Today

Yesterday, my second full day in East Timor, I actually spent the entire day in bed .   I was quite sick–something  I caught from the ten other sick people who were in the same bus as me for the long hours from West Timor.  But no fever which means I don’t have dengue or malaria…yeah!  Basically extreme body aches, felt heavy, cold symptoms, diahorreah (a word I can never ever ever spell correctly).  So I am taking it easy and recovering slowly.  I have some very kind Portuguese gentlemen and Timorese women looking after me…they are pushing tangerines and biscuits my way, forcing me to eat.  🙂  I’ll be fine.  My first major illness of the summer.  whew.

Dragged myself out of bed this morning…did all my laundry which I finally felt up to doing and it is now laying out to dry on the tin roof of the hostel I am staying at.   Here’s a tip–turn your clothing inside out to avoid the obvious sun bleaching of tin-dried clothing.

Then I walked around town–some great Portuguese stores…other tat sold on the street.  I got my picture taken for my return visa to Indonesia–something the embassy makes beautifully awful for people–“no, the picture has to have a RED background” and you have to write a letter explaining why you want to go to Indonesia…and pay $45 US and wait days!   Just for fun I’m going to write the most flowery, disgustingly extravagant pro-Indonesia letter I can come up with.  Basically I’m only looking for a transit visa–I already have my tickets from Bali to Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi…bought early for a fantastic deal.  We’re talking fried and coke, people. 

Now that I’m feeling better, my research can begin in earnest–today I also visited Alola Foundation–dedicated to assisting and developing East Timorese women…great programs.  And then, most importantly, I visited the official documentation center, a converted prison which holds an impressive collection of books and also the official 3000 page report on human rights abuses in East Timor.  I’ll go back on Monday asap. 

Dili is a city by the sea and being here, especially with the Portuguese influence, reminds me of the special time I spent visiting my grandparents in Portugal when I was a girl of 15.  I’ll never forget that trip and how much it meant to me.  It’s wonderful to recall bits of that time here in East Timor.

It also feels good to be more productive after a useless day unable to move in bed.  Glad to be alive in East Timor.

Katherine—signing out.  

PS…the two most ridiculous places I’ve heard Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman”–1) breakfast cafe in East Timor  2) The Scottish Highlands being sung by a bunch of burly drunk Scottish men.

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Random thoughts

The exchange in Indonesia for Rupiah is $1 equals 10,000 IDR. So things sound very expensive. It was interesting dealing in the tens of the thousands and even millions.

There is an Indonesian model–very famous, I saw her on TV, and her name is Catherine Wilson.  So when people hear my name, they’ve asked for my autograph–they think it’s so funny.  How random.  My name doesn’t even sound Indonesian, but I guess she’s mixed.

Since I’ve left the States, I’ve stayed with Hindus and Muslims and Christians and atheists and animists…quite interesting.  I’m actually learning how to discuss my faith using primarily Hindu terms.  Such as explaining the Trinity using the Hindu one god who has three main avatars–Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer).  It’s actually much easier for Hindus to understand such a concept–forget about ice, water, steam!  Also, Hindus believe there are four main ages–we are now in Kaliyuga–an age where there world is basically 75% depraved.    Before this was an age of 50% depravity, prior was 25%, prior was a perfect race of humans.  I explained that Christians generally follow the two age theory–from 0% depravity before the fall to 100% (the current age).  In Bali, I stayed with a Hindu family who took me to see a special celebration/ceremony where five young people (in their early 20s) had their front teeth chiseled straight by a priest.  The practice is supposed to symbolize a renuncation of the evils of the world (anger, greed, gluttony, murder etc).  It was fascinating.  Hopefully I can get pics up on this.  And then afterward there was a huge party where I ate my fair share of interesting Balinese cuisine, the majority of which consisted of pig intestines, blood and skin with the hair still on.  mmmm.  lol!

I’m in East Timor!

After a long long long long bus ride (13 hours!!) across the border from West Timor, I finally made it to Timor Leste (East Timor). I left in the dark and arrived in the dark. The hostel I was hoping to book was full because my driver arrived too late…so I walked along the road to two more motels and they were full as well. So out came my handy guide and I looked up Hotel Dili…expensive was the word, even by US standards, but it had free internet in all the rooms and TV. So this is where I write this morning. From Hotel Dili. I have to check out in 30 minutes. I went this morning back to the hostel and they have a dorm bed waiting for me at 1/4 the price. No free internet but plenty of smiles!

