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The low life and rich cuisine of Malaysia, in a yellow t-shirt

 

At Batam, we left Indonesia.

We realised, too late, we could have caught a ferry directly to Malaysia. Instead we had booked ourselves to travel to three countries in one day.

We love travelling by sea. Give us a jetty, port or ferry terminal any day, before an airport.

Leaving Indonesia was as relaxed as arriving into the country, way back in West Timor. By 8am we were on our way to Singapore,

and by about 8.30am we finally finished off our crumbly stores of homemade roo and rabbit jerky.

By mid morning we were arriving in the old British colonial port of Singapore,

where we experienced a rather more uptight immigration system. Still, those who were supposed to be assessing our x-rayed luggage and bodies were instead scrolling on their screens or watching a movie on their phone, just like in Indonesia. We were to find the same laissez-faire attitude in Malaysia, later in the day.

We had hoped to connect with some permies in Singapore but the timing wasn’t to be, so we hightailed it from the south to the north of this micro-country, which we found to be fastidiously neat.

From the north of Singapore (about 30 minutes by car) we boarded a five minute train that took us to the Malaysian border.

We crossed the Strait of Johor,

into Malaysia, and were thrilled to find these homemade baked goods at the station.

In the third country for the day we boarded another train to go north, with our lunch of tea eggs and beef cake.

With the bureaucracy of borders behind us and our bellies full and nourished, we settled in for a gentle journey for the afternoon,

beholding what nation states do to their respective Mother Countries in order to participate in the global-pool-of-money-tragedy-of-the-commons routine.

In Malaysia, rubber and tin industries are in decline, but palm oil is in expansion. While habitat loss and species extinction are stories well associated with palm oil farming, in more recent years metastasis cancers have been linked to palmitic acid in those who consume it. This is potentially serious because palm oil is now found in close to 50% of the packaged products found in supermarkets. Think Nutella, for example, which is more than 50% palm oil and refined sugar.

When we arrived in Gemas that night, we were asked by an Indian-Malay tradesman staying in the same hotel why would we come to such a town.

“We like non-touristy places,” was Patrick’s reply. “We want to see how people live in towns that are not famous.”

Even though we were treated like tourists and overcharged when we stopped at a local food hall for dinner,

the meals we bought were delicious and highly affordable for we radical frugalists who live in a rich country, and whose nation’s wealth is also dependent on destroying the landbase. We are not shy in ‘fessing up to the fact that our travelling is predicated on the privilege of a currency made strong by mining, thus earth-wrecking. Thus too, the local fruit here was highly affordable, a little of which we bought for breakfast and lunch the next day.

We’re getting used to living on golden mangoes, and sleeping in cheap hotel beds.

We woke to rain and fog,

walked through the streets,

startled the local pigeons,

and arrived back at the station.

Seeking out small towns and avoiding big cities is our aim in Malaysia, in the bid to avoid taking in too much pollution. However, we are finding that Malaysia has much cleaner environments and air than Indonesia. We have loved the absence of drugs and alcohol in the two countries. It makes us reflect just how much pain comes with addiction to these things.

From sweet Gemas we boarded a train,

and relaxed into a rainy morning of travel and air conditioning. While Patrick has recovered from his malaise in Batam, Meg was feeling a tad under the weather.

By midday our train had arrived at the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, where we stood in line to book a bus to go yet further north.

No one gave Woody the memo about his politically indecent attire. At the time we were clueless that if you wear yellow clothes in Malaysia you could risk a fine of AUS$1600. In 2016, protestors wearing yellow clothing walked the streets of Kuala Lumpur calling for the resignation of then-Prime Minister Najib. Several years on, yellow clothes are still considered a symbol of protest and a threat to national security. We were completely oblivious to this next chapter of people control.

Across the world governments are incrementally stepping up efforts to censor, coerce and forbid people from exerting their basic human rights. A slow, year-by-year approach using mass propaganda tactics has seen human rights steadily dissolve across the world.

In 1951, Hannah Arendt, in her The Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote: “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Does this sound like the past four years to you? Does this sound like watching, for example, ABC TV’s emergency porn propaganda during the Covid years?

