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!!

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