I roast my own beans – Timorese are coffee connoisseurs

I’m shamefully admitting that I started this blog post over a year ago, then forgot about it, then recently remembered about it, so finished it. 

I recently found the following scrap piece of paper tucked in a journal: on one side are sketches that I did in a tattoo shop lobby minutes before deciding to, yes, get a cup of coffee permanently printed on my skin. On the other side is a pro-and-con list of “doing” the Peace Corps and the number 24 (the age I will be when service ends). While I didn’t originally get the tattoo to represent deciding to do the Peace Corps or rather, deciding to do the Peace Corps in a coffee-country, I must have known there would be some correlation.

Step one: receive some fresh beans from a family member, leave them out to dry, then clean the shells off by doing this amazing flip movement with this basket (that I cannot do as successfully as Maria here).

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Most people in America don’t know Timor-Leste. Those that do probably know it from the bags of coffee on the shelves of Starbucks. It is somewhat disappointing that this country, younger than me (establishing sovereignty in 2002), who experienced decades of highly violent conflict and occupation by Indonesia when information was easily spread by TV and even the Internet, is not something I learned about in school or my parents heard about in the news. But as I continue to meet wonderful people, see beautiful sites and begin to call this country home, I’m happy to know it is known for something as wonderful as coffee (and maybe scuba diving), and not just for the injustices they have endured.

The Portuguese introduced coffee to Timor-Leste in the nineteenth century (along with rats apparently) in attempts of creating coffee export activities. During the Indonesian occupation, whatever industry or organization was established seemed to disintegrate as a result of little investment and the implementation of a government-sanctioned monopoly. During the 1990s, the industry was de-regulated but Co-operativo Café Timor (CCT) entered the scene, becoming a major player who still runs supreme today.

Step 2: Roast the beans – until the neighbors can smell it or it is very black, whichever comes last. 

Currently, coffee remains Timor-Leste’s largest non-oil export and provides a primary source of income to approximately one quarter of Timorese households. But without a formally organized coffee industry association, productivity, quality and therefore incomes are much lower than what the global market for specialty coffee is. Export costs are high, and coffee quality struggles to meet a sustainable level of profit.

Timorese people love their coffee. They are proud of Timorese coffee. I can’t say they are quite at the same coinsurer level as some Portlanders or Seattlates, but they’ll be the first to comment on the shortcomings of Indonesian coffee or even less-fresh Timorese coffee powder. But I’m don’t see how they can taste the difference, because Timorese people also love sugar in their coffee. Lots of sugar. To me, an unbelievable amount of sugar. A caramel macchiato would probably blow their minds. I think this is because, in my experience, home-roasted beans are often burnt, sour and very strong. Separate cups of plain (in their eyes, bitter) coffee are left out for select grandpas, and me.

Step 3: let cool for a bit, pick out the small or rotten looking beans using your fingers or that neat flipping motion mentioned above, depending on your experience with these bamboo baskets.

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People here are shocked to hear that a bag of Timorese coffee in America is sold for $14.99 (almost as shocked to hear I prefer my coffee bitter). This is probably because it is vastly different than the price they are receiving. Most are probably doing the math to figure an American company (Starbucks) only has to sell approximately 9 bags in one year to breakeven on the cost they pay to the farmer (the average coffee producing family earns between $127 and $200 per year).

Step 4 and 5: pound into powder using this metal stick and heavy hallowed-out wood here. Then sift the powder through a tin bowl with small holes (made with nails), replace the still-big pieces into the wood. 

But not all the blame can be placed on Starbucks or other buyers who demand the lowest price; the same aspects that make Timorese coffee specialized and unique make it of less quality and quantity. It is cultivated organically – an accidental result of expensive pesticides and fertilizers rather than for environmental reasons, which incidentally leads to smaller yields and lower quality. Hopefully, as the detached local industry becomes more united, the country and it’s coffee farmers will have more bargaining power.

To read more and references for this post:

Timor-Leste Coffee Industry Association Analysis

Easy Timorese Sell Their Coffee to Starbucks, Starve at Home 

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Sunday Suli 8: a success story

In November I officially closed the computer training project I started in May. This project was supported by a Small Project Assistance Grant approved Peace Corps and USAID. After writing a proposal and a pretty extensive curriculum, we were able to buy 4 new laptops, a printer, AVR (automatic voltage regulator, to protect from power surges), a few USBs and mouses, and new practice tables. Each week I taught one course for kids in the community and then two courses for adult members and cooperative leadership. All-in-all, participants ranged from ages 10-45. After a few weeks break, I am getting started again with new curriculum and only teaching twice a week.

