Here’s what happens next.
Hello, from the Town of Cambridge Library; hello, from the two-seater table pressed up against the Boulevard-side window and at the end of the shelves for Newspapers, Music, Videos and Talking Books; hello, from an unusually rainy November day in Perth, Western Australia.
I realised a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been back home in Perth after my time in Timor-Leste for six months now, which for some reason feels an auspicious period. Half a year. And I’ve had a steady trickle of traffic on this blog since I stopped posting frequently; enough to make me think someone might be interested in more of what life is like on the other side; in what happens after you leave.
I read so many expat blogs before I arrived in Timor-Leste and felt so invested in other people’s stories and experiences that after they left Timor-Leste and resumed their real lives, I felt like I’d fallen out of touch with an old friend. What happened next, I wanted to ask these strangers. Where do you get your groceries now and are the men still awful and do you have a cat and has life sped back up again?
Sophie Rai Liur, the name of this blog, is a mashing-together of my first name with the Tetun phrase rai liur, or ‘abroad’, which sounds vaguely like my surname, Raynor. It’s not quite as neat but this post is titled Sophie iha laran, literally, ‘Sophie inside’, but in a more interpretative sense, it’s the opposite of outside: within a place. Here.
This is life iha laran, six months on from leaving.
Work, living, existing
The Christmas-card summary of what I’m up to at the moment is as follows:
- Living: at home at mum and dad’s in the Perth suburb of Wembley while I decompress and figure out my next steps. It’s a dream.
- Working: I’m still working remotely one day a week doing communications for my old work AI-Com, and will be until the end of the year; I picked up a second short day-a-week contract writing for a Dili friend with a new pharmaceutical procurement business; and I’ve also done a bit of freelance article writing and copywriting (you can see my clips at my writer website, and here’s all the pieces I pitched and wrote on that recent trip back to Timor-Leste). It keeps me busy and keeps the beer fund full.
- Volunteering: about six months ago I started volunteering at a local literary arts organisation that shares stories for community connection. There, I help with their marking, social media and events, froth other people’s creativity, nurse cups of coffee all day long, and generally absorb good clever creative people’s energy. They’ll have to wheel me out the door to get me to go; I love it here.
- Felix: still great! In Dili at the moment! In Perth for Christmas and I’m counting the days til he arrives.
- Commuting: frequently, on the number 82 bus.
- Instagramming: furiously.
Grey turtlenecks. Old stale coffee in a pastel pink keep cup. Taka lunch. Boots in the rain. Instagram obsessing over other people’s breakups. Pierced ears. Corica vanilla slice. North Perth farmers’ markets. Breakfast radishes. Crushes on everyone. Sunset beach walks. One Direction. Laps at the pool. Progressive taxation starts at home. Red wine in a carafe. Red beer. Mustard and gold. Dresses with pockets. Bagged spinach. Tapered brows. Homemade muesli. Pumpkin on toast. Close to tears. Spending freely. Louis Tomlinson. Bore-stained walls. Glasses. Peppermint trees and yellow kangaroo paw. Bags to the op shop. Pull a little bit of the neighbour’s rosemary off as you walk to the bus. Lunch-rolled wraps in the tick-tick toaster. A Monday night in a theatre. Satchmo and sunsets. Phone calls in the park. Kale in the garden. Wembley Food Court. A library card. The dog licks your feet. Just popping in for a cuppa.
A daily routine
(I love knowing the specifics of people’s everyday lives and feel like a routine is illustrative of bigger things). Here’s what I think will happen tomorrow.
7:00am alarm. Snooze. 7:15am alarm. Snooze. 7:30am scroll Instagram, read messages, read news headlines. Google Perth BOM. 7:45am shower, dressed, dress and boots, downstairs, muesli and soy milk in a bowl with strawberries. No morning coffee yet because I’m trying to cut down because I read a thing that said I should. Make one in a keep cup to carry to the library. 8:30am tell Dad my day’s plans at the dining room table. 9:00am library; choose a table, get set up. Glasses, emails, read the reminders I just sent to myself tonight. Work for my pharmacy friend; writing a proposal and a presentation template and a work plan. Sippin’ sippin’ coffee. Everyone is 17. 12:30pm lunch; a wrap from home beneath the trees in the park; take my book but also take my phone; don’t read. 1:30pm back; still sippin’, emails and schedule AI-Com Facebook posts and check emails and email friends abroad and away, sippin’ sippin’. 3:30pm when the coffee’s gone and I’m bored and lazy and before swim squad takes up all the lanes go to the pool for some laps before dinner. 3:31pm I don’t want to go why am I making myself do this 3:35pm this is a great idea, go me. 5:30pm shower and change and hope goggle marks fade quickly. 6:00pm dinner at the Shalimar down the road for Kat’s birthday. Ask Dad to borrow a bottle of wine and promise to pay it back but then don’t pay it back, whoops. 9:00pm home and tired and happy and Dad says what time you up tomorrow and I say going to the Centre for Stories so will be on the 8:24 bus, a joke; I miss that bus every single day; set alarm for 7 just in case; 10:00pm whoops scrolled Instagram a lot time to read. 10:12pm time to sleep.
