Exactly ten days ago, I returned to Dili for the last time — my trip home after a Christmas visit to Perth my very last arrival before I fly out for good in April.
I’ve done this Christmas trip once before. One year ago, I published a blog post titled How it feels returning home to Dili, in which I reflected on feeling clumsy and unsure here in Dili, nine months after my move abroad, and comparing my return from Christmas in Perth to a year previously, where I’d again made the trip to Perth from my then-home of Melbourne. (Mum and Dad, are you sick of me leaving yet?)
I was again worried about my return to Dili. I had a beautiful time in Perth — all beach trips and sunsets and good trendy coffee shops and time with my family and their dog’s glossy ombre hair and quinoa salads and belly-laughing with friends I’ve known forever — and I was apprehensive about returning to my hot dusty seaside Dili home where everyday tasks like buying a mattress take four days and six people and two phone calls and a truck and where I thought all of my friends had vacated already and I’d be alone and lonely, with the cracked-up footpath and dickhead boys hollering obscenities from the streetside and everything just a bit harder and more different than I can cope with.
Felix picked me up from the airport, unexpectedly — he’d been due to fly to Melbourne earlier that day, but his flight was changed and we had two beautiful extra days together — and immediately tried to take me to the airport’s Burger King, because it was 2pm and he hasn’t eaten and he’s an idiot. “I don’t want Burger King,” I snapped at him; we paused awkwardly, then agreed to go down the road to the equally-aesthetic Timor Plaza shopping centre, whose food court has a Burger King and vegetarian-friendly options. I’d eaten lunch there a couple of days before I left for Perth, I snap at Felix nearly every day, and the tropical warmth was a welcome change after 24 hours of sterile airport air. Fifteen minutes after passing through immigration with my new tourist visa (my work visa’s expired and I’m waiting for the new one to be processed), I was at the shops, and I was home. And it felt like normal.
“In Darwin airport I ate a terrible, $10 egg sandwich and sat tall at the window to the tarmac, typing an email to a dear friend … [who] had asked me how I felt returning to Perth over the Christmas break, reflecting on her own experience of returning to Mexico,” I wrote in that returning-to-Dili blog post. (lol remember when I was rich enough to fly through Darwin?)
“I sometimes had a strange feeling of having two (or more?) lives and not really knowing if they belonged to the same person,” my friend wrote me.
“Yet … it seemed like, no matter where we go in the world and how much growth and change these things bring us, at the core we are the same person. With everything we love and hate about ourselves.”
I reflected on that, and said in my blog post that I’d spent so much time and energy trying to untangle this idea of home, where home was for me, whether I was allowed to call Dili my home, whether I was allowed to still call Perth my home even though I was meant to be settling in to Timor-Leste.
“I can relate to my friend’s feeling of having two lives and wondering if they belong to the same person,” I concluded. “She’s right: it felt completely normal returning to Perth at the end of this blistering, hot, crazy, hard, uncomfortable, vibrant year. And right now, at the very beginning of a new year in which I have no idea what will happen – everything, from my job to my friends to the country I’m living in may change – all I know for certain is that come December 25, I’ll be joining my sisters in the pool on Christmas morning and taking a white wine from Dad as an aunt leans over the prawn basket to ask, “So Soph, what have you been UP to?” and Mum puts her carols CD on one more time. Which lets me live as many lives in between as I choose.”
I feel sweet and glowy reading these words; I am a person who always needs to know what’s coming next, who can’t handle uncertainty, who craves structure over everything — and I’m proud of my past self for leaning so enthusiastically into the unknown of the coming year, into not needing to pin down my firm, defined corners of HOME or WORK or PLANS.
Twelve months on from that post, I did have Christmas at Mum and Dad’s with prawns and wines and aunts and sisters and shitty carols, and I know I’ll do the same again in another year’s time, and I know now that I don’t need things to be spelled out for me to still have them make sense.
My last trip back to Dili. Twelve good golden weeks ahead. For now.
If you’re a Dili resident or a close follower of my Instagram, you’ll know EXACTLY where this photo was taken — after dropping Felix at the airport at an ungodly hour last Saturday morning, I went to Letefoho for a wake-up coffee, where I had a lovely and unexpected chat with an acquaintance about some interesting new volunteering work, then did an interview for a fun article I was writing, then went home and nested hard in my new solo bedroom — feeling more at home, happier, and more content than I have in Dili for a long, long time.