Dear Sophie, six months from now,
The year I lived in Melbourne, I wrote on my blog a post called ‘Dear Sophie, six months from now‘, in which I reflected on a change I saw coming — my move to Timor-Leste — and promised to again contemplate my life six months down the track. Half a year on, from sunny Dili, I did just that, but forgot to update another six months later. Now, ahead of another big change I’m nearly prepared to share here, I wanted to indulge once again in introspection.
Heavy with details and hope and anticipation, sixteen tabs open, a second scab on my left knee from a fall last week on a waterfall hike, life in Dili is sunny and slow and good and charged and full. Two blog posts open, glimpses into my heart from fifteen and twenty-one months ago, arbitrary numbers representing a whole world. From Dili I wrote about flicking the switch on the office AC after returning dripping with sweat from a sweet-tempeh warung lunch and cringing at home feeling anxious and guilty for lacking the vocab and context for chit-chatting with neighbour Angelina. Colour-coded bookshelves and a long to-do list perhaps a clutch at control. It’s funny how slowly things change. I’m again brooding over not knowing a neighbour, enrolling anew in Tetun classes like more words in my vocabulary will help me unknot life here, tahini on toast, stovetop coffee and new friends all the time, cycling foreigners coming through how-long-have-you-been-here-for-where-do-you-work-ah-yeah-cool-yeah. Cool.
Tears pricking hot in the back of my eye reading about my self-described silliness, back then. Out loud, I’ve taken Timor’s all-pervading newness as license to be silly; to delight in everything, to have a good time. I giggled your way through a lunchtime coffee yesterday (it might have been the best coffee I’d ever had!), I wave gaily to every streetside fruit seller, and every time a waiter sets down my food in a restaurant I lock eyes, clasp my hands together and chirp earnestly, “Oh, mana! Amaaaaazing!”, and I mean it.
Last week Felix to me, you don’t laugh as much anymore, I miss it when you were happy. You and me both, mate. But am I sad?
I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m burned out or burning close. It’s not Dili it’s me it’s me. Too much work too much pressure furrowed brow and skyscraper expectations can’t catch a breath can’t slow down for fear of falling down.
I realised on the waterfall hike, slipping slick rocks and balancing atop a concrete irrigation channel with a two-metre-long drop on the right that I’m so afraid of falling I forget to enjoy the view. If I examine my feet closely enough, my mind says, I’ll successfully stay put and nothing bad will ever happen. I can’t control that. Have faith in the fall and reorientation. Electric-green rice fields sweeping out to the horizon. He is good and he will pull you back up.
Dear Sophie, six months from now, Timor-Leste will be your memories not your present, you’ll wish you looked up from your feet, right? Every moment now suddenly feels sodden with meaning, with pregnant ripe lessons quivering full and heavy on the tip of a branch, ready to fall if I’m there to catch. Sour tamarind in your cheeks. You can’t control what comes next. Don’t serve pride. Have more faith. Your productivity is not your worth. Go slow to go far. Put it in the wrong place to see where it goes.
And the lesson from Melbourne, from my cake-shop boss still ringing true two years and a country on, don’t forget to enjoy it.
Twenty-one months ago. November, 2016. I knew I was leaving Melbourne and everything seemed similarly important, charged, tightrope precise. Tired and tender, I wrote back then. You want to keep remembering. Three-dollar banksia and a new crush and Fleetwood Mac as you close up the cake shop; silverbeet rolled into puff pastry and late-night phone calls and new vocabulary and an election aftermath and that singlet you still wear here and the last time you felt really comfortable in your body then you ripped it apart tumbling off your bike.
You just got back up and rode home.
Dear Sophie, six months from now, you wrote in May 2017, fifteen months ago, I hope the Dili heat seeps into your tense Melbourne muscles and loosens you up. Now, I’m tired and tense, but relieved and releasing, it’s not Melbourne it’s me, it’s me. Drinking $2 cold brews up at Black Box and crunching the ice fingers flying over a keyboard. Homemade sourdough and thick butter from the gold tin, sweet emails muscled nudes and bitten-down fingernails and practising the gears in the manual car susuk, time with the people I need and pages and pages of books flying by. Happy-hour wines and feel curled up on the couch, early wet-season rains bruising the sky behind. Not bothering to polish my words and feeling relief at speaking plainly. You don’t have to nail it all the time. Korean and Nigerian authors and Chinese hot pot for dinner. A lemongrass plant still waiting to be potted and a Pantone blue-brand webmail whirling on the screen. An email to academics, writers, journalists. Sunscreen slicked on shoulders and heart racing hot and thrilled marching high into the hills of a place I didn’t know existed. Tears of laughter and red wine on a Wednesday, tinned fruit for breakfast and the black-sand beaches. Quiet comfort alone at home, walking from work with the sunset dusky and the mauns saying haree dalan when you tell them you’re just walking. The kulu-hun and ai-kafe and bright bougainvillea and a handshake at Haburas and thumbs up with the ai-kameli. Koto in the carpark. There is so much for you here.
This is not an epitah. This is not the end. Say that every day to yourself until you believe.
I ended my AVID assignment at the end of January this year and let myself fall into relative uncertainty and unknown, months stretching ahead of a life in Dili I hadn’t planned nor contemplated. And I bobbed to the surface and have had friends and family there holding my arms up since, encouragement and advice and sympathy and work and help and wines drunk and dinners cooked. I’m tired now; I’m bobbing scared of the next step. Is it a homecoming or is it new, again?
Dear Sophie, six months from now, you’ll know for sure by now and I hope you don’t forget how this feels. Thrilling. Tired and tender, but full of hope and promise.
The sun is shining in Dili. The sun is shining in you. (Too cheesy? Too bad).