Because we are members of such a smallish foreign community (malae in Tetun), friendships among this group are surprisingly easy gifts to acquire. While at home, I found it a slow process to cultivate a new friendship. Here, I simply walk up to a face that does not look Tetun, introduce myself as an American volunteering with the Canossian sisters and ask what they are doing in Timor-Leste. Knowing that all of us eat, asking them over for dinner usually gets a positive response, and then we are off and running (or eating.)
Among those we have wined (rather “juiced”) and dined are Roger and Noriko, an Australian couple, who have led an astonishing life of service to the poor. Roger, an eye surgeon, does operations to remove cataracts and the like, and trains local opthamologists to do likewise. His faithful wife, who herself has a PhD, usually finds meaningful work teaching English and befriending the oppressed women where they serve. Roger and Noriko spent four years in Afghanistan from 2005-2009 when the violence and uncertainty were at their heights. Noriko recently published a small book of her letters home from Afghanistanto their Anglican church in Sydney, called In His Strength. It is most inspiring. This amazing couple has just left for Fiji, as Timor had enough eye doctors to fulfill the mission of the NGO for whom Roger works. I miss them both.
We have been blessed with the friendship of two of the chaplains with the IDF, the ANZ peacekeepers who are here. We met Craig (sans Narelle), with whom we stayed in Perth, at Sr. Guilhermina’s Christmas party. He brought Fr. Tony with him when he came to dinner. Fr. Tony, a Kiwi, often celebrated the English Mass on Sundays and Wednesdays, something that was not on his official list of duties. Although I think he may have been a product of the seminaries of the 70s, he is a truly kind man and he has a heart for the people of Timor-Leste. Both Craig and Fr. Tony completed their 6 month tours and returned, though Craig and Narelle are heading to Malaysia in the near future.
Our most favorite couple, Lukas and Christina, are true Australians. Lukas was born in Czechoslovakia, Christina is Chinese-Indonesian and they met in Australia. They work with physically handicapped young adults and are intimidatiing in their patience and love towards that community and the system that is so difficult to change. We find our mutual Catholic perspective to enliven every conversation and to help us greatly in adapting to Timor-Leste.
Therese, an Australian who has lived in Timor for almost 7 years, is a wonder of experience,information, and insight on anything related to education. I go to her regularly with my questions and frustrations, and she always puts some balm on my weary soul regarding the mysteries of my students. I am grateful for her commitment to the Timorese. In addition to the commitment, there is real love and respect. She is a fine example of Catholic ministry done well.
There are more than will fit in this post. Consider this to be a partial description of the rich, providential feast that we have been enjoying. [posted by Rory]