Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Post With a View

This is the view from the outdoor restaurant where I had breakfast of papaya and toast every morning in Dili.

Selling me neck lanyards in front of our lunch spot in Dili. Avril's reach is surprisingly far and wide.

The grand mosque in Banda Aceh.

Beautiful little girls wearing jilbab in Banda Aceh.

These are money in the bank outside Jogjakarta.

Home for Nuit Blanche

Home now! It's amazing how your body will adjust to warmth so readily but no matter how Canadian you are, still recoil when it's cold. I feel like yelling Gwen Stefani: "Back it up! Back it up!" I missed the whole transition and now it is just plain freezing.

My first walk after getting in (and hibernating for more than 48 hours) was down Queen Street. The pavement is so flat and clean and even! The act of walking here is entirely different. What, no potholes, crazy traffic? Where are the farm animals? Boring!

Anyway, I have never been so happy to see my friends and family. I wasn't away for very long but the experiences were so rich - the kind that just make your world become really simple again. "Yes, I like that. No, I don't do that. This is what I want to do in the future. I love and miss these people." You know?

It's funny that when your life becomes too small, the little anxieties just get bigger. And when the scope of your life opens up like an iris, things snap to focus better. Well, anyway, speaking of focus, I did try and take a few personal photos in between all the shooting. I will try to put some up here.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Our Penultimate Road Trip

What I envisioned as being a tough, Lance Armstrong-y bicycle trek turned out to be more of a cruise with a bohemian young tour guide by the name of Vani. We took a taxi out of the city to a village and got some rickety bikes held in a family's shed. It was great to be seeing rice padis, dirt paths, farm animals and villagers again, and not from inside a moving vehicle (downtown Toronto or rural Indonesia - always prefer the bike!).

However, we didn't exactly get a good sweat in. You can't ride quickly on these rocky, uneven dirt roads. Plus, we made a lot of stops.

First we joined some men on the side of the road making bricks. Because of all the rebuilding in the area, bricks are in high demand. A man let us fill a tray mold with dirt and soil and pack it in to create some soggy bricks that would then dry in the scorching sun. Later, they go to a kiln that is made up of the very bricks that are being fired. They are all piled up, with rice husks in between each layer (they don't waste a thing!). The man baking the bricks surely had the worst job. He wore a t-shirt wrapped around his head and mouth. Everything is already hot and dusty everywhere we go, but with the fire smoldering inside the four walls of baking bricks plus all the fine dust of the rice husks, it was just too much to handle.

The neat thing is that somewhere in Jogja there will be a house made with six bricks that I made with my own hands. The men make thousands of these bricks, real back-breaking labour in the heat of the midday sun. Oh, and this is their side gig. They are full-time farmers.

Vani also took us to the bank. We thought maybe we were hearing incorrectly.

"Ok, now we stop at the bank."
"The bank?"
"The bank."
"Can I change my 50 000 Rupiah bill here?"
"Hmm, you'll see."

We leaned our bikes up against trees at the side of the road and approached pens full of cows and bulls. Again, I said, "The BANK?" Vani was having some fun with us.

She explained that the animals are the investments of the villagers and that they are their currency. Still, I must have asked her so many times that I was really testing her commitment to her own mirth and inside joke.

"The people in this village call this their bank."

She showed us their full-time security. A friendly old man who hit the alarm for me, a ketongan, a hollow piece of wood. If some untoward action, say a bank heist, is going on, the villagers would be alerted with a toktoktoktoktok!

Meandering along the paths next to the rice padis, all in different stages of growth, was really something. One field was so impossibly green that even Vani was impressed. We ran into it and had an impromptu photo shoot. I'm convinced that nothing quite this richly green grows in Canada. I've never seen anything like it!

We had lunch on a bamboo bench by the road. Lunch was a wicker basket full of martabak, my new favourite handheld food, right up there with pizza and sushi handrolls. They are fried little pockets full of shredded vegetables and subtle spices. The locals eat them with little chilis, but after nibbling about half a millimeter of one of these little green guys, I had a flashback to a fairly painful moment in a restaurant the other night and just handed it over to Anne. Anne licked it, yelled, "I'm on fire!" and put it back in the wicker basket.

Besides being able to walk and bike around freely in the countryside, a highlight of this bike tour would definitely have to be Vani herself. She taught me so much. She told me about the superstitions that her grandmother has passed on to her (never eat in front of a door as it means that future marriage proposals will fall through, pregnant women should never kill a living thing or it will harm their unborn child). She also told me that her boyfriend is Catholic while she is Muslim and they plan on LIVING TOGETHER. I was blown away. She actually tiptoed into the topic by asking me about my boyfriend and whether we lived together. I said, "Um, yes? Do you think I'm a bad person?" I had been careful not to volunteer this information with any of our new friends because I thought maybe our cultural differences were too great.

