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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Tour de Timor speed wobbles

Last Monday  I got up early to watch the start of the Tour de Timor, ‘the world’s toughest bike race’ according to the Lonely Planet. As the sun rose over Dili harbour, a bunch of cyclists in bright lycra tops lined up in front of the Governor’s Palace. A small group of spectators, mostly malae (foreigners), gathered to send them on their way.

Start

Cyclists line up in Dili for the start of the Tour de Timor.

Chris Manson, the only Kiwi in this year's Tour de Timor

Chris Manson, the only Kiwi in this year’s race.

The first 60 or so competitors took off in a bunch, including the only New Zealander, VSA volunteer Chris Manson. Later, I was surprised to read that a third of the group rode under the Timor flag – there didn’t seem to be that many locals taking part.

When the last 30 cyclists, all Timorese, reached the start line, they got off their bikes, brandished them above their heads and placed them upside down on the ground, wheels in the air. One launched into an impassioned speech, then stood motionless, as if in a trance. Continue reading