To be a beginner

Manleuana Market, Dili entrance

It’s the end of Sunday as I sit here typing, thinking idly back on a beautiful sunny weekend day. Full of gentle new things.

This morning, I woke up early to mash my goopy sourdough into its final shape and bake it, the last step in a seven-day-long procedure. I wasn’t sure it’d work out: this was my first-ever time trying sourdough, I didn’t have the scales required to carefully weight the ingredients, I wasn’t sure of the quality of my suspiciously fine-looking Indonesian flour, and I had a scare on day three when the bubbling sourdough starter suddenly got very thin and slimey and quiet (an adolescence, perhaps?). But I didn’t care. I had no expectations of the bread working out, I explained to a friend this morning at brunch, after I’d just shown a triumphant photo of the resulting chewy, dense, holey, beautiful loaf, like a proud mother with her newborn — I just wanted to give it a try. My neurotic, high-pressure, self-critical mind went easy on itself with the experimental bread — knowing my status as a beginner eased pressure and let me simply enjoy myself.

IMG_3816[1]Scraps of sourdough. I’m so proud of my firstborn.

I went straight from brunch to Dili’s Manleuana market, a sprawling local market with hundreds of stalls selling second-hand OB clothes, bags and shoes; small tables with vegetables and tofu and leafy greens; and an enormous corner selling the flowers, plants, cacti, trees and shrubs I’d come to find.

Felix and I have talked at length about growing edible plants in our yard, and I’d gone to Manleuana for the sole purpose of finding us something to plant. One hour, six clothing stalls, two dresses and a skirt later, I stopped procrastinating and headed for plant shop row. I nervously fingered the leaves of a couple of plants as I wandered non-noncommittally past — I hate not instinctively knowing the Way Things Go; in the plant section I didn’t have the security of knowing rough prices or the Tetun vocabulary or who the most likely seller of the item is like I do in the clothes section. But a grinning old woman with betel-stained teeth took pity on me, stopping me in front of her stall to point to each of her plants and its corresponding price. They were beautiful, but I tried to explain I was after herbs. “Atu… ha’an?” I asked, hesitantly. Intend to eat.

IMG_3823[1]Five years after they first became trendy, I’m now officially a plant dickhead

She nodded brusquely and walked me over the the long row of unoccupied stalls, indicating she also sold here. She dragged out a lemongrass — three dollars, she said — and called to her neighbour that I was looking for chili. The woman at the neighbouring stall came round with a chilli plant, and then motioned to the pile of sacks of soil I’d wanted to ask about but didn’t know how to. “Rai?” she asked, gesturing. The word for land; of course it’s soil! I couldn’t carry all three but said I’d bring my car around; by the time I returned the women had called a man to lift the spindly saplings into my boot. I said thank you and waved goodbye and they grinned red-teethed betel smiles, and I coasted out of the market maze and headed quickly home.

Manleuana Market, Dili entrance Approaching the markets.

Quickly, to make my driving lesson with Ramy. After our disastrous turn in Same, Felix and I agreed for the sake of our relationship that he wouldn’t try again to teach me how to drive a manual car, so I called in the services of my kind friend Ramy. I babbled a long, explanation as we sat in neutral out the front of my house: I’m not very good at this I’m dumber than you’ll think I am I hate being bad at things I might yell at you I’m sorry in advance.

Ramy, perhaps the calmest, most gentle person I know, patiently guided me through an hour-long lesson in which no one cried, no one lost their temper, no one panicked during a stall, and no one vowed off either teaching or learning. Ramy’s patience with me made me remember that even though I know how to drive a car, even though I’ve had a couple of manual lessons, it’s ok to take time learning and it’s unhelpful to give power to the scatty thoughts in my head that convince me I’m trash and none of it’s worthwhile if I don’t immediately nail it.

“Steering’s the most important thing,” he reminded me, as I drifted into the right lane fussing around with the gear stick. “Steering and braking.”

I replied that I thought it’d be clutch and gears. Nope. It’s not as complicated as I’m making it in my head; the same old driving principles apply.

Without the pressure to be good at driving, I enjoyed the lesson. Without the pressure to ‘know’ the markets, I enjoyed my plant shopping. And without the pressure to nail the new-to-me bread-baking, I fell in love with sourdough.

A beautiful, gentle Sunday. Welcome newness and a small relief from the rules in my own mind.



2 responses to “To be a beginner”

  1. […] make sourdough bread. I managed all three — I made four loaves of bread and delighted in being a beginner. I bought garden plants and tried to drive our manual car. I felt calm and happy, reflecting on how […]


  2. […] which ultimately revealed a new core truth, to be less capable; grown herbs in the garden and made sourdough bread; started threading my eyebrows and trying to remember the details people tell me of their lives so […]


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