Here, more than anything: On two years in Timor-Leste

At the bottom of the blog post I wrote yesterday, on the first of this month, on the first day of the last month I’ll spend living here in Timor-Leste, I pasted in a scrap of a lyric that read I want to be here more than anything. 

A simple, clear and true reflection of the fact that I don’t want to leave Dili. And a deeper probe to remind myself to stay present; to not flick forward five weeks just because I know it’s coming up; to not expend all my energy in fretting and missing and pre-mature nostalgia and wake up one day soon to find I’ve forgotten these final few weeks in my golden-honey home; to remain still and steady and strong.


Today it’s the second of March, two years to the day since I moved here. To acknowledge the day, Laura and I did the same thing as we did this time last year: we went to Agua de Coco, the tiny skinny Lecidere cafe with its cold coconuts on lime-green plastic plates and $1 kafe Timor and bright colourful bowls of chopped-up fruit salad. It’s where we went for breakfast and a briefing the very first morning we arrived in Dili; it’s where we went this time last year to celebrate our first full year here.

I, of course, reflected on that first year here on this blog. On the actual anniversary day, I wrote, I didn’t feel particularly special or different; life just felt like normal. I concluded that was a good thing — representative of how comfortable and at-home I feel here — and spent much of that blog post musing on what I described as the Cleaver year: the first year I lived out of my parents’ house, the first year I worked, the first year I made big choices by myself and simultaneously brought upon myself stress and sadness and easy golden joy. I’m nostalgic for that year, I wrote, because I chose it; because I made it happen; it didn’t just happen to me. And I wrote that I felt the same way about the Timor year. For all the stress, discomfort, embarrassment and stress it brought me, it also crashed friendship and newness and richness and perpetual summer sun.

I chose Timor-Leste like I chose everything that first year I realised I was in charge of what happened to me. I have chosen this life, this version of myself who lives here, over the cooler, calmer Sophie in her boots and black skinnies in Melbourne, or the girl who would still be walking with her Cleaver housemates to the coffee shop for Saturday takeaways. I’m fiercely and enormously grateful to the opportunities I’ve had that have landed me here. Here in Timor-Leste, in this rich, wild, vibrant, dusty, sweat-stinking life.


I assumed that this time around, year two, I’d similarly want to turn my thoughts back to the past: to reflect on the year that’s been. But I don’t; not really.

I want to remember some things. I want to remember moving to my new house; choosing to live with Felix without knowing what it was or what it could be and then what it of course became. Cooking in that cramped hot kitchen, making soup and pancakes and dumplings and sushi and falafel and hot pot and omelettes and huge messes and the fan whirr-whirring on Sarah’s insistence we buy it and carrying it out to the verandah to cool the sweat-sticky necks of the wine-drinking book club ladies and where did you get this cheeeeese. Its tick-tick oven for my belching stinking sourdough and the half-cooked crumble I pulled into a bote for a damp walk out to dinner. Remember the day mana threw out the bread? And Sadhie and Felix singing cross-legged on the floor and living so close to Black Box it’s our Christmas party place and a quick trip home for a change of clothes at midnight in a sweaty shrieking dancefloor with melting clinking ice cubes oh doben oh doben furak and sitting ramrod at the high bench up there, school breeze and coffee delivered in a spilling cup and a wooden drawer, and Felix and I going to Talk About Our Problems while mana politely wiped the bench behind us. New places, new friends, new traditions, new routines. The early-morning Farol beach walks and the sweaty stop-ins at Letefoho. Those women helping me decide a tricky job question and counselling me through the worst work and the worst fight in easy breezy Oecusse with sickly tinned fruit and a Palm Beach sunset. Shrieking giggling kids squirming in the back of the Tiida and cold tasi naruk and skinny arms clinging as we played and played in the sea. My neighbours, my friends, my work, my routines. Myself; who I am in this place, who I am this second year when I’m stretching out muscled limbs; no longer a shaky colt teetering as I walk. Softening like butter in the golden sun.


But I don’t want to spend my energy, my time, thinking about the past. I want to be here more than anything. I said to Felix on the phone last night that these two years in Timor have been the two best of my life, and I meant it — and I don’t want to use my final few weeks here ruminating on what’s come before, lest I forget to be awake to my days, lest I reflect away the live show.

Two years in Timor-Leste. Five weeks to go.

Two years in Timor-Leste. These have been two of the hardest years of my life: I’ve never felt the depths of powerlessness, of discomfort, of anxiety, of stress, of depression, of worthlessness, of boredom, of plain-old out-of-place that I have during these two years. I’m about to say it’s more than worth it, but I know this won’t be very helpful — if I were reading this post two years ago I’d say no thanks all the same; I don’t want whatever goodness comes as a result of all that, I just to have a small, normal, easy life. I don’t want high drama.

The only way around is through.

But these have been two of the best years of my life; and they’ve not been particularly dramatic. At breakfast today I told Laura I wanted to raise a coffee-cup toast to us, but that I felt sheepish for celebrating, because what about our lives here is hard? What have we endured? Here in Dili, I eat fresh cheap organic local vegetables every day. I have some of the best friends I’ve ever made and it’s normal not weird to hang out four times a week. I can get to wherever I need to be in ten minutes and pull right up at the front door without worrying about parking or paying. I’m a minute from the beach and the sun shines for twelve hours every day. Coconuts are $1 and the sun shines eternally. I’m friends with my landlords and their kids are some of the best, brightest, funniest I’ve ever known. I got paid for the thrill of learning a new language; now I laugh myself to tears each week paying for the privilege of two hours at LELI with Laura and our Indonesian teacher. I drink fresh orange juice and road-trip to cloud-wreathed mountains where we stay for free in exchange for stories round the dinner table and red wine shared with new French friends. I’ve seen brilliant tropical reefs and the top of a mountain; I’ve stayed in tiny villages and swish hotels I couldn’t dream to afford. My secondhand wardrobe is my most stylish ever and it cost me a handful of coins. My colleagues don’t want me to leave the office and have asked my boss to hire me back so I don’t stray. I’ve had more success with writing than I deserve, I have a reason to write this blog, I have full-saturated colour all day long in the brightest, best, most brilliant place I’ve ever lived. I can’t tell you how much I’ll miss this; how badly I want to see year three out.


But I don’t want to live in the future. if I come back to Timor-Leste it’ll be because I want it; because it’s important to me. If it’s meant to happen it will happen, and I don’t mean that in a wafty fate-y way; if it’s important to me at the other end of my next stretch I’ll make the third or fourth or fifth. I want to be here, now, at least.

I want to be here more than anything. I want to be here more than anything.


4 responses to “Here, more than anything: On two years in Timor-Leste”

  1. […] As we roll into March and my 10 April return to Australia looms close and real, I’ve set myself the task of writing a Timor-Leste to-do list: not to be too prescriptive or panicked about my last few weeks here, but to ensure I’m making the most of the precious time I still have here; to focus my vagrant, flighty attention on the present and to live, fully, here, for five more weeks — five more full, wonderful, intentional weeks. […]


  2. […] We replied that we thought it would be fun; that we thought the language would be useful for us, and it’s got hundreds of thousands of speakers here in Timor-Leste; and for me, that starting something new in my last few weeks here would help me focus on staying present. […]


  3. […] but ultimately far more rewarding for the fact that I had elected them myself. And a year on, on my second anniversary, I reflected on wanting to be here, more than anything; to be present and clear-eyed facing my […]


  4. […] two different years. A cheesy Timor soundtrack. Tips for living in Dili. Tips for driving in Dili. On two years living in Timor-Leste. The list to complete before I […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: