asakiyume: (glowing grass)
On this day in Pen Pal, nothing particular happened, but in the note that Kaya wrote her mother on July 4, she mentioned the research station in W--, where she used to work. At the research station, they test and develop new strains of cash and subsistence crops, as well as work on plants for soil replenishment, etc.

In Timor-Leste, Seeds of Life does this work. Here are two crops that were developed in Baucau, Timor-Leste, and that are among 11 being tested with local farmers:

"Deep purple" sweet potato; photo by Alexia Skok

Red rice; photo by Alexia Skok

“[These] varieties are locally sourced and already popular among farming families for their taste and colour,” says Research Coordinator Luis Almeida.

Photos and quote from Kate Bevitt, "Music to the Tastebuds: Deep Purple Sweet Potato and Other Varieties Coming Soon" June 26, 2014.

Near me, similar work goes on at Cold Spring Orchard, which is a test orchard for the University of Massachusetts. Sometimes when you go there in the fall, you can taste-test new varieties of peaches or apples--sometimes they don't even have names yet, just numbers.

asakiyume: (dewdrop)
In the past in Timor-Leste, and perhaps still now (I didn't have the ability or opportunity to talk to anyone about these sorts of things, during my visit there), it was said that geodes are often homes to nature spirits. Such geodes are called foho matan--stone eyes.

If a person finds a geode in the wilderness, they can expect a nature spirit to visit them in a dream and offer them a special relationship--benefits and blessings in return for service. If the arrangement suits the person, then they take the stone to the place it asks the to take it and build an altar there. The spirit, in turn, becomes the person's guardian.

Sometimes, though, the spirit in the geode won't be interested in establishing a relationship. One village told the ethnographer:

If I take home a stone that is [sacred], when I dream that night, the spirt comes to me and says, "My name is Miguel [or whatever name it claims to have]. I am a [sacred] stone. You must put me back!" In the morning when I awake, I return the stone to its original place."
--David Hicks, Tetum Ghosts & Kin: Fertility and Gender in East Timor (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2004 [originally published 1976]), 40.

Whenever I've seen geodes in the past, I've always thought of the crystal caves that imprisoned Merlin--the geodes seemed like miniature versions of those caves. Now, if I see a geode, I'll wonder if it's the home of a nature spirit.

asakiyume: (Timor-Leste nia bandiera)

Among the many good things Mandela did, he advocated for the release of Timorese freedom-fighter Xanana Gusmão from prison:

Mandela not only called for the release of Xanana Gusmao, but also insisted on meeting with the latter – and got his way […] Soeharto at first refused Mandela’s request to meet Xanana with the question ‘Why do you want to meet him? He is only a common criminal.’ When Mandela responded by saying ‘that is exactly what they said about me for 25 years,’ Soeharto promptly and magnanimously responded by arranging for Xanana to be brought from prison to the State Guest House for an intimate dinner with Mandela.
--Jamsheed Marker, East Timor: A Memoir of the Negotiations for Independence, quoted in Aboeprijadi Santoso, “Mandela, Indonesia and the liberation of Timor Leste,” Jakarta Post, 22 July 2013

asakiyume: (Timor-Leste nia bandiera)
Linguistically, East Timor is an interesting place. Portugal was the colonial overlord for centuries, so Portuguese was the language of higher education and opportunity. Then from the mid 1970s through 1999, Indonesia occupied the country, and Indonesia was the language of classroom instruction. Meanwhile, there are several mother tongues spoken by different populations. Tetun (Tetum) is the mother tongue of a large plurality of people, but there are other first-languages spoken, too.

map of the languages of East Timor )

This being the situation in East Timor, there's apparently debate over how much to promote mother tongues and how much doing so is destructive of national unity.

From the Minister of Education:

The Ministry of Education fully supports the use of the mother tongue to serve as a bridge and facilitate the students during the initial years of scolarity, notably at the pre-school and basic education levels, thereby establishing a solid foundation for the children to pursue their studies at a higher level.