Thankfully no one locked Woody away or fined him for wearing a yellow t-shirt. Coming from a family of protesters, the irony of being political disruptors even without knowing it wasn’t lost on us.

The bus we booked turned out to be filled with electric massage seats. Only none of them worked. This large coach headed off about an hour after the advertised time,

and on the way out of KL, we met glimpses of the city displaying modernist vertical gardens,

and archaic colourful temples.

The measure of a city’s soul does not concern the most elegant architecture, the most dazzling spectacles, or the most novel cafés and restaurants, but rather how the poorest members are living.

Our ‘first class massage coach’ embodied only the pretence of wealth. It was in fact the cheapest bus ticket money could buy, and it stopped several times over the course of the afternoon, to drop off passengers at unglamorous petrol stations,

taking us past thousands more hectares of palm oil monocultures,

and grand old hills and mountains,

many of which are being reduced to lime,

and cement products.

On the road we read about the 5 million year-old limestone hill being destroyed by a Malaysian cement company, and reflected on all the small projects back home where we’ve used cement, as well as all the many times we have found alternatives.

While the massage chairs were broken in the bus, and were generally fairly uncomfortable, at least one provided the right nest for rest for Magpie.

And while the rail systems in both Indonesia and Malaysia are reliable and enjoyable to travel on, we’ve found that if you are travelling by bus, always expect the unexpected. The driver dropped us off in Pekan Simpang, and not where our ticket stated.

We protested (must have been Woody’s reactionary yellow t-shirt that got us going), saying we booked a ticket to Taiping, the next town. The driver shrugged and rudely said, “You get a car.” Which is how we arrived here, at the Knight Alley Hotel in Taiping.

Woody and Patrick tucked Meg into bed and went exploring.

Taiping is known as the rainy town, but it was warm and dry, and the buildings fascinating.

There’s significant juxtaposition between wealth and poverty, arrogance and humility, imposition and makeshift spirit here.

Wherever the locals gather for meals is a sure bet there’s goodly food on offer. “I’ll take your picture, dad,” said Woody.

Woody and Patrick dined in one of the food halls in the main centre. It was bloody hot.

Chilli pan mee for Patrick, a glutton for punishment, and a fermented chicken bun for the boy.

We love the food here, and the endless trip hazards in the streets that keep us alert and watchful,

After our meals we tripped into a fruit store to buy some dinner for Meg. The fruit bat got to work, hand selecting golden mangoes for his mum.

On the way back to the hotel we found this beautiful little offering.

We were later told that the offering was most likely made to the spirit of a tree that once stood on this street corner. The beauty of this gesture reminded us of our own European animist tradition – to touch or knock on wood, to wake up the gods or spirits living there, to bring forth luck or safe passage. Traces of this tradition remain in us today, carried by grandmothers and uncles, and poets like Blake and Wordsworth, who once penned, “One impulse from a vernal wood/ May teach you more of man,/ Of moral evil and of good,/ Than all the sages can.”

Approximately 63% of the population of Malaysia practices Islam, 18% Buddhism, 8% Christianity, 6% Hinduism and 5% are other groups, which include animists, Confucianists, Taoists and Sikhs. To our minds, any spiritual practice that makes offerings to the spirits in trees that have been cut down, has our attention. Can we imagine if this was a major religious expression throughout the world? Oh, how our economic, political and cultural forms would radically change.

We left this lovely little non-tourist town, without experiencing the Taiping rain,

and were pleased we could travel the next leg by train.

It was a short trip, which included the practice of patience,

before we arrived in Butterworth, an industrial service town that powers Penang Island from the mainland.

We booked another $30 room high up in the clouds. We estimate we are spending around AUS $50 a day on this trip.

and while Meg did some office work to both fill back up the coffers and because she loves her meaningful work managing the Holmgren Design comms,

Patrick and Woody pursued their bourgeois lifestyle, and took a swim.

Woody is getting right into the spirit of this trip. When we first arrived in Dili he experienced significant culture shock. Now, several weeks on he is thriving.

