Why did you move to Timor-Leste? It’s the question I had at the front of my mind as I poured through Timor-Leste expat blogs in the months before I moved up here. Reading stories of road trips and bakery breakfasts, I didn’t doubt that the lifestyle seemed sweet, but you don’t move countries for a hilltop view or a strong long black, right? So what was the pull?
In facing my own move home–I’ll be returning to Australia in April next year–I’ve finally decide to answer this for myself. That question, why did you move to Timor-Leste, of course contains two: why did you move, and why Timor-Leste?
Here’s my answer.
This one’s easier for me to answer because it’s logical. You may know that the year before I moved to Timor-Leste, I was living in Melbourne and doing communications work with a youth-run anti-poverty NGO called Oaktree. Oaktree sent me and a few others on the annual Timor-Leste monitoring and evaluation trip, and I got a sense of the country, had my nervy, cynical expectations completely conquered, and experienced enough of an easy island life to realise upon my return to Melbourne how burned out I was and how little I wanted to continue in my role.
I quit, continued working a few shifts a week at my casual cafe job, and started searching for new employment.
Something like 30 applications and a month later I’d heard nothing, and I remember pulling out my laptop at the cafe when the late-September rain prevented me from cycling home after a shift. With a hot chocolate by my side I finished another job application, and was browsing Facebook before I hit send. I saw a sponsored Facebook post for the AVID volunteering program, clicked through, and saw a comms role in Timor-Leste closing that week. I felt nowhere near experienced enough to do it, but knew the fact I’d just returned from a comms trip to Timor-Leste would count in my favour, and, with my already-polished resume, hit apply. I finished the AVID application before the hot chocolate, got an interview the following week, and was in pre-departure training just a couple of months later.
Why did you move?
This one’s more difficult for me to answer. I had a beautiful life in Melbourne and I didn’t feel ready to leave; I actually cried when I got the job offer. And I always thought when I left Melbourne it’d be to return home to Perth.
I told friends at the time that my reason for leaving was twofold: one, I had the opportunity to take the role, and I didn’t want to say no just because I was scared.
I imagined my 40-year-old self saying “oh, when I was 25 I had the opportunity to live and work in Timor-Leste, but I didn’t take it,” and the pre-emptive shame I felt at that was enough alone to pull the trigger. But I also knew, deep down, that a huge part of the reason I enjoyed living in Melbourne was that while I had beautiful friends there, most of whom were transient people not originally from that city. I knew that by leaving I’d be opening myself to the very real possibility of returning one day to find none of them there, to find a shell city absent the beating heart I craved.
I also knew I couldn’t plan my life and activities around what other people wanted for themselves. I was not going to stay in Melbourne just in case my friends forgot to leave — I had an opportunity and I could take it.
In the last two years, I’ve softened towards myself and I’m unsure whether that first argument would carry much weight now: I’m now all for avoiding things that are overly challenging; life is hard itself without us making it worse. But the second remains, especially as I prepare to leave Dili.
I’ve been a little cagey about this news, because it’s not mine alone to share, but my boyfriend Felix and I have recently decided to move back to Australia, together, to Melbourne.
We decided last month and I used my AVID flight to book a flight back for April — the booking coincidentally came through on the day I left Dili for a week in Perth, which led to this pre-preemptively nostalgic Instagram post and a couple of surprised questions about whether I was going for good.
That particular trip no, but next year; yes. I’m nervous and excited about moving back. I fear my sweet saturated memories will prove over-exaggerated, and I’m worried the city won’t be what I remember. And if I can’t go back to Fitzroy North is it just like moving to another new city? I’m tired of being new; I’m tired of being the foreigner. I want a place where I can feel at home.
Felix and I had lunch together today and we talked a little about the move. He mentioned he was feeling a little nervous about relocating — just like I was before coming to Timor-Leste. I reminded him of the state I whipped myself into before my move two-ish years ago: I got so caught up in worrying about change and loss and difference, I forgot that it would be fun.
Now, as we face another move, I’m thinking back to that nervous, obsessive younger me, desperate for answers and understanding and explanations and A Plan and a Purpose for my decision and a capital-A answer. Why did you move?
A better question. Why not?