Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book 3, East Timor: "Resistance: A Childhood Fighting for East Timor" by Naldo Rei

Reading this book was harrowing. Partly because I'd met the author, and it was brain-exploding to realise I'd shaken hands with a man who'd survived such horrors and committed such acts of heroism.

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Fuck, the whole country of East Timor has gone through so much. No wonder they haven't got their act together yet; the whole country's undergoing gigantic post-traumatic stress disorder (and Naldo talks about this; how after the joyous day of independence people found themselves taken over by depression and lassitude and impotence). He estimates that the Indonesian army (under the dictator Suharto) exterminated roughly a third to a quarter of East Timorese, from direct killings, hunger, illness. Doesn't include the wounded, the raped, the imprisoned, the orphaned, the battle-scarred.

The book's a bit difficult to plough through: despite the poetic introduction ("I am kaer fatuk, storyteller for my people. I carry their stories like heavy stones, forgetting nothing") the account is one of testimony, detailing facts and dates with appendices to prove yes yes these horrors happened, I was arrested here, I was tortured here, I went into hiding here...

... and then there are the stories of being in exile, the frustration of being away from the frontlines, collaborating with pro-democracy activists in Jakarta, being freaked out by airport staff in Singapore, and negotiating with visa and university applications in Australia.

But it's especially horrific to remember that the soldiers doing this were Southeast Asians like myself, ruled by a dictator Singapore had a good relationship with, and that we and the world stood by while they terrorised a land like this.

I could give you a quote about how he was dragged through thorns or had his toenails pulled out or his teeth bashed out with a rock, but it's the living conditions that squicked me the most.

Representative quote: "The cells were never cleaned and prisoners could never shower but lived int he dark, naked and filthy. The price of deep sleep, which could only be obtained sitting upright, was to wake up covered in excrement because of accidentally leaning too close to the overflowing toilet."

Next book: Dorothy Porter's "The Monkey's Mask", from Australia.

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