don’t expect anything

I published two posts on this blog last week, which shared the same assured, confident tone. In my 100 Dili tips I stepped out life advice learnt over five years of visiting and living in Timor-Leste. And in my leaving-soon list, I reflected on making the most of the two weeks I had left in Dili, and listed 14 things I wanted to do before I flew home.

Mere minutes after publishing that piece I found out I’d been a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case and needed to isolate at home for a week.

Depending on my test results and work schedule, I might have scuppered every item on that leaving-soon list — a lot of it is diving days and trips away and long hikes that are incompatible with a working week, and I’m resigning myself to maybe managing a bit of hot bread and a cocktail before I go, and that’s it.

The coronavirus news caused Felix to reflect on a point I’d left off the tips list. Don’t make plans, he reminded me. Assume your plans will go awry. Don’t expect anything. The best form of planning in Timor-Leste is to not make plans at all.

Rarely am I shown this lesson as clearly as I’ve seen it this week. But time and time again, it’s the universal truth of life in Dili.

When I would get myself all worked up about an important meeting in my then-new job, only to have it cancelled minutes before the start time. When I would get flustered and panicked jumping on the wrong microlet to yoga class. When I rehearse the Tetun words I need in a shop or office, and then the person behind the counter speaks fluent English. When the English classes I used to teach would happen some weeks and not others. When I would plan an elaborate dinner, only to have the electricity cut out before cooking began. When Felix and I tried to go to Nari’s for dinner twice while it was closed over Christmas. When I would get angry for getting lost in my own suburb, or the shop close to me not having the gas bottle I needed, or the warung running out of my preferred red rice. When I didn’t feel settled immediately after arriving.

I live heavy with expectations and was never going to be well-suited to the ways of life in Dili. But over time, this soft, sunny city has melted me down and loosened my tightest knots. Every scrap of resilient, grace and patience within me now I credit to those two-and-a-bit years living here.

But I still didn’t add it to the list. I didn’t even think of it.

Felix is right. Don’t make plans. You’re flotsam in a stream and will go which way the water flows.

This morning, eating breakfast on the verandah, a quiet weekend ahead of us. I asked Felix what he wanted to do. He told me he wanted to plant something.

“I want to grow a plant while you’re away, and when you come back it’ll still be alive.”

Not three days ago did I publish a blog post announcing Felix hates gardening and I wouldn’t be germinating him a pumpkin vine to train up the trellis while I was away. Don’t make plans. It’s good to have things to hope for or ideas of what to do, but don’t fasten yourself to them; just grow around them.

Don’t say out loud you won’t be planting a pumpkin vine because guess what you’ll do three days later.

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