Close readers of this blog will know just how much time and energy I devoted to reading the posts of my predecessors—the Timor-Leste expat bloggers who came before me—before I arrived for my stint in Timor-Leste.
Back then, I couldn’t even imagine arriving in the country, let alone leaving it. To say nothing of feeling sad for leaving it.
Inevitably the top post on all these dusty old blogs was a ‘life-on-the-other-side’ reflection that spoke of joy and relief at being back home. That made sense.
One of my favourites blogs was that of Kiwis Pat and Pip (who, in that grand old Dili way, turned out to be Felix’s neighbours before he moved to our place in Farol). Their very last post is a tight 100 words updating readers on their work and activities back at home in New Zealand. In that, there’s a quick comment about how surprised they are at their number of readers: 30,000 views and climbing, they write; thanking their viewers and puzzling about their provenance.
I remember reading that three years ago and thinking simultaneously: how can anyone have THAT many blog readers and how can you have that many and not know where they COME from?
(For some context, I was living in Melbourne at the time, blogging at Sophie Rae Street, to literally two unique readers with three page views between them per day).
In one of my first weeks back at home in Perth I went with my cool 17-year-old sister Molly and her equally cool friend to watch the musician Maggie Rogers sing at the Astor Theatre in Mount Lawley. I remember mentioning this to my friend Dana one night in Dili, at one of my regular sticky-red-wine-and-dinner porch fan sessions where I tried to palm off old clothes to forgiving friends as I packed and prepared to leave. Dana knew who Maggie was and was so excited for us; I felt giddy and pleased that my Perth plans with my teenaged sister could seep into my Farol porch life and that I could then tell Molly how much Dana also liked Maggie when I was back home in the cold.
Maggie—slight, longhaired, clad in white jeans tall boots silver blouse matching eyeshadow singing loud and brave without a band for her final Astor-stage song—was phenomenal. She stopped her band at one point at the very beginning of one song, urging us to dance and sing; reminding us audience members the show was for us.
“I mean, it’s for us, too,” she said with a grin; almost an afterthought. “Deeply and desperately it’s for us.”
Deeply and desperately.
I left Timor-Leste three months ago this week. I’ve kept you vaguely updated about what I did in that first month after returning home; what my loose plans for this year are; and how I felt about leaving; but I’ve done the bulk of my processing the relocation in person, with friends and family (and with my therapist, Kellie).
I knew I had a couple of good friends leaving Dili not too long after me, so originally I thought I’d process my thoughts on leaving quickly, efficiently, and pop up a cheeky ‘9 things I wish I’d known before I left Timor-Leste’ post. It’s for them!, I thought; I could be the best-ever at leaving to make sure my friends had a smoother time, wahooo.
It’s for them, sure. Deeply and desperately, for me, too.
Hello, from the other side of the move.
To be honest, it’s been really, really easy for me to settle back into my life in Perth. In fact, almost too easy. I’ve said to a couple of friends lately that I’ve felt like the last three or four years of my life—the two years in Timor-Leste, the year in Melbourne, the year I spent living out of home in Perth in a draughty cottage on Cleaver Street—have been some of the most formative of my life. Tough and painful and challenging and rich and fun and full. I think I’ve changed as a result of those years. (I hope I’ve changed; I was a deadshit teen).
But in moving back to Perth I’ve moved back into Mum and Dad’s place on Alexander Street—into my old bedroom, with my old bed and my old car and my sister still in a school routine and my parents still roasting coffee for their work and Dad still babying the dog like she’s a fifth daughter.
It’s been instantly familiar, warm and comfortable, and easier than I could have imagined. it’s a hearty exhale; a relief. I wanted to leave Dili for Perth in particular because if I was going to leave that city I loved so much I sure as hell wasn’t going to go to a new rootless place or a city I’d lived in for 14 months a lifetime ago. I was going to go to the place I most know; the place I most know myself.
I was eating rich mushroom pho with my friend Katie in a trendy, loud Richmond restaurant at the beginning of my most recent trip to Melbourne to visit Felix. I told her all this and expressed how eerie it felt, to feel so changed inside compared to the person I last was when I lived at Alexander Street, but to have everything external to me remain almost the same.
