A day before celebration of international women day March 8, I joined an on-air literary radio program with my Timorese poet friend Abe Barreto at Radio Liberdade Dili which aired on every Wednesday evening started at 6.15 pm at local time. A week before we came to this program, we had to have an advance planning and preparation on the theme we will present, how should we present and do a mini research for supporting materials for the discussion.
When discussed on choosing the theme, it came to our mind that in the first week of month, Timor-Leste celebrated a national veteran day on March 3 and on March 8 will celebrate international women day. Then, we got the idea to combine the two celebration into one theme ‘Women as Veteran’. For this theme Abe then invited Mena Reis, one of a Timorese senior woman activist, ex-resistance member and a poet to join us on the discussion and she participated.
The discussion started with describing the link of the two celebration on veteran day and women day, how we perceive women’s role and significance as veteran and what literary action can be done to help maintain the precious values as a veteran and as a women. That evening, at Radio Liberdade studio, we presented our discussion along with some intermezzos of musics and poetry recitals from Mena Reis with her own poem title Feto Timor-Lorosae (Women of East Timor), Abe with his poem about Mother and myself reciting poems by Rupi Kaur and Yacinta Kurniasih (an indonesian feminist writer) with feminism themefor which we called ‘literary salad’.
Throughout the discussion among three of us, I grabbed some important point for my reflection as following:
- The word ‘veteran’ is not only about a title given to the ex-resistence individual/group for their military contribution as we may generally perceive but is indeed referring to the capacity, ability or skills they master for a long period. In the context of Timor-Leste’s resistance history on seizing independence, this capacity is about being able to survive physically and mentally amidst the invasion of merciless destroying bombs , poverty, terror, threat, humiliation, violence, abuse, lost of family member and one’s own life, grieve, and other miseries during the occupation time. Apart of surviving, is to learn to fight back and this required a through process of learning in an individually or collectively process on how to organize and succeeded with the guerilla.
- In Timor-Leste, when talking about veteran, most of the attention goes to men veteran rather than women veteran as media tends to expose more of men veteran’s stories and thoughts rather than women veterans which suppose to also received equal praise and recognizement as men veteran. Not only that, even many women veterans until now still live in difficult life and not receiving any support. Furthermore, many women veterans have not received any follow up notice on the lost of the family members during the occupation time which leave their grief remain.
- Another saddening issue is that women veteran tend to be seen by society as less intellectual and less capable. This is not good because society should understand more about the women veteran’s struggle internally and externally. Despite of receiving less praise and credit, some women veterans continue to show their serious effort on contributing to development of the country with all their capability (even if it is limited) in the area if education and other sectors in their community. One of great example today is Ms. Maria ‘Kasian’ who opened a kindergarten school with her money received from veteran subsidy. This is example of the important value that women veteran want to share to the society and to the new generation as an example that commitment for contributing to development should started from our self first.
- However, women’s role and battle as ‘veteran’ (not only the military veteran in literal meaning) are not yet over but instead came up with a new context of role and battle according to the latest life fashion issues. Women’s veteran role is nowadays becomes more challenging in all aspects of life that requires women’s ability to cope with, such as in the social, politic economic, health, education area, etc. Until today, many women in Timor-Leste still facing injustice, gender inequity, discrimination, violation which mostly tends to be approved by the society and lack of system support when they need it the most. Thus, being a veteran for women to master and cope with all the life pattern struggle is an eternal role and perhaps a lifetime battle.
- On the literary resources about women veteran’s contribution in Timor-Leste is still seen as lacking because again most of the stories tends to focus on male role and influence and speak little about women. However, nowadays, the chance to have these stories exposed is even greater and young generation should be encouraged to gather, write, read and share those stories so they can reflect and understand better the core value of Timorese struggle for independence.
- Another issue highlighted on promoting literary work in Timor-Leste is the absence of copyright law to guarantee the protection of author’s work when producing literary work on women issues. This is indeed a challenge and request for government to consider as well since it is necessary to safeguard Timor-Leste’s stories to the current and future generation as references.
