One thing I love about Tetun: how many situations the (entirely underwhelming-sounding) phrase la diak can be deployed in. Supermarket out of soy milk? La diak. Phone missing? La diak. A baby in cardiac arrest in the hospital’s understaffed emergency room? La diak. Not good.
Every time I express my surprise at the elasticity of phrases like that one I’m reminded that Tetun is a highly contextual language, and words take their meaning from the situations in which they’re delivered. It’s a neat safety net – I think it enables someone to retain a degree of ambiguity when they’re speaking, which is attractive to someone feeling shy about expressing their true feelings.
This week, that’s me.
I’ve felt frustrated and anxious this week; on edge, but unsure of how to articulate it and unconvinced of its validity (you’re rich and safe and healthy, what problems do you have!? spent a lot of time running through my mind like a news ticker this week). Of course, undermining problems is a highly successful way of vanquishing them forever! so it should have come as a real surprise that after a week of some fairly critical self-talk I found myself this morning stomping up beach road to Letefoho still in a funk, no?
It’s been a weird, humbling, la diak kinda week.
I felt exhausted after my return from Baucau last week – I think the combination of a few days out of my comfort zone, a bunch of new experiences and then the enthusiasm with which I then threw myself back into my Dili social life wiped me out. Then, I didn’t do anything to take care of myself at the beginning of this week (save for requesting FOMO-inducing photos from well-meaning Melbourne friends, ouch), and an office move, a busy week at work and a microlet incident that meant skipping what’s usually a very soothing yoga class had me tied in knots as the working week wrapped up yesterday.
I caught the end of the sunset and had a relaxing beachside G+T with friends, but woke up hot and groggy this morning with looming deadlines and a head full of nagging: are you going to exercise this weekend? When are you going to do your article? Why were you 30 minutes last last night? You know you probably won’t get invited next time. And are you eating brunch out again?
I’m struggling right now to reconcile this: how my problems fit into a Timor context. On one hand, I’m at the top of the social pile in Dili: I’m rich, white, educated, able-bodied and free, and I have no real understanding of what life is like for the vast majority of the population here – not a single one of my problems is life-threatening or serious, so automatically, they’re not important. But I’m living inside my head, and chiding myself, telling myself to get over it, doesn’t quite give me the deep, humbling gratitude and perspective I’d expect from a daily reminder of my own fortune (it feels too rich fretting from the front seat of an air-conditioned Prado as it sweeps past skinny tius carrying their bodyweight in for-sale fruit on their back, you know?).
And I’m hating myself as I write this, dedicating five hundred words to indulging my class guilt.
But. Typing this out – under a fan in the cool light at Letefoho Coffee, with a delicious pour over by my elbow – is straightening my thoughts, taking me out of my own head, reminding me to stop frantically churning my wheels and feeling anguished and tragic and helpless and guilty and sorry for myself. That energy isn’t doing anything. What a waste!
Instead, I’m committing now to having a deliberate, diak weekend: I’m going to quietly take better care of myself (enjoy my beachside brunch with my new friend – and leave now, so I make it there on time; cook at home tonight; buy fruit from the markets and practise my Tetun; call my sister tomorrow and try and go for a run); and validate – to myself – my concerns and anxieties, but not let myself get caught up and exhausted in them. If I really want to be good here in Timor, I need to understand that I’m always going to stand out, always going to be better off (in certain ways) than most people, but that my energy is better directed to observing that than getting caught up in it, and actually doing something with whatever position of privilege I have here.
It might have been a la diak week, but it’s definitely at the soy-milk end of the scale.
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