Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writer profile: Almerio

Merio was one of the first people to contact me to find out more about the project, but we didn't get a chance to meet until today due to his busy schedule working as a journalist and trainer at TLMDC, the Timor Leste Media Development Centre.

After growing up mainly in East Timor, in the late 90s Merio decided to head to Universitas Cendrawasih in Jayapura, West Papua to study philosophy. Much like in philosophy courses back home, they start with the Greeks and move on from there. Merio quickly realised that Eastern philosophy was his thing and, inspired by the violent revolution in Jakarta in 1998 and back home in 1999, he devoured everything written by Mahatma Gandhi, especially the principles of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (truth). He eventually wrote his thesis on the applicability of non-violent struggle in an Indonesian context.

After completing his studies, Merio returned to Timor Leste in 2001 and began work as a journalist. While in Papua he had already written for many of the local newspapers so he was able to use that experience into a job contributing to the Union of Catholic Asian News service based in Bangkok and a number of local newspapers.

When he returned to Timor in 2001, Merio packed up all the books he had accumulated during his university years and shipped them back to form the kernel of his own miniature library. Every time he goes to Indonesia now he tries to bring back a box of books to add to it. He finds it tough to add to his collection in Timor because books are so expensive, but when he has something he really wants he saves up money and orders a whole box of books through the Optik bookstore in Colmera to bring the shipping costs down. His collection includes some of his favourite authors including Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche and, of course, Mahatma Gandhi.

Driven by what they saw as a lack of serious investigative journalism in Timor Leste, Merio and a few friends set up the Kla'ak blog where they post articles on politics, society, culture and economics with a humanitarian bent.

While he writes mostly articles these days, Merio has filled a whole exercise book with poems and has written a number of short stories and longer fiction. He writes mainly in Tetum, but says he finds it frustrating as there is still no standard spelling or vocabulary and often needs to import words to flesh out his ideas.

Merio hasn't yet decided what he wants to write about in his Istoria Timor, but the 2006 crisis is still weighing heavily on his mind and he would like a chance to try and deal with that.

With all this talk recently of another potential flare-up in violence, maybe a book like this is what Timor really needs...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Galp delivering books to Timorese schools


[translated via google. Portuguese original follows english text. Anyone reposting this might want to note that the translation is very unofficial. - JMM/ETAN]

Galp Energia delivering books to Timorese schools

Dili, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Nearly seven thousand books collected in a campaign of Galp Energia in Portugal were today delivered to the Ministry of Education in East Timor Portuguese embassy in Dili.

The books were symbolically delivered by Ambassador of Portugal, Joao Ramos Pinto, to the vice minister of Education of East Timor, Paulo Assis.

The titles, in Portuguese, will be distributed by schools throughout the country.
At the same time, there was an exhibition of works by East Timorese trainees of intensive courses in Portuguese, which took place between July and September 2008.

Paulo Assis said that "the choice to reintroduce the Portuguese in East Timor was the Timorese, to someone else, not from Portugal or Brazil."

The Deputy Minister of Education thanked the efforts of teachers who exchanged the months of holidays in the calendar year to achieve the intensive courses.
During two months of school holidays, the courses covered 90 teachers and 2100 Portuguese Timorese trainees.


Segunda-feira, Outubro 20, 2008

( Energia entrega livros a escolas timorenses

Díli, 20 Out (Lusa) - Cerca de sete mil livros recolhidos numa campanha da Galp Energia em Portugal foram hoje entregues ao Ministério da Educação timorense na Embaixada de Portugal em Díli.

Os livros foram entregues simbolicamente pelo embaixador de Portugal, João Ramos Pinto, ao vice-ministro da Educação de Timor-Leste, Paulo Assis.

Os títulos, em português, serão distribuídos pelas escolas em todo o país.

Ao mesmo tempo, foi apresentada uma exposição de trabalhos efectuados pelos formandos timorenses dos cursos intensivos de português, que decorreram entre Julho e Setembro de 2008.

