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From the writing pad… Timor Leste

Author, Lachlan McKenzie updates us on the Tropical Permaculture Guidebook progress…

“Oh oh oh Timor, Oh oh hau nia rai, Oh oh oh, Oh Timor!..” So the song goes, known and sung by every Timorese person by the age of three, and by many foreigners too. The chorus means simply “Timor, my land, Timor”. It sums up the connection, the struggle for independence, the strength and determination, the ancestral and spiritual grounding. Timor Leste has all the issues of a modernising SE Asian/Melanesian culture, good and bad, on top of finally coming out of centuries of colonialisation and occupation. Beneath this however is a base that stays strong and can’t be shifted, whatever the challenge.

It is a culturally rich, diverse, friendly yet fierce, proud and humble people, and an incredibly beautiful yet fragile environment which i thoroughly enjoyed during my 5 years living there. And it was good to be back!

After an initial few days of making connections, seeing old friends and getting settled, it was time to get into some work. Permatil (Permaculture Timor Leste) staff were busy with training so we set the week for the review to be later in the month. Rob and Jules had just arrived and we wanted to get stuck into the reviewing. And what better place to go than Barry’s eco-resort on Atauro Island. WOOHOO!

A small Island about 35km north of Dili, Atauro is a captivating place, simple and stunning, with lovely people and a laid back style that is impossible not to enjoy. And then theres the snorkelling!

Barry is an old mate and, with Lina and kids, has set up a place that captures the essence of what makes Atauro so alluring and really is eco and community based, not just in title. Over 25 Beloi folk work there, local food and resources are used whenever possible, solar power, compost toilets, showers feeding bananas and fruit trees, an establishing vegie garden, nursery, animals and more.

Rob Swain and Jules Hartmann, as mentioned in the last blog, have been to Timor Leste many times and they helped train Barry and his builders in sustainable and creative building techniques including utilising the native bamboos.

For us it was a perfect place to stay, catch up and do some work too. Yes we did manage to fit some work in, a lot in fact, but what a joy it was to be able to go for a snorkel on the reef as a break from the book reviewing!

Each day we worked through 1 or 2 chapters. To give you an idea of what we aim for the updated guidebook, our review included:
• A thorough revision of the text for technical issues and improvements.
• Creating a list of additions/edits needed for each chapter, some minor, some complete new additions or major edits such as African keyhole beds or biochar.
• Reviewing each chapter in the context of improving the guidebook flow and strengthening the information relating to permaculture design.
This now provides a further base for rewriting on top of the edits already collected and collated.

The last piece of the review was to work with Permatil. They published the original guidebook with Ego and myself, and have used it extensively so collecting their feedback was vital for improving the guidebook. The staff conducted their own review for 3 days, then I joined them back in Dili where they presented their thoughts and suggestions. This feedback was excellent especially about some of the ways to make the guidebook more culturally and technically useable.

I also worked separately with Ego Lemos, original co-writer, founder of Permatil and Timorese permaculture expert looking at the guidebook structure and evaluating review results. From this came a lot of further points for improvement and a major new addition, very exciting, but to be revealed later….

Many thanks goes to Ego, Rob, Jules and the Permatil staff for all their hard work and great ideas!

As a final Timor adventure, my good friend Yohan and I visited Baucau and in particular Na Terra’s 3 year old permaculture demo site half way between Baucau and the coast. A fantastic demo (we have photos and more info on our facebook page) of a working permaculture site that can be duplicated by Timorese and many techniques are already spreading far and wide… They also have a big nursery from which they distribute fruit and productive trees. Thanks Fernando, Nuno and Na Terra, very inspiring indeed!

And so it was time to leave Timor Leste, with lots of coffee, super strong machetes from Manuel the Blacksmith, some tais (native woven cloth) and lots of good memories. Oh, and a very successful review as well.

Time for the rewrite to begin…

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