Sunday, August 19, 2012

Timor Leste - The real reason for our visit

Today, I started organising my suitcase to head to London for Paralympic-spectator duties (NB. my spell check tells me that Paralympic is not a word....NOT IN YOUR WORLD MR MICROSOFT, BUT IN MINE, IT DEFINITELY IS!!)

Anyway, I thought that I better finish off the Timor stories before I start on the UK and France stories. Now, where were we? I'm not sure, so here is a picture of Justin Bieber on the back of a taxi-type vehicle to distract you while I gather my thoughts. (NB. spell check tells me that Bieber is also not a word. Mr Microsoft, I think our worlds are as one on this point!)

So, Alison and I volunteered to run a 4 day wheelchair basketball camp, and 1 day of demonstration games at a rehabilitation facility in Timor Leste, called Assert. Assert is the only rehab facility in Timor, so, as you can imagine, people with a wide variety of needs attend their service. While I was there, I met half the occupational therapists in the whole country (I met one!). He was one third of all OT's, but one of the three is on maternity leave. Understandably, there is a lot of work for him to do!
Here is a mural on the wall of the exercise area:

The little froggies have prosthetic spring-legs. Awwwwwww!

Being the OT that I am, I had a poke around in their equipment room. They have adapted day chairs to be more suitable for rough terrain by replacing the two front casters with a long bar, leading to one single large front caster. This is great for getting around through gravel, dirt, in the wet, etc, but I wonder how people manage in their own homes with daily living tasks like cooking (Sorry, can't help it...the OT in me is always thinking!). In addition to the day chairs, there are also a lot of these tricycles at the centre:

Several years ago, I saw these in Vietnam also, and they are a great idea for rough roads, with no footpaths. In fact, my day chair was so unsuitable that when I got home, I had to do a fair amount of maintenance because it just wasn't used to the off-road, dusty, dry conditions (there's now a footpath from my house to every bar in Torquay so I never need to go off-road!!).

Transport is also similar to Vietnam. I love the use of a fluffy hat for protection:

But, let's talk about the basketball, shall we? Firstly, I must say, I'm sorry, but I can't post photos of the players on my personal blog due to privacy reasons. However, I have done some judicious photoshopping (thanks for teaching me that skill NetReach) so there is a photo.

Unfortunately, I missed the best photo opportunity... When we first arrived, on day 1, when all the players were waiting for us in the building, a cow was happily lazing on the court. Apparently, that is his home. And let me tell you, he was not happy when we made it our home instead! At that point, Alison and I both knew that we were in a very different basketball world to the one from whence we had come.

So, here is a quick photo of Alison and I on court for the first morning. Notice how we look clean, not sweaty. Our shirts are not covered in dust, our faces are not too red, and I have found some shade. Yep, none of those things lasted long!

The court was white concrete, which reflected the billionty-zillion degrees of the sun. It was winter in Dili, and some of the players wore jumpers during training. However, not me.... Have you seen that scene from the Wizard of Oz when the wicked witch melts into a pool of liquid? Well, I'm pretty sure I reenacted that on the afternoon of day 1....and then again on day 2.....maybe day 3.....but by day 4, I learnt how to hide in the shade!!

That was not all I learnt though. We knew that we were throwing new knowledge at our players, all day, everyday. Our idea was that we would provide a lot of new stuff, knowing that only some of it would be remembered. So, in order to minimise the stuff they needed to learn, we decided to learn some Tetum basketball-related words. I thought I learnt the words for Left and Right, and led the group through a drill where they had to turn their chair according to the direction I said. I'm not sure what I said, I thought it was Left, but clearly it was "stop moving your chair in order to laugh at Lisa and look at each other with raised eyebrows". Oh well, that's not the first time I've done that...but usually it's in English.

Just in case you're wondering, here is a photo of the whiteboard on which we had the players write the Tetum words  for the lines on the court. I just want to point out that the word for the key is Xave, pronounced something like Shar-vay. You know, Sharvay...the same way I say my surname after I've had a few wines! That's right people, I AM THE KEY TO BASKETBALL!!

I won't spend too much time talking about the skills we taught, but just imagine the very beginning of a wheelchair basketballer's career. The players soaked up the knowledge like they were sponges. They were great! Both the new players and the last year's existing players all improved each and every session. On day 1, we taught one-handed shooting and we hardly saw two-handed, behind the head, shots ever again. And the amount of smiles and laughter that happened showed us that wheelchair basketball is such a great game, and Alison and I felt privileged to be able to share it with others. I can see how this volunteering gig can become addictive!