Sure, the wholesome knitting cafe on Grantham Street is now a trendy pizza bar painted with a graphic monochrome mural, but that’s the biggest change I can see in this suburb since I left. It’s making me doubt whether what I believed was a seismic internal shift had actually happened… at all.
Over the din at Hanoi Hannah, Katie suggested, “maybe you were always this person and the change is you finally coming to terms with it.”
I loved that. I agreed.
At the beginning of this year I set myself my singular goal: to not work or study full-time, for fear of busying myself for the sake of it and missing out on this precious in-between time of not having all that many obligations or duties or to-dos. I could just sit.
And that’s what I’m doing.
I’m sitting and I’m still and I’m being newly intentional about the things I bring into my life and clear about what I do and don’t want to do.
I’m saying hard nos—choosing not to apply for jobs that I feel obligated to sign up for—and easy yeses; inviting new Instagram friends for coffee and dropping out a work day for a 11am beach walk or a bagel and a chat with an old mate. It’s easy and sunny and slow and fun and gentle calm. I’m borrowing library books, making vegan cheese, volunteering a couple of days a week at a centre for storytelling, drinking white wine on Friday afternoons with old clever friends, buying beeswax on Gumtree to make my own food wraps, using em dashes without spaces and visiting the op shop and teasing my sister and keeping track of my steps and eating hummus and only just realising today that Satchmo has coffee loyalty cards.
And in all that sitting, all that stillness, all that deliberateness—in both its inevitable boredom and discomfort as well as the easy sunny slothing—all the things I tell myself I should do, all the expectations and plans and tasks I have for myself, all the pace and bluster and noise are slipping away; sliding off. They have no purchase anymore because I’m choosing not to get myself snagged. I feel closer to myself than I ever have before; quieter and more comfortable alone with myself. I am for myself and I am close to myself.
A small confession.
I come into the back end of this blog from time to time—I want to write more posts but I’m like come on, Soph, you left that place; let sleeping dogs lie and focus on where you are right now. Be in Perth, don’t be in Dili. (And, because I’ll never write that how-to-move-back-home listicle post, a sentence-long summary is that: being home is beautiful, everyone else was right; in preemptively missing Timor-Leste I forgot how good it feels to be back home and to feel back inside myself, normal and subtle and fluid again; that is surely a textbook home definition and it is good to live it; I get really jealous watching Dili friends’ Instagram stories but social media was never going to make me feel great about myself and overall I am home I am here it is good).
This WordPress account automatically opens on my stats page, because I can’t remember the url for the normal dashboard, so I see every time I check how many visits and views I have here. And I’m exactly the same as the Kiwis, Pat and Pip were. Forty thousand views from ten thousand people over the last two-and-a-half years. I say that not to boast (well, um, to boast a little), but to express the same deep awe and appreciation and vague polite confusion. Who are you all? How did you come here? Why are you interested? (How many computers does my mother have?!)
Thank you, thank you, thank you to anyone who’s read or opened or shared or liked this blog, especially to the handful of people who have gone out of their way to email me about a particular post. I cannot tell you how much all of this means to me. I’m touched and humbled and completely overwhelmed.
I feel like myself when I write on this blog. That’s why it’s hard to stop writing here and why I’m puzzled and pleased that a handful of people every day come back to it. I love this. I don’t want to lose this attachment to my life in Dili; I don’t want to lose this practise of reflection, of writing, of sharing. One of the things this blog has taught me—one of the many things my time in Dili has taught me—is that I am a person who is forthcoming and I’m really proud of that.
That city’s golden sun melted away so much for me that was unhelpful. Today I dream of home and not of Dili anymore but that city, that home, that person I was there that person I go to be while I was there will forever be under my skin. Well-stocked supermarkets and buses with schedules will never substitute for hot metal microlets and market kangkung.
In that post I wrote reflecting on readying to leave Timor-Leste, I wrote: “I didn’t move overseas and find myself. I didn’t move overseas to find myself. That was never the point. I’m going back now to go home; to go home to Perth; home to the person I have been all along.”
This was an EXPENSIVE and DRAWN-OUT journey but oooffffff it was a good one. Thank you, DEEPLY AND DESPERATELY, for being on it with me.