Paulo Assis declarou que “a escolha de reintroduzir a língua portuguesa em Timor-Leste foi dos timorenses, de mais ninguém, não de Portugal ou do Brasil”.

O vice-ministro da Educação agradeceu o esforço dos professores que trocaram os meses de férias no calendário anual para concretizar os cursos intensivos.

Durante dois meses de férias escolares, os cursos abrangeram 90 professores portugueses e 2100 formandos timorenses.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Competition launched / Kompetisaun Komesa Tiha Ona

We launched the competition on Wednesday the first of October 2008 by sending an announcement to the ETAN mailing list and starting to hand out and stick up the flyers.

Our Tetum flyer*

We've had a great response so far with a lot of people calling up and emailing saying they want to enter. Journalists have been the most common occupation but we have had interest from office workers, students, theatre troupe members, waitresses, security guards and even a few people who are looking for work.

Their first question is normally "does it need to be history or can we write in fiction?". As I alluded to in an earlier post, unfortunately our project name has a bit of a historical ring to it so this confusion is understandable... We're still in the market for a new name if anyone has a good suggestion.

We are in talks with a few different organisation that may be able to help us promote this nationwide including CARE (who publish the excellent Lafaek magazine that gets sent to every single school student in the country once a month), a World Bank program that has connections to youth centres all over the country and two different national journalist associations.

Local journalist Steph March who reports for Radio Australia came and interviewed me the day we launched the competition and this report hit the airwaves this morning. Probably not terribly useful in getting the word out to potential contestants, but will be quite useful for finding funding sources once we move on to the printing stage.

In addition to interviewing people that we are lending books to, I'd like to start interviewing writers too. I'm off to Indonesia tomorrow or the day after, but I'll try and get an interview with an author up here soon.

If you'd like to help us promote the competition, please email me at johnholdaway (at) gmail (dot) com.

* I stole the image of the reading crocodile (well, technically it's an alligator) from the website I acknowledged on the flyer. I tried to contact the guy who drew it but he never responded... Oh well, we are a non-profit organisation, hopefully he won't mind.

PS - If you are the guy I stole the image from, let us know if you want us to stop using it and we'll find a new one.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Se mak Ami?/ Who are we?

Kompetisaun Hakerek Istoria Sira Timor Nian ne'e patrosina husi Timor Aid no Fundasaun Alola ne'ebe konesidu liu iha Timor Leste ho nia programa ne'ebe foka liu ba Edukasaun no Dalen Nasional.

Istoria Timor Short Story Competition is sponsored by Fundasaun Alola and Timor Aid, leading NGOs in Timor Leste with a focus on Education and National Language.

The Project/ Informasaun Projectu/ Informasi Proyek

For Indonesian please see below - sorry, no Tetum yet.
Untuk Bahasa Indonesia silahkan lihat di bawah - maaf, belum ada Bahasa Tetum.
Atu lian Indonesia, haree iha okos - deskulpa, sidauk iha lian Tetum.

In a nutshell, Istoria Timor hopes to publish the first novel ever written in Tetum. The project has two phases as follows:

Phase 1: Writing competition

We are running a writing competition accepting entries of between 10,000 and 15,000 words. The winner will receive US$500 and the chance to have their story published and distributed nation-wide. There are also five US$100 prizes available to runners up. This phase of the project is fully funded.

Phase 2: Editing, publishing and distribution

If, in the opinion of Istoria Timor, the received stories are fit to publish, the project will edit and print 5,000 copies of the book and look to distribute them nation-wide. Istoria Timor are accepting pledges for this phase of the project but will not begin accepting cash donations until Phase 1 is complete and management are confident in the marketability of the product.

For more detailed information, please see our project concept note.