Pushing the wheelchair was not necessarily something that all of the players had done before, so for some, it was a struggle to steer straight. In fact, one of the women had only received a day chair on the first morning of the camp, despite not being able to walk for years. She told us a story of hardly leaving her house, and when she did, being mistaken for a beggar. She was so embarrassed about that  that she hardly ever left the house again.

It was stories like her's that reminded me again and again that I was lucky to be born into a country with resources, infrastructure and laws that support my equal participation and social inclusion. Although I was not particularly lucky in collecting the whole, complete set of vertebrae, I was lucky to do that in Australia.

Anyway, on a lighter note, here is a picture of a picture that was hanging above my hotel bed. Does it remind you of anyone (answer below picture)?
(Answer: The Timorese version of Bert and Ernie...with giant nipples!!)

And then, after 5 days of great fun sharing our knowledge and experiences with new friends, we headed home.
Bye Timor Leste, we will be back!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Timor Leste - Before the Basketball Began

Well, I'm back from Timor Leste. Technically, I wrote this blog whilst away, but we didn't have internet access so I'm posting now. This post is about the first 2 days, before we started the basketball camp, when we were just travellers without a purpose.

To catch up, I was in Timor Leste with a Gliders team-mate, Alison, to run a development wheelchair basketball camp, funded by Motivation Australia, a not for profit disability and development organisation. Three other coaches went last year, where they built the donated wheelchairs, then introduced 10 players to the fabulous game! This year, 8 of those players returned, with 6 new ones, but more about the actual basketball in the next post. 

Just before we start my account of the day, a trend I have noticed happening amongst my friends is taking a holiday at a health retreat, where you have no internet and avoid phone contact, eat basic foods such as rice, protein and vegetables, engage in exercise and maybe take saunas to cleanse the toxins. Well, let me tell you, running a 5 day wheelchair basketball camp in an outside court in Timor Leste meets every single one of those goals!! 

Friday, 3rd August:
Day one. Today, we travelled from our homes in Hobart and Torquay to Darwin, where, the plan was, to stay in the airport hotel overnight. It seems simple enough, right? Well, consider the amount of stuff we needed to bring: My day chair, both our sports chairs, one bag of spare wheels, both our suitcases, and a box full of basketballs. Still, not as bad as last year’s volunteers, who had to bring the basketball rings over with them! 

Normally, there is that moment when you dump your luggage at check-in, and don’t have to worry about it until you reach your final destination. Unfortunately for us, we were on two different airlines from Melbourne to Sydney, and then from Sydney Darwin (not to mention the final leg of Darwin to Dili, which makes it three different airlines). Yep, at each stop, we had to load up a trolley full of luggage, and stack one sports chair on top of the other, and make our way through crowded airports.

The last time I had this much stuff to haul through an airport was when I was off to the Athens Paralympics. Because Australia is currently gripped by Olympic fever, every now and again, some other passenger asked me if I was off to the London Paralympics. Well, I didn’t lie when I said yes ;)

The Darwin Cup is on this weekend. The flight to Darwin was chocca-bloc, and all the hotels are booked out. Just as well tonight’s hotel booking was made a while ago…..or was it?!?!? Well, technically, the staff of our organisation booked a room for us…. But the hotel staff recorded the wrong date, despite sending a confirmation email. That’s right, 2 women and a truck-load of luggage were homeless in Darwin. We thought about turning the sports chair frames into humpies for a moment. However, luckily for us, the airport hotel had a sister resort just around the corner, where they could give us a room.

Off we trottted, pushing trolleys and wheelchairs to “just around the corner”, which was thankfully, just around the corner. A bit of confusion ensued as the desk person was not the same one that had spoken to our first attempt of a hotel. However, this was quickly sorted when the original person’s break was over.
Holding our key to room 244 in our hot little hands, we wearily wandered to dump our stuff and collapse on the beds. And, here lies the problem. You see, room 244 was not abundant in beds. In fact, it had only one. Now, I’m short, but I can’t fit in a drawer!

Back we wandered to reception. Finally, 2 hotels, a walk “just around the corner” and 3 attempts at a room later, we collapse on our separate beds, and contemplate how quickly we will use the 2 passes for free drinks we were given for our troubles.

