Men of Timor

High-ranking Portuguese politician Miguel Relvas visited Dili last week. Relvas’ grandfather José Miranda Relvas was held in Timor as a prisoner during World War II, and his father was apparently born there.

The Portuguese narrative of the War apparently continues to be one of heroic victimization. Relvas was quoted as saying  “Our territorial sovereignty was violated and Portuguese there heroically maintained their position, preserving our values and defending our flag.” Sounds like the colonial koolaid has still not run out! Continue reading


RIP Avó Xavier

I cannot really summon the mental space to write as I would like to about the passing of Avó Xavier.

He was simultaneously an important historical figure and a down-to-earth man. I believe I met him first as an election observer, chatted to him once in a lobby event on child rights (!!), interviewed him as a researcher on late Portuguese colonialism, and lastly, I ran into him wearing shorts when I was on the way to Turiscai.

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Touring troubadours

This week I had the pleasure of seeing Ego Lemos – currently Timor’s most famous singer songwriter – who is in the UK promoting his new album and playing a couple of shows. Unfortunately, many dates were canceled due to the unexpected illness of his touring partner Geoffrey Gurrumul.

Ego dropped into my place of work – a development agency where his ties as a permaculture activist go way back. I hope he does not mind me sharing that he talked at length about what he sees as his dual role as permaculture/community development advocate and songwriter/musician. He strongly believes that they two are not only compatible, but mutually reinforcing.

He told us about as a songwriter, he “hears” things, and is particularly sensitive to what people say and how they live. His work as a permaculture worker takes him to places where he hears about aspects of rural life.

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Contemplating one of the best Dili parties ever – which started at about 10am on Areia Branca and involved legions of hyperactive children, who seemed able to appropriate nearly every flotation device on the whole beach – I was reminded of the feeling of seemingly unstructured joy at the night in Funar when we went to the gathering to “look after God”.

People gathered in different groupings around the house, some adults and elders around the spread of food in the middle, some young people seated front of Maromak (God, or the Virgin Mary statue being “looked after”), men outside gambling, a large group of adults and young people dancing tebe-tebe, and little kids running around like loose electrons.

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Rai klaran

We went up to Funar this weekend, with the company of two daughters (of sorts) of the household we would stay in. One was an anthropologist, who had stayed with the family for nearly two years a couple of years back. We’ll call her Menina. The other was Menina’s best friend and “sister” in the village during her fieldwork, who now lives in Dili.

I suppose any trip up to the mountains, up to a spot reachable only by 4WD on foot or by pony, for me ends up feeling like an amazing meeting of worlds. (It starts with the climatic shock of leaving the hot coast.)

Funar lies about half an hour’s drive (now that the road has been rehabilitated) above Laclubar, which in turn is now two hours rough ride from Manatuto on the coast. Time was the road to Laclubar was one of the best in Timor, as former Indonesian governor Abilio Osorio is from the region. But not so at the current moment! On the way up, we had to risk squeezing by a cargo truck bogged in a mud patch, about half an hour from Laclubar. We had inches to spare on either side of the car.

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Ode to paun

acción de hombre,
milagro repetido,
voluntad de la vida”
Oda al pan, Pablo Neruda

For whatever reason, perhaps the alignment of the planets, the neighborhood I am staying in has been really calm. The pronounced caterwall-ceasefire has continued. Last night, a Friday night, was dead quiet. I was able to sleep until past 7am for the first time in weeks (but was abruptly forced out of bed by a neighbor leaving his diesel engine running with the exhaust pipe pointed at my window).

I took advantage of the fact that I not truly slept in to go and buy some paun.

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Bubba + Joey 4eva

We were all tickled in 2002 when we found out that Bill Clinton would be landing in Baucau for the independence celebrations (the airstrip in Dili was too small for his plane).

But some of us remembered how Mr Clinton did little from 1992-1998 to promote Timorese self-determination – in fact, he literally fled from the question, as Amy Goodman recounts. (Please listen to this fierce question by Allan Nairn to Bill Clinton from May 2002. Clinton: ‘I can’t say that everything we did before 1999 was right.’)

Interesting, now, that in a big December interview with Foreign Policy Magazine, that Clinton cited East Timorese President José Ramos-Horta as “a top three leader” to watch in the world.

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