When closing the project, I was asked to write a success story:

This success story is about the personal growth of one counterpart through her involvement in our computer-training project and how she represents the community growth made.

Like the majority of participants, July 26th, 2017 was the first time Mana Fernanda had used a computer. This was the first day of training supported by a SPA grant the cooperative and I applied for with hopes of increasing productivity, accuracy and ability to empower cooperative members. Since then, she hasn’t missed an opportunity to learn; attending all available trainings and even sitting in on the kids’ classes. At the age of 40, learning this completely new skill, much of it in a foreign language, has not been an easy feat. But with the same determination used in her farm, hand watering rows upon rows of vegetables, or after the Indonesian occupation, learning to read independently using her children’s school books, Mana Nanda is mastering the double-click, copy and pasting and even typing without looking.

Each week, participants learn a new skill using 4 laptops and 1 printer. I create curriculum and worksheets that build on each other each week, utilizing real-world applications such as creating budgets, kiosk inventory lists, resumes, cooperative reports to learn word processing and spreadsheet skills. These skills build individual capacity, represented in objectives such as: within 3 months, 6 members of leadership can create a budget or monthly report. As well as organizational capacity, represented in goals such as: create a culture of customer service and improve the quality and transparency of the transaction process.

In addition to these built capacities, I have seen the computer trainings increase participants, like Mana Nanda’s confidence and ability to see themselves as crucial parts of the community and cooperative. After the planned training is complete, I plan to utilize the afternoon hour people are already used to utilizing with me to sit down with each member of leadership and identify ways to utilize their computer skills in their day-to-day responsibilities. This will sustain learning and provide a path for productive work. Mana Nanda works as the Credit Committee Member Elect, she does not always know what this means or what work she should be doing, but is reliable in the office observing or chatting with members during her expected hours. While success will be measured with quantitative objectives, some qualitative successes may serve more worthwhile as Mana Nanda is provided a tool of confidence to create work for herself in order to support the wellbeing of the cooperative.

Sunday Suli 7: Of course, my host family

I was recently asked by Peace Corps to write a story about my host family:

One of my biggest concerns before coming to my site was the host family situation. Was it going to be awkward? Would they like me? Could I still feel independent?

Now, one year in, I have had the privilege of being welcomed, getting to know and becoming family with each person under our roof. And I have answers to each of those questions.

Of course it is awkward sometimes. But it is equally comfortable and natural. Some of the funniest moments are those that began as a little uncomfortable. Like when a frog jumped into my room and on to my bed; I sat in silence for a few moments, not knowing what to do, then found my host sister, Maria and quietly tried to explain what happened. She could not stop laughing while trying to swat the frog out with a broom while I cringed in panic. This is not the only time a critter has made its way into my room, and definitely not the last time my calls for help make the situation laughable.

Of course they like me. With still one year left, conversations of the dreaded day I leave come up often. And I know this is my family, because similar to my family back home, the tears flow easy. My host mom, Ines and I often joke about how we won’t be able to properly say goodbye to each other because we’ll be crying too hard. But I know these relationships will not be forgotten. A few months ago Ines had a baby, and she was given my name; an honor I will always treasure. Sometimes bonding with my other younger host siblings, Adae and Evan is difficult but I treasure the small moments like French braiding Adae’s hair before school and playing cars with Evan until a wheel falls off.

Of course I am still independent. Joining Peace Corps anywhere and entering a new culture requires some release of independence, like not being able to drive a car or eat whatever you would like. But my family encourages me to learn new skills, like planting vegetables and explore the country, like visiting Atauro Island with my host dad, Tome. They are also happy to learn new things from me and about American culture. We’ve studied the world map taped up in the family room, made s’mores, celebrated Mother’s Day and tried chopsticks, bracelet making and origami. I look forward to another year of exchange, love and laughs.

A not-quite-handwritten thank you note

This year’s birthday celebration may be a contender for a Guinness World Record – now going on month 3. It begun with a great September weekend in Dili featuring homemade pumpkin pie (yuuuuum), pool party, mushroom-filled fancy dinner, Burger King hash browns, dancin’ and creative gifts from fellow volunteers.