But our little 80-pound Vani, who works four part-time jobs besides being a university student and her boyfriend's manager (he's an artist) is pretty special. After the bike ride, we all got into a bis, a little minivan of a packed bus where the money collector hangs out the door (always open). It took us back into Jogja where we parted ways with Vani, came back to our hotel and jumped in the pool.

Then we went on a shopping spree and had dinner at our friend Mel's five-star hotel. What a send-off.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The O.G. Insane Clown Posse

It's midnight here and I'm pooped but I had to describe our evening.

First off - we're done shooting! I kind of can't believe it. There may be one or two shots we may want to grab but today was our last day in the field. I'm a little sad about this. At the same time, I am looking forward to some leisure action.

Tonight we went to see a traditional dance performance. It was a performance of Ramayana, the Hindu love story of Rama and Sinta. It was a mix of Balinese and Javanese styles. Not that I can tell much of the difference (even with the crash course I got from a new friend here) but it was a stunning performance.

My favourite group of dancers were the Scary Monster Crew. They were like an ancient, Indonesian Insane Clown Posse. They had Betsey Johnson hair, dread-capes and Alexander McQueen-tartan outfits. Next to the Javanese floaty-hand pretty dance troupe, they looked especially hilarious and like they would be fun to party with. They were obviously meant for comic relief and they were really good at their funny dance - their arms slightly rounded, away from their sides, shuffling from side to side like the ground was too hot. I think I may recreate the move the next time I get wild in a club. Jakarta, here we come.

The story of Ramayana really had it all. Romance, battle scenes, elaborate costumes, gilded wedding-cake shaped headpieces with pompoms attached, a white monkey, boulders and lots of fire. When Rama and Sinta FINALLY got together at the end, you'd think there would be an over-the-top pas de deux but they just slowly stood together in a lovey tableau and then it ended. I guess it's better that way. It's about the journey.

Speaking of journeys, now it's off to hit the hay as we have signed up for a four-hour bicycle trek in the countryside and we have to be there at 8 am. Considering how hot it is by even 10 am in the morning, I'm not exactly sure if I'll survive. You can all await my next blog entry with baited breath. In the meantime, I'll be huffing and puffing mine in the Javanese hills.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Sweetest World-Weary Toddler in All of Jogjakarta

There's this thing that Indonesian children do that is just so unbelievably sweet. They take your hand like they might shake it or kiss it but instead, they lightly bring it to their face. When I think of kids, I think of them rough-housing or squeezing things too tightly (like our neighbour Russell did to our pet finch to unfortunate consequences) but these children don't do that.

I met a baby yesterday with his mother. His name is Putri and he is 18 months old. He has a perfect little serene face that doesn't move much. His expression is that of a world-weary toddler. It took a lot of peek-a-boo-ing to get him to crack a smile (the golden prize!).

I sat with him and his mother outside their temporary shelter, on the site of their former home. His mother showed me where their kitchen used to be (now a pile of rocks), where they dining room used to be (simply a flat, cement foundation) and where their temporary washroom area is (disconcertingly, by the well).

She held Putri the whole time. He didn't cry or make a peep really. But she told me a story that just broke my heart. Apparently, he will not fall asleep inside their home. He refuses and he'll start wailing when she tries to put him down. Instead, she has to hold him outside in the open air and then tuck him in once he's already fallen asleep. He's been like this ever since the earthquake three and a half months ago. Psychological damage isn't any less tragic in an adult but this just seems wrong, like his body is too small for him to be so traumatized. It isn't fair. He is still being breastfed. And he has bigger problems than I've ever had.

In parting, we all shook hands and said, "Terima kasih, Ibu!" many times ("Thank you, ma'am!") and in the handshaking, good-bye greeting melee, Putri just silently took my hand. I barely felt his little hand. It was like he didn't use any strength or force from his own hand, just his little baby mindpower. Then he put my hand on his mouth, with the gentlest pressure, ever so lightly. No kiss, just a whisper of a touch. I think it was the sweetest gesture I have ever experienced in my life.

The children in Banda Aceh also do it. When I was at a primary school (these kids were probably 5-10 years old) a whole classroom of them all lined up and went by me, taking my hand one by one and touching it to their foreheads. I was speechless. So precious.

Today the children I met at a small, countryside mosque also did that with my hand but they touched it to their cheeks. So many variations on this most adorable custom! I've learned a lot of Bahasa Indonesian words (just the basics, like food names and niceties) but I think this hand-touching gesture is the best part of their language that I'll be taking away.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Selamat Datang (Welcome) To The Jungle

Selamat pagi!