Let me backtrack a bit. The main reason I’m here, in the world’s newest nation (2002) is that this fledgling country experienced a number of incidents of genocide (mainly by the Indonesian military/colonizers), one of which happened at the same time that the Cambodian genocide was happening–both beginning in 1975. There has been unrest here as late as 2006. But generally, East Timor is off the world’s radar. So I’m here as a kind of comparative study, as I claim to be a comparatist by trade. They have a reading room here in the capital where I’m staying currently, set up with a lot of documentation. And there have been a couple novels written–since I focus on narrative these will be especially important for me.

I also have the opportunity to couchsurf with a female NGO worker who lives in a small village in the West of East Timor. So that should be interesting–to see how the infrastructure is being built in a new country. (Timor Leste is the official country name–Timor actually means “East” so the the name is redundant–East East–at times it has been called Timur Timor–I forgot right now the specific history in this naming). For the time being, it seems pretty calm here. The only hint of unrest is the UN police in huge white vehicles with big black “UN” painted on their sides driving around town. It’s mostly a fishing village. And a fun side note is that I’m breaking out my non-existant, half-Spanish Portuguese! This used to be a colony of Portugal so Portuguese is spoken here more than English. 🙂 Good stuff.

I have much more to share, and pics to post, but unfortunately I have to check out of this place or be charged an extra bundle.  Whew.

Love you all,

Katherine

Catching up :)

Hello there…I’m being an awful blogger…I know.

I’ve made it to Java, the major island in Indonesia.  After the Highlands in Malaysia I ended up staying with a tea master in Melaka in the south.  I studied tea for a couple days under his tutalage and it was a fanatastic experience.  I really didn’t know what I didn’t know. He took me through an entire Chinese tea ceremony and taught me about different types of tea, brewing techniques, steeping…I actually couchsurfed at a house that he and his wife owned.  I was with a couple from Montreal and two Dutch men.  The girl had caught malaria from sleeping in the jungle in Cambodia so I got to see what that was like.  I felt very bad for her…but she was a real trooper.  She was piling on the sweaters in the steamy weather because she had the chills.  It was quite the picture.  We walked together all around Melaka which is a beautiful city…an old Dutch colony.

After my time in Malaysia, I then took a bus to Singapore.  I ended up staying for four days at a festival teaching dance.  One of my good friends from Chicago was there at the festival so it was so nice to see a friendly familiar face.  I also got to practice my Chinese quite a lot in Malaysia and Singapore.  So I was happy about that.  After four exhausting days on my feet I flew from Singapore to Jakarta.  I’m on my way over slowly to East Timor.  I couchsurfed in Jakarta only two nights.  What a crazy city!  That place never sleeps and I have never had to be so brave crossing the street.  The first time, the traffic cop actually had to give me an escort!  LOL!  Basically, imagine four lanes of cars with motorcycles in between whizzing past and you just step out…just STEP OUT with your arm extended towards oncoming traffic and frogger your way across slowly standing in between lanes.  ccccraziness.

In Jakarta,  I stayed with Romy, a Christian Indonesian guy.  That was an experience because Indonesia is 90% Muslim.  And coming from Malaysia where the official religion is Islam, it was quite a change.  I smiled at the Daily Bread on his desk…and we had a good discussion about faith.

I’m now in Jogjakarta also called Yogyakarta which is the cultural center of Java.  I’m couchsurfing with three Hungarians, a Slovakian, a German and an Indonesian.  Quite the full house, but it’s fun.  Tomorrow, I’m going to be lecturing at a university on American Culture and Wisconsin because one of the Hungarians has set me up.  So that should be fun.  I’m also here to see Borobadur which is like the Ankor Wat of Indonesia.

I’m doing well overall.  Tired at times…I try to keep things very mellow.  I went to a grand bookstore today and bought some more books.  I’ve been mailing packages home to myself to lighten the load :).  Love you all dearly… it’s getting late here so I’ll sign out…hopefully I’ll be able to upload pictures soon.

Malaysia

Well, I’ve finally made it to the Highlands.  It’s a little piece of heaven…I may stay longer than I thought.  It’s the first time I’ve been cool in quite a while and it feels wonderful.  There are honeybee farms and tea plantations, butterfly and flower and strawberry farms…all along the mountain side green steppes cut into the jungle.  I’m staying at a little inn surrounded by a garden for just under $3 a night :). 

Malaysia has been an interesting trek so far.  The country is officially Muslim which means that the majority of women wear hijabs–but not the kind that covers the face or body–you seen women walking around in jeans and hijabs.  And the hijabs come in tons of colors and patterns, shiny beaded fashion hijabs so there’s no end to coordination–like picking out the purse to go with the outfit.  There’s also a large Chinese and India population–so you’ll also see women walking around in tiny short or saris…and everyone seems to get along…at least that is the surface impression. 