To conclude, I would say that today, every woman is a veteran and being a woman veteran is a lifetime role, a lifetime battle. To carry out this role is not solely women’s responsibility as support from all the relevant sectors like government, civil society and grassroots level collaboration from all parties, all genders and generation is extremely needed.
Happy Timor-Leste veteran day and Happy International Women’s day.
It has been five years since they parted.
His mother lives with her four small kids in a firm gray brick house with two floors built by his son’s hard work result.
Her son lives in a room of a flat together with his friends as foreign workers in that city with the Big Ben. Every night, he works up all of his sweat as a factory worker for a bunch of pounds sterling for him and for his family who lives in the far eastern edge of the world. When he comes home, he stares at the sky of the night from the window while painting the face of his beloved old woman with prayers.
Meanwhile, at that the old grey brick house, every night his mother continues to set aside the dinner on his son’s favorite plate. If her other children ask her ‘why do you have to always set aside a plate of food on the table mom? Our brother is not here.’
Her mother would reply ‘kids, this is for your brother. Hopefully, in that overseas land, he is also enjoying dinner like us’.
After finish, the dinner, each of her kids begin to fall asleep in the bed. Before she washes all the dishes, she looks again at that one plate of food with a smile and tears in her eyes. She misses her faraway son badly. She does not know when can she hugs him again, just as when her son was two years old, started learning to walk and run to her embrace with a cheerful laughter.
Next day her son called ‘mom, perhaps we have to go back home.’
‘Why? Did you cause some trouble there, son?’ her mother asked in worriment.
‘No mom. This is just a possibility. The native people here may require us to go home’.
Her mother is actually so happy to hear the words ‘go home’ which she has been waiting for so long.
‘Son, if you have to come home. Then let it be. Your homeland and our family have always welcomed you. We can start all over again like before’. Her mom suggested.
‘No mom. I cannot return just like that. There are still a lot of things that I have to do here, mom’. Her son replied.
Later after that, the conversation on the phone was over between them. However, that one concern of the mother and her son is indeed not yet due.
June 28th, 2016
There are lots of Timorese work as foreign worker in UK factories. When Brexit issue was happening, there was a concern that foreign worker might be required to go home.
It’s December and it is Cristmas! Yeah, of course. December and Christmas are always understood as one package. At least that is what we have been understood and living with since my childhood.
Starting from November, Christmas songs played everywhere throughout the territory. From the twelve munipalities to Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste. Various genre of Christmas songs are played at the shops, at the houses, in the Taxis, buses and in the ‘microlet’ (other sort of common public transportation) and also in the radios like a public reminder.
Christmas ornaments are everywhere decorating each houses, each ‘bairros’ (neighbourhood) and each corner of the city with glittering lamps and lights around the artificial Christmas trees. Shops open Christmas sale with discounts, grocery stores offering Christmas package displayed gracefully at the entrance of the shop. Local vendors open temporary street sale with many people crowding around looking for new clothes and stuff to buy in cheap price for Christmas and New Year. All those elements have made Christmas and New year materialsm spirit dominated the whole month and the mind of people to buy things and have fun. But this is not the real meaning of Christmas for me although I love to have new stuff but I am realistic enough on the ratio between the money in my pocket and the prices of things I desired for. The ratio is 1 by 5 and it’s not enough. Forget it! Who cares about me not wearing a new clothes or buy new stuff?
People say Christmas is the time to reunite with families and friends. And yes, all I want for Christmas is to be with my family. They live faraway from Dili city and it took me eight hours trip to reach the municipality where they live.
However, going there from Dili during Christmas and New-year week is really a struggle. This is the peak of busy week for buses to load passengers and seats are limited as they are mostly reserved to the loyal subscribing passengers. In normal days, buses will try to catch the passenger but in Christmas and New Year week, the passengers have to catch for buses. Who ran faster, will get the seat easier. Who came late, will have to stand along the way. Don’t ask how does it feel to stand in the bus along the long way home for eight hours. The roads are bumpy and curvy and it makes us shaking inside the bus everytime it takes a road turn. Not to mention, the exhausted driver who play loud music like discotic atmosphere to keep his sleepy eyes up, other passengers who smokes freely, or some other passengers who throw out from the window because of the car sick. In some cases, that exhausted driver may get a bit collapseD and causes the whole bus to be in a big trouble. A really ‘big trouble’ that may end your life or left you in bad injury because of road accident.
