As soon as the clock hit 5:30pm today, I was out of my chair, bag in hand, whipping to the bathroom to change into a T-shirt before waving a hasty goodbye as I hit the footpath. Tuesday is yoga day – if I leave work dead on time, I can make it to the 6:15pm class that Emma teaches at Dili Wellness. And I was feeling confident today: I was out on time, and although we’ve been moving office this week and today was my first day in the new location, it’s closer to yoga than the old one and I thought I knew the area – and what microlet to get – pretty well.
Fifteen minutes later, I was helpless on the footpath with bitten-down nails, squinting desperately into the sun as unfamiliar blue microlets sail past. I decided to walk one street down, thinking I must just be confused about the parallel roads; hoping to see green or white on the next street. It was peak hour, and low yellow taxis were crawling the streets, honking constantly – especially at me; a harried-looking malae, but I just had a $10 note in my pocket for my yoga class and a dollar in coins for the microlet – so I ignored them, and the streetside boys screeching malae! malae!, putting my head down as I rounded a broken-curbed corner. A flash of white ahead and my breath in my throat – the number ten. I sped up, awkwardly jogging around a slow-moving schoolgirl, and landed on the next corner – to see it was just another white Prado. But maybe I’ll wait anyway? Long minutes passed as I fretted and paced on the footpath, picking at a hangnail, brushing off malae, malae, where you go!? and taxi honks and long sunset shadows and offers to buy pulsar and green leafy vegetables and my breath catching shallow in the top of my chest and then the shop next to me unleashing a huge plume of grey smoke from a streetside barbecue, fanning it towards me so for a split-second I’m engulfed in hot dry air and hot dry panic. Stark black silhouette against pearl cloud.
A sob in my throat. In that tiny moment, I felt so utterly wretched – so stupid (can’t even catch your own microlet), so lazy (your only exercise for the week, and it hardly is anyway), and compounding that, of course, the incredulous feeling of this is your biggest problem? how lucky are you?!
Incredibly lucky. Phenomenally, perplexingly lucky. As a not-for-profit comms worker I’ve become used to throwing around neat phrases about how we’re all global citizens and where you live shouldn’t determine how you live and everyone deserves access to opportunity, and I’ve believed them wholly, but never needed to illustrate – to myself, at least – what it actually means to be the “lucky” one.
After a streetside sulk, I set off – walking barely two kilometres under a beautiful sunset home to turn on the air conditioning, shower, comfort-eat peanut butter crackers, stare at Instagram for a while, microwave leftover dhal for dinner, and open my laptop to write this post. If I were anyone other than myself – a person who, among other things, can walk, can buy enough electricity vouchers to pay for AC and hot water, can relax after work instead of heading to a second job, can get away with cooking and living off one meal per week, and who owns both a sophisticated phone and a good laptop – I would have recovered from that spasm of near-panic in a very different way, and on the other side of it now I’m feeling very sheepish and very humbled by how lucky I am to have problems like these.
Realising today that I’m feeling sorry for myself because too many taxi drivers want to take me home and I only don’t have enough money to jump in and speed off because I want to save the $10 (a week’s wages for half the population here) for a yoga class was a really good whack of perspective.
Thanks, Dili. Before today I felt comfortable and – dare I say – smug in my self-proclaimed status as a woke white person, but you reminded me (again) that I don’t even know how a person with a smaller income or a greater number of responsibilities or poorer health than me would extract themselves from that footpath, let alone anything closer to what their life would be like. With that knowledge I’m still allowed to be kind to myself – it doesn’t serve anyone on either side of that coin if I turn my attention to vile self-criticism (and in fact, it’s a pretty selfish, self-absorbed way to address it) – but with the perspective and the nudge that reminds me my situation is an incredibly fortunate, privileged one. And I’m fine.
Will try again for yoga next week.