For food, you have Chinese, Malay, Indian (vegetarian) or tandoori mmmmm, and Halal which is like Kosher for Muslims.  Even McDonalds and Coke cans are marked with the official “Halah-safe” stamp of approval.  I don’t know what that means exactly.

My first nights in Kuala Lumpur I stayed with a Hindu IT guy who was hosting multiple people, a 18 year old guy from North Carolina (who had been traveling for 8 months alone..) and a Dutch guy and a German.  We had a good time walking around Little India–a particular quarter of KL–I bought a “natural toothbrush” which is a special kind of stick you chew.  I also saw the twin towers with the famous sky bridge–the iconic building of KL.  Signs are translated four times–Malay, Chinese, English and Arabic.  And the local restaurants sell their meals by placing a large banana leave in front of you on the table them heaping food on top of it which you eat with your hands.  Reminded me of India.

After my time in KL I flew up to Kota Bharu, a smaller city in the north.  It was the first flight that I was able to practically reach the door to the plane without showing ID once.  And that was after my bag was already loaded on the plane!  bad bad bad.  Apparently the flight was so cheap (AirAsia) that they couldn’t hire someone to check IDs.  lol.  But I made it in one piece 🙂

In Kota Bharu I met and ate with 2 Australians, a Finnish couple traveling with their 2 year old, a Hungarian guy and a Dutch girl.  Quite the United Nations.  I was able to visit the cultural center at night to take in a shadow puppet show which is a traditional Malaysian treat and is made up of hundreds of intricately cut animals and figures on sticks which move behind a white screen to the sounds of a traditional music and drumming as a story is told. 

In Malaysia, a 10 minute taxi ride can cost more than a 12 hour train ride.  So you have to stay on your toes.  I road a jungle train to get into the Highlands…it was beautiful winding through the mountains and reminded me of Nepal on the road to Kathmandu. 

Tomorrow I’m going to be working all day on writing my prelim proposal.  Taking it easy and laying low.  Then the next day I’ll visit all the farms and see the largest flower in the world–I’m not sure what it’s called but it looks like it’s three feet across and bright red! Pics to follow. 

 I’ve been doing well on my reading.  I actually miss Phnom Penh and I’m glad I’ll have a chance to go back.  Talk soon, you all.  Thanks for reading!

ew.

There’s absolutely nothing like being hit-on by a guy in the Cambodian airport by having him run over and scrap a huge cockroach off my back and say don’t worry…it’s just a “flying bug” 🙂 ew. This was a first I would have to say.

I’m flying to Kuala Lumpur in a few minutes…I’ll spend a few days there then fly to Kota Bhura and take a train into the jungle and do some trekking…then to the tea plantation in the highlands…will be a nice couple weeks coming up and I’m excited.

I’ll certainly miss Phnom Penh however. I’ve met some amazing people here. And I look forward to coming back to Cambodia in August.

Bananas on the stalk

You know how you can get, in the States, tomatoes on the vine…well, here in Cambodia you can buy bananas (mind you the little ones) on the stalk…meaning you take a stalk home with you which contains as many bunches hanging off it as you’d like. My friend Sue, a missionary who’s passing through, bought one such stalk and now is baking banana bread for the world it seems.  🙂

I’ve been having many meetings and making interesting contacts these past days—law interns working with the international tribunal, Cambodians, NGO presidents, pastors, arms dealers, missionaries.  The world apparently has converged on Cambodia.  On the whole, I am making some wonderful relationships with dynamic people–an occasion to make me feel thankful indeed, and blessed.

I also visited the dump outside the city with my friend Paul.   The situation is hard to describe besides simply saying it’s a vision of hell.  On approach one begins gagging and our feet were covered with black sludge as we walked across the giant landfill.  I handed out fruit to the four year olds walking around on the garbage–they were living in make shift tents right on top of the mountains of land fill.   This dump has been classified as one of the worst places to live in the world.  It is an understatement.  The children who live here–their legs are torn up from the glass and metal, they have burns from falling into smoldering pits when they do various burnings here.  I could hardly breathe to walk around.  And they live here to pick through and collect “valuable” scraps.  But there is also a hierarchy and the “richer” people pay money to get first dibs when the trucks come.  So these children are on the bottom of the bottom.

After all out fruit was gone, one child was overjoyed to get the clean and untorn plastic bag the fruit was carried in because that could be traded for money.  We also visited an important NGO working with the children–they run a school which pays the parents in rice to allow their children to come to school instead of work on the dump all day.  Then the children get washed and fed and have a chance to go to school straight through to university.   And the facility is amazing.  This year, the first doctor (as in medical doctor with training) who grew up on the dump graduates.  There is good work being done here, but I just felt like such a fool handing out so little, children and adults scrambling across a sea of garbage for a banana,  when there is such a need.