Now you know I love you all but I think my current two best friends are Valium and codeine. Oh, the muscle-relaxant too. I'm healed, hallelujah!

Healed and high. Now I know what it's like to be Kristine, hopped up on 5 Ativans just to take a flight. Yesterday, halfway from Bali to Jakarta, the meds completely kicked in. I just gently interrupted Anne and said, "I think I have to stop talking now," and folded my hands in my lap. I couldn't quite lean back as my neck still hurt but I was feeling nice enough to just completely phase out anyway. I wasn't at the passing-out-in-the-middle-of-drinking-a-full-glass-of-water or seeing tracers in the airplane meal placemat (now there's your shout out, Kristine) but I was definitely flying high in the clouds, both physically in a plane and on that other plane -

And now here we are in Jogja. This is probably the single most beautiful location we've been to thus far. The city center is just so pretty, Mt Merapi (an active volcano!) looms in the distance.

Jogjakarta was hit by an earthquake on May 27. It registered 5.9 on the Richter scale. 350 000 homes were rendered unfit to live in. Homelessness on such a massive scale. It's kind of hard to fathom.

It's also difficult to see at first. The downtown streets look untouched although the Sheraton hotel down the street is permanently closed due to structural damage. To see the full extent of the damage, however, doesn't take much. We drove out for about half an hour and it was just rubble, rubble and more rubble. It's frightening, thinking of what the sounds must have been like, with the ground underneath rumbling and the very building that you call home starting to crack and crumble around you. Many shells of homes have tarps thrown over the top. There are also many tents. Chairs, tables, doors. They all just kind of rest against trees, sit on the side of the street. Window panes with the glass broken lean against chicken coops.

Amidst all of this, we entered a woman's temporary shelter to do an interview. When we walked in, I immediately noticed that she had placed a beautiful tapestry on her table (the table and chairs, as well as a hot plate on the ground and a bicycle, were the only things in this room). The table was laden with a massive bunch of mini-bananas, snakefruit and four large plastic containers filled to the brim with snacks and sweet peanuts.

After the interview, she insisted that we have a snack. In fact, she insisted that we take the snacks! She literally screwed the tops off all the jars and dumped all the contents into plastic bags for us to take with us! She had just finished telling us about the food voucher system and how she doesn't have enough to afford brown sugar and she was giving us all the food on her table. Us! I've been eating better on this trip in Indonesia than I even do at home! I have two desserts a day! I live so decadently here, it seems, and there's a certain guilt knowing that the meals that are cheap to me would be out of reach to the people we visit every day. And then there's this lovely lady. We couldn't refuse the gesture that makes her who she is - so generous and kind. So Indonesian!

While I shot b-roll, Aly-Khan had the presence of mind to go down the street and buy her 2 kg of brown sugar. It cost 12 000 Rupiah (about a dollar and a half). He said that she was surprised and so very grateful. What she probably doesn't know is exactly how much she gave us. I'll never forget that kind of unthinking, selfless generosity.

She had made the snacks herself. We munched them all day in the car. Very yummy. We drove a lot today and I, tired from the meds, spent the whole time reflecting on recent interactions with the locals. The amazing part is that we have communicated so little verbally. But sometimes the most important human interactions are conveyed by gestures anyway.

Riding around all day I just wanted to jump out the front seat window of the CARE minivan and into the impossibly lush countryside. I have never seen fields like this before in my life. It's like I've never really seen the colour green before. Rice paddies, peanut fieds, corn fields, green, green, green. These fields look like they are literally about to burst. They are so lush that I want to jump into them and make a rice-paddy snow angel. Not that I would, I don't like getting dirty. But that's what I did in my mind.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'll Take "A Visit To the Doctor" for 900 000 Rupiah, Please

Today we went to the Bali International Medical Center. The pain in my neck grew progressively worse last night until I couldn’t do anything but take Anne’s hydrocodone (like codeine) and whimper in bed. So the nice lady across the street who runs a reflexology clinic drove us to BIMC.

The security guard who is supposed to check our car with a mirror on a stick was sleeping. So we woke him up. Then he checked our car for a bomb. It reminded me of the Balinese customs officer who had us waiting in a line of about 10 people for at least 45 minutes. When we finally got to the front, the only thing he asked me was, “Do you have a boyfriend here?” As Anne would say, “Unbelievable!”

So anyway, after a short visit with a very nice doctor, he told me that I have a muscle spasm (well, actually, he told me the fancy medical term but I can’t remember it – it sounds like a combination of tortellini and tuberculosis - gross). Anyway, that’s what I have. But now I also have some valium and codeine so if that doesn’t help I really don’t know what will. After some room service lunch and a bit of writing, I’m going to pop a couple more and watch some HBO. If you think that sounds nice, you should see the view from my window. It’s torture. The weather is hyper-perfect. There are so many things to do. And I have to lie in bed with my head, neck and shoulders at a baffling configuration. Le sigh.

