Friday, 19 May: a day when you get to have a glimpse into the life of Jason, Kim and Sam Job. We currently live in Dili, Timor-Leste, where we work with MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship). Jason is a pilot, and Kim is a mum and Communications Officer who also volunteers at a local disability centre.
Jason first! I arrive at work at 8:20am. I’m supposed to daily check the plane first thing when I arrive. Wings: present. Propeller: still on. Okay, my wife will tell me to let you know that it’s much more thorough than that, but instead I get side-tracked by two policemen sitting close to our office guarding the business jet parked in front of our hangar. I go and introduce myself and chat for a while. The local Timorese people are always willing to chat with any ‘Malae’ or foreigner who is willing to try to converse in their language, Tetun. After that, I sit and wait for the phone to ring for any possible medevac flights. MAF in Timor-Leste work with the Ministry of Health to provide air transportation for critically-ill patients, flying them by air to the National Hospital in Dili from the more remote regions of the country. I fill in the time reading through the new Operations Manual that we have to read each year.
The phone rings at 9:07 am. The Ambulance service have called requesting a medevac of two patients from Suai, about a half-hour flight to the south of Dili. The other MAF Pilot, Daniel, readies the plane while I submit a flight plan, check the weather report, notify authorities in Suai that we are coming, and generally prepare for the flight.
At 9:34, I depart Dili airport and climb to 5,500 feet, passing Mt. Ramelau, Timor-Leste’s highest peak of almost 10,000 feet to the left. Landing in Suai, I find the ambulance already waiting. We load up a very sick-looking 20-month-old girl who sits on her parent’s lap for the trip. Also loaded onboard is an 18-year-old male, who is unconscious while I strap him into the stretcher and hang up the IV drip. Both patients are accompanied by family members and a medical staff member. We make the return journey back to Dili with no problems. I touch down at two minutes past eleven o’clock, making it around two hours since the call was received. There is now only a 20-minute ride via ambulance to the hospital for the patients. Typically, the trip from Suai to Dili would take 8-10 hours by road.
Before the ambulance departs for the National Hospital we give a ‘care pack’ to a family member of each patient for their stay in hospital. These packs consist of some food, water, mobile phone credit, a copy of Mark’s gospel in Tetun, and some toiletries. The contents vary slightly depending on who is receiving the packs. We (specifically the MAF pilot’s wives) make up four different variations of the packs, for pregnant women (or who have just given birth), adult men, adult women, and children. Each pack also contains a small card with a reminder that God loves them and the assurance that the MAF staff are praying for them at this time.
I go into the office to complete my post-flight paperwork, and have some morning tea. I notice the policemen are still sitting outside in the heat, so I go inside and make them some Timorese-style coffee — strong black, with loads of sugar — and take it out to them. We stand around and chat for 20 minutes or so after that. It’s always good to make friends.
Next there’s more reading of the Operations Manual (it has around 470 pages) and a Vegemite scroll for lunch, before the ambulance calls again. This time the patient is a 10-year-old boy from Baucau (about 30 minutes east of Dili) with severe head trauma from a motor vehicle accident. Most people here don’t wear seat belts in cars, and travelling in the tray of a truck or ute is also common. Less than 20 minutes later, I am airborne again. The flight is rather straightforward. However, when I return to Dili this time, I am told two pieces of information within two minutes of each other: that the patient from Baucau has been air-sick during the flight, so inside the plane is a bit of a mess, and that I have another medevac flight now to Los Palos.
It’s times like this when I’m glad we have extra help — another MAF pilot, Daniel, and a local Timorese employee, Aldo, to work with. I have to go (fortunately) into the office to submit another flight plan and do more paperwork (and to have a break for a few minutes) while Daniel and Aldo refuel the plane, clean up the mess and install a clean stretcher. This time two nurses are going to accompany us from Dili, but we can only take one because the take-off weight out of Los Palos is quite restricted due to the airstrip being quite boggy at one end. Luckily, Aldo can explain this to the nurses a bit better than we could in my broken Tetun.
After a 32-minute turn around I am back in the air again for the 50-minute flight to the eastern end of the island. The patient this time is an old man. It’s a smooth flight and we arrive back in Dili at 5 pm with two accompanying family members. We don’t always know what is wrong with the patients, even when we try reading the copy of the referrals that we keep in the office. They are usually written in Portuguese and in doctor’s handwriting (this phenomenon crosses cultures apparently).
