Patience is a virture. If this is the case, then I'm becoming a pretty virtuous person. I'll recount my trips to other districts of Timor-Leste in a bit, but first take a little time to explain how things work here. Going out to the districts to interview people is a sufficiently complicated process. I have to make sure that staff in the district will be notified that I will be there. I need to have helpers who speak Tetun who can ask both catechists and community members questions for me. Luckily, I have two helpers who have been absolutely instrumental in my work so far. Because of the language barrier of giving interviews, I often follow them around, hold onto the questionnaires and provide them with pencils when they need them, all while shying away from the population of children who often follow me around. (They should be in school!) This is what the little posse that follows me around looks like. I smile sweetly and say "Bom dia!" and then they shriek, giggle and whisper excitedly to each other.
Here's what a typical interview looks like for us. I've been to guest of many porches, all over Timor-Leste. If I am an expert in anything from this summer, it would be the types of plastic chair available. We sit on the porch to shade ourselves from the sun while the interviewer I'm with explains why we're here (to ask about attitudes relating to church health messages) and that we'd like to talk with them. Luckily, people are always obliging.
Sometimes so obliging that we start an interview, only to realize that the person (usually a middle-aged mother) being interviewed hasn't been paying attention in church enough to know what the church health messages even are! For the most part though, it's been a valuable way for me to see what life outside Dili is like for the Timorese. Compared to my home, I don't have a fancy place by any means, but my place in Dili has indoor plumbing, hot water, and internet access (for a criminal $75 a month). Out in the districts, I've been introduced to bathrooms that have no discernible way in which to relieve yourself. Sometimes I am glad for improvisation skills that traveling has given me. Out in the districts though (if you didn't pick up on this already, that's what traveling outside of Dili is referred to "out in the districts." Rarely are people asked to specify where exactly they went.) I spend a lot of time riding around. Villages are spaced in car rides that are an hour, an hour and a half apart and sometimes I'll drive this whole way with the team, just to find out that the Church Health Messages haven't been implemented in this particular parish. Although frustrating, the drives are not without their own particular charm. On the way to an especially remote town, one of my Timorese coworkers pointed out the second highest mountain in Timor-Leste, Mt. Matebian. He told me that people flocked to this mountain in 1975 to hide from Indonesian forces that were razing, pillaging, and destroying the island after Portugal had ceded their colonial power. To make a long story short, in my trip to Baucau, I spent from Sunday to Thursday traveling around the district learning more about the implementation of the Church Health Messages. Out of 11 villages I visited, only 3 had implemented the messages. A little frustrating, but with every trip, with every site where the messages haven't been implemented, I learn a little more. I gain a better understanding of the problems of the Church Health Messages here in Timor-Leste, but also I learn about public health practice in general. Things never happen the way you expect them to. Like today, I went with a few office assistants to purchase ferry tickets to Oecusse, a small enclave of Timor-Leste surrounded by the Indonesian West Timor on all sides. I was told to wait in the car while the assistants purchased tickets for me, one of the interviewers that's been helping me, and an independent researcher who also planned to travel to Oecusse. I waited in the truck with the driver for ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour, forty minutes. I gained a keen appreciation for taxi decorations (one taxi had managed to affix giant, fake eyelashes to the windshield wipers of his car. I thought it was pretty amusing). I finally heard back from another office assistant - all of the tickets were sold out! This generally doesn't happen. A government worker (or maybe just the government?) had purchased all of the remaining ferry tickets. This doesn't bode well for my Oecusse trip, the last trip of my time here in Timor. I've got a few options now. I can go on a ferry on Thursday, and arrive back in Dili next Wednesday, which cuts short the rest of my time in Dili. The more preferred option, however, is to gain access to a precious UN helicopter flight to Oecusse. This would but pretty could and an exicting way to start my last visit out into the districts. Flights are pretty difficult to arrange, however. I should know in a few hours whether or not this will be possible. Also, to speak to the chaos. I placed my stack of neatly organized, completed questionnaires on the table next to my desk before I set out for the immigration and ferry offices this morning. When I returned, they were nowhere in sight! This is my data for the summer, so my work lies with these papers. Fortunately, we have a good idea of where the papers are. Unfortunately, that location is a truck that just left Dili to a very, very faraway district. I have faith that everything will turn out alright - a stack of papers couldn't have gone too far within the span of an hour and a half. Basically, this has been my July. In and out of Dili. Getting a real feel for what it's like to talk with people and learning about how complicated it is to design a public health program that feels relevant to people in ways that make them change health practices - or maybe just wash their hands. And because Timor-Leste isn't all frustration, here's a nice picture of one of the more beautiful parts of Dili, Atauro Island.