My only real concern is that I’m seeing straight soon enough to start shooting tomorrow in Jogja. So my vacation days were wasted. I can’t let that happen to the precious few days we have in Jogjakarta! Will write again when I get there.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bali Beach Bummer

Here I am in Bali, in between our Dili and Jogja stops. These will be our only two days of rest. I had grand plans of surfing this afternoon until a weird, inexplicable but entirely crippling crick in my neck decided to nix that plan. It came out of nowhere! I was standing in the bathroom, checking out my Bali-fied self (thankfully bought a sleeveless and airy sundress) ready to suss out a surf rental. Next thing I knew, I was lying prostrate on my bed, unable to stand up or even rotate my head. I just flopped around on the bed like a fish on the beach. Frustrating and so lame.

So I didn't surf but at least I got a morning of snorkelling in. I also roused myself for long enough to have a late lunch on the beach with Anne. However, my neck is at such an unnatural bend that I can't really see things properly. For example, I'm typing this sideways right now. I think I look totally weird like I'm trying to see something in the distance at a really specific angle. Anne says I look like I'm thinking. She took lots of photos as I was hobbling over to the beachfront restaurant, like a paparazzo, because she thinks the situation has reached a certain level of hilarity. My perspective is slightly different and 45 degrees to the left.

Pain notwithstanding, it's nice to rest so I'm still in a good mood. It's also nice to be in such a gorgeous hotel room, even if it is a bit of a prison right now, what with all the completely perfect weather outside. To think about what this place costs compared with the completely overblown price of our moldy and electrically-challenged hotel in Dili is outrageous. In the Dili room, I'd walk around and smell cheese. I'd think, Where is that?! and start sniffing. I never found it but it would intermittently present itself. Ugh. I just know there was all kinds of weird mould everywhere. I hope it didn't give me something where the symptoms are mysterious neck pain and nausea (I think the nausea is just from the boat ride this morning - choppy water).

Even with the contrasting luxury here, I miss Dili already. It was a very intense experience and I can't stop thinking about the gangs. Driving by groups of teenage boys, just standing on a street corner. Everywhere. Some of the younger ones had the necks of plastic water bottles cut-open and strung around their own necks. I found out that they are home-made slingshots (you cover the mouth of the bottle with a balloon). The boys all have fancy hair, mainly with variations on a sides-shaved kind of look. There's something about that look that suggests danger, and not in a Queen Street kind of way. Even little boys would have mohawks.

I'm fascinated by these kids. There are hundreds of gangs in Dili, a city without a single traffic light. All these groups, operating in the cover of night, standing around brazenly during the day, clanging their pots to signify that trouble's about to happen. Like gangs at home, they aren't purely malevolent. They operate by their own codes of conduct. One of them raises money to pay for funerals. Many of them work to protect their own hoods, like a neighbourhood watch. The martial arts gangs work on meditation and perfecting their moves, but of course if they're provoked, they will kick your ass.

All these perceived grievances, these alliances, the rivalries. All these beautiful young men just continue to fight it out in a land that nobody's watching. They have so little to begin with. I wonder what the fighting gives them besides a sad but necessary sense of identity. I can't stop thinking about them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's a Different Kind of Being Stoned

Today we drove around Dili to get shots of burned and destroyed homes and cars. I need them for the doc to fully convey what it's like to be here. Sean, a former British Army and current security manager for CARE East Timor, said that I shouldn't go around in the car with the window rolled down, shooting b-roll out the window as we drive (which is the what I'd been doing earlier). He said it would pretty much be inviting a stoning. In fact, we're always supposed to have the windows rolled up and he even suggested wearing sunglasses for extra protection. In general, the gangs here don't have a problem with "malai" (foreigners) so they don't bother us. But Phil, an Australian who's in charge of IDP camps and who speaks fairly fluent Tetum, had his car stoned last night. I saw him today - he's ok.

What this means is that we just drive by so many images that I want to show in the doc project. I hate it. But I'm a big scaredy cat and I'm not into going against Sean's rules - the window stays rolled up and the camera in my lap. It's a downer. So today we went around looking for shots and I would stop the car whenever I saw something. I had express instructions to be as quick as possible. Also, our driver, with whom I can't really communicate besides basic hand motions, was told that he didn't have to stop if he felt nervous or unsafe. At one point, I really wanted to get a shot of a completely charred skeleton of a bus. We had passed it by only a few meters but he wouldn't let me walk there. He reversed for a good length and a gang of mean-looking dudes just slowly swivelled their heads, following us. Anne said, "Smile and wave." So I did. Majestically. I think it helps that we're young and cute and it definitely helps that we're women. I zipped out of the car, being careful to smile broadly and wave confidently to everybody watching, and got the shots really fast. As we drove away, I nodded my thanks. One guy waved back. The rest glared.