After landing I hear the RAAF Boeing 737 coming into Dili on the radio. We find out later that it has the Governor General Peter Cosgrove on board to attend the celebrations surrounding the swearing-in of Timor-Leste’s sixth President.
Meanwhile, back at home…For Kim, Friday was going to be a day to get things done around the house. After a week of visitors, following on several weeks of busyness, her to-do lists were growing. So her plan was to conquer the list and remove as many items as possible.
But then all that changed! Sam, Jason and Kim’s son who is six, was feeling the effects of being in the middle of a ten-week term. He was tired, suffering from a cough that was affecting his sleep, and he had had a difficult week at school with some friendship situations. A day off was needed for him, allowing him a long weekend to rest, recuperate and build up some strength.
Attacking a to-do list and spending a day with your six-year-old son don’t often complement each other, but on this day it worked surprisingly well. Breakfast was accomplished, with porridge for Sam. I began to sweep the floor, but Sam interrupted, asking me to help him make a special box for his swap cards. I traded my help for the sweeping, and we got both tasks completed! The morning continued on in this fashion, as Sam helped me bake a cake, but then was eager to watch a Colin Buchanan DVD for awhile, so I tackled some planning while the cake cooked.
I and one of the other MAF wives, also based here in Timor-Leste, volunteer each Wednesday at a centre for disabled children called Liman Hamutuk. This centre is run by a Brazilian missionary and offers a place of acceptance and love, for a variety of disabled people who live in the area. Each week, we have games, singing, story time, educational lessons and lots and lots of fun. It is so rewarding to see a young woman read a book for the first time, hear a child who we thought to be mute speak to you, and watch an illiterate mother learn to write her own name, as well as those of her sons.
Despite teaching in Australia for many years, in many ways I feel like a student again here. Lesson plans need to be written out — not for my planning of activities, but to ensure I have the language to explain a task and encourage the students as they complete it. We have lived in Timor-Leste for 20 months now and our language continues to improve each day, although my knowledge base is related to numbers, colours, animals and other child-related topics. I find chit-chat with my Timorese neighbours difficult, but I can sing them “The wheels on the bus” in Tetun. I often joke that we volunteer for one day each week, but it takes me two days to plan, prepare and translate all that is needed for the Wednesday class!
So a rough outline for the next two months of lessons emerged throughout the morning, interrupted by questions, Sam’s requests for food, making lunch, making a slice for Sam and Jason to take in their lunch packs, and an urgent email or two.
After lunch we have rest time, a luxurious treat for our family when we lived in Melbourne, but since living in Arnhem Land and now Timor-Leste, a necessity for health and wellbeing. We take an hour or two, depending upon the day, to rest in our rooms under the air conditioner. On some days, it is a good time to read, reflect and have some time with God. On other days, a nap is needed! Sam is used to this routine, although he doesn’t like it. On this day, he is enjoying his Lego, but also spends some time reading a kids’ cookbook we have been given, making a list of what he wants to learn to cook.
In the afternoon, I manage to remove another task from my to-do list as I finish making a photo book for the disability centre — aligning photos, hunting down a photo of each student, designing, and redesigning each page until it is complete. As each of the missionary staff working at the centre is heading home to visit their supporting churches this year, we thought we could make one photo book of the centre and use it to show supporters a little of what we do, as we head home to Brazil, Switzerland and Australia. Photo book-making is interrupted as Sam decides to play ‘holidays’ on the bed next to the office desk. He has his backpack jammed full of required holiday items including his water bottle, pillow, colouring-in equipment and his much loved sunglasses. He plays beside me as I work, with frequent requests to “Look at this Mum!” or “Should I colour a plane or a superhero next?”
As it starts to get dark, I realise that Jason is home a little later than usual. I look at the plane tracker to see that he has had a busy flying day. I have lost track of the time and am shocked to see it is 6pm as Jason arrives home. Thankfully, I don’t need to think about cooking dinner, as I was overly zealous with my proportions earlier in the week, so reheated leftovers are on the menu tonight. After dinner, I do the dishes, while Jason puts Sam to bed before he reviews and makes some suggestions on how to improve the photo book (he has a much better eye for design than I do). We talk about our day and decide this day will become our AMT article day — it’s as normal as any! So we quickly jot down some notes so we don’t forget what we did and then head to bed.