A few weeks later the party continued with a huge package from America! Our packages are stored in a glass cabinet, so we often check out who is getting the goods, maybe with a twinge of jealous curiosity, but mostly because it is smart to have a good idea of who is going to have snacks in the near future. But this time, I knew I had one on the way and was a little disappointed I didn’t see it in the cabinet. I didn’t expect the big box on top of the cabinet to have my name on it! I opened it immediately, maybe shed a few tears, and was so excited to eat/use all my new goodies.

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Since then, I’ve slowly been taking items to site and celebrate with each snack opened and fresh t-shirt worn. This weekend I took the last batch home, and since I can’t very easily write you all thank you cards, I thought I’d share my gratitude here.

Mom and Bret – You’re right Mom – I did instantly think “geez Mom you got carried away” but you definitely achieved your goal of making me feel loved and special. And individually wrapping stuff?! Nice touch. Coordinating this package couldn’t have been easy, definitely with your busy schedule, thank you again. I can’t wait to share this place with both of you. Those fresh, soft t-shirts are so nice, although they now allow me to wait to do laundry even longer, which results in very wrinkled, tired hands. Maybe when you’re here you can help me get rid of the old ones. Also happy birthday Mom!

Dad – And I’m proud to be your daughter. If hand sanitizer is a representation of your love, know that I’ll be swimming in it for a while. Thanks for all the snacks (some I haven’t ever seen before! I’m fans of those peanut butter and banana chip packets) and sweet card. Hope you’re keeping up on all the new hip spots in Salem and in the music scene – I’m gonna need an update when I get home.

Sydney – I think your note in this birthday card is longer than any message you’ve sent me in the past year, haha. But your collage speaks for itself 😊. I put it right next to my mirror, but I definitely look at it more often than in the mirror (I can feel the grease, don’t need to confirm it lol). It still blows my mind that when I come home you’ll be in your second year of college! And it seems like you are killin’ it your first year! The only regret I can think of from my first year is crying to a professor about an A-, so whenever you’re feeling stressed, remember you’ll probably never be that pathetic.

Payton, McKenzie, Brittany and Kevin – Thank you for your sweet words and most importantly, Instagram comments 😊. I can’t wait to catch up with all of your adventures and accomplishments. I am constantly in awe of the strength and dedication of the women and girls in this country, and don’t think I would be in constant admiration and recognition of them without the experience of growing up surrounded by women of the same sentiment. Here’s to hoping Timor has prepared me for the heat in Waco.

Isabellah and Madi – Holy moly dudes! Good thing I have a year left to think of a way to reciprocate the love and sparkle (nice touch btw) I feel each time I open a card or flip a month on my calendar. Not to mention all the goodies in the package! Know that the Laffy Taffys fueled a very intense hike to the highest spot in Timor. Also, thought you should know another reason banana is the best flavor: they don’t melt and get stuck to the packaging like the other flavs do. I can’t wait to hang out with you guys and literally do anything. I can’t wait to get caught up on all your stories, interesting people you’ve met, any wardrobe or style changes that have been made, etc. You’ll have to meet my fellow volunteers so they can become obsessed with you too. I am so proud of you and would also definitely want you as a sister wife.

Grandma Nancy – Wow, I hope the garden was as delicious as it sounds! Berries aren’t very common here, but there has been a recent push to grow strawberries up in the mountains for a unique source of income. But nothing compares to Oregon-grown berries. It was difficult not being home and hearing of Marty’s passing, but my heart was there. I am reminded of his quiet kindness each time my little host brother pulls out his yellow Hot Wheels car, which, according to all the neighborhood kids, is the best car toy in Timor. Thank you so much for the iTunes gift card – some new music will definitely make my long walks home more enjoyable.

Grampa Jon and Gramma Carla – Being able to hear a person’s voice when reading their handwriting is a pretty cool thing; I felt right at home when opening your card. I recently hiked the tallest peak on the island (Mounth Tatamailau), and was transported to the lake for a bit while walking back down among the smell of pine trees in dry heat. If only I could have ended that long adventure with a dip in chilly water.

Grandpa Mike and Victoria – I am so grateful for your birthday and holiday cards! Knowing my support system extends to so many places is comforting. Sometimes celebrating holidays here is difficult, with different traditions and being so far from home, but finding a card in my mailbox is always cause for a smile. Know that the birthday money is going towards great things, in this year’s case, pizza! 😉

Grama Linda and Papa Dick – Thank you for thinking of me and involving me in exciting moments in Salem! I love the eclipse t-shirt and it is a great conversation starter among volunteers and locals a like. Most volunteers didn’t know Salem was the best place to see the eclipse from, which serves well in my on-going argument that Oregon is the best state in the U.S. 😀 And explaining how it works to locals results in some shocked faces and sometimes interesting stories about what they remember when that happened here a long time ago. You’ll have to tell me all about it when I get back.

