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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The trouble with travel

Every day in Dili is hotter than the last. The wind gets up in the afternoon and clouds gather over the burnt hills, only to disperse. It’s late in the dry season, no rain for months. My skirt sticks to my legs like gladwrap. Dust coats the trees, the furniture, my feet. Even the sky looks like it could do with a mop.

A shack perched on the burnt hills of Dili at the end of the dry season

A hut perched on a barren Dili hillside late in the dry season.

And yet, after four weeks in the United States visiting our son Liam and his fiancée Aurora, it’s good to be back. No high-rise buildings or the roar of six-lane freeways. No designer clothes stores. No neon lights. Just streets full of people, beat-up taxis, skinny dogs, kids galore. Good-natured chaos interspersed with pockets of progress and, sometimes, desperation. Continue reading