Between our arrival in Dili on Thursday, and beginning our language classes on Monday, we have nearly four days of time that, with the exception of a few short orientation activities, is completely our own.
It’s unnerving for me having free time in a new place, particularly when I don’t really know what’s available to fill it with – I’m split between wondering if I’m using my time well, and chastising myself for being impatient and high-strung and doing things for the sake of having done them, instead of really attempting to settle myself into life here.
It’s an easy problem to have, either way – I’m very lucky to have free time to not know what to do with. And knowledgeable Christine, with her strong Tetun, Dili orientation and four-wheel-drive, has been invaluable in helping me and Laura figure out how we’d like to fill this down time.
Noticing plants is something good
This morning we had breakfast in the courtyard of the guest house, like we did yesterday, and after eating sat in comfortable, companionable silence for a while, until Christine decided it was time to drive to the accommodation she’d chosen to relocate to. Laura and I went along for the drive and to help carry bags, and after safely depositing everything the three of us drove all the way around the bay to the sandy beach at the bottom of the Cristo Rei statue, where we could sit in plastic chairs right in the sand. We ate and drank and sat some more, Laura and I put our feet in the – surprisingly hot – ocean, and Christine talked to some other volunteers she knew, who happened to be walking along the path behind our table – volunteers who, it turns out, I’d actually met last time I was here (I was hoping Dili would be like this). After rousing ourselves once more we drove to the supermarket and made dinner plans – and then each of us retreated to our rooms for a rest. It was barely 2pm and we’d spent the entire morning sitting – but I felt exhausted.
Drinking juice in the sand at the bottom of Cristo Rei
After resting in the cool for an hour I came out to the street for a short walk and to find a coffee. As I write this, I’m sitting under a ceiling fan in the butter-yellow restaurant of a streetside hotel that promised free wifi but hasn’t quite connected – typing in a Word document as my laptop strains to find the network. Right now, I’m feeling a bit sheepish: big, hot, clumsy, self-conscious, too reliant on internet and coffee, too uncomfortable with the thought of slowing down, complaining to myself about having free time to sit with my feet in beach sand and chat to friends, buying chocolate at the supermarket and using ordering everything in near-exclusive English.
I’m impatient to get into our Tetun classes, because they serve the twin purpose of structuring my days and giving me a tool to better connect with the city I’m currently bumbling around with no idea.
Writing this down, though, is a good reminder to me: first, that I am an outsider here. I always will be. Even if I learn perfect Tetun and memorise every one-way road in Dili and hotspot my phone and chop open my own coconuts and regulate my body temperature and wean myself off long blacks I’ll always be a foreigner. I spent twelve months in Melbourne trying to stake out a part of that city as my own, but the opposite case exists here – Dili will never be mine to claim, and it’s good to sort of relish this feeling of being uncomfortable and clumsy, because it’s a reminder to keep vigilant about never feeling too complacent.
The street outside our new accommodation
It’s the lifestyle here to have a rest over the hottest period of the day, and me trying to stomp around in the humidity doing things and seeing the city isn’t really serving any kind of purpose.
And it’s natural that I should feel a little restless having several unplanned days stretching ahead of me – it’s in my type-A nature to plan every minute (if I were feeling more romantic right now I’d say, indulgently, I’m a writer; I need to know what comes next). But it’s tone-deaf and disrespectful to complain too loudly about that, particularly in a country with high rates of youth unemployment – I may as well enjoy the down time, because thousands of other 25-year-olds in Dili won’t go to work in a month like I will.
Writing this down also reminds me to zoom out a little more – to consider what’s happening to me in a frame broader than my own little narrow view of my life; to give me perspective.
I’m grateful for calm, slow days to remind me of that.
I’m going to put those words over this Dili sunset photo and sell motivational quote posters now
I do have a lot of things I’d like to see here – I got excited in the AVI office yesterday afternoon when Maria was circling sights and markets and museums on a map of Dili – but I’m taking a moment to remember that I have literally a year and a half to see and do everything on my already-long mental list – and that in any case, it’s very likely the spaces in between that’ll be what I remember most about my time here, just like it was the bike commuting and housemate chats that made my life in Melbourne so rich, rather than the big blocks of things on either side.
Just like this weekend.