilities and hopefully (at least for the establishment) part with some money. In Australia, where that journey could be a 12 hour drive, a place to break the journey is pretty necessary. Even an overpriced roadhouse that hasn’t changed since 1982, with only a patch of grass kept green by daily watering, can seem like an oasis. Or so we were told…
We’re a couple of two; Wendy, an Australian, 24 years old and Jurek (pron. yoo-rek, as in ‘you reckon’), a 28 year old Pole. We haven’t always been the people we are now. We haven’t always done the kind of things we now find ourselves doing. Because, like most people, we’ve been too scared. Yet here we are! And we’ve decided it’s a journey worth sharing. Turns out living the life you only let yourself dream about starts with one small step… Drop the tension!