Remember how you handed me a cherry blossom, starts the first sentence of the last paragraph of Leah Jing’s poetic tender bruised essay blossom, the last thing I read today, the first day of March, the last full month I’m here before I go home, drenched already in sweet blush-pink nostalgia; turning my thoughts to missing and leaving and returning.
It’s funny how quickly I can settle back into a routine of being here; slip back into long tired unproductive afternoons behind a computer and fridge-chilled red wines under fluorescent porch light and long lazy weekend days dozing with a book at the cafes at the beach. There’s always something more to do — I’ve gotten caught up in myself a few times recently; feeling frantic and overwhelmed and all-too-much, panicked thrashing in shallow water — but there’s always something more to do. A slow stinking sourdough to mix. A Bintang boot to open on a Tuesday. A pile of market dresses to sort through. An old friend newly arrived here. A pot full of hot bubbling beans to mix. A deadline to meet. The rain to avoid. Someone to farewell and someone to welcome home.
It’s the shortest month but it’s been big and long and hard and full. Leaving has turned from a distant through to a sudden present rush; seeing things happening in Dili I’ll miss out on, seeing things happening in Perth and Melbourne I won’t yet be back for. Applying half-heartedly for jobs I can’t start anyway. Sadhie came back and Sarah already left.
Here’s what happened in February.
What I read
Mullumbimby, Pieces of Happiness, The Arsonist, A Hologram for the King.
Leah Jing on bodies and belonging. Black is the New White. Does Duolingo Work? The heroes of the Thai cave rescue. Daniel Mallory’s deception. What to do when you feel nervous inside your comfort zone. Melissa Davey’s Pell reporting. We sat in court for months, forbidden from saying a word. Your hipster kimchi never could. TikTok cool girls. Sally Rooney gets in your head. Lunch poems. Things we know for sure about Marilyn.
Three stupid googles
- What does a Kindle look like when it is charging
- Star Wars villain forehead
- Miss Maud’s Perth
What I wrote
What I started
Walking to work again; with my blonde straw hat and a stop-in at Hotel Timor for a coffee on my way. Sunscreen-ed arms and a grin to the guys hanging outside the office; dusky bubblegum sunsets a sweet reward on the way home.
Sending fan mail emails to the writers I admire. Sending fan mail to Felix.
Indonesian classes with my dear friend Laura; spluttering with a child’s laughter in our first lesson; I’m not allowed to laugh at this, flashbacks to our early Tetun classes together of an age ago, how can we be so bad again at something? La pergunta. Tida apa. What?
Taking the neighbours’ kids to the beach; learning naruk is how you describe deep deep water and learning that these brave bolshy shrieking kids, all gangly brown arms and thrashing legs; are brane until the water cools and then all of a sudden let’s go back in. And now out away. Greasy pizza grins and lazy in the sand.
Three simple joys
- Receiving from Felix’s dad the book of Timorese idioms he wrote himself
- Seeing my first-ever crocodile; a tiny 50cm baby in the canal to the sea
- Learning new dear friends are returning to Dili, to this house
Panicked, anxious, overwhelmed, sweating and scatting and it’s all too much so focused on everything I’m not doing I forget to see what’s here; hot fat anxious tears I thought I’d left all this behind. Uncomfortable reflective self-awareness I don’t like how I’m being right now and I don’t know how to stop it.
What I cooked
A thick heavy squelchy sourdough. Baked tempeh, long-distance over the phone with Felix. Wok noodles for one. Beans beans beans boiled beans. A note on the fridge door to remind me if they’re boiled or only soaked, the title of my memoir. Stir-fried mushrooms, oily and salty and spitting in the pan. Fehuk dikin, forerai dikin, the leaves and stems of potato and peanut plants. Tiny young green pumpkins bought roadside.
One thing I ate
What I spent my money on
Beer. Baby pumpkins. Pizza. Flowers for Mum. Thai massages; two of them. Olive oil. Sloppy burgers; two of them. A new gas bottle. Car rental. Books. Etha’s visa. One big $3 red wine at Hotel Timor’s slick bar.
How many times I ordered takeaway from the Bangladeshi place last week
Where I went
To Kasait, in the Liquica foothills, for a two-day-long transformation workshop with Plan International. Laura and I joke about how much Plan loves a workshop — sometimes I think I’ve spent more time in the back of workshops and meetings and seminars and trainings over the last year than I have actually in the office — but this series of sessions, part of a deeply introspective global reflection about our unique purpose and value in this environment, and how we can meaningfully implement Plan’s new global strategy within Timor-Leste’s context, was hard and gritty and good and important. We can still understand when you draw with your left hand. Sleepover showtunes. Climbing the hill in the eucalyptus scrub to find reception to call Felix.
To Letefoho, the coffee-forest mountain town where his family is from, with three sweet friends and a hot slick Prado. Sharing red wine on the dusky balcony with the Tetun-speaking French volunteers who live downstairs. Shopping for lakeru dikin and one-buck collared shirts and deep-fried doughnuts at the sunblazed morning markets with the mana who tugged my elbow away from the stallholders she didn’t like. Walking up the rocky steps of the snake’s tail to the Jesus statue in the first drips of a rainstorm, those creepy white-shot eyes bearing out in the gloom. Laughing and talking and round and round the dinnertable with the padres; konta istoria, tell a story, make sure it starts loron ida…
And to Aileu, just this week, a Plan trip for a sexual and reproductive health training session, all big plastic banners and lined-up chairs and a wailing keyboard band and snack tables with platters of dosi and cassava and sweet potato and swirly Swiss role and little bowls of aimanas and huge dispeners of coffee and pink plastic coffee cups (I was asked this week on a Skype call what some classic Timor household items are; the first thing that came to mind was a bule and plastic cups for sweet black coffee). And fiercely articulate young people speaking their minds and a good hard happy sense at the end of a long day, bumping back home down the pot-holed Dare road, frantically trying to finish this month’s book club book in the day’s last dying light.
How many tabs I have open
39, in just one window.
One small moment of calm
Lyrics I copied down
Today I dream of home and not of London anymore
I found myself when I was going everywhere
This time, I know I’m back in my body
And I promise I’ll take care of you / if you promise to let me
I stayed up all night thinking of ways to tell you / that my whole life I been here waiting for you
The sky is stained by the city / yeah it’s not pretty but it’s exactly what it deserves
I want to be here more than anything
I want to be here more than anything.
Four things for next month
- Buy mustard seeds
- Say hard nos and only cheap yeses
- Make Indonesian flash card
- Be here, more than anything