‘Oh, since you’re here, maybe you’d want to come with us on the medical mission to Maubessi on the weekend?’
But of course, you didn’t have to ask me twice. I had to get out and see more of the country, not just Dili. I would have made up any excuse, if I had to go in to work during the weekend. Thankfully, I didn’t need to go in to the office, so no excuse needed.
The medical and humanitarian mission was sponsored by the Association of Filipinos in East Timor (AFET). The association is a group of Filipinos residing in Timor-Leste, and conducts small humanitarian missions for the peoples of Timor-Leste.
We got to the meeting point at 4am – yes, 4 am, which means I had to get up in the middle of the night after a dinner night out … and met up with others to form a convoy to Maubessi, which was three hours away. As we drove up to the mountains, we could see Dili down in the valley, with lights twinkling on one by one, as the people woke up to start their day.
Just as the sun was coming up, we arrived in Maubessi, the half-way point, to wait for the other convoy arriving from Suai (which was another three hours away from the other direction).
Stopping on the side of the road, we got out to stretch our legs – and promptly stepped into 40-degree weather, maybe even 30-degrees. It was cold, freezing, and we were all shivering.
Wrapped up in scarves, hats, hoodies and hugging ourselves to keep warm, we had breakfast at the side of the road as the sun came up.
The villagers passed by, staring at us as we ate, jumped and walked around to keep warm, and probably wanting to know who was disturbing their morning peace.
The convoy from Suai still had another hour before they would get to Maubessi, so one car stayed behind to wait for them while the rest of us continued on. We still had another two hours to go up, up the mountains, to the village of Turiscai where we would be setting up.
We drove on narrow, one-lane tracks, sometimes paved, sometimes not. Yes, this is a two-way road – on the side of the mountain. If we met any other vehicles on the way and nowhere to squeeze to the side for the other to pass, then one would have to reverse to a spot where two vehicles could pass. A little scary, especially if your vehicle was on the cliff-side of the mountain … but thankfully, every time we met another vehicle, there was space for both to pass.
The scenery was beautiful, the cool weather a refreshing change from the heat of the city. After a winding and bumpy ride on roads and tracks that we were not entirely sure were for vehicles, we arrived in Turiscai.