I realised a few days ago, as I counted back the weeks, that I’ve only been back in Dili from my Christmas trip to Perth for a month. It felt like ten times longer, and I’d spent much of my time back in town vaguely annoyed at myself for feeling uncomfortable, sluggish and unsettled. The footpaths are cracked and shitty and the honking taxis are so annoying and I don’t call home enough and I keep getting sick from the lettuce and I’m never not sweating and it’s all a bit too hard.
But what I thought was an inability to settle back in was actually just the truth that I hadn’t given myself the time to let it happen.
And now that I am feeling settled back in (I’m writing this post from my second home, the high bench at Letefoho Specialty Coffee), I’m reflecting on the month that was, and reminding myself to be patient.
In January, I made some decisions.
In my first week back in Timor-Leste I reflected on my time as an AVID volunteer, and made the difficult decision to leave the program early.
I agreed to coordinate the tutors for the English conversation course I volunteer with, and decided to commit to trying to make money from writing: investing a little money in an online portfolio, tracking my efforts in a new colour-coded spreadsheet, and recruiting a friend to check in on my notoriously poor self-management efforts each Friday to make sure I’m actually doing the work.
In January, I farewelled some friends.
My darling housemate Tony returned to Australia, and I welcomed my friend Maddie into the house in Farol, which over the Christmas break was painted the most lurid shade of tennis-ball green.
I said goodbye to Lucy, the previous owner of my car and this bum bag, and bade a sad goodbye to Christine, Emma and Sandeep, fellow AVIDs returning to Australia.
In January, I set some goals and faced some fears.
I decided to try and read 52 books this year, on the assumption that I likely wouldn’t hit it, but that by setting a wildly ambitious goal, I’d succeed regardless of outcome. I’m not tracking well and truthfully, I’m already feeling anxious about it.
I wrote about my fear of white bread, which is something I find difficult to confront, which is why tackling it is a key priority this year.
I decided to return to Tetun school, and reflected here on my perfectionism and fear of getting the language wrong.
In January, I cried in a yoga class.
My friend has started teaching yoga at Dili Wellness on Sunday afternoons, and at the end of the first one I got choked up as my mind wandered during the final meditation. I’d seen a Facebook memory from 2014 earlier that day, when I’d been in India, on one of my first overseas trips taken without my family. That trip was the first event of a significant year I mark as the first time I really lead my own decisions, lived with courage, lost things I loved and lived for myself, and in moments of fragility and despair here in Timor-Leste I feel achingly, tenderly proud of my younger self for having the guts to set in motion the domino chain that propelled me here; into this country, this job, this relationship, this life, this person.
There’s guilt in there, too: I regularly judge myself as selfish and stubborn; too self-involved and inflexible to do anything other than run away, which is why the reflective moment in yoga class was both tender and raw.
I am grateful for all of this; for every experience and every feeling.
In January, I travelled Timor-Leste.
I spent four days in the chilly mountains of Ainaro district, writing stories for a new short-term job. Cups of sweet tea and an electric kettle and earnest Tetun conversations and greasy fried eggs and misty mornings and hours bouncing around in the back of a four-wheel-drive on the bare suggestions of roads that traverse rocky Ainaro. And to Bobonaro district to see wild sandalwood trees and watch farmers plant new ones. I’m looking forward to returning to Ainaro this month, as well as taking trips to Ermera and Oecussi districts.
In January, I wrote.
About returning home to Dili. About small pleasures. About my favourite places in Dili. About education in Ainaro schools, about saving money, about mung beans, about sandalwood seedlings, about how to find the English conversation classrooms at the university and how to come up with a lesson idea.
In January, I gained weight.
And tried very hard to be ok with it.
In January, I used a Satchmo tote.
My favourite Perth cafe made merchandise and a friend bought me a big tote bag for Christmas. It’s now carrying my books and laptop and phone charger and electricity adaptors around Dili, and is a tiny slice of Perth cool in this funny, dusty, unfamiliar city.
In January, I started a tradition.
Every Monday evening, Felix and I now cook an unnecessarily complicated and ridiculously fun meal together.
In January, I felt less-than-settled.
And am refusing to judge that anymore.
The other day, the well-worn path of my brain that carries old Panics lyrics lit up with the don’t fight it, don’t fight it, don’t fight it, if you don’t know what it is, if you don’t know what it is that they used to play every Friday night at the Bird as the lights came up at the end of the band’s set and you were blinking in a crowded room feeling emotional and everything.
In January, in Dili, I don’t know what it is, really, and I’m not fighting it.
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