housekeeping – back to Dili

Twenty-one months of long-distance, three houses, two degrees, and a pandemic later, she is fila fali mai Dili and lands tomorrow morning in Timor-Leste. It is not Sophie in Dili without the blog; it is not out-of-my-comfort-zone without the means to reflect and articulate, it is not a new café in Lecidere without a post about it; hello, welcome back to Sophie Rai Liur.

If you are new here – welcome. My name is Sophie, and I am an Australian writer who moved to Timor-Leste in March 2017. I lived and worked in Dili and wrote 200+ posts on this blog until moving home to Perth in April 2019 – following my boyfriend, Felix, to Australia for his scholarship, but getting briefly waylaid on the west coast and starting our first bout of extended long-distance. In January 2020 I finally joined him in Melbourne, where we lived and barbecued through four lockdowns in a shoebox flat on Rathdowne Street and studied remotely at universities that were just across the road. He graduated in early 2021 and returned home to Timor-Leste; I stayed until we were both vaccinated and the pathway back there for me was clear. I’m typing this post on a flight to Darwin the day before we’ll be reunited, for a three-month-long visit before I return to Australia in March.

I wanted to come back to this blog for three reasons.

First, a selfish reason: writing it was one of my favourite things about living in Timor-Leste. I liked reflecting on and sharing my experiences, and I found the act of writing things down helpful for processing how I was responding to a new, chaotic, and unfamiliar environment. Second, and more generously, I clung to fellow foreigners’ blogs in my first few days and weeks of living in Dili – following their recommendations, copying their trip itineraries, envying their language skills, taking comfort in the problems we shared – and wanted to give something back for what I’d received. And finally, despite two years of dormancy, this blog still has a handful of readers: even very recently Felix has reported new colleagues knowing his name from reading my posts; I can see certain pieces being viewed and shared this month. I will write on this blog until it has no more utility; for me or you or us.

Things are different, this time. Some small changes.

The first is the blog’s url and ads. I’ve paid $60 to WordPress to remove the ads they put on my free blog, and claimed my url in the process – switching from sophieintimordotwordpressdotcom to Sophie Rai Liur, which has always been the blog’s name (the Tetun phrase rai liur can loosely translate as ‘abroad’, and sounds phonetically similar to my surname, Raynor). I have no plans to place my own ads on this blog and only hope that change makes things easier to read.

The second is the layout – I’ve grown tired of that photo-heavy grid with the all-caps headlines every volunteer used in 2017 and wanted something sleeker. If you’ve been visiting for a while, every post from the old blog is still available today – find them here in my old categories.

The third and least-small change is in what we’ll talk about.

The first time I kept this blog I wrote about my daily life in Dili, travelling around Timor-Leste, my progress in learning Tetun language, mental health and being anxious abroad, and existential questions about being a foreigner in Timor-Leste. I wrote what I felt like writing, when I felt like writing, rarely edited, and tagged the most relevant of my seven categories. We could go weeks only thinking about mental health, back up three different work trip posts in a row, write flowery reflections with no narrative for a month, or not write at all.

This time, I’d like to be more deliberate in what I post – in terms of topic, scope, style and frequency.

This time, you can expect three posts per week, every week for the three months I’m here, spanning four discrete categories: travel, tips, people, and reflections.

Travel will document trips in Timor-Leste, as well as things to do or places to visit in Dili. Tips aims to help newly arrived foreigners with resources, information, and advice; one of my original intentions with this blog. People builds on the journalism degree I completed at Rathdowne Street, and will feature written and audio interviews with people I meet in Timor-Leste. And reflections stays true to those stream-of-consciousness posts about ethics and anxiety and Korean pancakes I pounded out in the first life of Sophie Rai Liur.

Thank you for being here; thank you for reading. If you have questions, tips or feedback, please feel free to get in touch. I’m glad to be back; I’m glad we’re here.

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