Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My day job

Like most of us, I have a day job.  In the context of my blog, it's like this other life I never talk about.  Today, reading the fabulous blog of an acquaintance, yoga teacher and development worker Marianne Elliott, I was reminded that maybe, the two can mix...

In my day job, I do communications work for development organizations here in East Timor.  That means anything from advising people how to develop and communicate key messages, to creating the products by which they mean to communicate (posters, brochures, radio programs, videos).  And a lot of random stuff in between.

Doing development work is a study in living contradiction.  In fully comprehending the privilege that is awarded by the randomness of birth.  I was born in Canada, and not in East Timor.  And thus, I had a childhood full of things like toys, amusement parks, camping trips, education, proper nourishment and medical care.  Instead of a childhood of hunger, poverty, hard work, conflict and violence - which is the reality for not all, but many children in East Timor, and many other places in the world.

Living in the midst of that is like being an oasis of wellness in a sea of hardship.  My house may be simple by western standards, but here I am like the fairy-tale princess.  I work alongside national colleagues who earn 1/10th of my salary or less.  I live in the capital city alongside families who tend to their livestock and hop the fence to pick fruit from a tree that grows in my yard, a part of their yearly income on which they deeply depend.  I express sympathy for colleagues when their infant children die of completely preventable and treatable diseases.  I shop amidst the harassment of child and adolescent fruit sellers carrying a stick across their shoulders hanging with mangoes, oranges, passionfruit, their young muscles hardened by carrying their heavy load day-in, day-out.

In East Timor:
  • Life expectancy is less than 60 years of age;
  • 2 out of 5 children will die before they reach the age of 5;
  • The average woman has no access to birth control, and will give birth to between 7 and 9 children in her lifetime; many of them will have their first child before the age of 18;
  • Barely half the population have access to clean water or sanitation facilities;
  • Nearly half the population live a subsistence life, on less than $1 per day (and in a US dollar economy, yes that's right, this really does not go very far).
I could go on, but these are just numbers, right?  Wrong.  These are my neighbours.  These are my colleagues.  These are my partner's godchild, by all accounts a fairly privileged child living in the capital city, with access to clinics and a hospital, but who died of Tuberculosis just short of his 5th birthday.  Tubercu-bloody-losis.  A totally treatable illness.  But he was never even diagnosed.  A young victim of ignorance, poverty, and underdevelopment.

What can I do about it? Not very much, really.  And I guess that's why I don't blog about it often. My blog is like an escape into this little yoga world, the world that I share with all of you, the way that I find peace.

If you'd like to know a bit more about East Timor, I've put a page on my sidebar that tells a little bit of its story...


  1. Thank you for writing even this much. East Timor is so close to Australia as well as more developed Asian countries and yet... wow. A life expectancy of 60 or less? No birth control. Wow.

    In living where you live, and teaching yoga... you are doing a wonderful thing. You can't turn off the news and avoid unpleasant things - they are right there in your every day existence. And it's important to integrate the world as it is, into our experience as yogis!

    I'd like to hear a little more about the overlap between the world you live in and your teaching experiences, if you know what I mean? I know you've said you teach a lot of soldiers but what about the general public? Is there much awareness amongst the East Timorese people of yoga? I'd love to know!

  2. thank you for writing about this- wow. makes me think about how fortunate i am, and just from where i was born.

    i agree with svasti, if you feel up to it, i'd love to know more about how you're 'living' your yoga in East Timor.

    but I can totally understand the need to escape.

  3. My good friend used to work with rape victims in East Timor. She has told me some haunting stories.

    I take my hat off to people like you and her (and Marianne). Doing something I couldn't do for sure.

  4. Wow. It must be a challenge to be aware of all that hardship and not be able to do much about it. How do you cope with it? I struggle with what I can do when I see the few homeless people on the streets in downtown Minneapolis, which is really nothing compared with what you see daily.

  5. Thank you for sharing this bit of your life. I remember traveling in Turkey and at first feeling like I should buy something from every kid who came along. After a while I became hardened, tired of fighting shoe-shiners and postcard sellers. I dressed to blend in, wore a headscarf so I wouldn't be harassed. I didn't have yoga then. If I had, I wonder if I could have held on to compassion better?

    Thank you for this great post and for the work that you do.

  6. Thanks for reading everyone! And thanks for the encouragement. Maybe I will try to blog more often about some of my experiences here.

    @Svasti - I always get a shock when I go to Oz... 1 hour 15 min flight, worlds apart.

    I mostly teach yoga to expats and occasionally to a few of the more privileged Timorese, i.e. those working for international organizations. Like anywhere else a certain degree of luxury is required with having the time to practice yoga! I have often thought about how to expand it but have had no great success yet... Partly it's a language and cultural barrier also. They do love to watch though! ;)

    @EcoYogini - yes, and as Canadians we are more fortunate than almost anyone on the planet!

    @Rachel - when was she here? I wonder if we crossed paths, it's a small town. There are so many sad stories, especially from occupation times. :( But domestic and sexual violence are still huge issues and so few people are doing anything about them.

    @Alex - I guess you get used to it after a while. You feel compassion. Sometimes I get angry, or depressed, feel frustrated, all of that. Mostly I try to just do the right thing if given a chance. What I find really hard is going back to Canada where many people don't know and just don't care...

    @Sara - It's hard to find a place of compassion without responsibility. You can feel compassionate but you shouldn't feel guilty or responsible for "saving" everyone. :)

  7. ive often wondered what it was you did professionally in e timor. thank you for sharing this.

  8. What a brave woman you are, to have so much spirit and compassion despite the hardship you're witnessing there!

    I was born into poverty in Brazil, so, to some level, I am aware of what it means to have limited resources. At its worst point, my mother had to go hungry on some nights so she could feed me. We had an outhouse (one all the neighbors in the favelas shared), and my crib was two chairs put together. We are very fortunate to be here.

    The five-year-old boy. So, so sad and unfortunate. And two out of five children die before the age of five? This frightens me, being a mother. Makes me feel grateful for Western medicine (though I typically gripe about it).

    It's funny, recently, I've been feeling so very grateful for everything in my life. I mean, the gratitude is so deep, and it's never been this deep before. I believe the gratitude is paralleling my spiritual growth. Have you experienced a profound and/or unexpected yogic and/or spiritual growth living there? How is it different from teaching yoga in an American city in regards to the "growing" aspect (I'm assuming you're American but I could be wrong?) ... perhaps you could blog about this some time as well :).

  9. Thanks for this honest and eye-opening post. Thanks for making the world a better place : )

  10. I thought I'd let you know I included your blog in my most recent post, Blogs to Love :). Hope you're doing well!

  11. Wow . . . what a great post! I feel so sheltered here, but am thankful to "know" people like you . . . doing such important work. It must be difficult but very rewarding to live and work there. You're amazing!

  12. Thanks for all the support you all. :) I have to say though, there is nothing particularly "brave" about the life I live here - a life of privilege! Lots of people back home are living with much more hardship than I. And most people here.

    I think we all make the world a better place by being compassionate, conscientious people. By doing and teaching our yoga in all the little tiny ways every day. :)

  13. thanks for this insight into your daily life! i can understand why you wouldn't want to blog about this all the time, and why you would want to keep the blog focused on yoga. in a context as intense as east timor, you would need to have a little escape. still, it's great to get these little glimpses now and then! keep on keeping on!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing. And for the other post about East Timor. I have such admiration for what you're doing.