Goals for November
- Close my pitch shop; seek no more work
- Watch Jack Davies and the Bush Chooks live
- Cut down to one coffee per day, not two
Thoughts on relocating
Every time I’ve gone to write a post about how it felt to move back home, I’ve hesitated. It’s a post I really want to write — it’s what I wanted to read when I was living in Timor-Leste — but I just don’t know what to say. Other than it’s fine; it’ll be fine; you’re fine.
It feels hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been to Timor-Leste how much that place can get under your skin and how precious and fleeting your time there feels. It’s not just the place itself that’s so great; it’s also the people you meet and the times you have together and how it’s something you know you could never replicate if you were to return, because everyone’s there temporarily, so each of your final few days feels desperate and heavy and charged; soak it all in for the very last time this moment isn’t coming back again. Leaving feels impossible. But you can do it, and you do, and it’s fine. And for me, at least, it was much better than fine.
I’ve written before about coming back home to Perth, and how initially I was dazed by the disconnect between the change I felt had happened within me and the fact that every physical part of my life was identical to the one I’d left five years before. It felt different but it all looked the same. My same friends are here; my sister’s still at home and in school; my champagne Mazda still runs (its volume still doesn’t work); the shops down the road are just about the same (the IGA’s gone really fancy and 24-hours, but they still sell Kal’s-brand wraps five for $1.49); I do the same things and speak the same way and still get annoyed when my Dad asks me what time I’m waking up tomorrow morning.
In a way, the move itself was kind of fun. I was the centre of attention at a string of going-away parties and then got to hand off my old things and catch different planes and go on Greyhounds and eat new foods and drink tap water and load Instagram really fast and be in the Territory in the dry season and eat a laksa at the markets and hang out with Clare and get picked up from Perth airport by my parents and eat Red Rock chips at their dining room table. It was novel and exciting and felt suitably big. And then, I had a whirlwind few weeks of a family trip to Phuket (yes, tough, ugh) and Felix visiting Perth and me visiting Melbourne and then coming back home again, quietly, and nosing around in my bed trying to carve out a new space for myself in the old.
How to go home (in 10 easy steps)
- Listen to London Still by the Waifs fifteen times;
- Invite your friends over and give away nearly all of your stuff, you won’t need or want any of it, even the things you wear and use every day; you just won’t want them, trust me, give them away;
- Stare mournfully, dramatically, desperately at your tight-stuffed suitcase on your last sweaty solo night;
- Arrange a holiday stop-over in between moving to give you time and neutral space to resettle and decompress;
- Upon arriving, immediately eat the most glamorous and exciting foods you can think of (blueberries, goats’ cheese, bagged baby spinach, any brunch meal with more than five ingredients, red beer, tap water, tap water, tap water);
- Give your new blank home days structure with easy plans (routine is grounding! crushing ambition is terrifying!);
- Temporarily mute your friends’ Instagram stories if you’re a) addicted to Instagram and b) envious of people having fun without you; it will feel raw;
- Have faith the muddy water will clear if you leave it alone;
- Expect less of yourself, then expect less again;
- Realise one day it’s all completely normal and you’re home within yourself.
What I learned
I think this one might be my favourite of the 200+ posts I’ve written on this blog. (And I think that’s because it’s the post I was hoping to find on someone else’s blog before I left.) At the end of that, I wrote:
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 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.
Things that are similar between Perth and Dili
- Eucalyptus trees
- Wide flat streets
- By the sea
I started this post on Friday but didn’t finish it; I left the library to drive Mum and Dad to a wedding on the river, to get my eyebrows threaded at the Innaloo shops, to get changed and into town by six for the first of the RTRFM Courtyard Club gigs, still raining; red wine. I met two friends and carried a paper-wrapped loaf of sourdough between bars and later, after I drove one of them home I said that right now, I just don’t have all that much to say about myself. I don’t feel like I have problems to thrash out or dilemmas to resolve or paths for us to plan out together. I’m quiet and content and life right now feels straightforward. It’s easy and fun and I’m happy to be here. I am happy to be home.