In the late afternoon, we took a ferry across to Penang Island,

Woody practiced his photography,

Patrick too,

while Meg hung out with the bikies.

It was a short ride, and as none of us had eaten lunch, we stopped into this cosy shed for a snack.

The proprietor didn’t seemed that fazed by our late arrival.

While in Malaysia we’ve been dwelling on the phenomenon of the human blindspot. What have we been ignoring or are unable to see while we travel? The evidence now of scientific fraudulence and iatrogenocide in the Covid era is all around for anyone willing to investigate it. DNA contamination in the original mRNA shots is becoming a growing concern for scientists brave enough to study it, for example. We see it, hear and speak it. But it feels like the majority still prefer to actively unsee the lies, or defend them. Rather than sit in the sadness and horror of such masking (for what this means to human health and indeed civil rights), we’ve found it more important to ask, what are we averting our eyes from? What are we refusing to speak? What are we blocking our ears to?

It is the little things, the fledglings, the minutiae that inform this journey.

After we had a little moment with this chick, she hopped down from her perch and proceeded onto the road. We turned to see a man race over to her rescue, gather her up and return her to a safe place. After we’d photographed and admired the little bird, we’d turned away from her despite the obvious absence of a parent bird. The kindness of the rescuing man caused us to reflect on why we hadn’t done the same. In hindsight, it probably got down to touch. We were afraid of touching the chick, even us, confirmed terrain theorists. This event made us more aware of the greater caution we have to microbiology while travelling. While we are mostly eating street food and using tap water to clean our teeth, in the bid to train our microbiomes to co-evolve with our adventuring, we are at the same time applying the precautionary principle.

While in George Town on Penang Island, we met Tamanna and Adam, who are locals. Patrick and Meg teach on David Holmgren and Beck Lowe’s permaculture courses, both in-residence and online. Tamanna and Adam have booked in to the online PDC and Meg, in recent weeks, established a goodly email rapport with Tammana about the course. One thing led to another, which in turn led to us sharing an evening together. Adam led us to a lively street of food.

Where we were thrilled for his local knowledge.

He ordered many little tasting plates,

and the flavours were divine.

“Dinner is on us,” said Adam. We agreed with the condition we repay the generosity back in Australia. During this meal, Patrick was escorted to another realm,

into a nirvana of flavours and pleasure sticks.

We had such a special night with these two, reminding us how more enriching it is to be with locals of a place, who equally love simple and rich food culture.

The next day we headed north again,

catching a commuter train to the border,

where we had a few hours to reflect on our brief sojourn through the heart of Malaysia,

and where we beheld the switch from palm oil to rice agricultures,

and caught up with some sleep. Could someone please tape that mouth shut!

Then, before the day had begun to buzz, we were off the train,

and into a local initiative that takes people across the border in vans.

We lined up,

and were transported to the Thai border centre, where we went through immigration and customs without bother or money.

From there, we boarded a space ship to transport us to the next leg of our adventure…

 

 

Crossing the equator – the Jakarta to Batam moment

While the electrical experience in Jakarta was fascinating and relatively complex,

the hybrid smog from motor exhaust and cigarettes was heavy going.

We were very much part of the traffic; part of the problem; part of the toxicity. Since arriving in Dili and travelling west by land and sea to Jakarta, we’ve found that hitch hiking is impossible. There are taxi drivers on every street eager to pick up as soon as there’s the smallest intimation that a lift is required. It took about two hours in a cab from the railway station to drive about 20kms, grinding through one continuous traffic jam to where we’d booked a room for a few nights in an apartment building called the Casablanca East Tower.

A $30 a night room with this view.

Since we left Vincent in Surabaya, he being the final thread of relationship woven for us by Yanti way back in Dili, we are socially anchorless in Jakarta. We went in search of connection.

We explored back streets,

and street food warungs,

and were thankful for the delicious gastronomic arts of this city.

We loved the simplicity,

and flavours, and it was here Patrick fell in love with gado gado – an Indonesian salad served with a peanut sauce dressing.

We beheld richness in the poorer suburbs,

and a green emptiness in the bourgeoise ones.

