Write for Timor

I never expected to end up teaching creative writing in Timor, least of all in the national language, Tetun. But every Wednesday morning for the last six months, I’ve sat in a windowless room in the former Balide prison in Dili doing exactly that with a team of social researchers.

My four male and two female students have interviewed 800 Timorese women about their roles in the 25-year resistance movement. An academic book is in the pipeline. Now their boss, Nuno, a journalist, wants to share the women’s personal stories. When he discovered my oral history and writing background, he asked me to give them a hand.

Members of my creative writing class. From left, clockwise: Nuno, Justin, Alito, Este and Polan.

Members of my creative writing class. From left, clockwise: Nuno, Justin, Alito, Este and Polan.

Enlisting my help was a big leap of faith on Nuno’s part. I have no teaching experience, and running a class in a language I couldn’t speak 20 months ago is, frankly, a challenge. So how does it work?

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A night at the movies

When I first met Irim Tolentino, I had no idea she was the star of Timor-Leste’s first feature film, A Guerra da Beatriz (Beatriz’s War).

Soon after we arrived here, Pip and I travelled to the town of Maliana, 5 km from the Indonesian border, to look at World Vision’s aid projects. Irim is the associate area manager, managing seven projects and 55 staff, and we arrived just as she was welcoming her new boss.

Irim welcomes World Vision's new area manager in Maliana with a cake.

Irim welcomes World Vision’s new area manager in Maliana with a cake.

She jumped in a ute with us and we drove for miles along a bumpy road next to a concrete-block fence. Continue reading

Gals’ weekend

Everyone says you have to get out of Dili to see the real Timor. That’s where three-quarters of the population live, far from the capital’s hot streets and hustle. What better reason to join a gals’ weekend to the highlands with Tracey and Liz – two other Kiwi women of a certain age – and Carol, a young American brave enough to hang out with us.

Not that women in the real Timor would take off in a car together for three days. When Pat told Lukas, a World Vision driver, we’d gone gallivanting without husbands, Lukas slapped his thigh and roared with laughter as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Continue reading