Michelle Laws

May 2, 2018

Where are you – and what are you doing – on your PiA fellowship?

I'm a Gender Advisor at Marie Stopes Timor-Leste, in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Can you describe your experience in Asia thus far in three concise and varied words?

Blink. Smile. Nod.

What is the most significant thing you’ve learned during your time on PiA?

Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments as a PiA Fellow - can be a work-related or non work-related moment, or both!

On the last Friday of every month all of our outreach team come to Dili for 'Rollout'. During this time they get paid, they pick up equipment, wash cars etc. All of the drivers also have a get-together in the park outside the office. I was new, disoriented and eager to please, so when I was invited I jumped at the opportunity. Only two people spoke any English, so we decided to bond the old-fashioned way... with loud music, a few beers and plenty of dancing. I had an absolute blast. It made an impression that night that has lasted throughout my fellowship. I made friends that night that have supported me through the trials of living abroad alone, and I learned lessons that night about Timorese culture that have made life far more comfortable.

If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to come to a dinner party in your host city, who would you invite and why?

Brandon Sanderson, because I would love to see what fantasy world he could create after a night on the real life Kong Island.

Gloria Steinem, because maybe she would have words to express what I can't.

Peter II of Portugal, circa 1702, so he can see just how well the Timorese people are doing without him in their lives.

Tell us about someone in your community who has made your experience meaningful in some way, big or small.

My neighbor is an absolute all star. Not only does he say hi as I ride to work every morning, he's also stopped people who have tried to rob us, introduced me to community leaders, and been a strong advocate of LGBTQ rights within my neighborhood and Timor as a whole. He's a big guy with a bigger smile and I love how he's always keeping the younger guys busy with boxing and giving them good examples of strong men who don't drink or smoke. He's one of those people that just makes that make you feel happy to know that he exists. He's a regular joe who has a big impact on our small neighborhood, and I'm so lucky I get sit by the big tree outside and chat with him and his family on the regular.

Any words of wisdom for future PiAers?

Work hard. Roll with the punches. Check your privilege. Embrace your experience. Stay positive. Reserve your judgement.

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