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