Afternoon storms became a pattern while we were in Jakarta, and we got caught out in one.

Coming across a truck selling sweet potato, our cold climate farming bodies dreamt up crop trials for this coming summer. If tuber vegetables can replace cereals at home, we are another step closer to unshackling from monocultures. While this may sound eco-ideological, it was actually our love of sweet potato for breakfast at Ego and Yanti’s where this desire grew.

We came across a man repairing shoes on the street. Patrick handed his over, and we walked on for a while,

exploring streets inhabited by the transported abundance of Java’s rural productivity,

and stopping here and there to savour the goodly fare.

Between deluges the cobbler had glued, re-stiched and polished Patrick’s shoes. His handiwork cost a mere $3.50.

We were happy to spend a few nights in Jakarta getting high,

and getting down low,

and discovering communities growing food together,

such as Green Farm.

We were happiest in this city either playing music as a family, trying new foods or exploring productive gardens.

However, try as we did with the locals,

we really just consumed food, returned it to leaky, decrepit plumbing systems, and absorbed volumes of pollution. We also got fairly pissed off, at one point.

We booked a boat to the island of Batam, just south of Singapore, and had to stay another night in Jakarta before it set off late the following night. So we took another room in an apartment building. At 9am, dressed and ready to explore the neighbourhood, we caught a lift to the ground floor, only to find we couldn’t get out. We went back up the elevator to a number of floors to try to get help and understand what was going on. One man we met told us people are locked in the building until 10am. WTF! Incredulous, we descended to the basement, budged open a door, and after stumbling around in the dark entered an apocalyptic passageway,

which led to an underground carpark that had no lighting. After a little orientation we came across a bolt of natural sunlight descending into this creepy underworld, indicating a road out. As we entered daylight and approached the security guards lingering at the laneway behind the building – thinking they were going to chastise us for leaving before 10am – Patrick started penning this message on the translation app:

It read: “You cannot incarcerate people in a building against their will, it is an abuse of human rights.” But the guards looked unfazed as we drew up next to them, so we walked on, away from that strange moment into the mayhem of street life, where we practiced the art of crossing busy roads,

by doing what the locals do – walk out in front of the traffic, gesturing to motorists to slow down or stop. We crossed many roads during the morning looking for an op-shop to buy Woody a t-shirt. He’s a fast growing boy, especially in the tropics.

The roads are anarchical here; they hold their own flow and logic,

and while there are few footpaths and everyone seems to drive anywhere they can, including against the traffic, it is not entirely impossible to be a pedestrian.

On our last afternoon in Indonesia’s capital we reflected on the city and its future in an energy descent reality.

There’s a makeshift spirit here and an absence of safetyism that will likely aid residents, and while the examples of retrosuburban farming we saw in the wealthier parts of Jakarta may well keep producer knowledges alive, the infrastructure collapse that is already advanced in this metropolis, could undermine any such resilience.

In our final hours in Jakarta we played music, and slept and swam,

before joining the traffic, again, to the port, to board this boat, the KM Kelud.

We’d wanted economy tickets for both the affordability and sociability but they’d sold out, so we paid for lodgings in bunk rooms.

$70 per bunk for a 40 hour voyage, and all meals included.

We found we were again the only caucasian travellers on the boat sans one young couple, perhaps Dutch, who had no thirst to converse and held a permanent look of worry in their faces. Without any phone signal, our translation app was rendered useless so we defaulted to body language with fellow passengers, were invited many times to make selfie, and practiced what little Indonesian we’ve gathered.

After several weeks of travelling west, we are now heading north again.

On the way to the port the taxi driver warned us about our belongings both at the port and on the boat. We have heeded such advice along the way, and used the lockers provided on the boat, however, neither in Jakarta nor on this boat have we felt unsafe.

We spent July 6 at sea on Indonesian waters, crossing the equator. July 6 is an important day for both Indonesians and West Papuans, as it marks the anniversary of the Biak massacre of possibly hundreds of West Papuans by the Indonesian army, 26 years ago (as Alison Bevege reports). A US mining giant, Freeport, and the Indonesian government make considerable wealth from their joint colonial project in West Papua.

