Prose poetry reporting

Two of Portugal’s best writer/journalists are writing in and on Timor at the moment. Pedro Rosa Mendes (Lusa) and Paulo Moura (Público) are both internationally recognized and represent a lyrical, insightful and humanistic reporting that is rare just about everywhere.


Moura’s article in this weekend’s Pública magazine, “Timor a second chance,” accompanied by brilliant black and white photos by award-winning photographer Agnes Dherbeys (featured above) caught my attention immediately. It may seem melodramatic, but I prefer this angle than that “country without hope” angle. Without massacring his work, I’ll just provide a short selection in translation:

At night, the city goes to the pigs. Absolute black. There is no electricity, not a soul. In some of the more ensconsed alleyways there are fireflies. One must stop, get out of the jeep, turn off the motor and the headlights. Stay still and silent, to feel the weight of the night in Dili. The rustling of the pigs. Nothing more. They have no problem going out. They are the only ones. Only they are not scared. Swine of various breeds and sizes, eating from the garbage containers, wallowing in the drains, without grunting, so as not to call attention. Absolute black. Destroyed houses, refugee neighborhoods, shacks, poorly erected tents, all on top of each other, ripped. The holes in the streets. The puddles of the last tropical rain, evaporating odors and memories. The scalding steam of the Asian night covering over the damage from the last crisis, the last disturbance, the last killing. Pigs and dogs, thin and sick, disputing the leftovers. The leftovers of nothing. The empty streets. The silence amplified til it becomes unbearable. The echoes of hatred. The traces. The leftovers. The sullen and vexed face of frustration. Absolute black in the capital of the youngest country in the world.

It was a great test, a great challenge. All of the ideals of Humanity concentrated on one island. On half of an island. There nothing not to be done. Centuries of definition, of putting off what is just. That which could be and should be. Centuries of history. Of advances and setbacks, errors, conquests, dellusions. Of great steps forward. Eternal returns. Generations lost. Of encounters and missed encounters with fate.

Everything that Man ever dreamed. That he struggled for and died for. Everything. The Nation. The State. The Nation-state. Identity. Independence. Sovereignty. Democracy. The people. Self-determination of peoples. Dignity.

Poor management and non-management, aid, development, International Justice, the New World Order. Peace and peace maintenance. Respect, legitimacy, recognition, humility, the Law. The United Nations.

Finally the resolutions of the Security Council were implemented. An entity was constructed. The World created a country according to what the world thought a country should be. “State of the art” of political theory. The perfectly conceived country. Born of its very idea of itself. But of a natural birth. With pain. Not without a struggle and blood. Nothing missing. The massacres, the destruction, the hundreds of thousands of dead, betrayal, victims and heroes. The epic, the tragic, the genocidal: it had it all. An untouchable country. A pure country. What else was needed?

All that Man dreamed of. The end of History. So here’s what’s left. In the deep of the night in Dili, in the dispossessed and wounded territory of the land of the crocodile, in the absolute black, out to sea, drifting, this is what is left. Here is the Country. Here is Man.

[…] No electoral campaign in the world has the intensity of this one. Young people paint their faces like aboriginal warriors and, barefoot and barechested, they dance and shout with a killer madness in their eyes. In groups on the dirt roads, to the piles of them on the small motorbikes, in masses on top of dump trucks, heaped on top of mikrolets, they shout and wave around sticks in the air, in the name of what?

In any given political gathering, the noise is deafening, sweat dripping on bodies, faces expressing extreme sentiments, absolute dedication, unmeasured fury. And joy — although it’s not always easy to perceive it. When it spills over, joy can be devastating, malignant.


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