As I reflect on a year in Timor-Leste, I’ve been re-reading some of my old blog posts and remembering what my life was like when I’d just arrived.
In my first few weeks here, I needed a reminder that it was very normal to not know how to do things yet.
I felt flustered and overwhelmed when taxi drivers didn’t stop where I wanted them too; I got flushed and teary in microlets when friendly, slangy Timorese drivers chit-chatted with me in Tetun I couldn’t understand; I beat myself up for missing yoga classes that I couldn’t figure out how to get to; and I bemoaned the absence of my favourite Australian fruits on bare supermarket shelves.
It makes me laugh, now, thinking about this!
Poor Soph, I want to say. Because of course I didn’t know how to do things yet; I was brand, brand-new in a foreign city with different systems, and public transport expertise in Melbourne of course doesn’t mean one immediately knows how to bus around in Dili.
If I’d been less huffy and panicked I would have had a much easier time. But, of course, I needed to have that in order to get to where I’m at now.
We struggle when we resist what is
In a post I wrote nearly a year ago titled Keeping your balance, I wrote about the yoga classes I was taking and how my teacher always planned the difficult balancing postures to come near the end of the practise, when our muscles were fatigued and balancing much more difficult.
I reflected in that post on how the switched-up class structure changed my perspective: I didn’t expect to be good at the balances, and I didn’t care when I fell out of them.
But in every other aspect of my life in Timor-Leste, I couldn’t quite extend to myself the same compassion and courtesy. I was maddeningly impatient with myself, often frustrated, and quick to criticise. Why couldn’t I do it?
That yoga teacher friend has since moved on from Dili and another has taken her place. One of her favourite poses is pyramid pose, where you bend face-down over an extended leg and press your forehead into your upper thigh. It constricts your throat, hampers your breathing, stretches out tight hips and hamstrings and generally feels deeply unpleasant.
That is, of course, the point.
This friend introduced me to the word equanimity, meaning calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation. My friend speaks of it in the sense of what you’re able to accept and tolerate and welcome; perhaps you can lean into the sensation of the pose without growing antsy and falling out.
This week, it’s a reminder I still need, a year and change after I moved here.
When I get panicked and snappy when Felix and I eat dinner too late and I know I won’t sleep well. When I get huffy and short-tempered, gunning my sluggish car through crawling Dili traffic, late for work up Comoro Road again. When I feel self-conscious and guilty as my landlady glances at me when I enter the compound. I think she’s judging my shorts, my bulging bag of groceries, my living in sin with my Timorese boyfriend; it’s just as likely she’s looking up to see who’s opening the gate.
The way I eat until I’m bursting full and mainline my phone until my eyes are sore and it’s late at night. The anxiety tic that has me picking the soft tender skin at the sides of my fingernails. How I tell myself I can’t endure the pyramid strain for a second longer, and then the voice that chastises me for choosing to step out of it.
I’m resisting what it is; I’m struggling against the tide instead of letting it take me.
It’s taken me many months to begin leaning into the daily embarrassment and frustrations of living in Timor-Leste as a foreigner. I will meet it with grace and equanimity.
A post-script. I’d originally titled this post “Balancing act”. I want to build the inner strength required to withstand strong winds, but the intention of this post is to share a recent lesson about the value of leaning in, of letting the breeze take you with it.