I’ve been back in Dili after my end-of-year trip to Perth for just shy of three weeks, but it already feels like months — this is a very, very good place to settle back into. While my dizzy declarations at the end of last year that I’d be working less and taking more time for myself have faltered ever so slightly, I’ve overall had a good, steady, welcome-back kind of month; a dog nosing round its bed in circles before settling down.
I started January in Perth, like I have every year of my life, like I will every year after this one. Golden days of ocean swims and sunsets and warm slow park afternoons, of eating and laughing with the people who have known me forever, where it’s always easier and not just because I’m on holiday.
But I was happy to return to Dili; my usual solo-transit-nerves dashed the minute I saw Felix at the airport arrival gate; him saying I haven’t had lunch yet and me like yeah cool me neither him striding towards Burger King without a second thought me instantly passive and bitchy um what if I didn’t want Burger King. Two magic, un-real days together and one final sweaty cook-up in our cramped kitchen.
I said goodbye to Felix on a squinty Saturday morning on four hours sleep, and promptly returned home to spend a weekend cleaning, clearing, tidying, reorganising, resettling; making our room my room, colour-coding dresses, burning coconut candles, awkwardly and successfully buying a new mattress and fan and organising a fridge repair and changing bed sheets and the house is perfect, perfect, and it’s mine.
Back to work — straight into two days at Plan, two days at AI-Com, one day of freelancing from my desk with my cold soda and cracked-open window. Trips to Tibar and Dili offices to meet people to pitch stories about. Polite email chat and waiting for Squarespace to load. Feeling on the edge of something. A Monday morning hike when you set your own hours.
Time spent sitting on my neighbours’ porch. Baking tempe in the tick-tick oven. Wandering up to Black Box for an over-filled glass of wine. Raining every morning and every night. Drizzly and dear.
What I read
Homegoing, No Way! Ok, Fine, Little Fires Everywhere, The Secret Library, Unsheltered. Things I’ve mistaken for forward momentum. For years the rivers sustained us. A West Australian children’s home with a mission to ‘breed out the black’. What if the shitty thing doesn’t teach me anything. On black millennial burnout. The art of decision-making. One couple’s tireless crusade to stop a genetic killer. Ellen Page on telling the truth. Moving to a small town at 40. The Bryan Singer accusers speak out. Quietly conservative black Oscar nominees. Tara bandu homegrown justice. Why do recipe writers lie about how long it takes to caramelise onions? This cute Buzzfeed list.
What I cooked
In a jar combine peanut butter, soy sauce, white vinegar, garlic, olive oil, chili. Shake shake shake until your arms are so tired. Drizzle over tempe blocks cut into triangles. Bake.
Shred cabbage and carrot and snowpeas if you can find them; salt liberally. Mix it all together.
Crush coriander seeds with cumin and garlic and combine in a jar with olive oil, soy sauce and an improbably old can of apricots you find in the pantry, and shake shake shake pour over tempe triangles bake.
Make falafel. Remember the salt this time.
Get over-confident outside Pateo and accidentally buy two tight bags of those mystery little red plums with the passionfruits you actually wanted to get. Halve them, toss with sliced apples and un-measured sugar and crumble heavy-handed New Zealand butter and instant oats it took three shops to find on top. Bake. Realise you’re running late to book club. Carry the hot pan in a bote basket through the rain to the embassy.
Buy red wine from Centro Supermerkado and laugh with the cashier who recognises you, asks where Felix is, and suggests you buka seluk, look for another, laugh with the tiu ai leben who insists his red bananas are well-priced.
Order takeaway from the Bangladeshi place and have the guy walk it over from the shop in the rain. Cry with relief when your housemate arrives home with channa masala after a long hard day.
Late on a rainy Tuesday finish an article for which you’ll be paid $30. Limp on your Horta hike-blistered feet to the Quilina beer garden. Drink $7 worth of beer to celebrate.
Join a Facebook group called Perfect Sourdough.
Where I went
Nowhere. On purpose!
I felt sad earlier this month when I realised that giving up my contracts with Unicef and Plan would mean an end to the field trips — and Felix and I selling our car to his family means I have no way of getting myself out of Dili, beside the bus — but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but right here in Dili for now.
Two years in, five trips back, and I’m finally content just here, in this city. It’s still the same dusty devastating place that overwhelms me with simple joy and ruins me with awkward-hot-sad-sweaty-difficulty. (Does that sounds dramatic? Good).
How many tabs I have open
78, across three windows.
Three simple joys
- Running into Felix’s youngest sister on an evening beachside walk — she’s usually to shy to speak to me, but she looked me in the eye, grinned, and said “Sophie!”
- Paying my last-ever envelope of rent cash to my crusty old landlady whom I always thought hated-barely-tolerated me and feeling an unexpected wave of sadness and then pleasure, when she replied “when you come back, if the house is empty, you will come back here”
- Coming home one night to find my land-family’s kids playing dress-ups in the street in the rain; they called an English, like, proper high-English English, “helloooooo” to me as I entered the compound.
Reading one of the gorgeous scenes between Willa and her daughter Tig in this month’s book club book, Unsheltered, missing desperately my own mum, messaging her and reading the reply I miss you every minute of every day!
What I wrote
19 things for 2019. A Dili packing list. How to find work in Timor-Leste. My last trip back here. Secondhand shopping in Dili. My new favourite places. Timor-Leste’s first female pilot. The forgotten Chinese-Timorese. Bad news for the budget.
What I listened to 100 times
Maybe we’re overgrown / even the sweetest plum / has only got so long
New to me
Sam Jay’s standup. The words indolent and troglodyte. From that decision-making article, the idea of being aspirational over ambitious: having a gentle, formless sense of where you want to be, and having that guide your decision-making, rather than a strict this-then-this-then-this plan. The outrageously good bridge in Maggie Rogers’ Fallingwater. Not being too proud to ask for help.
What I spent my money on
Mattress. Kitchen fan. Red wine. Reparations. Website hosting. Thai massages; two of them. Olive oil. Three new OB dresses and a collared shirt that says fresh on the front.
Four things for next month
- Wear red, orange and gold
- Scramble tofu
- Journalling, more than you think you need
- Bread and beautiful music
That was my January. How was yours?