Hello, again; hello, from Melbourne. Here’s how it all turns out.
I’ve written a couple of times on this blog about how it felt to move back home from Timor-Leste, what I learned from leaving, and what I did to prepare myself for the discomfort of resettling back in Perth. And I’ve shared briefly about some of my plans for this year. But I’ve neglected an epilogue — I haven’t told you yet how it’s all turned out.
It feels a little self-indulgent to still be writing on this blog, 11 months on from my departure from Dili. But Sophie Rai Liur still receives 10 or 12 visitors viewing a handful of pages each per day, and — again — in addition to writing this blog for myself today and for those visitors, I write this blog for the nervous 23-year-old I was before I left Australia, opening in a new tab every result from my ‘expat blog Timor-Leste’ search; looking desperately not only for how-to tips for a new life abroad, but for the reassurance that it’s going to be ok, that someone’s done it before and they’ve popped out the other side just fine.
I found that, of course (Pat and Pip’s blog remains a favourite), but like a fan-fic teen or an OC stan crushed after the series ended, I remained desperate for details about what happened next. Not only about the process of resettlement and the practicalities of picking up a life again, but about where these people I’d grown to love had gone.
After Timor-Leste turns your life inside-out and upside-down, what does it look like to right yourself again?
You may know that after returning home to Perth in April 2019, I lived at mum and dad’s house, volunteered at a not-for-profit called the Centre for Stories, worked a couple of day-a-week contract jobs, pitched freelance articles, swam laps at the local pool, and developed a terrible habit of taking five hours to drink a black coffee (and instagramming it the whole time). Routines were grounding, and I didn’t pay rent — it was the perfect liminal, in-between time for me; the most gentle easing back into the place I know better than anywhere. I didn’t have to worry about money (I’m very lucky to be in this position), and I had more time and space to think about the things I wanted to have in my life, and introduce them with more intention. 2019 was about doing things on purpose. I got my ears pierced, bought a ceramic keep cup, visited Adelaide, ate more stone fruit and pasta than I ever have before. As well as being at home in Wembley, WA, 6014, I felt at home within myself: settled, steady, sure.
Things with Felix were and are still going well. When he applied for his Australia Award scholarship in mid-2018, he asked me if I’d move back to Australia with him if he got it. I said yes, of course — but when he did get it, quickly realised that I wasn’t yet ready to leave TImor-Leste, and that I wanted both of us to have the chance to live in each other’s country alone, without the pressure of me announcing to him what we like to do in Melbourne, or me relying on him to translate and decode for me in Dili. And when I did leave in April, I realised that — warm and forgiving as Timor-Leste was to me — after two years pushed up against the edge of my comfort zone, I only wanted to be at home; in the place in knew best, in the place where I best knew myself.
Eleven months of long-distance (and six visits) later, it was Christmas Eve and I was picking him up from Perth Airport. We had a month of Perth summer together before packing up and moving to Melbourne on Sunday, 26 January, 2020, which is, of course, where I’m writing to you from now.
After hopping between houses and re-rolling clothes into suitcases for a month, we signed a lease on a little top-floor flat on Rathdowne Street in Carlton two weeks ago (my last Melbourne house was Rae Street; I’m this close to announcing my new blog, Sophie Rathdowne). We own tables and chairs; a mattress but no bed frame; a dustpan but no vacuum cleaner; two towels only (I’ve just taken two huge bags of clothes to the laundromat and am writing while waiting for the cycle to finish); and two house plants. I’m feeling happy and settled and at home in our funny little flat — it’s the first place we’ve lived just the two of us, it’s exactly where we wanted to be (walking distance from uni and round the corner from a pub), and I’ve three times already run into people I know up the road.
It’s good to be settled at home, because everything else happening in our lives at the moment is busy and full-volume — all good, but I did describe feeling ‘arse-over-ends‘ a couple of weeks ago. I’m working three days a week and have just started uni; Felix is back at uni with two intensive units starting this week (he’s at an eight-hour-long class as I write this); we haven’t finished moving yet and everything takes longer than it feels like it should. But life is going, and it’s all going well. Every morning I snooze my alarm, shower in my high-ceiling bathroom, put on my boots and walk down Rathdowne Street into the city. I turn right at LaTrobe past the library and left into Hardware, where I buy a $3.10 long black from the barista at the Hardware Cafe who always cautions me that it’s very hot. I swipe myself into my office, check my Outlook, tap at my desktop, talk to my colleagues (my colleagues), eat a rolled-up wrap for lunch, sometimes go downstairs for a second coffee, read my library book, scroll scroll scroll scroll. After work this week I saw a Palestinian film with a friend at the Nova, borrowed a car from another friend to pick up some chairs, went for a swim and a grocery shop, made a yellow vegetable curry, did late-night work with a red wine and takeaway Thai. Today, Saturday, I’m washing and cleaning and heading to the pub; tomorrow, Sunday, I’m swimming and working and heading to Footscray to see an old friend. I feel like we’ve landed on our feet here and I can’t believe the help of the thousand unseen hands we’ve had welcoming us home.
Work. Uni! At the very end of last year, after two Skype interviews and a psychometric test, I landed a three-day-a-week job doing communications for a not-for-profit called VACRO, which eases the transition back into community for people just released from prison. My work will be communications strategy, stories and social media; my colleagues (colleagues!) are lovely; the organisation is good; and the pay is generous. I’ve been working since early January and I’m feeling very good. It fits in perfectly with my degree — I’ve this week started a graduate diploma in journalism at RMIT; a one-year course that has me graduating at the same time as Felix.
The plan for this year: mainly, to enjoy it. Finish my degree. Do good work. Have fun with Felix. Try drinking gimlets. Buy a speaker for our record player. Don’t ruin Rathdowne.
An indelible mark from my time in Timor-Leste is the fact that I’m no longer interested in planning and thinking six frantic years ahead. Felix and I have some big things to figure out for 2021, but I’m in no rush — as far as I want to see right now is which beer I’ll order this afternoon at the Terminus Hotel, and Melbourne BOM to see when the sun will shine.
Thank you for following along with my life in Timor-Leste. Two cities and a year on, I think it’s finally time to close the doors on Sophie Rai Liur. But I’m nothing if not an enthusiast. I’ll keep writing about myself — I just set up a TinyLetter, where you can subscribe for occasional life updates and stories from me in your inbox.