Secara singkat, proyek Istoria Timor bermaksud untuk menerbitkan buku roman pertama dalam Bahasa Tetum. Proyek ini ada dua tahap sebagai berikut:

Tahap 1: Kompetisi menulis

Kami mengadakan sebuah kompetisi menulis untuk menerima masukan di antara 10,000 dan 15,000 kata. Naskah terbaik akan terima hadiah uang sebesar US$500 dan mendapat kesempatan untuk melihat karyanya diterbitkan di seluruh negara Timor Leste. Selain dari hadiah pertama, juga ada lima hadiah sebesar US$100 untuk 5 orang finalis. Tahap pertama proyek Istoria Timor sudah mempunyai semua dana yang diperlukan.

Tahap 2: Penyuntingan, penerbitan dan pendistribusian

Jika, dalam pendapat Istoria Timor, naskah yang diterima siap untuk diterbitkan, proyek Istoria Timor akan menyunting dan mencetak 5000 buku dan mendistribusikannya ke keseluruhan negara Timor Leste. Proyek Istoria Timor tidak akan menerima sumbangan dalam bentuk tunai untuk tahap ini sampai Tahap 1 sudah selesai dan manajemen Istoria Timor sudah pasti bahwa cerita yang diterima cukup bagus untuk dipublikasikan. Kalau ingin menyumbang pada waktu kami sudah mulai menerima sumbangan, silahkan hubungi kami.

Untuk informasi lebih lanjut, silahkan membacadokumen informasi proyek (maaf, masih dalam Bahasa Inggris).

Kestaun Sira/FAQs

Karik Ita iha kestaun ruma, favor husik hela Ita-nia komentariu iha postu ne'e no tuirmai ami sei hatama ba lista.

1. Kona-ba Saida mak ha'u bele hakerek?

Saida de'it! Ami labele hatete ba Ita-Boot sira kona-ba saida mak Ita bele no labele hakerek. Durante hakerek ne'e ho dalen tetun no forma hanesan istoria (lahanesan ho artigu ka teze ruma) ami kontete ona. "Istoria" Iha kompetisaun ne'e lo'os Istoria (Ind. Sejarah maibe Cerita, Ing. La'os History maibe Story) ne'ebe hakerek maizoumenus tenki ho lifuan to'o 10,000.

2. Se mak seui korrizedor iha kompetisaun ne'e?

Sra Kirsty Sword Gusmao
Sr Joao Paulo
Sra Maria do Ceu
Sr Naldo Rei
Sr Nunu Belo
Sr Abe Baretto Soares

3. Oinsa mak Ha'u atu aprezenta Ha'u-nia istoria?

Favor haruka hela Ita-Boot nia istoria ba email:

4. Saida mak vensedor sira sei simu?

Premiu dahuluk: $500
Premiu daruak: $200
Premiu datoluk: $100

Tinan dia ne'e mos sei iha premiu ida ho folin $500 ba istoria husi feto sira nian ne'ebe di'ak liu.

5. Bainhira mak aprezentasaun Istoria sira ramata?

Aprezentasaun istoria sira sei remata iha 30 fulan Junu 2010 no anunsiu ba vensedor sira iha fulan Agostu 2010.

If you have more questions, please leave a comment on this post and we will add it to the list.

1. What should I write about?

Anything! We don't want to tell people what they can or can not write about. As long as it is in Tetum and is structured like a story (as opposed to an article or an essay) then we're happy. "Istoria" in Portuguese means "history" while in Tetum it has two meanings: "history" and "story". We mean "story". Remember, the story must be at least 10,000 words.

2. Who will judge the competition?

The judging panel, appointed by Timor Aid and Fundasaun Alola, is:

Sra Kirsty Sword Gusmao
Sr Joao Paulo
Sra Maria do Ceu
Sr Naldo Rei
Sr Nunu Belo
Sr Abe Baretto Soares

3. How do I submit my story?

Please email your story to

4. What does the winner receive?

First prize is $500
Second prize is $200
Third prize is $100

This year, there will also be a prize of $500 for the best story from a female entrant.

