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!

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