Our Glider teammate, Red, met us for dinner, where the manager proceeded to give us more free drinks and a discount on dinner. Well, we don’t mind if we do…and we did! After a catch up on lives, lots of laughter, ridiculous amounts of pork ribs, and the odd bubbles or two, we collapsed into bed, ready for our 4.20am wake up call.

Saturday 4th August,
4.20am came around very quickly!
5am shuttle bus to the airport, for a 6.30am flight. Plenty of time, we thought. However, we did not count on the “wheelchair panic” of the airport check-in staff. (NB. “Wheelchair panic” is a term that I use to describe the sheer panic of customer relations staff in “having to deal” with a person in a wheelchair. It’s not restricted to airline staff, but they tend to get it the most. Ironically, most wheelchair panic can be alleviated by simply asking the person what usually happens, rather than reinventing the wheel (heheheh pun) each time).

We checked in our mountain of luggage, and unfortunately, this time I didn’t win the war. That is, this airline has a policy that day chairs are checked in with ordinary luggage, and I have to sit in an aisle chair for an hour or so. Most progressive airlines understand that it is actually less staff intensive for them if I stay in my chair until boarding. Nope, not this airline…and it took them a while to understand that I would only agree if they provided a staff member to push me for the entire time (ie, not sitting me in the corner of the gate lounge, unable to move).

They provided a staff member, and she was lovely. Unfortunately, it was her 3rd day, so for the next half hour or so, we went on adventures together trying to find the secret hidden lifts in restricted areas of the airport.

While we were lining up in customs, a call came through on her radio, telling her that she needed to change my seat from the very front of the plane, to the very back of the plane to allow for the DPL. What is the DPL you ask? The creatively named “Disabled Persons’ Lift” – the tiny little cherry picker type thing that takes a person in an aisle chair onto the plane from the tarmac.

Just as well I learnt what a DPL was, because it gave me a heads up when the radio crackled through with “actually, I don’t think Dili has a DPL”. Ummm………it’s a long way down to bungie jump onto the tarmac!
The flight to Dili took just over an hour, and here is a photo of some spectacular scenery as we flew over Timor Leste.

We landed, the other passengers disembarked, and sure enough, there was no sign of a DPL. But then one arrived. Here is the Timor version of a DPL, getting me to the tarmac. 

 I am pleased to say that when he arrived at my seat, he looked me up and down, and then nodded, indicating that he could indeed lift me. I am less pleased to say that he was panting like an ill-prepared marathon runner by the time we got to my chair! [Mental note: next time I go to Timor, spend several months on Weight Watchers first.]

We arrived at our hotel, holding our breath that this booking was correct. Yep, all good (*wiping sweat from brow… both from relief and the millionty-zillion degrees of sunny sunshine). The hotel had done its best to become wheelchair friendly since the time our booking was made. They whipped up a ramp, and a shower chair, in the shed out the back (I mean, they whipped them up in the shed, not that I had to shower in the shed!).

When we arrived, they saw the effort it took to get up the two big steps at the front. So, in the time it took for me to go for a quick swim in the pool surrounded by a cat and a chicken (true!), they had whipped up a ramp. Ingenuity at its best!

Then we headed outside to have a look around, and here is a quick look at what we found:

Sunday 5th August
Today was a lazy day today, with a small bit of site-seeing, and a lot of lying by the pool. This morning, we drove on the Timorese version of the Great Ocean Rd. 

What I mean is that it wound around corner after corner, had the beach on one side, had mountains on the other…. and sometimes, a car came towards you on the wrong side of the road!! However, unlike Australia, the drivers here seem to anticipate that nobody drives with rules. Nobody panics… no harm done.
We hired a driver for an hour, who took us the big Jesus statue.

Apparently the nice beaches are further along, past the statue, and known as Jesus Backside Beach. We didn't get that far, but the beaches we saw where pretty amazing anyway.

Tonight, we ate food on sticks cooked on the beach. I’d tell you what that food was, but the most specific I can get is ‘meat’. I’m sure mine was chicken, but Al bravely chose the “buffalo”. Mmmmm…tasty. Best we don’t question that one too much. We bought some of the banana leaf things just to see what was inside: a little bit like "Deal or No Deal". Deal - Rice!

After beachside dinner and beers, we then reviewed tomorrow’s plan. We can’t wait to get on court and share the joy of wheelchair bball!!