As I roamed through the scarred walls of a former home, I became kind of emotional. It is a completely unrecognizable site except that the walls are in the familiar configurations of bedrooms, front hall, windows, bathroom. The ceiling is blown off. The walls just stand there useless, open to the gorgeous blue sky. I was just awestruck by how much effort it would take to completely dismantle a home, to the point of ripping out all the electrical wiring. Those were the marks that really made me mad. They would start halfway up the wall, where the electrical outlet was, and continue up the wall to the non-existent ceiling. What a way to completely cripple a family. It seemed like it would take as much work to tear down a home as it would to put one up.

The cars I shot still smelled like burning. Almost five months after the initial rioting.

Last night we met with four Australian guys who are shooting a documentary on gang violence and positive change through music (how very Much!). They were so nice and interesting but we couldn't stay with them long as we had to make our 11 pm curfew (not a state-wide curfew, just a curfew for CARE staff). They gave us a copy of some performance they shot of a band called Cinqo d'Oriente. We did an interview with Ego, who's in the band, and we needed some performance for the doc. I've come all the way to Dili and I'm still interviewing musicians.

Tomorrow we're interviewing the Minister of Labour - a former pop star! Then we work out some visa stuff to go back to Indonesia, I get a few final shots of the graffiti wall and after lunch we're on a flight to Jogjakarta! I can't believe I'm two thirds of my way through this trip. And I know it sounds weird but I'm really glad that you're reading. I would feel really lonely otherwise.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Botarde! That's Good Afternoon in Tetum

Stealing a moment before lunch to read some emails and blog. I'm doing exactly what Catherine would always make fun of me for doing at Much - sitting at my computer, giggling away. Is it really that weird? It must betray my intensely deep nerdiness when I take so much delight in your electronic mail.

I caught myself daydreaming about fall fashion and emailed Sophie to secure a shopping date for when I return. She wrote back to say that she was sooo relieved to hear that I want to shop. To paraphrase: "Will and I were getting worried about you going around the world to do good deeds." I laughed wickedly (and lots) at that. I may be travelling with only the basics (clothes, mosquito net and heavy-duty DEET) but I'm still lugging around the September Vogue.

And then Sabrina sent me an update on the film festival. I remarked to myself inwardly, Wow - I really love hearing about this stuff. It feels like home. Sab actually apologized to be sending me such a frivolous email. Are you kidding? A snap of Borat giving someone a high five at his movie premiere is like placing a nugget of gold in my mental landscape. I may be in East Timor but I still want all the gossip.

I've had moments of loneliness on this trip but I feel really good today. I guess being lonely, especially when surrounded by people, is about being unable to relate. I feel the pull of human commonalities when I'm in the IDP camps or trying to interact with the young boys who loiter on the street selling papayas and phone cards, but strangely, I've felt most loneliest in the company of my fellow Westerners. It makes me wistul and appreciative of my friends at home. The people I'm travelling with are amazing individuals, lots of fun and easy to bunk with. But swimming around in NGO-speak with nary a raft of a common topic makes me feel like I'm constantly lagging behind in the conversation, just trying tread water and catch up. It's really nice to be learning so much, though. That's what steep learning curves feel like, I suppose. Like an uphill trek.

This morning we interviewed a musician in East Timor's most famous band, Cinqo d'Oriente (Five from the East). Eggo is not only a musician, but an NGO-worker as well. We visited him at his house, he gave me a fabulous interview, he played his acoustic guitar and then we had boiled taro root and coffee. It was a very nice morning. This afternoon I'm going to shoot some more of the peace-promoting graffiti that's going up in front of the CARE compound (why do all graffiti artists the world over have dreads?) and then we'll watch a dance performance that will be happening on the lawn.

The weather has been nothing but perfect since we've arrived. It's hot but not humid, which was the tough part about being in Banda Aceh.

By the way, I'm fascinated by the Tetum language. It's a mix of Portugese and the indigenous language here. There are less than a million people in East Timor! This is such a precious and fragile language! There are also tons of dialects all over the country - in fact, I hear they even differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Anne told me at lunch that she read that the world has 7000 languages and that in Indonesia alone, they speak 4000! I have to verify that somehow. It's just blowing my mind.

Lots of love from Dili.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What Time Is It, Anyway?

Here I am in the world's newest nation, East Timor. I am staying at the Dili Beach Hotel right next to Castaways, THE spot for ex-pats. The electricity goes in and out and my bedroom feels strangely closed-in as it doesn't have a window but I was so tired last night I slept like a Timorese rock anyway.

