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27 June, 2020

The Xanana Gusmão Reading Room - my first ever labour of love in Timor-Leste - was inaugurated 20 years ago today. A week ago one of its longest standing board members, João Martires, celebrated his own birthday and, for the occasion, penned a most beautiful and evocative poem which is both a personal reflection on the role of books in his own life and a commentary on his participation in a festive gathering to mark the Reading Room’s 20 years last weekend. That celebration saw our latest project, a bright yellow Tuk Tuk- cum-mobile library, unveiled by the Reading Room’s namesake, Xanana Gusmão.


Thanks to technology, I was able to be there via ZOOM.


I just had to share João’s wonderful poem! I have taken the liberty of giving it the title, "The Ticket."




The little baby peeped through the bamboo lattice of the house where the rising Sun cast a chess board on the very modest off white flannel sheet under the mosquito net.

Tough game ahead.

But somehow, between the howling monsoon winds and the dusty gusts of the dry season’s northerlies,
square by square, letters came together to form words which danced around his head to form phrases and images that made the young boy wonder what more lay beyond that muddy world of green rice fields and wood smoke-filled huts, on many a cold rainy night.

Hardly a truck would pass the village by,
Once a week if the river wasn't high.

Anything that would make his mind travel, his boarding pass, the seat, actually his ticket, to that other world, was all bound up in a magical thing called a book.

Eight Hail Marys,
Two Our Fathers, and
One Salve Rainha...

Hah, a fair price to pay
for taking money out of the bag at the 9 o'clock mass at Motael (more people, more money, simple) during the collection round... but he just had to have that book...

The hiding from his mother only confirmed his belief that behind the confession screen, secrets were not being kept...

Last night, a today one year older man,

spoke a few words about one way for those magic tickets to reach more people
and proudly asked a wiser craftsman of words and poems to pull the cord to reveal a tuk-tuk, that would take books
to a little girl or another little boy so they too can burst through the other side of the bamboo wall.

On the small flickering screen a woman, a mother and sister from another world, another place, watched her creation, in her other home, shine...
bringing hope to those whose choice between a book and and a bowl of rice ... was never, and will never be an easy one to make.

João Martires, 21 June 2020


This is the short film I made to remember the first twenty years in the life of Dili's first and only public library.

20th anniversary XGRR & 74th anniversary
XGRR_20th Anniversary_20 June 2020.png
Joao Martires.jpg
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