Several commenters argued against this, saying things like Mother tongue is important but not priority or maybe priority but not urgent and Nation building means exactly that; constructing with the glue that unites. Not dividing with the wedges that divide.

Then the prime minister's wife1 (who also has the title of "Goodwill Ambassador for Education") joined the conversation, saying,

The suggestion that promoting local languages and culture threatens national unity is ludicrous. The true threat to social cohesion and stability in any country lies in the promotion of practices and systems which discriminate against certain sections of the community on the basis of their socio-economic circumstances, ethnic background or home language . . . the huge body of international research and national evidence-based studies show unequivocally that giving children a chance to build a solid foundation of literacy and cognitive development in the language with which they are most familiar helps them to successfully acquire a second, third, fourth and subsequent languages.

All of which is very interesting to me as I contemplate the nation of W-- and think about its future.

1We've already established that Xanana Gusmão is super cool. Well, his wife, Kirsty Sword Gusmão, is equally cool. How could she not be, with the surname Sword? She will be getting her own entry momentarily.

asakiyume: (Timor-Leste nia bandiera)

Reasons to love Xanana Gusmão:

  • As a teenage soccer goalie, he "was too busy making up sonnets to actually stop any goals" (as I found out from reading The Crossing)

  • The obvious: he was a total badass freedom fighter. Forced to drop out of school at age fifteen due to lack of money, he become active advocating East Timor's independence from Portugal, then led the resistance against Indonesia after the latter invaded East Timor. He was captured in 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1999 when Indonesia withdrew from East Timor, whereupon he returned to help East Timor make a go as an independent nation.

  • His nickname Xanana comes from the American rock-and-roll band Sha Na Na.

  • when he got caught in a traffic jam outside the presidential office the other day, he got out of his car and helped direct traffic:

Plus, handsome!

Simultaneously warm and distinguished

and back in his freedom-fighter days

This guy SMILED FOR THE CAMERA when he was captured! How's *that* for ... I don't know, confidence? Or something!

Looking gentle and fatherly at the birth of one of his children

Making up for his youthful soccer losses

There you have it. Xanana Gusmão!

asakiyume: (feathers on the line)

The turtle in search of immortality

On the beach my anxious mother lit the kerosene lamp and walked the whole length of the sands, lighting up the sea in search of the beiro that would take us to the island of Ataúro, visible hunched in the pitch-dark night like a giant turtle which, in search of immortality, had turned itself into land.

By days rather than hours

Our family solitude was soon broken by the arrival of an African cipaio, the descendant of former deportees from Mozambique, the famous Landins, now employed as dogs of war and pacifiers of native uprisings. I could only see his white teeth and hear his gruff, loud voice, as he laughed and gave embarkation orders to a prisoner, either a political prisoner or a common criminal--at the time it came to the same thing, for they all shared the same destination and fate . . .

He put his hands into the water to wash them, but also perhaps to assure himself that the sea provided as solid a barrier as any prison walls. He shook of the drops of water, wrapped himself in a sarong and asked, "When do we arrive?"


"Tomorrow! Does your clock tell the time by days rather than hours?"

The voice like a ship's wake

Simão listened to the sound of that silence. The sound of people falling asleep. Magnificent and terrifying, as at the very beginning or at the very end of time. He took off his sandals and held them in his hand. He wanted to see the face of the big land as he said goodbye to it. To see if it was laughing at him, weeping for him or about to kill him . . .When he could no longer make out the details of the city, he looked at the lights approaching the boat, the gleaming eyes of the fish, the young tuna and the sharks that rubbed against the wooden hull. Then the steersman saw his face fill with fear . . .

"It's all right," said the old man.

Simão started at this interruption to his thoughts. The old man's voice fanned out beneath Simão's gaze like a ship's wake.

"They're less dangerous than men. They know everything. They're the ones who guide the boat. They follow the sea currents. We learn how to navigate from them."

---Luís Cardoso, The Crossing (London: Granta Books, 2000), 11-15.

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