The mountains, the palm trees, the water - it's all spectacularly beautiful. But the abject poverty and the scars of recent violence are all around. Torched-out cars litter the streets. IDP camps are everywhere.

IDP stands for internally displaced person, so it's like the term refugee except that a refugee flees to a different country. These people have been burned out of their homes or they just don't feel it's safe to go back. They live in these white tents that are the shape of a cylinder cut in half lengthwise. They are fire-proof (important as some IDP camps have had molotov cocktails thrown in and there is a lot of arson during moments of unrest) but no one knows what will happen when they are flooded during the rainy season which begins in one month.

The IDP camps sprung up after the violence that erupted in April of this year. People fled their homes to areas they perceived to be safe (church, the airport, the CARE compound, schools) and the camps stayed put. NGOs like CARE support the management of them but they are essentially run by whoever was in charge of the location when the people arrived (church pastor, nuns, or Gabby the Swiss art teacher I met at Castaways last night - her school has been housing several hundred IDPs for months). The problem is that some places don't have a natural leader (i.e. the airport) and that can lead to problems as the camps are obviously stressful, tense and cramped situations.

I've just gotten a crash course in the politics of the region. It is extremely complicated. The Timorese folks in the room must think I'm doing facial exercises as I get all scrunched up trying to get my brain to chug along and understand all the factions and alliances.

There are so many resentments that have built up over the years here. Currently it seems that there is a lot of hostility between the easterners and westerners (all within East Timor - NOT East Timor vs West Timor, which is a part of Indonesia). It's an issue that goes back to when the Portuguese ruled (Portugal colonized this area while the Dutch colonized Indonesia). There seems to be some classic issues of the colonizers pitting the easterners against the west by characterizing them as being different.

But also, there's a history of recent violence here. When East Timor won their independence from Indonesia in 1999, there was a month of terrorizing and destruction, with arson all over and the dismantling of electrical wires - basically, everything got shut down. It sounds pretty awful.

I really can't pretend to know too much about the situation but it is really interesting to hear about. It's a story that is unfolding and we've been plunked into the middle of it as the violence and displacement doesn't seem to have an end in sight. Lots of people are looking forward to the election next May but the rainy season happens first and all I can think about are these tents. When I first laid eyes on them, my heart sank and I thought, "This is where people live?" A travelling partner from CARE, Aly-Khan (he has seen the world!!) remarked, "Ooh, these are nice tents!" And he has been in plenty of refugee camps. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

This morning we shot some stuff regarding the Lafaek magazine. "Lafaek" means crocodile. Lafaek magazine is for students and every child in East Timor receives on. It is actually the only classroom reading material they have in Tetum (one of the national languages, it is a mix of Portugese and indigenous languages - Portugese is the other official language).

I asked what the significance of the crocodile is and I was told a beautiful creation myth. The story goes that there was a little boy drowning in the water and a crocodile swam up under him and the boy rode along on his back. Then when the crocodile died, he turned into rock and is now the island of East and West Timor. Look it up on a map! It really looks like a crocodile!

Outside the CARE compound, a bunch of dreadlocked young artists are sketching out a graffiti mural along a long wall. Their shirts are band-related or they have scary faces on them - so teenage, so male. I get a kick out of their style because it's so familiar. These guys are the age of the youth gangs who go out and cause havoc at night. I'm looking forward to asking them lots of questions.

Whew. I guess that's all for now although I'm really sorry that I don't have any pictures for you. Is this totally boring? I promise that when I'm able, I will deluge you with tons of photos. In the meantime, I've been getting emails about your lives in Toronto and I love hearing about the film festival and random goings-on. Borat? Michael Moore? Shortbus? It reminds me of the things that I love doing most back home. It also gets me a little weirded out at how different my life is from where it was exactly one year ago, pedalling home from the Guy Ritchie red carpet crying on my bike because the pushy guy from People shoved me and I couldn't get a clip from Madonna. Or scoring extra tickets to the premieres at the Elgin, or running into Charlize Theron at the Four Seasons and interviewing Johnny Depp. All that hullaballoo. Being here doesn't make me think it's any less exciting or worthwhile - it's just surreal to think about what can get your adrenaline going and how different those situations can be.

So if you have film fest or V-fest stories, I want to hear them. Emaaaaailllll meeeeeee. Or else all I'll have for entertainment is watching boars roam the streets and figuring out the percentage of clocks that show the wrong time here (100% - done - so now I only have one activity for spare time).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mosquito Food For Thought

OMG. I am so connected to the world wide web.

