There’s a place down the road from my office that I love to go to for lunch most days. It’s a popular little warung restaurant called Lili’s, and although they have the widest variety of dishes behind the counter I’ve seen in any warung in Dili – maybe 25 or 30 options – I almost always go for the same combination: red rice, tempeh with green beans, oily eggplant or papaya, a tongful of green mystery vegetable, and an iced tea, no sugar. I always sit underneath the fan, facing the street, and read a long article on my phone while I eat.
Some days, like today, they run out of red rice before I get there.
On the grand scale of human catastrophes, the absence of red rice at Lili’s ranks so close to the bottom it’s probably buried underground.
But when you’re a person who thrives in routine, who tenses up tight when things don’t Go To Plan, a single twig like red rice can send the whole structure tumbling down.
Last week’s red rice lunch (The Plan), and today’s yellow rice (not The Plan)
As I ate my lunch – with its sub-par yellow rice – and read this compelling piece, I reflected on a languid morning in the office, and how I’d rouse myself into action for the afternoon. I decided on a lunch coffee, and then deliberated: do I go to Agua de Coco, like I usually do, for a lovely bitter $1 long black served to me by the smiling Portuguese man nicknamed the Captain – or do I lean into my sweaty whiteness and go to Gloria Jean’s for the $4 iced coffee I secretly crave?
I fretted about it for far too long, then, in a fit of frustration with myself (this doesn’t matter!), abandoned both options and headed up the road back towards work. I decided I’d turn right at Dili Backpackers and see if the new coffee shop in the courtyard of the international supermarket was open – if it was, I’d sit for 30 minutes and do the Tetun study I promised myself last night I’d attempt every day this month. And if it wasn’t, I’d just return to work.
Not only was the shop open, but it was deserted except for Daniel, the head of the non-government organisation that supports their coffee brand. I met Daniel – and found out about Maubere Mountain coffee – when I attended their coffee festival in June.
Maubere long black and attempted Tetun study
We exchanged smiles and I ordered my coffee, sitting down solo in the peaceful shade with my open Tetun textbook. Perhaps ten minutes in, Daniel came over to say hello, and I closed my book to chat for a while.
He invited me to visit their office some time, then told me about his previous work as a photographer, mentioning the coffee table book of photographs of Timor-Leste he’d published. A copy emerged from behind the cafe’s counter and I leafed through, eyeing beautiful shots of Dili’s pervasive light dappling children in church clothes, kiosk men waiting quietly beneath brilliant bright umbrellas, the all-to-familiar white of my suburb‘s lighthouse and the joggers that pause for breath at its base.
We spoke until the end of my lunch break, and I stood reluctantly to return to work. Instead of heading left, back towards Dili Backpackers, I turned right from the courtyard – guessing, correctly, that right-left-left would get me back to work on the parallel road quicker than the left-right-right way I’d arrived. And not only was it quicker, it was beautiful, too: on the short walk I passed buildings I’d never seen before, and, for the first time in a while, paid attention to the brilliant pink-orange bougainvillaea that seem to line every street here.
I felt happy, present and purposeful on my walk back to work.
My 30-minute study session had ended abruptly, and my month of daily practise seemed doomed to flop on the first of the month. My worrisome mind was still whirring, trying to figure out if the yellow rice was as filling as the red, as nutritious, as good a lunch option, and I still had no clear idea of what I’d do when I returned to the office. The Plan – however insignificant; however inconsequential to the bigger picture – appeared to have Fallen Dramatically Apart.
And it doesn’t matter. Of course it doesn’t. I spend so much time staring down at the stepping-stones, trying not to slip and fall, that I forget to look up and see everything around me. I’m so worried about the risk of cracking my head I forget the thrill of rushing through the rapids.
Xanana Sports Centre – a place I’ve never seen before
I need so badly for everything to follow the path I’ve set for it – red rice and to-dos and monthly goals – that I forget to turn the opposite way, to see what’s round the other corner.
And I forget right-left-left gets you to the same place as left-right-right, just by a different route. And that that different route makes all the difference.