Today is Thursday and on Saturday I fly to Kuala Lumpur.  My research is coming along–I am reading quite a lot.  It will be interesting to get to East Timor and do some comparative work on the narratives depicting their most recent genocide.

Thanks for all your letters.  I appreciate hearing for you all :).

Loves and loves.

Patience and Solitude

Me again.  I decided to call this post Patience and Solitude–two of the things I feel I learn most on the road. Patience when it takes literally an hour and a half to get online (that is if the power is on), patience when the motocycle taxi driver (moto) says he understands and really doesn’t and then just starts driving in one direction and we end up miles away from destination, patience with sitting for 2 and a half hours in the US embassy to get more pages in one’s passport, only to be told after such time that they are out of pages, come back next week.  sigh..breathe…patience. 🙂  lol!  Solitude is also another one.  Alone in a crowd.  Keeping myself motivated to do good work.

Well, I visited the prison here with a number of delegates from NGOs–I got to play with a bunch of grubby children who are literally locked up all day with their mothers in dirty cages–the guards walk around carrying bats used for beating.  The NGOs are working hard here in Cambodia.  They are learning as they go and many are doing their best in a society which desperately needs healing.

I was able to interview one of the leaders working for World Vision.  The dilemmas are real–do you take a child away from parents who might sell her into the sex trade and therefore disenfranchise the parents and undercut the Khmer people, or do you educate the parents towards empowerment when that process takes much longer and is much more difficult.  There is a lot of rage beneath the surface here…much post traumatic stress as every adult I’ve talked to lost large portions of their families.

Next week I’ll be going to the dump to see the families there.  I’ll also be staying with a family in the countryside who live in absolute poverty–no running water/electricity.  My friend Paul, the Welsh rugby teacher, is taking me out there.  So I’ll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, I keep chugging away here with my reading and study preparing for the prelim exams in the Fall.  On a lighter note, I found a place here which will make shoes for very cheap and I’m thinking I’ll get some pretty leather heels made :).   As far as the rest of the summer… In a couple weeks, I’ll fly to Kuala Lumpur and do some jungle trekking on the Malaysian peninsula before making it to Singapore for some salsa teaching.  I’ll then fly to Jakarta and make my way over the Bali then island hop to my actual destination:  East Timor.  The newest country in the world, which also has a history of genocide by the Indonesians.  I’d like to do some comparison study there for a couple weeks before hopping back to Cambodia via Vietnam.

Plane tickets here are like $30, bus/boat tickets under $10 for hours and hours of travel so moving around is quite easy.   So there’s really no complaining, even if it took 2 hours to get online to write this blog 🙂

Lots of love.

Katherine

Pics

This is a carving in a temple whose king was first Buddhist then later Hindu--the praying buddha has been carved over with a dancing hindu devi

This is a carving in a temple whose king was first Buddhist then later Hindu--the praying buddha has been carved over with a dancing hindu devi

Angkor what?

So I’ve made the 6 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.  On one of our layovers, I picked up some fried spiders as big as my hand.

tasty Cambodian snack..mmmm

  I tried eating one but the legs were all furry in my mouth…couldn’t quite get it down….what an experience.  mmmm.  The girl next to me was chowing down on a big bag of fried grasshoppers.  We then picked up some sweet rice cooked in large bamboo sticks–you peel back the outside and it’s actually wonderful.  That I did like.  I had an interesting conversation with Oskar, the northern Italian older man sitting next to me.  The Khmer woman on my other side started picking the fuzz off my shirt so I felt quite taken care of!  🙂

Now I am staying in the shadow of Angkor Wat, a Unesco World heritage site.   Today I got thoroughly browned running around the temples.   It really is an amazing site–completely undescribable and all pictures do not do it justice. 

Ta Phrom Temple at Angkor Wat

In other news, I’ve got a good contact in Phnom Penh and will be visiting the dump kids–children of the Khmer Rouge child soldiers who literally live and survive on the giant dump outside the city.  There’s a school there just for the children and a rescue center where children (especially girls) are taken from their parents who are about to sell them for money into the sex trade and put into this school.   It’s a complex issue of course.  But my friend Paul who is from Wales is putting them all in rugby teams and having them play other schools.  The children love it.  I’ll be visiting them shortly when I get back into the capitol.

I’ve also been fortunate to find the DC-Cam which is the document center (run in cooperation with Yale) for the housing of all the genocide archives.  I’ll be getting Visiting Scholar status and I’m able to study there and have access to all their files and database.  It’s an important place so I’m happy…feel fortunate to be here.

 

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