There is no getting away from it, colonisation is insidious. It is in this boat. It is in the food on this boat. It is the fuel powering this boat. Industrial civilisation is nothing more than extravagant displays of colonialism rebranded as global development. While the machine of Empire sets out to conquer and destroy, perhaps all we have as a meaningful antidote is connection, even at 3am when this photo was taken. (From left Jernih, Meg, Shanty and Wenti).

Around 2.30am as we approached Batam our fellow bunk bedders’ phones came to life. It had been an enjoyable 36 hours without signal, but all that changed in the early hours. Phone addiction is next level in Indonesia. It was a media frenzy and we just went along for the ride.

The blurriness of us compared to Jernih and her husband speaks not only of device foreshortening but also of how tired our lil family felt in this moment.

Both nights on the boat our sleep was disturbed with multiple comings and goings of people, as well as their pre-downloaded media, which was played at full volume throughout the night.

We had perhaps vague, even romantic notions of an island oasis before arriving in Batam,

only to find a fully industrial port city,

where the empire had long since come, and dumped its shit.

There were remnants of ecological culture on the street. The indigenous mob here has been reduced to just 5 remaining Orang Darat people.

A culture replaced by a civilisation that has little regard for life.

These practical baskets made us laugh thinking about the local council back home, neatly ticking their sustainability boxes, rolling out ever more coloured plastic bins to the streets to organise (and hide) the various wastes of we residents.

Once again, the pollution was overwhelming in this city, whether it be cigarette smoke, burning plastic waste,

or motor fumes, which sat as an unpleasant smog above this produce market.

Motor bikes and scooters bellowed fumes across all the lovely food tables. The antioxidant medicine of chilli almost negated by the immune wrecking smog.

We bought salak, banana and longans,

and we booked another $30 room for two nights. Patrick slept for two days as he is struggling most with the pollution, while Meg went on little exploratory journeys into the city with Woody, and researched the next leg.

A big part of this trip is to put ourselves in situations where we are out of our comfort zones, to have our Magpie and Blue Wren feathers ruffled, and our Blackwood branches shaken. We are here to learn, to be jimmied open. There are things we keep learning over and over about ourselves. That we are creatures of place, creatures of a sacred Mother Country. This trip is not open ended, and although we are travelling slowly in industrial terms, we are moving quite swiftly towards India. Where we can, we are trying to stay put in one place so we have time and spaciousness to explore where we are, from the inside out. We love markets, hot food warungs, and produce stores, and understanding how other people do food.

The lesson we keep learning over and over is that we are not city people. The hustle and bustle overwhelms us and again and again we gravitate to the backstreets. The side alleys, the quieter moments. Gardens and green spaces, where our lungs and souls can breathe. We are grateful to the cities for enabling our transit, but we don’t understand what they are for and why people choose to live in such places. But that’s of course a long civilisational story, which is different for each of us.

So, here we are. Open and willing to learn, feeling the estrangement while trying to see the beauty of every moment.

Renewal, ceremony and abundance in Timor-Leste

Every day in Timor-Leste has been a feast of cultural riches, fine company, chaotic traffic, makeshift enterprises, beautiful beaches, unhappy pollutions and nourishing food, including this equisite dish of boiled banana flower hearts, lime, garlic, salt, and pepper.

After only a few hours of arriving in Timor-Leste, we were taken in by Ego Lemos and Yanti Wondeng and their three children Harmony, Thaddeus and Takamori (the littlest child pictured is cousin Misha).

Ego invited us to stay in his mother’s garden home in Dili (can you spot the breadfruit?),

and not only did Yanti and Ego cook many delicious meals, they taught us how to make some of them from scratch.

They took us to food markets,

where affordable organic produce for Timorese people is the rule, not the exception. Ego described the diversity of microclimates in the country, which in turn enables a diversity of crops and varieties.

Food scarcity in Timor-Leste is a fabrication, Ego told us. It’s fear stirred up by the expat “expert” class to promote the consumption of monocultural corporate foods that are not part of Timorese food custom.