Ok - not much time so I will go over the essentials:

1. Mosquitos are evil and for some reason they are crazy about me. They've always bitten me tons but Dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis have never been an issue before. I am so itchy I want to rip my skin off from about mid-thigh down. Sorry for the gross imagery but I am losing it.

2. We had a free evening so we went for massages. I was very embarassed of the bites all over my legs but now I have some way crazier marks - I did cupping! (Uh, for those of you who read too many tabloids you've seen photos of Gwyneth's back after she's gotten it done - my marks are even more frightening). Cupping is this thing where they swab the inside of glass cups with alcohol, light them and then put them on your back. They suction to your back something fierce and it feels funny, like the reverse of a deep-tissue massage since it's sucking the skin off your back rather than placing pressure into it. Now I have a series of about 8-10 hickey things, the circumference of a drinking glass each. I liked it. The massages were done in a person's home. There was a cow outside.

3. Tomorrow morning we head to the airport. We make a couple of stops on our way to Dili, East Timor and I am very excited to get there. We will even be spending the night in Bali on the way and I expect Bali is very wired so will write more soon.

3, 2, 1 - lights out!

Friday, September 08, 2006

X's and O's from Banda Aceh

"Hello!" That's what we say to all the Acehnese people and they all say it back. We wanted to learn how to say hello in Bahasa Indonesia or the local dialect, Acehnese, but in Indonesian they get quite specific. There's a greeting for "Hello this morning," or "Hello this early afternoon" or "Hello this late afternoon" et cetera. We are barely wrapping our mouths around "Thank you" although we have mastered that ("Terima kasih!"). Very useful. Smiles all around.

Not a lot of blogging going on over here in my neck of the woods. But while I have this precious moment of (slo-o-o-o-w) connectivity, I'll fill you in a little.

We've been visiting a lot of CARE projects in the area. Driving there is always a bumpy affair. The roads are in disrepair and there are sometimes just massive gaping holes. The roads seem like they're all in a jumble, like a loose pile of yarn with no pattern. Everywhere we go there are half-built houses.

Goats and chickens wander. Sometimes we go into a village and see cows, and we're never more than 30 minutes from the CARE office and the home we're staying in.

I've been sweltering in long sleeves and pants in tropical weather. I practically self-shower all day long inside my clothes, I'm sweating so much. However, the women here were SEVERAL layers to be extra modest and their jilbab (or "hijab", their head covering) is TWO layers, which I didn't know until our new friend Indah took hers off to show us. There's a layer underneath which seems like it's made of something like neoprene and therefore seems sporty, and then the silky scarf on top, all firmly attached right under the chin so as not to show any neck. I want to jump into a big pile of ice just thinking about it.

The little girls in their jilbab though - they are just way too precious. All eyes and shy smiles. They are so adorable! They are a bit shyer than the boys (at least at first) who I often hear yelling "Bule!" (foreigner) when we arrive.

When I first arrived here, I was shown an aerial photo of the area immediately after the tsunami. The water left a very distinct footprint on the land. Everything on the shoreline was stripped, every single building, and it was all brown except for one shining, white jewel. The grand mosque. It seemed completely untouched and pristine in the photo - truly boggling. It starts to make sense why the people here, devoutly Muslim, believe that the tsunami was a warning from Allah.

When it comes to the death toll in this region, numbers are so large that they hardly make sense when you see them in print in the newspaper. 167 000 really starts to mean something else when you are experiencing so much generosity from the Acehnese people themselves. On our first day here, we stopped at a mass grave of 50 000. Even here, it's difficult to comprehend the numbers. But each person that we meet has their own story. I probably have enough to count on one, maybe two hands. Those stories involve many deaths. It's my tiny way of starting to understand the grief and resilience of the people I meet.

I've met one little girl who lost her mother, father and two brothers in the tsunami. They were all holding hands and trying to run when they were overcome by the wave. She says that she still felt their hands even when they were submerged, her mother and father were holding on to her hands so tightly. Until suddenly they weren't. She woke up to her concerned neighbours crowded around her. She still can't talk about it which is why a psychosocial field officer with CARE told us her story.

Plenty of people have told me about losing their mother or father or daughter quite openly. In an interview situation, we all know what questions are coming, which is why the younger ones are asked in advance whether they want to be asked about the tsunami. However, stories of loss sometimes come up unexpectedly. Our driver (lovely man!) has been taking us around all day and night for 3 days and we just today had a moment to try and communicate with him via our phrasebook (normally we have a translator but today it was just me and Anne). Anne eagerly started to make small talk. "How many children do you have?" might have been our second or third question. "Four" he gestured with his fingers. "How many girls?" she asked. "Two" he gestured. But one died in the tsunami. He was smiling when he said this. These people have told their stories so many times to so many foreigners. Anne blurted out "Sorry." And then we didn't know what else to say. I watched him today in a handicrafts class, chatting with some little girls about the bracelets they were making. Then I saw him sit in a corner and make one himself.