Christmas and New year are never easy here for those who have to return to their munipalities from Dili. Somehow, no matter how hard the trip is, people keep going to municipalities to see their family. It’s a worth thing to go through, though. Because today we may still be together, but tomorrow, who knows?
VZ, Dili, 23 December 2017
What do you see during the concert of pop music at heart of the city?
Is it the setting of the stage where the blinking lights are all around?
Is it the unstoppable speech of the host?
The native and foreign singers who sing with their beautiful voices?
The dancers who shake themselves in an amazing style?
Or, the crowds who surface like ants?
As for me. I am not only looking at these things.
Eyes of mine supposed to only look straightforward, yet they draw me to see a five-year-old boy holding a bunch of five balloons and selling them around.
Then, a father holding her little daughter buys a pink balloon from the five-year-old boy who sold the balloon. The father gives the balloon to her daughter. The little girl laughs out excitedly.
After that, a woman came along and took the little girl from her father. She kissed her daughter with laughter.
The three of them stand right in front of me holding the pink balloon they just bought and watching the concert of pop music at the heart of the city.
Now, I am the one who cannot see that concert of pop music at the heart of the city.
Largo Lecidere, Dili, Timor-leste, August 29, 2017
When you are here, it is noisy.
When you are not here, it is tranquil and mute.
When you are not here, there is no trouble.
When you are here, there will be trouble.
Yet from the trouble you brought with you, it had made us find the solution together.
You, noisiness, trouble and solution, we never let go of each other.
It is no use for you to continue to tell everyone a fiery story about the ugliness and bad deeds of someone in order to impress your listeners. Probably it does sound amazing telling those stories. However, one day, neither you shall be infallible of mistakes.
O, my friend, the human being is indeed not perfect at all.
VZ, Dili, 2016
You live in a peaceful village
You grow along with the nature, the green mountains
Learn to follow the rules and wisdom of the ancestors.
In the morning, the cockcrow of the roosters wake you up
While the sunshine has not risen yet.
You enter the kitchen, lighting up the hearth and it smokes out
Later, a hot pitcher of an aromatic smell of coffee is ready to serve
With some freshly boiled cassava roots
‘It’s morning already’ So you said to everyone…
You live in a hut made of palm leaves and trunk
For your children, it is the most beautiful palace ever
As long as you are always there for them, every day and every night
To shelter your children with love.
To the spring fountain, there you go to take the water
Even if it is quite far to walk.
Filling the whole water pot, you carry it on your head
To the farm and rice field you go
To secure the food for your household
With palm leaves, you weave the winnower, mat, and basket
Those items are to contain the goods that belong to your household
You live with all your strength to serve
Sometimes you become weak and powerless
Yet still, you rise soon afterward.
‘The night is coming…’
So you summon everyone to gather
In a table with an ample of food
You fulfill their hunger, thirst, and fatigue
Then, there you sit still
Listening and seeing them talk
Measuring their mind and soul,
Feeling their burden and relieve.
Today has passed away
Yet still you believe that tomorrow is coming
Despite you do know not what it will bring.
You do ask not a lot of things
You do aspire not a high dream
As to you, it is enough
When the future of your children can be bright
Though someday, you might not be there at all to see it….
Dedicated to Timor-Leste rural mothers…
Vitalia Ze, Dili, October 15, 2014
The white house, a beautiful house
it is so beautiful, in the eyes that see it.
Built with various precious things
with the sweats of the poor builders
Who gain fewer wages than the work of their hands.
The white house, a beautiful house
It is the symbol of pride for the rich
Though it is beautiful outside
Some are empty inside.
When a poor man came to its door
the body will seize, the feet tremble at the entrance
It’s because of its great beauty
It’s because of the glitters are everywhere
Makes the dust on the feet also being afraid to stay longer….
VZ, Dili, 10 January 2015