Ego told us about 70% of Timorese food is grown in Timor-Leste, of which about 70% is organic. Wow!

Alongside food-to-market, other artisanal practices are maintained throughout Timor-Leste,

and cooking on the street is common, converting weedy eucalyptus into cooking fire energy.

Yanti showed us her favourite coconut stand in the neighbourhood, which we visited daily,

and how to buy from the many mobile vegetable discotheques that sell door-to-door, alerting potential customers of their proximity by playing loud Timorese pop music as they travel. You get to dance while buying the veggies!

Music is played in Dili night and day, and on one of the nights we got to dance and sing along to Ego and his band,

and learn more about his past performance life, such as playing with his friend Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu at various festivals. Ego’s song “Balibo” received a 2009 APRA award for best song in a film.

Ego lost his father and three siblings during the brutal occupation of Timor-Leste by the Indonesian army. He suggested we go to the Resistance Museum to teach Woody about the Timorese struggle, and Yanti asked Bella, a family friend and fellow permaculturist, to accompany us. We listened carefully to this big grief story of the Timorese people

From their family, only Ego and his mother, Madalena, survived the invasion. Here is Madalena putting her chickens away, as she does each night on dusk.

We can’t imagine how we’d respond to such seismic hatred and bloodshed, but in Ego and Yanti’s home and within their community of friends and colleagues, the response is wisdom, restoration and love. In 2023, Ego was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, also known as the Asia’ Nobel Peace Prize, for his food sovereignty programmes in Timor-Leste.

Patrick and Ego made time to record a podcast during the week our families came together. In the podcast Ego outlines his permacultural vision for the country and the work of Permatil, the organisation he started in 2001.

If you wish to donate to Permatil you can do so here.

In the podcast Ego explains a little of the sensitive cultural work Permatil does alongside local villagers and their elders. During our stay, Ego invited us to accompany him, with several staff and volunteers, to visit a village in the province of Ermera. We travelled Timorese style in the back of a ute. Meet Sebas (Permatil director of projects) and Thomas, a German professor of social and cultural anthropology, who also joined the small party up the mountain.

Last year, Thomas wrote Mobilizing the Future: Timor-Leste’s Permaculture Youth Camps, which is an excellent review of the permaculture youth work Ego and his team have established. Thomas has made many visits to Timor-Leste over the years and speaks the two official languages, Tetun and Portugese, well.

As we travelled up the mountain we passed under a number of honey trees, where the bees make an open comb. Sebas told us that there are expert honey harvesters who climb high up to procure this wild nutrition. There is plenty of honey in Timor-Leste, yet none of it is cultivated in hives.

When we arrived on the ridge of the mountain we were met by the head of the village, who guided Ego and a small cohort of us to a natural water basin.

On the way we met his wife collecting cassava for the breakfast that was being prepared.

Ego explained to us the work that was needed to restore the water basin, and recharge the springs below. He described how the sedimentation and weeds that choke up these natural catchments are due, in part, to the absence of water buffalo who have traditionally played a significant role in maintaining them. When these basins are functional they enable the abundance of water that falls in the wet season to deeply penetrate into the mountain and significantly recharge all the springs below.

Before breakfast Ego took us to see Ramelo, the highest mountain in Timor-Leste.

As the elders began to arrive, we were called for breakfast.

We were treated to freshly harvested cassava and sweetened local coffee. Our gratitude flowed for the love of this food and for the welcome we received.

After breakfast, the elders began preparing for the ceremony. Instead of us describing this sacred event in detail – a ritual intended to see whether Permatil’s work should go ahead here in the village – we’ll share just a little of what we experienced as invited participants. Photography was welcomed.

The people of the village, the cohort from Permatil, regional clan elders, and we overseas visitors gathered at the ceremonial hearth,

to listen,

to witness,

and to learn.

We were given betel nut, betel nut leaf and desiccated lime to chew.