Carol, Trish and Peggy – Didn’t think it was possible to feel homesick for the Country office, but opening your card proved it is. Thank you for your lifelong support and following my adventures, even though I’m not very good at posting. I’ve made a goal of posting more this next year – so be on the look out! Can’t wait to see familiar faces in Salem and with all those changes I’ve heard about, I might need some tour guides. 😉

Thank you again for all your support and making me feel special all the way across the Pacific! Also of course, big thanks to the volunteer family here that made me feel right at home!

Sunday Suli 6: Simple Pleasures

Recently I received a letter from my dear friend Henry, among discussions of Steinbeck and adventures we wouldn’t have imaged two years ago, he asked me what “simple pleasures” I’m enjoying. It has been a few days since opening the letter, and I’m still thinking about this question. Mostly because I have so many answers.

But also because I realized this is how I’ve naturally begun to think and smile. Turns out when you don’t have a lot of “big things” going on, all you can do is “focus on the little things.” So here are a few:

  • The nice hallow, drum noise made by tall bamboo trees knocking together in the wind
  • A somewhat-squishy, somewhat-roomy seat in the back of an angunna. Best if it is near another volunteer
  • Hot coffee that isn’t too burnt
  • Walking home with the sunset or sunrise
  • Water coming
  • The “Mana Haley mai ona” (“Haley has come”) song my host siblings sing from the porch as I walk the final stretch home from a weekend away
  • The awkward laugh which my host mom and I acknowledge each other with multiple times a day
  • A full night of sleep with no rat wake up calls
  • A gin and tonic in Dili (duh)
  • Ramen added to dinner’s leaf dish
  • Seeing baby goats/cows/chickens/pigs/dogs, but definitely not touching them
  • Someone taking even small initiative in computer class
  • People who actively include me in conversations and tell me stories
  • The plants that close when they are touched
  • A bike ride that doesn’t end in head-to-toe mud
  • Hitchhiking
  • A good porch sit
  • Whatsapp messages
  • Catching up with volunteers after only a week or two of not seeing each other
  • When the electricity comes on just as you’ve exhausted all charging options and your phone hits 5% battery
  • Little kids’ smiles and old peoples’ smiles (and other peoples’ smiles, but especially kids and old people)
  • Finishing a book
  • A nap that isn’t too short but isn’t too long

Also, the opposites of some of these things aren’t necessarily “the worst,” but more the norm I have gotten used to. I think with enough time I could go on forever. Next time I’m feeling slump-y, I’ll go look for more.

Timor-Leste: No Air BnBs, but fresh air and big bees

As of 2 months ago (posting is hard sometimes), I have visited every district that hosts a TL7 volunteer (6 of the 13 districts in total). Although I haven’t biked to them like some of my fellow volunteers (shouts out). This country is so small, 5,950 square miles according to Wikipedia, but each district has its own unique landscapes. Similar to Oregon (shouts out), the mountains and sea are just a few miles from one another, and the country experiences all types of weather.

There is very little tourism information about Timor in general, let alone for each of the districts. You can’t check the regional weather on your iPhone. There are no local tourist offices. Google Maps can’t route you to destinations. The closest destination I can change my “lives in” section of Facebook to is Dili, the capital, which would be a big fat lie. So I thought I’d give a little review of each district I’ve made it to and my home district (Aileu – the best one).

Atauro – small island north of Dili

Weather: SO HOT! I distinctively remember walking on the beach, where there seemed to be no shade, and feeling like I could only get half breaths in. But a pro of feeling like you are on the side of the sun, the bucket showers feel so good and refreshing.

Journey: From Dili, the island looks pretty close. But is a few hour boat ride. The day I went, the water was smooth and bright blue. But returning, you could tell it was raining in Dili, the water was much choppy-er and everything seemed gray. President Trump should take a trip to Timor to witness quick climate change induced weather inconsistencies.

Sites: The area I visited was much dryer than the mountains of the mainland. Almost seemed like a desert in comparison. But it did finally feel like I was on the tropical island I thought Timor was: surrounded by palm trees bearing coconuts, houses made of bamboo and heavy grass, markets full of fish. Speaking of fish…

Activities: THE SNORKELING AND REEFS – absolutely amazing. I gotta admit – I’m not the most comfortable person in the water, but I would have stayed there all day, face in the water, feet away from complex fish communities, thinking about how sometimes life seems so stressful but if places like this exist and sea grass is constantly swaying, it can’t really be that stressful.

