To the extent possible, I’m reading novels for this project. Merriam-Webster defines a novel as “an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events.” In reading novels for this blog, I’m attempting to understand how people in other countries perceive the human experience from the standpoint of their cultural and geographical realities.
However, in many countries, it’s not possible to find a novel that’s been translated into English. For those countries, I just have to take whatever translated book I can get. With respect to East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, the book that I could get was a memoir by Luís Cardoso, The Crossing: A Story of East Timor.
The Crossing covers a crucial time in East Timor’s history. This island nation, situated between Indonesia and Australia, was a Portuguese colony for four centuries, enjoyed a brief period of independence following Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in the mid-1970s, but was then invaded by Indonesia and endured more than two decades of violent occupation by that country before finally becoming a sovereign state.
Cardoso’s memoir encompasses all of these changes to the country’s political landscape. He was born in 1958, at a time when Portugal still ruled the Timorese islands. Cardoso’s father was a nurse, and the family traveled to wherever his father’s services were needed. It was very important to his father that Cardoso be properly educated, so when Cardoso was still a young boy, he was sent to live with relatives on another island to begin his formal schooling at a Catholic mission. His grandfather took it upon himself to introduce Cardoso to the spiritual tradition of his ancestors. “He wanted me to know my own nature before seeing it forever submerged in the Christian world.”
Cardoso’s education proceeded in fits and starts. At one point, his father decided he should be a priest and sent him off to the seminary, even though the head of the school said he was “too fond of life to be of any use to God.” When the seminary didn’t work out for him, he decided to become a good enough student at the next school he attended to be awarded a scholarship to study in Portugal. He did, indeed, earn a scholarship, and he left East Timor for Lisbon just ahead of the turmoil that followed the Indonesian invasion.
In Lisbon, Cardoso met fellow Timorese refugees from the war in their homeland and became part of a cultural group that shared Timorese song, dance, and poetry with the people of Portugal. As the book draws to a close, Cardoso’s parents arrived in Lisbon, and he was forced to deal with the toll the war had taken on his father.
At times I found the narrative confusing, especially when it veered into political territory and got into the upheaval occurring in both East Timor and Portugal. But for most of the book, The Crossing was a look back at the author’s childhood in what must have seemed to him a simpler, more idyllic time.
The Crossing didn’t mention any specific Timorese dishes, but there were occasional references to the produce that is grown there, such as strawberries, persimmons, mangoes, rice, maize, cassava, tea, coffee, and cacao. It wasn’t difficult to find a vegan Timorese recipe online. Batar da’an is a simple dish made of butternut squash, corn, and kidney beans. I found the recipe on the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl website, which suggests preparing healthy, meatless recipes from around the world for Lent. Somehow, making a recipe recommended for Lent by a Catholic organization seemed appropriate, considering all the time Cardoso spent in Catholic schools. This was a quick, easy, and healthy recipe, and I enjoyed it.
GlobalGiving listed four projects for East Timor, and they all sounded worthy. In the end, I picked one that is helping to revive traditional carving, weaving, and pottery skills in poverty-stricken rural communities and turning them into income-generating opportunities. Cardoso’s recollection about his grandfather schooling him in the spiritual tradition of his ancestors made this particular project very appealing to me, as it celebrates the local heritage. According to the description on the website, “[t]his project is part of our ‘Turning Traditions into Livelihoods’ program - an initiative that gives Timorese rural communities a chance to generate income and build a livelihood using their culture, identity and experience.” More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/turn-traditions-into-livelihoods-for-150-timorese/.
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