The gentleness, respect and inclusivity of the village moved us greatly. We witnessed these qualities in the preparation of the pig, from whose liver the sign was given that Permatil’s work in the village should proceed,

While the lunch was being prepared Meg was shown around the village,

Woody got a game of catch going,

and Patrick spoke with Zecky, a graduate of Permatil’s youth programme,

who now runs his own organic compost enterprise, and whose shirt sports his own unique permaculture wisdom:

“Better to seek funding from creativity than seek it from the government.” So true, Zecky! Then lunch was served consisting of village-grown vegetables such as bok choy, sweet potato, taro, and chillies,

and the sacrificial pig.

Every part had to be eaten before the end of the ceremony, and one of the elders took delight in cutting this delicious animal into small shareable parts, and handing them around.

Meg helped with the clean up, and the women communicated she was the first “Portuguese” woman they’d seen helping with the dishes. In Australia a picture of a woman happily doing the dishes can illicit outrage in sectors of the population. In Timor-Leste the very same image can be a marker of decolonisation, and respect.

When it was time to leave, the elders said to us, “No, do not say good bye, just go. We know you will come back. This work has begun now.”

And so begins a process that will last many years, which will see both the national and international PermaYouth camps come to the village and much water restoration work carried out. For our family, who are part of bringing back ritual, ceremony and earth care in our community, this day was profound. We gathered and yarned across languages,

we feasted and played together.

We learnt from each other, and beheld the ritual of an earth-honouring tradition. All this activity intermingled with such ease, gentleness and respect. We were immensely grateful to have been participants in such an important day for the village and for Permatil, and we are ever thankful to Ego for including us, for his great skill at bringing people together, and for his sensitivities and respect for life and for people.

The next day, for something completely culturally different, we sought out Dili’s main stadium where we’d heard the T20 national final was going to take place. Cricket is just 12 or so years old in Timor-Leste, and Woody was eager to attend the match. On arrival we were welcomed by the game officials, Sakara and Marianna,

and watched the match between the two teams.

It was intensely hot, even from our shady vantage point high up in the stadium. Water was brought to spectators to drink, and the players had regular drink breaks. After the match Patrick was spontaneously and unexpectedly invited to present the player of the series award,

and after the awards ceremony, Woody was invited to play in the young people’s game. They kitted him out,

and sent him in to open the batting.

While we stayed with Yanti and Ego, Woody played catch out on the street with Thaddeus and the kids in the neighbourhood,

Patrick helped Steve with a plumbing project,

and Meg helped prepare food with Misha’s mum, Melda.

We’ve made new friends over the past week,

and we’ve shared many stories and meals together. Thank you beautiful Lemos-Wondeng family for all your love and care of us in Timor-Leste.

We left Dili for Maliana, near the Indonesian border, at 3am in the morning on a bus that started off with just us, the driver and two young assistants.

It was a six hour trip that may forever rid us of any remnant Australian preciousness. In fact it was so hardcore we highly recommend this journey to any Aussie who is easily triggered. Consider it a kind of anti-whingeing therapy. Woody vomited out the window many times as the bus rattled over the innumerable flood-made potholes in the dark. Live pigs rode in the boot, squealing. Bags and people were sardined in, and what luggage couldn’t fit inside was thrown onto the roof, including a goat. Cigarette sparks flew across the bus stinging travellers. Pop music thumped so loudly our hearts, and ear drums, felt like they’d explode. Colourful lights strobed epilepticly down the aisle. Young men held onto the outside of the bus for dear life, as there was no room inside. Sleep was absolutely not possible. As we approached Maliana the daylight broke and the bus slowly emptied out village after village.

It was a wild ride. We were the last to get out and had to be stern with the local boys who kept attempting to take our bags. At first we thought we were being robbed, but they were only fighting over whose taxi they could steer us into. We had little language in common, and these spirited young men laughed at our disorientation and confusion. Several minutes later, Yanti’s beautiful parents, Yan and Ama, arrived to collect us and bring us to their family home.

We have been treated to the most generous hospitality while in Timor-Leste. Yanti’s sister and brother in law, Len and Selinoo, invited us to lunch at their home where we were treated to water buffalo, chicken, a chilly-lime ferment, vegetables and guava juice. So much gratitude has flowed in us in this magical country.