Ermera – mountain district south of Dili and west of Aileu

Weather: Similar to other mountainous districts, some days are warm with chiller nights. The morning fog depends on how high you travel up into the mountains.

Journey: This is a bike ride I have done. Aileu and Ermera are neighboring districts, but there are no nice paved, populated roads connecting the two. Which some may argue makes the ride more fun. But after a few hours, few hills and a few breaks fueled by Sour Patch Watermelon candy, we made it to Gleno (the large city). Then lugged our bikes up the mountain with the assistance of an angunna (truck with benches in the back) up to Ermera Vila. But from Dili, the journey is easy going, under 2 hours on a nicely paved, although windy, road.

Sites: This is the district most known for coffee. “Cafe laran” or coffee forests line the roads and great a dark-green lush environment. We climbed stairs to a church at the top of Ermera Vila, to watch a beautiful sunset, accompanied by a lightening storm, over the mountains and sea.

ActivitiesThis trip consisted of dance parties, hikes to waterfalls in the heat of the day and to lookout spots avoiding mosquitos, and exhilarating mountain biking. We did not spend a lot of time in Gleno, the larger city, but considering they have roads that look similar to highways, there is probably lots (in Timor standards, so not that much) to see and do.

Liquica – coastal district west of Dili

Weather: Hooooooottttttt. I slept without a blanket or sheet on tiled ground, and still woke up every few hours. But on the beach, the water and breeze make it bearable.

Journey: Short Microlet (small bus) ride from Dili, but be aware of the Tasi Tolu terminal. The drivers and assistants are true entrepreneurs, sometimes physically forcing you to ride their car. In order to get a better view of the ocean, hitchhiking in the back of a truck is suggested.

Sites: Because these coasts are more west than those in Dili, they provide a better vantage for sunsets. At Black Rock, the sand was nice and clean of urchins/coral and the water was salty, for premium floating.

ActivitiesSit at the beach. All day. Eat pizza and drink sangria. There are a few resort-like restaurants, we spent our time at Black Rock. Getting couches wet with our swimsuits, reading, listening to music and pretending to be tourists. No need to fly out to Bali for a island-paradise-vacation.

Baucau – large district east of Dili, with second largest city

Weather: The vila and surrounding area is on the warmer side, but definitely feels the cold of the dry season.

Journey: Loooong bus ride, but beautiful views and a relatively nice road (although very dusty). It is interesting how the modes of public transportation vary between districts. For long rides like this one, buses are the majority. Which are the bane of Aileu/Maubisse volunteers existence, who have gotten used to the open, breezy rides of Angunnas. But we made it. Similar to the Tasi Tolu terminal, the Beccora terminal is intense. Before we even got out of the taxi, “ajudantes” (bus assistance) were pulling bags and pizza boxes out of our hands in aims to get us on their buses. To be honest, we were most worried about the pizza, but found it eventually.

 Sites: The views during the bus ride were amazing – the sea, steep bare mountains with trees growing 90 degrees out of the ground, long and flat land of rice fields – a Timor I was not familiar with.

Activities: Us volunteers who hadn’t been to Baucau vila yet were in awe. A small city, with clean streets, intact monuments and statues, local transportation system, and A POOL. We hung out at the pool all day. If you find yourself, outside of the city ask the kids if they have any routined dances, they’ll blow you away.

Maubisse – mountainous, in Ainaro district, south of Aileu

Weather:  Coooold. All day we were saying “oh my gosh – it is so cold” – which I’m sure was annoying to the volunteers who deal with that everyday. But the sun does come out and warm things up (not the shower water, that is still v cold).

Journey: Another hour past Aileu, but the road has recently been finished, making it a quick trip. As you start up the hill, you can see into the valleys of Aileu (including into my neighborhood).

Sites: The mountains here seem to be surrounding on all sides, different than the rolling hills of Aileu, feels like you are right in the middle of them all. Everything is green, and traditional houses are places sporadically among garden terraces and shortcut paths connecting communities.

Activities: A great place for hiking. We decided to hike to a waterfall with a pool (of very cold water) using shortcut paths that went through farms, fields, and forests.

