Hello, from 2019 — it’s 4:41pm on a Thursday after Indonesian class, you’re sitting up at Castaway with the sea breeze coming in and the light just starting to fade and blush over the esplanade, and you’re thinking, as you have been lately, about comings and goings. You’ve lived in Timor-Leste for about seven hundred and forty-nine days and in about twenty more you’ll be back home in Perth; three big full hot years away boomeranging back round to home.
Over a couple of years you reflected every six months; writing letters to your future self; opening tabs each time you started a new one and thinking of early hot dripping sweaty Dili days and wobbly wavering splintering under it all, tinned fruit and sunscreen-slicked shoulders half a year on. Cold brew coffee and butter from a gold tin. Bruised skies and bitten-down fingernails. Crunching gears gritted teeth in the car.
It was the other end of the wet season and you’d booked flights home.
Now, those dates that seemed so far away are nearly here; it’s counting single days not weeks and last-one-last-one I can’t come to that I’ll have left by then. Tired and tender, you wrote; don’t forget how this feels.
Don’t forget how this feels. This time, we’re looking back.
Two years ago this month you were preparing to leave Australia; teeth gritted against what you assumed would be a hard, hot, lonely eighteen months.
You’d just do a year, you figured–stay until Christmas, and if you didn’t like it, you’d just come home. Grit your teeth, get through it; just come home.
You were in Perth for a week in late sticky February, lonely for Melbourne and forcing someone who didn’t have it to spend time with you. You didn’t read your baggage allowance properly and panic-paid a seventy dollar excess weight fee under Perth Airport flourescents and hot tears pricking. You messaged someone else from a Darwin hotel and ate container Chinese on a huge white bed; you pounded a treadmill to calm your racing mind and to maybe look hot arriving in the tropics, or something; you had your baggy cotton pants and droopy long skirts and packet-new Kindle ready to go. You’d read the blogs and practised the greetings and over-packed everything and thought you were ready.
I want to give you advice; if I could I’d think of reaching back through the seven hundred days and a lifetime that separate us; hold your hand and tell you it’ll be ok. But of course it will be ok. You won’t be cosmically punished for the choices you make. Your life is rubber and it’ll pop into place. And for that I don’t need to advise you; it works out for you. You’re lucky. You always fall on your feet, your mum says, and you do again this time. That’s all you need to know.
Eleven months after you move you’ll write on this blog a post you still like now; about forgetting that it’d be fun here. It’s a privilege, not a prison sentence, you’ll write; as much as it may be stinking open sewers and windowless administrative offices and men masturbating on beach road and awkward slow hot uncomfortable mistakes, it’s also endless skies and day-long sunshine and a minute’s walk to the beach and friendships on fast-forward and fresh passionfruit six for a dollar and a new language thrill and beep-beep scooters and gentle friends and patient landlords and hot greasy pisang goreng shared under a dripping porch in the rain and dancing sweaty and barefoot at the pub round the corner and the green hills after months of wet-season rain and everyone knowing your name and asking where you’re going and walking home in a big blonde sunhat and sour tamarind in your cheeks and a eucalyptus forest and shrieking giddy Monday wine on the porch and the reverential richness of a deep new culture and your front-row seat for witnessing rebirth. The chance to learn patience, grace, resilience.
You survive it. And you have an incredible time.
Your time in Timor will throw you ends over each other; it’ll exhaust you and frustrate you and make you cry and sweat and spit and swear and hate it all and want to go home. You’ll deliberately, resentfully, slowly, gladly, constantly chip chip chip every day to make this your home; one day it will feel like normal and you’ll forget to think. It will be hot and hard and good; I promise; it’ll be the best thing you could have ever done for yourself and I know you, I know, I know you’re reading this right now thinking no thanks no worries I don’t want the goodness that comes with all that I’ll just stay here thanks all the same. But you’re wrong. You want it. You’ll drink it dry.
You’ll learn things about yourself, you’ll grow, you’ll change–you think for the better–you’ll lower your expectations of yourself and grow kinder and warmer and more compassionate; you’ll feel stupider and more awkward and more uncomfortable than you ever thought possible; you’ll dig the depths of your thoughts and push them out further; you’ll radicalise, a bit; you’ll listen to more pop music and say when you don’t know. You’ll pick fights and bruise your own pride. But beyond all of that, further than whatever you’ll learn, you’ll just want to be here. You will see how much there is for you here, how much there is within you here, and you’ll just want to be here, more than anything anything anything else.
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