“I feel like my soul flew away from my body”

Today is both the anniversary of the 1999 Referendum and the International Day of the Disappeared.

Researcher Simon Robins wrote this assessment of the needs of families of the disappeared in East Timor earlier this year (pdfs in English and in Tetum). He quotes a representative of a womens group from Liquiça

I watched very closely the needs of victims‘ families; firstly it is important to have justice, secondly to have reparation for the victim’s family, that way they can live and carry on with their lives. Through reparation, the person can continue her life, look forward to the future and to be back again as she used to be. Looking at the side of education this time the Government has done some part of its duty as well as some payment for mothers to pay children school fees, again not all are getting this, only some of them. Another issue is the economic and especially health: why is that, because during this period, some of the victim’s family, wives are the most affected mentally. For these women, what they saw and what they’ve been through was notorious and they took it badly. A person like that had trauma and what will we do to heal that or to help them out of trouble? If there exists a treatment or counselling that can help her out so that person can continue her life normally.

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I am not going to lie. I found Pedro Rosa Mendes’ book Peregrinação de Enmanuel Jhesus extremely challenging. Starting of course with the variation and density of language, which some Portuguese critics have compared with Faulkner.

I know what kind of reading experience I had, as a person who has spent a long time in archives, and time crisscrossing the east of Timor talking with people.

The novel is presented as a number of interweaving narratives by different characters – none of them Portuguese! – Rosa Mendes is very much at home playing with identity, perspective and the kind of (post)-colonial house of mirrors. At first I found none of his characters remotely sympathetic. But the book is not sentimental and it is certainly not about sympathy. A kind of self-destructive empathy perhaps. These are the kinds of relations, and the kinds of characters, that come from occupation(s).

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Ruben “Aru” Barros Soares

For the past couple of days, I have been noticing a haunting Google search leading a reader to my blog.

“ruben barros soares staf unamet”

Towards the end of August, every Timorese family who lost loved ones before or after the Referendum must start to remember.

Barros Soares, known as “Aru”, was one of 14 UNAMET staff violently killed by Timorese militia and/or Indonesian military for helping to set up the UN-sanctioned vote on the “special autonomy” offer.

The son of the head of his village, he was working as a language assistant in Bobanaro district. For this, he was brutally murdered.

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Prison island and boat people

On the issue of a detention center in East Timor for those seeking asylum in Australia: continued insensitivity by both sides, especially in what relates to the eventual location. One Timorese minister has suggested what he deems to be a “win-win” idea to resolve the impasse – put them on the Island of the Island.

What follows is some historical perspective on the island that is the namesake of this blog, prisons and boat people.

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