I think I hear him honking outside right now. Must be time to go. Hope I have time to post. Write me! (Although I truly don't know when I'll ever be able to write you back...).

xoxo from Banda Aceh.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Banda Aceh 101

Here I am in Banda Aceh. No photo because doing every little thing that you take for granted just seems more difficult. For example, just getting onto the internet. Yesterday, there was no access and when I asked why the answer was, "It's raining!" Followed up with, "And you're in a developing country." Oh. Oh yeah.

So no photo because we are currently experiencing technical difficulties.

It's too bad because the countryside is so stunning. Lush, green mountains, palm trees, breathtaking mosques with shiny "kubah" (the pointy parts) that point to the blue sky and blinding sun. It is hot here. Lots of the saddest, skinniest cats roam around. Roosters and goats, too, in the barracks.

The barracks are the temporary shelters put up by NGOs in the aftermath of the tsunami. They are where people stay when their home was destroyed but they do not yet have a new one. Each family gets a 7x8 m room. Kitchens and bathrooms are communal and needless to say, they get crowded. But today we met a girl, Yuliana, who bakes big fancy cakes in the barracks to sell to cafes. She was in the process of baking a cake when the tsunami hit. Her father was killed. She and her mother escaped and are baking cakes together in the barracks. I haven't seen one of her cakes yet but she was mixing up some batter when I met her and we're going back tomorrow at 6 in the morning to see the finished product as she goes to sell it down the street. I love that Yuliana and her mom are able to create cakes - something so beautiful, light and fanciful - in their cramped quarters. It's about inspiration and will.

I'd like to tell more but I'm on a time budget! Let me just tell you about a very basic function - les toilettes. Here, they don't use toilet paper. Instead, there's a large basin of water next to the squat toilet. On the ledge, a scoop. You use the scoop to splash water onto yourself and your left hand to wipe (hence, Indonesians never use their left hand to pass you anything or to shake hands). The water in the basin is always clean (although the water in the bathroom at the CARE office is green-brown and muddy). You also use that scoop and basin of water to shower! Which I did this morning. It was actually kind of fun. But cold! I felt like a kid with a pail on the beach, just continually dumping water over myself. Scoop, scoop! Refreshing!

Ok - now after a long day of shooting in the relentless humidity and heat, we are going back to the CARE house where we are staying. Apparently they have yoga there on Wednesday nights. Also, there will be dinner after. I wonder if I'll be able to stay awake. Can one fall asleep in the downward dog? I'll find out.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Quick Singapore Sling

I have no idea how long it's been since I first left home. 4 hour flight to Vancouver, 11.5 hour flight to Seoul, 6 hour flight to Singapore, and now I'm here at an internet terminal after having taken a taxi to downtown Singapore for some soup by the water. I feel kind of crazy, like, sleep-deprived crazy, and a little nauseous, too. At least Singapore Airlines is REALLY into entertainment. I watched "Kramer vs Kramer" and a Korean film called "The King and The Clown" (tres exciting in that Korean, melodramatic kind of way). Had two ice cream cones. Watched The Simpsons.

When they handed out the customs immigration forms before we landed here, Anne remarked on the red, bold lettered message "DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS." It's a little unsettling when a country's customs form mentions the death sentence. However, when I got up to the counter, the nice lady barely looked at me and just asked, "Candy?" because she caught me staring at the bowl of candy on her desk. "Yes!" I said. I took a mango chew.

I'm really looking forward to arriving in Jakarta. I think I'll be a bit kookoo jetlagged but I'm looking forward to walking around and hearing some of that famous Jakarta city-noise. Being on a plane for this long isn't fun!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hi hi!

Soooo, here's my new blog everybody! Hopefully I'll find some time to update while I'm away. I'm doing this because so many people have suggested that I blog my trip. I'm fearful of a few things (sharia law, canings, Japanese encephalitis) and I didn't want to add "commitment to blogging" to that list but I guess I just did.

In the interest of balancing my above-mentioned list of fears, here are the things I'm looking forward to learning about on my trip to Indonesia and East Timor:
- the peeps
- the food
- the sounds
- the work that CARE does
- enough of the Indonesian language to at least be courteous to passerby
- how resilience and hope are getting people through the tough spots

The last little while has been a blur of packing up (home, work) and partying (two goodbye parties? what the -?!). Here's a photo of some fancy times from last weekend at a wedding. Goodbye Toronto! In 12 hours I'll be heading to the airport. I have some packing to do. Next you hear from me, I'll be on the other side of the world!