how it feels to leave

In which we get a little bit meta.

In my first week back in Dili I wrote a post titled how it feels to be back. This week, with six days left in Timor-Leste, I thought I’d bookend the visit and the revival of the blog with a matching on-my-way-out post.

In typing the second sentence of this post I made a simple error. I typed the title of the post I wanted to link to without first checking its exact phrasing — I typed, “I wrote a post titled how it feels to come back”. Come back, not be back, which is the true title of the post.

It feels… revealing.

More than a simple semantic slip, that initial error, now corrected, to me speaks to how I see time moving in Timor-Leste, and in turn how leaving somehow isn’t yet something on my mind.

A couple of weeks ago, Felix taught me a Tetun idiom, which goes: taruta mak para.

Literally, it translates as ‘the noise stops’. You’d use it if you were giving someone instructions for reversing a car in a tight spot. Can I keep going? Yes, yes, back up, keep going, again more, come come, keep going until you touch bumpers, taruta mak para. The noise, taruta, is the one that stops, para.

Figuratively, it’s also about endurance and continuity — keep going until you can’t go anymore. I won’t keep twisting my head around and checking metaphorical mirrors and blind spots, I’ll just para when I hear taruta.

Today, on the day I was supposed to depart Dili (before a last-minute announcement about Western Australia’s border re-opening meant I could avoid quarantining there if I delayed my flight by a week), I feel drawn to reflecting on how it feels to be leaving. A few people have — understandably, and kindly — asked how I’m going with it. I’ve replied truthfully, if banally, that I’m sad to go, that I’m looking forward to seeing my family in Perth, and that I’m feeling fine about eventually going back to Melbourne.

That error I made in the opening paragraph of this post — substituting ‘come back’ for ‘be back’. I wrote that post six days after arriving in Dili, so the verb ‘be’ is correct; I was already here. But a return to a place isn’t strictly bound by the day of the flight, or even the first few days after arriving. I could have titled the post ‘come back’, and that would have worked, too.

But to me, three months and also five years into visiting Timor-Leste, it tells me I was already firm and steady in Dili, just six days into this stay. I’d ceased coming, and I was here. I’d subconsciously shed the vocabulary and the condition of arrival. ‘Come’ is about transition, ‘be’ is about existence.

Dili, for me, leads itself much more easily to being present in a moment. To just being, bobbing, not in motion to or from.

I’m not exactly sure why. It might be something as simple and literal as — there are potholes in the road, so you have to pay close and immediate attention when you’re driving, while in Australia you can slack off a little more. Or in the wet season, you only get a sliver of respite within evening rainstorms, so make the dash home when you can. Or that the supply of fresh produce to supermarkets is more erratic than at home, so if you see fresh oyster mushrooms at Centre, you carpe diem and you carpe kulat.

(A quick side-step off our main trail here — a quick google to make sure I was using ‘carpe’ right there told me interpreting the Latin phrase as ‘seize the day’ is slightly inaccurate, and it’s more like, ‘pluck the day while it’s ripe’. How lovely is that?).

It might be something more serious.

Timor-Leste’s independence was only fully restored twenty years ago; people my boyfriend’s age went to school under Indonesian rule. Deep seams of loss and trauma run beneath Dili’s beatific days, and there’s something of a tendency to not make plans too far in advance, to not count your proverbial chickens, and to adapt quickly and with grace to changing circumstances. I’ve drawn the assumption here that there’s a connection between the tendency to make plans a maximum of ‘aban bainrua’, or two days in advance (how useful for a language to have a word for that, as another aside), and the decades of loss the Timorese have experienced — this may not be causal or accurate. But it’s undeniable that this country has suffered significantly, and its resilience shows in small ways through being satisfied with the everyday. Why preoccupy yourself with what could be, when what’s here is enough?

Whether it’s potholes, mushrooms, rainstorms, or appreciating peace — Dili gently takes your hand and guides you out of what-it-could-be and into what-it-is.

Which I’m thinking about today, on the day I was supposed to leave.

Taruta mak para — keep going until you hear the noise, and only stop then.

If I’d stopped earlier, I would have wound up my time in Timor-Leste prematurely — farewelling people last weekend, assuming I was departing today. If I’d stopped earlier, I’d have spent a week mentally living in a departure lounge, instead of where I’ve been this week; forty metres below the surface of the ocean, high in the hills at a bench bar above Dili’s skyline, with my feet in the sand at the last edge of a sunset. If I’d stopped earlier, I wouldn’t have planted the pumpkin vine, accidentally ordered custom pants, or finished my dive course.

I am being here, I am not yet leaving here. I am firmly in the ground with no danger of motion in any direction. In my first week here I was already here; I don’t need to open the throttle on departing just yet.

So, to answer the question. I am feeling fine about leaving. I’ve had a beautiful time in Dili, and know I have good things to look forward to in Perth and Melbourne. The next few months with Felix seem easy: we are long-distance experts and he’s finally allowed back into Australia, with the international border re-opening this week, so we’ll see each other again soon.

I’m feeling fine. I’m not putting too much thought to it. Six days is a eon! I’ll only act when I hear the noise.

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