After lunch Len showed us her garden.

and before lunch, Yan took us high into the mountains to see the traditional villages, complete with living fences, bamboo gates and palm-thatched shelters.

On the way down the mountain, Yan pointed out the Indonesian side of the Memo River. Tomorrow we will travel in the back of a pickup truck to Atapupu in Indonesia, passing through Balibo on the way, which has a dear place in the hearts of our community back home. As our time in Timor-Leste comes to a close, at least for now, we are reflecting on just how much this country and its people have suffered, and have grown from the trauma with positivity, kindness and resilience. We have been touched deeply by the people, their spirit, their animals,

and the land. Long live Timor-Leste!

A Food Forest

As a result of the project we did in Newcastle, we are very excited to share the news that we have been invited to participate in the In the balance: art for a changing world show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney from 19 August to 23 November 2010.

In preparation for our project, we have visited Sydney twice in the last month. The first time we travelled by plane, but after measuring our carbon footprint between Melbourne and Sydney we decided to travel by car on interstate journeys henceforth; by bike on local journeys and by bus, train and tram on any subsequent journeys. In fact we have made the decision never to fly again until air travel is fuelled by non-polluting renewable resources.

Click for bigger.

The project we have proposed for the MCA is a community food forest. Although we will have a presence in the gallery for the show, the main part of our work will comprise fruit and nut trees planted amongst vegetation that is indigenous to Sydney; bush plants that the Cadigal, the traditional owners of the inner Sydney city region, relied on for food.

As you can imagine, one of the most important elements of a project like this is finding the right location. On our last two Sydney trips, we have ventured all over the city in search of just the right site.

We visited Murralappi, the Settlement Neighbourhood Centre,

Frog Hollow,

Fred Miller Park,

and numerous other parks, but the one we have our fingers crossed the most for is Ward Park, in Surry Hills.

This is the corner of the park we hope to plant out. It’s roughly 300sqm.

Before we drove home, we went to Ward Park once more to measure up

to pick up rubbish

to sketch our proposed food growing area

and to imagine the nearby residents looking down at the forest to see what fruit is in season.

Mapping Our Menu

For the next three years, Patrick will be a student again, undertaking research for his doctoral thesis in the areas of ecology and poetics. Part of his research is to document our family’s transition from being oil dependent to as self-sufficient as we can be in terms of water, energy and food.

We have solar panels, water tanks and bikes. But what about our food?

We have been spending a lot of time in the garden talking about what it will take for our family to become self-sustaining in terms of what we eat. So, to determine how far we have to go, we decided to mark the beginning of our journey by spending 24 hours eating the food we have growing here in our garden or provided by our chickens, and the public food we are able to forage locally. No salt and pepper, no butter, oil or any condiments. We only drank our own rain water. We didn’t drive anywhere all day and we didn’t spend any money.

7:06 am
7:08 am
7:10 am
7:13 am
7:20 am
7:26 am
9:32 am
9:35 am
9:48 am
11:07 am
11:35 am
11:45 am
12:39 pm
12:44 pm
1:24 pm
5:12 pm
7:46 pm
7:50 pm
8:13 pm
8:27 pm
As you can see, we by no means went hungry, though we all lacked energy throughout the day, had headaches at one time or another, and felt lackluster.

Patrick: I experienced a mild depression along with a headache. As the head gardener in the Artist as Family, I know how much work it takes to generate our own food, and this challenge – or experiment – really emphasised the enormous task we have of becoming self-sufficient.

Zephyr: Just before lunch I had a nap!! I haven’t done that since I was three years old.

Meg: I had a meeting to attend in the afternoon. While I was sitting in it, I couldn’t help but feel that the issues that were being discussed that I normally feel are vital and worth discussing, were completely irrelevant compared to the imperative issue of finding food for one’s self and one’s family.

40% of greenhouse gases come from industrial agriculture (supermarket food): pesticides, fertilisers, tractors, harvesters, packaging, transportation, refrigeration, lighting etc. Food prices are only going to rise courtesy of peak oil. Communities that start to plan for energy descent now will be better off in the long run. What the Artist as Family is learning, is that relocalisation is a several year transition.