Aileu – mountain district south of Dili

Weather: Like Oregon, we have the best of both worlds (days of sunshine and chilly mornings) and a lot of rain during rainy season. And get this – I have seasonal allergies here too. Guess it was meant to be.

Journey: Cons: 2.5 to 3 hour ride on maybe the worst main road in Timor. Pros: Taibesi, the terminal in Dili is 100% more low key than the others, no one pushing or grabbing your stuff. Angunnas, large open trucks with sitting benches in the back, are readily available. These help to avoid car sickness.

Sites: Aileu is the vegetable capital of Timor. This isn’t an official title, but all vegetables sold in Dili supermarkets come from Aileu, including my cooperative’s farm. So you’ll enjoy views of rice fields, rows and rows of bokchoy, and greenhouses, big and small.

Activities: Have a chocolate chip cookie at Projeto Montanha, go for a bumpy bike ride to my community, watch a cock fight in the market, visit the lake in Seloi Kriak, splash around in the river.

Now – come visit me! Still have 7 districts left, and I’d love to explore them with you 🙂

Those “I voted!” stickers would be a hit here

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Today is Timor’s presidential elections. And everyone participates. There is officially no school or work for two full days. People travel back to their home districts and neighborhoods to vote in person. Out in the sun (or rain, happened to be sun today), 50 people lines form. Women bring their babies. Kids come to watch. And I can tell you more than an estimated 57.9% of eligible voters vote (the rate of the 2016 U.S. presidential election).

I chatted with a woman who had just finished voting about how great it is that a lot of people came. She didn’t understand why I was excited about that. Her reaction was something along the lines of: “uh, of course a lot of people came. Everyone’s here.” I then explained how it is not the same in America; a lot of people don’t vote and then are unhappy with the result. In her response, she described voting as a right. Which, yes, of course it is a right. But I don’t often think of it that way. More often it is framed as a “duty.” But to the people of Timor-Leste, it is a right they are proud to have fought 24+ years for. They have seen real, wanted results from showing up and voting (independence is a pretty big deal, yeah?).

There are a lot of reasons people don’t vote in America (limitations in registering, scheduling conflicts, not liking either candidate, etc.), the most common being: “I’m only one person. My vote doesn’t make a difference.” I know I’ve definitely bought into that line of thought. But considering the current totalitarian-y vibes coming from Trump’s administration, I’m shifting my personal narrative of “a required duty” to “a right fought for.” American democracy hasn’t completely fallen apart (yet), electing officials to protect state and local priorities is especially important in the continued Trump-resistance. Everyone knows how he hates to lose. I’m sure even the victory of a democratic mayor over someone who has voiced support for him stings his ego.

Next local election in Oregon in May 16th. People here walk for miles to vote; the least I can do is send in an absentee e-mail ballot.

More notes about elections in Timor-Leste:

  • There are 8 candidates in this election and a variety of parties
  • The campaign period is less than one month long (imagine that)
  • If no candidate receives absolute majority (51%) a second election is held
  • The voting age is 17
  • This was the first election in which citizen could send in absentee ballots from Australia. In general, all votes are given in person

People here often praise America as a big country, with a lot of money and a lot of smart people, but its apparent we could learn a bit from this new democracy.

meet HIKHMOR

In Peace Corps Timor-Leste, each volunteer is paired up with a counterpart organization. These are local nonprofits or community groups whose work (supposedly) aligns with the goal areas of our service (nutrition, hand washing, small business, agriculture). We live in the community surround the organization, and in my case, live with members of the group.

My counterpart organization is a cooperative of farmers named HIKHMOR (an acronym that translates literally to “wipe sweat to better life” but more figuratively represents working hard). The organization has a few functions:

Credit Union – savings & loans

There are around 140 members who have savings accounts with the org. It is suggested each person save at least $5 each month, and once they have a good chunk of change saved, they have the option of taking loans out from the org. The loans have a monthly interest of 3%, which is distributed back to members once a year. After discussions, the cooperative’s leadership is very interested in growing this operation – building a more secure, larger office and inviting more members to join.

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How I’m involved/plans for future involvement: Help move years of financial info on to the org’s computer; teach basic computer skills as well as programs like Excel; standardize operations; provide personal financial management training and skills to members

Farming – growing & selling

The majority of people in my larger community find livelihood through farming and selling produce. Being part of the cooperative has provided some members the opportunity to sell produce directly to Kmanck (large supermarket chain in Dili), rather than walking to the market in Aileu (2 hour walk). Each week, we wash veggies in the river (always double wash your produce) and then weigh the batch for a price. These farmers have received training from Kmanck in quality control.

