Land, rocks, and fires

Seeing Fernanda Borges speak to an audience a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament yesterday, I could not help but feel somewhat numb to the stories of atrocity she brought in a Powerpoint presentation.

How can I explain why? Perhaps a listing helps: getting to know Timorese torture victims at age 18, visiting at age 20 while Dili was still burned out and reeling from scorched earth violence, living and working with Timorese people, spending three months in the pressure cooker of 2006, attending Joni Marques’ trial and seeing him let free just months ago…

I suppose it is these cumulative experiences that cause a certain numbness.

Last night I was more moved by Fernanda’s determination to see the recommendations of the CAVR report debated in Parliament. I was more moved by the notion that DFID (and USAID) should express certain technical and financial aid as reparations. I was most moved by the reminder that while veterans of FALINTIL are getting their due, the unknown sacrifices of women and children do not yet figure into the government’s calculus of compensation.

An article from the Canberra Times today, called “The Forgotten” helps identify this lack of resolution, of justice, of fairness… as seen from a village 40 minutes above Maliana:

“We were happy to support the resistance and [the guerrillas who were] our children and our brothers,” says [Joana Fatima]. “But they have a different life to us now, some of them are big guys. We don’t know whether they remember us or not.

“It doesn’t matter,” she says matter-of-factly. “God is great.

The land here, the rocks, the fires that we used to cook on, they are our witnesses, they saw what we sacrificed.”

The only other proof she has of dedication to the resistance effort is a receipt which she keeps carefully tucked away inside a plastic ID envelope she wears around her neck. She takes out the receipt, issued by the Council of National Resistance in April 1999, which calls on “patriots” from across Timor to give to the war effort. She and her husband each donated about $10, a considerable sum at the time. Not being able to sign, they put their thumbprints on the receipts and someone else has carefully printed their clandestine names Moving On (Lao Ona) and Our Struggle (Ita Nian) under their thumbprints. The former guerrilla who countersigned the receipt is now an MP in the coalition Government in Dili.