5. When do entries close?

Entries close on Wednesday 30 June with the winners to be announced in August.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Related news

The story below came through the ETAN mailing list while I was away.

Northern Territory News

August 26, 2008

Gutsy novel wins top prize


THREE women waded through blood and guts to their waists, picking through gore and slimy tubes as they wiped their brows.

They peeked in diaries of soldiers, pages aged brown and burnt by shelling.

They visited the seaside for a break, sand grains rubbing under the pads of their fingers.

And then Darwin City Councillor Robyn Lesley, Territory librarian Iris Beale and student teacher Penny Cameron chose the Young Territory Author Awards.

``I didn't have very high expectations and I was really blown away by the standard,'' Ms Lesley said.

``Some students put in an inordinate amount of effort into the visual side of the book -- others were word craftsmiths.

``It must've taken some of the kids months to do it.''

The Darwin City Council awards, open to all Territory students, attracted 102 entries and were held last Wednesday during Children's Book Week.

Fourteen-year-old Rosanna Cameron was the overall winner and pocketed $500.

Her slim 5000-word novel -- entitled Found -- is told through the eyes of two main characters, a 10-year-old village girl and a soldier, living through the crisis of East Timor's struggle for independence.

The story unfolds as the girl's brother is killed by the soldier.

When the soldier is wounded in a revenge attack by a second brother, the parents -- horrified by the violence -- take in the soldier and care for him.

The three judges gave the Kormilda College student the gong for Found's originality, ``pertinence'' to the Top End, and evocation of emotions.

``The story's main point is that you can find some good in every situation -- one of the key things about it was compassion and kindness,'' Rosanna said.

It took her more than a year to finish; she started in early 2007 and promptly came down with a case of writer's block.

``One of the most difficult things was not knowing where the story would go next. There was also the ending -- I was stuck on it,'' she said.

She admitted it was also tricky getting into the head of her male soldier, but had help from family and friends who loaded her up with opinions.

Rosanna -- who won Kormilda's Elly Angel poetry prize last year -- said she was ``staggered'' to win the award.

Ms Lesley said it was almost too hard to say there was a best book in this year's pickings.

Entries ranged from the fictitious soldier's diary -- which had been aged and burnt around the edges -- to pop-up picture books full of flowers, and stories with collages of sea and sand.

``There were a couple of sci-fi novels by young fellows -- some of them with lots of blood and guts,'' Ms Lesley said. ``There were quite a few books that had an environmental twist.

``I wasn't expecting that level of creativity and skill from the younger ones.''

The books submitted for the awards, and suitable to be placed in a library collection, will be kept at Darwin's Casuarina Library for the public to read.


AGE 16-18: Timothy Hansen for The Daughters Of Edgar Raven; AGE 13-15: Angie Ng for Wanda's Curse; AGE 9-12: Tisha Tejaya for Mysterique; AGE Under 8: Alfio Dilettoso for The Mean Queen.


AGE 16-18: Jarod Laskazeski for Sea Creatures Watch Out; AGE 13-15: Jack Williams for A Soldier's Diary; AGE 13-15: Sean Guy for The Legend Of Hathor; AGE 9-12: Dylan Hage-Grey for Battle Of The Bands; AGE 9-12: Darren Brown for Battle Of The Bands; AGE Under 8: Analese Richards for What Was In The Garden; AGE Under 8: Brighid Goodbun for The Book Of Secrets; AGE UNDER 8: Caitlin Cuff for Circus Fun.


AGE 16-18: Nyrssa Fitzallen for My Brother Shannon And Other Stories.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Concept note

So, we've prepared a draft concept note, sent it out to a list of friends and got a lot of good comments. I'm in Indonesia for a few weeks at the moment and Shelley is off to Australia shortly but we'll work on a new version and distribute it more broadly.