How I’m involved/plans for future involvement: teaching agriculture/produce related English; invite USAID to provide training; introduce irrigation system and tunnels.

Childhood health – nutrition & education

This is an area I haven’t seen much activity, but have heard about past projects and ideas. Last summer the organization, under the leadership of the president and my official Counterpart, Mana Lurdes, won the Presidential Nutrition Award of $10,000. So I think there was more active projects then. But we weigh neighborhood kids each month and track for malnutrition. Various other resources are given sporadically, like mosquito nets.

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How I’m involved/plans for future involvement: create a way for my information to be given to mothers at weigh-ins; create illustrations to explain common illnesses; cooking sessions of nutritious food.


Overall, the members of the group are motivated and excited to learn. Which is great, and makes being involved fun. Most functions function pretty well already, so I’m realizing my work here will be to advance the capacity they already have.

Sunday Suli 5: Three things

Three things you do everyday differently than how you’d do them in the States and three things you do everyday the same as how you’d do them in the States.

Different:

  1. Wake up. I am not an early riser. I have slept through final exams (in my defense, because I was up late studying…probably), been late to meetings, once even missed a flight. But here I wake up with no alarm, human or electronic, between 7:00am and 7:30am. Unless of course, you count kids crying, music blasting 50 feet away or roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing.
  2. Clean my room. In America, I probably deep cleaned my room every 2 months. Probably instead of writing an essay or something. Here, I dust, sweep and mop every three days. Dust collects quickly; moths die and fall often; spiders make webs quickly. But I don’t mind, it is a productive task, and most importantly, takes time.
  3. Use an umbrella. In true Pacific Northwest fashion, I prefer a raincoat and a hood. But it isn’t worth the constant: “Where is your umbrella?,” “Did you forget your umbrella?,” “Without an umbrella, you’ll get sick,” from all the caring women I pass by. I will also admit that, living in a place where things don’t dry quickly or get warm fast, staying as dry as possible has become a priority.

Same:

  1. Drink a lot of coffee and eat snacks. One of my favorite parts of the day comes around 4pm: merinda (snack). Have a few small cups of coffee or tea; eat dose (usually fried batter cake things), bread, peanut butter crackers, etc. Ade and Ebyn (my host siblings) usually provide the entertainment, running after each other, or playing the worst game of hide-and-seek because they can’t seem to keep quiet while hiding.
  2. Talk politics. This one is relatively new. But most mornings, during breakfast, my host dad and I talk about what he heard on the news last night about America (aka about Donald Trump). This usually comes at a good time, because I’ve just looked at the news in bed, and feel a little railed up.
  3. Think about going running and don’t go. But you should know, the excuses I come up here are much more valid than those that stopped me in America. America. With nice paved sidewalks, treadmills, an understood culture of jogging. I’ve told myself once the rainy season is over, I’ll really commit to it. I can’t expect myself to cross a river, slip in mud, or worse, get my running shoes completely dirty (in a place where nothing is really ever clean again), right? 🙂

How to resist President Donald Trump from 9000 miles away (or at least how I’m gonna try)

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sometimes I’m so angry I forget letters in words
The content of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

In elementary school, all of my school art projects were red, white and blue. I checked out the same 4 library books about the branches of U.S. military over and over again. I watched the news every morning, trying my best to understand the wars we were fighting (until my mom said I couldn’t because I got too “railed up about it”). Now, 13 years later, 9000 miles away, and with the experienced knowledge that maybe America isn’t the best country in the world, I can still feel that 9 year old girl’s heart breaking as she tries to reason what her country stands for anymore.

Does it stand to be heartless? Suspending the Syrian refugee admissions program indefinitely. Does it stand to be ill informed and ignorant? Believing climate change to be a “hoax” and enforcing a media blackout on the Environmental Protection Agency. Does it stand to be unwelcoming and wasteful? Beginning construction on a $15 billion dollar U.S.-Mexico border wall. Does it stand to be unconstitutional? Blocking immigrants, visa and green cardholders from majority-Muslim countries (but of course not the countries with business ties to President Trump) from entering the country.

No, of course it doesn’t. These are the actions of one man put in one of the most powerful positions in the world. Sure, he has supporters. Sure, his party holds the House and the Senate. But as seen by the Womxn’s Marches around the nation and world last week, there are plenty of Americans standing for democracy, equality, and love.

