500 days of Dili

This week has seen an unusual level of activity on this blog and caused me to contemplate my reasons for writing and publishing here.

(Do you love or hate very meta blog posts where writers consider the reason for their blog existing? I’m a terrible voyeur and can’t get enough of it, but scroll on by now if that doesn’t interest you).

A few days ago, I wrote a short blog post called “To be a tourist in Dili,” an attempt at summarising the lovely few days of tourist-ing I’d had in the city where I live, hosting my mother and sister when they came to visit. Proud of Dili, and pleased with the post, I tweeted the link to my handful of followers and thought little more of it. (I’ve tweeted posts before, and the link to this blog sits in my profile on both Twitter and Instagram).

I didn’t count on the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) retweeting the link and distributing the post to their thousands-strong email list. Nor did I anticipate a fellow Dili-based foreigner to receive that email and paste my blog link in Facebook group Dili Expats, home to 4,000+ members. This blog, which usually receives anywhere between four and 12 visitors per day, was suddenly seen by hundreds of people clicking through multiple posts.

Which is thrilling! Please don’t get me wrong; I’m very grateful for the interest and I’m humbled ETAN thought that post worthy of sharing. And, of course, I was the person who first tweeted the link and who wrote publicly in the first place. But the influx of attention and offline comments — yesterday my office-mate was narrating as she clicked through my old posts, a fellow foreigner at the coffee shop brought the email blast up before me without realising I’d authored the post, a kind friend in the pub told me he liked it — have suddenly brought something to the surface I now understand I previously thought separate, private, small.

My blog isn’t real; it’s detached from real life. No one I know in person besides my parents reads this blog. Here, I can say anything without fearing repercussion or coffee-shop commentary.

I now realise that’s what I thought about this blog. It felt like a free WordPress domain-diary where I can explain my lack of phone calls home through documented field trips and saturated sunset snaps.

I started this blog a year-and-a-bit ago to record the messy new-ness of moving to a foreign place and to provide myself with an outlet for processing new experiences. I continued with the blog after I’d settled in as a way of sharing memories with friends back home. A couple of times this year, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a tourist who’s read my blog, and as I result I’ve tended a couple of posts towards clickbait-y lists that may catch someone else’s attention: my 5 favourite coffee spots in Dili; how to get to Atauro Island.

On an About Me page (that I’m now horribly self-conscious of; what do the people I know in real life think of the way I’ve described myself?) I tried to explain obtusely how helpful I found expat blogs when I was first contemplating moving to Timor-Leste; simply seeing someone’s everyday life spelled out and illustrated, demonstrating to me the kind of life I could have in Dili. Now, I feel self-conscious, like in purporting to give tourist advice I’ve overstepped my remit.

But that’s self-defined; this is a personal blog. What’s my point in writing it if not to document what I feel like writing about?

If I accept, then, that my intention with this blog is to share what life is like for an Australian living abroad, I can then move to a thornier question: who am I writing for? If I really am “sharing stories with friends back home”, why do I tag my posts with “travel” and “expat”, hoping for WordPress to pop them into the feed of a foreign travel blogger? If I’m “providing scraps of information for nervous newcomers”, why am I introducing Felix like it’s an intimate in-person dinner at my parents’ house? And if it’s more personal journal than Timor-Leste travel blog, why do I simultaneously write about my mental health and tweet public links out to thousands of strangers?

For a little while this year I had plans to rejig this blog; to make the layout more intuitive, to streamline helpful post categories, to buy a domain and drop out the free WordPress ads. To make it serious. But I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile attempts at professionalism, at being an objective guide, one-woman Lonely Planet Dili, with the simple fact that I just want to write about my friends and my feelings.

And now, with a modest few hundred new blog visitors but still unprecedented statistics (seriously, I deeply appreciate everyone who reads this blog but I can’t overstate just how few viewers there were before this week), I’m considering whether I want to publish at all — perhaps feelings are better confined to my private, handwritten journal, emails to friends, or messages with my mother.

But I can’t describe how helpful it is for me to read about other people’s experiences in order to validate and understand my own. Blogs like Adventures in Life and LivingDili Dally and Timor Seesaw have been indescribably illuminating, comforting, helpful and interesting for me in settling into life in Timor-Leste, and I’ve read thousands more online posts about countless other thoughts, concerns and ideas. As dopey as it sounds, reading blogs is a big thing for me. So, if there’s even the most minuscule thing I can contribute to a stranger like these writers have to me I want to give it a shot.

Which, I suppose, is my inevitable answer: things will stay as they are; I will keep writing about the things I think worth documenting, a handful of people will keep finding them and clicking on them, the majority will pass by. I likely needn’t feel self-conscious about a sudden uptick in subscribers or readers and just as soon as another sensationalist article about Timor-Leste’s democratic decline appears on the Diplomat my small blog will be washed from ETAN’s feed and expats’ memories.

But I’ll keep that small lesson from the panicked moment I had when I logged in late on Sunday afternoon and saw columns of reader numbers higher than I’d ever seen before. Then, I gaped a little, scanned my archives to see where people were looking, then promptly shut my laptop, picked up my journal, and walked up to Bayleaf Restaurant where I knew I wouldn’t see anyone else and ordered a beer and opened my diary, just like I did those first few evenings in the brand-new hostel courtyard when I knew no-one but Laura and wanted to process all of it, and wrote pages and pages and saw the sun set bubblegum pink against the palms. I understand just as much as did back then (very, very little),  and the flame has dimmed under my intense yearning to process, but I still want to share what I see and learn.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading; thank you for being interested in this.



One response to “500 days of Dili”

  1. Jill and John Raynor Avatar
    Jill and John Raynor

    It’s always fascinating reading and wonderful insights to your life and life in Dili. How exciting was it when we met a young gGerman tourist who had read every word before embarking on his first trip to Dili? Keep the blogs coming please – they’re wonderful!. Love from one-un-biased mother! xx

    Liked by 1 person

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