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Chega Exhibition (trigger warning, describes violence)

Tuesday 25th August – 9 months, 9 days

I can’t go to the Posada in Baucau and stay there anymore like I was planning because I found out from the exhibition what happened there... it was a place of imprisonment particularly for women, women were taken there and raped and tortured.

‘Chega’ means ‘enough, stop’ in Portuguese. I’m not sure how empowering it is to use the language of one oppressor to tell another one to fuck off (cukup, jangan mean something similar in Bahasa) but I guess it’s not the Timorese’ fault that Portuguese stunted Tetum’s growth.

Anyway.

The Chega exhibition is a museum of sorts, chronicling the human rights violations in Timor. It was a prison (the Comarca) under the Portuguese and also under the Indonesians. It was abandoned and basically turned into a farm with walls, until an organisation called CAVR was formed to chronicle human rights violations (‘lesser’ ones so that the court system would not be flooded but people, both perpetrators and victims / survivors, would have a way to tell their story and resolve the issue). There are timelines of Timor, the story in the country and its place in world history, there is a library, there are photos. The ‘dark cells’ where people were confined in the dark and starved, beaten, raped for months, have been preserved in all their their grotty, graffitied glory.

The dark cells also have a larger-than-life-size colour photograph of a Timorese woman with a blindfold over her face, naked except for a pair of stark white blood-spattered underpants. She lies on the floor while soldiers snarl over her. You can see blood on her body, blood on the floor, and their bootmarks on her body.

It is in fact stunning how many places around Timor were used as places of imprisonment by the Indonesians and the Portuguese. The Indonesians win for creativity though, using hotels and a museum as impromptu prisons, police headquarters, interrogation units etc. While I was reading the eclectic selection of examples, I thought of the Postu, that mountaintop broken-down Portuguese paradise in Same. How I looked at little rooms and worked out which were the abandoned cells. All over this land dead and tortured girls, boys, women, men have screamed; I hope Timor's version of ‘free’ today is enough for you now.

I do wish I’d seen this earlier in the piece; it would’ve been useful (and maybe I would’ve been able to get over the Posada prison palace and stay there). I love a lot of the buildings they’ve mentioned, they’re very familiar to me and they’re places I see almost daily.

The exhibition's ‘end’ has a garden and meeting space with ‘What will you do to preserve human rights?’ painted on the wall (in typical garish Timor style, in yellow with green outline) in Tetum and English. When I see these challenges I’m fervently grateful that I decided I wanted a career ‘helping people’, something I made up before I originally started working in development, and never dreamed it would take me to the kind of work I do today. I need work that helps people.

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As I left the building, I asked a woman carrying too much stuff if I could take some things for her. It looked like a lot and also she was pregnant, not that approximately half the adult female population isn’t pregnant at any given time, but still. We chatted in Tetum while we walked out to the gate (I love that I can say this, ‘We chatted in Tetum’). When we got to the gate, she said to her friend, ‘Malae ajuda’ which is ‘Malae helped’, in pretty much the same tone people often say ‘Malae bulak’ (Malae are crazy) in. But they smiled in a friendly way at me so I am taking it as ok that I helped.

Posted by timortimes 00:07

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