Buffalo feasts, donor dancing, white shoes and great joy

With much pomp and ceremony and many hours of celebrations, Macalaco and Maucle schools are officially open!

Early Wednesday morning, our  intrepid bunch of 11 donors and fund raisers piled into rented 4WDs and  followed Kirsty Sword Gusmao’s car out of Dili.  The road (the main one in the country) hugs the spectacular coastline and twists and turns through tiny villages.  Dodging chickens, pigs and potholes, we drove for three hours to Baucau,before turning inland for another hour, fording a river and climbing a dirt road into the foot hills of the spectacular Mt Matebian. 

The villagers and children of Macalaco were waiting in the blazing sun, cheering and clapping as we arrived.  The children and adults performed dances, followed by many speeches including one by me – my first ever in Tetum (it was short!)  I also provided great hilarity when I kissed a local man on his cheek as part of a presentation – I’m not sure if he or I were more embarrassed…  Just when we thought the official ceremony was winding up, it turned the day was only just beginning.  We were led up a hill to a huge bamboo structure with a woven palm frond roof – all made for the occassion.  Two huge tables were laid with food and we ate, toasted the school with champagne and then cut what looked like a wedding cake (all prepared without ovens, electricity or running water).    And then we danced – with local partners carefully chosen and paired to the foreigners.  All wonderful fun and when we finally left it was clear the celebration was only just beginning for the villagers – palm wine until dawn we are sure!

We made it back to Baucau for a quick swim on dusk (ignoring the crocodile warning sign on the beach) and a BBQ dinner near the spectacular beach.

The next morning we were back on the road and at Maucale school, 30 mins outside Baucau by 10:00.  Not to be outdone by the more remote Macalaco, Maucale village turned on a fabulous ceremony as well, with dances by children and adults which had obviously been practiced many times.   Our unanimous favourite was the village chief whose delight at the school and the occasion was unmissable – beaming through his speech and the rest of his day.  His black suit and gleaming white slip on shoes several sizes too big were clearly his pride and joy and it was obvious that he was delighted to have somewhere to school his children, but also to have something to celebrate in a life which is often desperate. 

Kirsty is revered and treated like royalty – her presence in these villages is something that will be the subject of village folk lore for generations.

We all arrived back in Dili on Thursday evening, dusty and weary but incredibly happy to have been part of helping these remote villages and to have shared their happiness and celebrations.