Once we get the final round of comments on the concept note we'll post it up here and look at launching the competition, target date: mid-late September.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sidalia and Idalia

Sidalia and Idalia are another two members of the basketball crew that I see a couple of times a week at the Eskola Cina. Sidalia, 19, and Idalia, 20, met when they both started playing basketball for the Futuru Team in junior high school and have been friends ever since. The Futuru Team are reigning champions of the national basketball competition held in Dili each year despite being substantially shorter and younger and having a much smaller team than any of their opponents.

I saw a few of their games in the competition this year and after they scored the first 18 points of the second half (with no subs) against the much larger and scary-looking PNTL team (the National Police Force) I thought it might have been prudent to maybe go a little easy on their opponents. They did have a bit of a scare in the final against the Canossa School, but once they calmed down and found their rhythm in the second half they pulled away to a comfortable lead and took out the championship for the second year running.

They both graduated from high school last year and are now taking an English course at a private school in Fatuhada before going to university. Sidalia hopes that she can get a scholarship to study overseas and her dream destination is her favourite country: America. Idalia hopes to continue her study here in Timor and wants to study medicine or, failing that, leadership studies.

They both like to read comedies and mentioned the Indonesian Bengkel Tawa series as one of their favourites. Idalia said that she liked to read self-help books too; fortunately for her, it seems like about 80% of publishing in the Indonesian language can be neatly placed in that category... They don't actually own any books of their own so they normally just borrow them from friends. Other than that, the only things they read on a semi-regular basis are Lafaek and the odd newspaper.

They were quite interested in the idea of the writing competition and actually asked if they could enter. I think we'd better hurry up and launch this thing...

PS - And here's a badarse photo I took of Sidalia going for a block against a guy a foot taller than her the other week:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Reader profiles: Reni and Anata

Anata (left) and Reni (right)

Reni and Anata both work at Motion, a cafe and club in Mercado Lama, Dili. Motion is a pretty cool place, it's been around for a few years now in various forms and, for some inexplicable reason, it is empty every night of the week except Thursday when the entire expat community of Dili turns out and literally hundreds of people pack in there until you can barely move.

Reni used to work at the bar, but now spends most of her time overseeing the cafe. She is 20 years old and has been working at Motion since she graduated high school. She lives in a kost (boarding house) just down the road from the bar. Her family still live in Same, an inland town on the south side of East Timor.

Anata is the cook at Motion and has been there for over three years now. She's only 19 so you can do the math. Her parents passed away a few years ago so she went to work after finishing primary school. While most of her siblings live in the mountain town of Ermera, she has saved up enough money to have her own house down by the airport. She also takes care of her younger brother who goes to school in Dili.

I lent them a chick-lit book and a couple of horror books for the manager's younger brothers last week, but they had read them all three of them between them by the time I dropped by for lunch today. With much embarrassment they admitted to buying and reading crappy Indonesian romance novels from Colmera now and then, but normally they just read the newspapers that they have for sale. They also like to read Lafaek (CARE International's excellent bi-monthly children's publication) which they borrow from their younger siblings who get it from school. Reni said that when she was in high school the nuns that were her teachers lent her some Tetum books they had bought on Timorese culture, but other than that neither of them had ever read any Tetum books.

Reni said that she doesn't normally like to read horror books (she says she was scared to walk home alone after reading the novelisation of 40 Hari Bangkitnya Pocong) but picked them up because they were around. As both of them have good jobs and a little spending money they both said they'd buy a Tetum novel if one were published.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Name change

Well, that was quick...

After shopping it around a bit, it turns out that Istoria Lorosae sounds a little controversial to some ears. A little history for those who just joined us: during the crisis of 2006, a lot of the violence was due to tensions between the easterners and the westerners. That's not the East Timorese and the West Timorese, but people from the eastern and the western ends of Timor Leste. It turns out that, while it's a lovely word, Lorosae still carries with it a little too much political baggage.

So, um... Any suggestions?

In the meantime we're going with Istoria Timor. It's not perfect. It sounds a little historical, but it will do for now. I'm perfectly happy to change it again if anyone has any better suggestions.