Being so far away from the physical action, I often feel dishearten. I can’t march or organize in resistance. I can’t even call my representatives. But since the election, I’ve brainstormed a list of things I can do (with inspiration of those created by Bitch Media and The New Yorker).

Write letters to your representatives.

I just sent off my first letter to Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley thanking him for his opposition to President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees (John Kelly, the new Secretary of Homeland Security; Mike Pompeo, CIA director; and Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State) and urging him to fight against Senator Jeff Sessions confirmation as Attorney General and Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education.

Now more than ever, I am relying on my elected officials and politicians to represent my interests. By dedicating time and passion to writing frequent letters, I’m asking for my resistance to be heard and denoted. While I’m sure this absurdity will continue throughout his presidency, right now, I commit to writing at least one letter every week for President Trump’s first 100 days in office.

Find and contact your representatives here.

Read real and diverse news.

It’s old news that the circulation of fake news was rampant during the 2016 Election. Illegitimate news stories actually received more engagement on social media sites – via comments, reactions and shares – than those from established sites like The New York Time and The Washington Post. Whether or not this swayed the election, I think most people would agree that consuming fake news is a waste of time. My large part of my life right now is searching for activities that don’t seem like a waste of time, so only seems reasonable to start with reading real news.

We are now living in a reality where our government stands behind “alternative facts” (I beg you to click on that link) and not only refuses to acknowledge real, peer-reviewed, scientific facts, but blocks the public sharing of said information. This is seriously concerning and explained best by President Obama (miss you already): “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not… if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

In addition to verifying the news I consume, I will consider who is writing my news. Am I only receiving current events through a white, male lens? What kind of biases might be influencing the tone or facts provided?

Talk about current events in America with host country and be honest.

Take Peace Corps’ Third Goal to heart and prove that not all Americans are xenophobic. Create real relationships based on the celebration of differences, not the hatred of them. I am constantly asked to explain why, if so many people dislike him, did Donald Trump win the presidency? Once I even went so far as to try and explain the Electoral College (which is difficult in English, let alone in a new language). Directly or indirectly, the actions of the United States will affect small countries like Timor Leste, and people should think of your friendship first when thinking about America, rather than President Trump’s hate.

If for nothing else, I’m going to continue to be honest about what’s going on in America for the metaphors provided by Timorese friends and family. For example, after explaining that President Trump is not listening to all American people, my host dad followed up with the following metaphor: he is an angunna (large truck) driver. The people sitting up front with him think he is a great driver, but the people in the back are falling out and being jerked around. He doesn’t notice because he doesn’t care to look back.

Continue to educate yourself.

Rather than re-read Harry Potter for the 6th time, download/find some books to help fortify and legitimize your fight in resistance. Not only will this provide a great learning opportunity, it may offer a brief escape from the scary reality we are currently living. Do your best to get out of the echo chamber that is your life living as the only American in a rural community and search for your own biases.

Here is what I’m getting started with: Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett, What We Do Now Standing Up for Your Values in Trumps America by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges, and The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou.

If you have any other suggestions, send them on over!

Donate.*

*If possible.

It is on every “lists of things you can do right now,” because it is important. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Council on American-Islamic Relations, UNICEF, NAACP, among many others, have been fighting to protect the rights of marginalized groups long before the Inauguration of Trump and aren’t backing down now. Financial donations help to support the capacity and effectiveness of these groups during this critical time, but equally important, sends a strong message that these are issues and people we want to invest in; fights we believe in.

As a volunteer living on the other side of the world, there are some things that make donating unique. First, not having a wage. The precursory to any donation is ability. So if you don’t have the finances to make (even a small) donation, no worries. Remember you are volunteering a lot more than time to the spread of peace and friendship; that’s enough. Second, in order to avoid getting your credit card rejected for making a transaction from another country, download a VPN app on your phone and connect to a USA location. Third, notice that I specified to use your American, personal bank account. As a volunteer, I receive a federal funded living allocation that includes a small taxable discretionary fund (used for recreation and entertainment). I will not be directly donating from this fund, but plan to replace the money I donate from my personal account with said fund. This might be petty, but it is somewhat empowering to say “No, federal money should be helping support these advocates and protectors.”

Be there for others.

Talk with your friends and family in America, around the world, even your fellow volunteers. More importantly, listen. Display your support via Facebook messages and FaceTime sessions. In return, you have someone to listen to you too. Remember everyone is having a unique experience, and most don’t have the opportunity to “skip out” on the first two years of this presidency, like you do.