This is what you get when you have clueless malae (foreigners) trying to name projects...

Reader profile: Zela

I met Zela at the Eskola Cina in Bidau-Lecidere where I play basketball a couple of times a week. She's there most afternoons playing and/or watching her boyfriend score on me again and again... Zela is 21 years old and, until recently, was studying IT at a local university. She felt she couldn't keep up with the classes as they were all held in Portuguese, a language she only really has a passing knowledge of. Her plan now is to follow her two older brothers to study in Indonesia next year, perhaps in Jogjakarta.

I lent her and a bunch of others a few novels including: Lovasket - a teen novel about a basketball, corruption, love and traditional values, Istoria da Paz - a novel about a young woman finding her way in the world by working with East Timorese refugees in West Timor (quite the find, really), I'm not Bitch - a novel about a girl whose circumstances push her towards a life bordering on prostitution, and a few others. Zela read I'm not Bitch and Lovasket and enjoyed them a lot.

In general she likes to read comedies and light drama in Indonesian. Normally she borrows them from friends and once or twice a year when her brothers come back from Indonesia they bring her a few. There are a few Portuguese books around but she hasn't ever read them, she struggles with normal Portuguese, let alone the poetic stuff...

Interestingly she actually told me that there are a few Tetum books, but only on pretty dry topics: law, history, textbooks and so on. She actually owns a few on the history of the independence movement and the lives of Jose Ramos-Horta and Xanana Gusmao.

Streetside booksellers

There are a few booksellers on the footpaths around the Colmera intersection so we wandered by and had a chat. They sell mainly dictionaries, but they have a small selection of romance novels on sale for between 50 cents and a dollar-fifty each. Apparently they each sell 5-10 of them a week, which is far from insignificant. Shelley bought a couple and read one.

The books (note the random Noam Chomsky book...)

Cheap paper

They're printed on super cheap paper and are probably of a similar literary standard to pulp romance novels in the west: i.e. pretty low. But they're just about the only form of literature available to the bulk of the citizenry of Dili.

Testing the market

A few weeks ago the little brother, Dato, of a friend of ours was over at our house. We have a small collection of Indonesian novels so we offered him a pile of them. Our collection is pretty meager, a little bit of literature (Ayu Utami, Remy Sylado), some poetry, a couple of teen novels and a dodgy horror book. Being a teenage boy, when it was time to go Dato was completely engrossed in Kuntilanak; a novelisation of a pretty bad Indonesian horror movie about kuntilanaks (Shelley bought it because she was interested in Indonesian monsters and wanted to know more; unfortunately for her Indonesian horror movies don't make any sense). Dato asked to borrow the book and, of course, we were very happy to hand it over. I ran into his older brother a week or so later and he said he had started reading it too.

So we decided to lend out a few more of our books and, so far, the response has been really positive. To add a bit of flavour to the blog, from now on we're planning on interviewing all of the people we lend books to to see what sort of things they read, what they like, what they do and so on.

Stay tuned for the first update.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Hi there,

This is our new blog to chart the development of the Istoria Lorosae project. Istoria is a Portuguese loan word meaning story or stories, and Lorosae literally means rising sun, but is generally used to mean "east" in Tetum; so: Stories from the East. The project, broadly, is focused on literacy in Timor Leste. Specifically, we hope that it will encourage young Timorese to read and (hopefully) to write.

We're still working on the concept note at the moment but, in a nutshell, we're hoping that we can play a key role in the publishing of the first novel ever published in Tetum. A lofty goal to be sure; but we're hoping we can give it a big kick in the right direction with just a few hundred bucks and a bit of (hopefully free) promotion. From then on we'll need to start fundraising, but if the prior stages go as well as we hope, it (hopefully) shouldn't be too hard.

So, this blog is intended to report on any progress we make, any events we hold and just generally anything we feel is peripherally related to literacy in Timor Leste.

Anyway, we'll keep you posted.

John & Shelley