Whenever someone I know goes away, this bad habit I have of romanticising whatever it is I think they’re doing kicks in like clockwork. Whether it’s a mate backpacking Sri Lanka or an old colleague holed up in a Singaporean skyscraper, I immediately – and jealously – decide that they’re yammering fluently in an exotic-sounding language over cocktails with Asian powerbrokers, or finding transcendence by glistening rice paddies with beatific Thai monks, or hunting armed poachers in the breath of a Tanzanian outback morning.
More often than not, the truth is more freelancers trudging between Chiang Mai coffee shops for weak wifi, bored friends refreshing Instagram in far-flung Taiwanese towns, and safari trekkers returning from a 4WD to a hostel for a hot shower and a DVD.
I forget that travel isn’t always romantic, and two months into living in Dili, I’m realising, neither is being an expat.
I’m not saying it isn’t good – in fact, it’s fantastic. But if I were living in Australia and reading this blog right now, my mind would be falling over itself to be jealous of the beachside papaya juices and weekend dive trips with witty new expat friends and bright tropical sunshine and $3 G+Ts. And that’s – of course – only part of the story.
Between the fresh fruit and the sunsets, here’s how my days in Dili are right now.
7:00am: Alarm goes off. Snooze it. Snooze it again. This happens anywhere between two and four times.
7:18am – 8:00am: Get stuck in mosquito net stumbling out of bed. Head to bathroom. Shower, brush teeth, return to bedroom. Select plain black cotton T-shirt to disguise day’s inevitable sweat patches, and either demure calf-length skirt or preppy pedal pusher pants (as you pull them on, wonder if they make you look like Peter Pan).
8:00am: Start feeling alive. Regret not waking up earlier to do sun salutations and practise Tetun. Vow to tomorrow. Pour oats into bowl (spill some on bench). Put water then coffee in stovetop coffee top (spill some on bench). Pop it on the stove. Some mornings, remember to turn off the burner when it starts bubbling.
8:10am: Breakfast and coffee and chattering with Laura.
8:45am: Call from boss. Answer with “bonnnn-deeeeyaaa!”. Hear him say he’s out the front like usual. Hop in the front seat of the Prado to hear apparently pronouncing “good morning” in the way I did means “kill him” in Indonesian.
9:00am – 12:00pm: Sit at desk in office, silently melting as I try to avoid turning the AC on. Open one million tabs. Read twenty million quarterly reports. Send five emails. Upload 100 photos. Wonder why the internet’s going slowly. Try and understand what a content strategy is. Read another report. Turn the AC on.
12:00pm – 12:15pm: Turn the AC off. Wait awkwardly until I see someone else go to lunch and then head to lunch myself.
12:15pm – 1:45pm: Walk down street to nearby warung. Shake head at forty-five million taxis who flash their lights questioningly at me. Shake head at seventy-five pulsar guys who ask if I want to buy phone credit. Mentally sing along to the song that goes what you gonna do with that dessert that blares from every plastic-goods shop on Audian Road. Contemplate the lyrics. Squint into the sun and regret not taking sunglasses. Weave through students leaving school. Understand I would have missed them had I left for lunch on time. Cross the road and enter the warung. Quick scan to see if there are any malae inside. Head to counter. Order rice and vegetables, pointing modo nee, modo nee, modo nee until plate is piled high with three slightly different types of limp green vegetables. Wonder if I look greedy. Order iced tea. Ask for no sugar too slowly. Heap chili into little bowl, pay $3, and balance cutlery and chili on full plate on way to plastic-tableclothed table. Eat, scroll Instagram, scan room for malae, sip tea, feel grateful it has sugar in it. Read long article on phone. Eat all the chili and feel like dying. Sit for probably too long. Finish article, get up, walk to Portuguese coffee shop opposite AVI office. See twenty million people I know as I enter. Order takeaway long black, no sugar. Scroll Instagram. Get surprised when coffee is ready. Pay $1. Walk back to work. Regret not taking sunglasses. Wonder what I’m gonna do with that dessert. Shake head no at thirty thousand pulsar guys and fifteen million taxis. Re-enter empty office.
1:45pm – 4:45pm: Read fifteen websites. Upload 100 photos. They all fail. Turn phone hotspot on. Read a how-to on content strategies. Understand what a content strategy is. Open Word. Read five more websites. Send an email. Turn AC on.
4:45pm: Suddenly called into meeting. Turn AC off. Have meeting. Get assigned no responsibilities. Fall in love with meetings.
5:45pm: Say goodbye and leave office. Walk to corner. No I don’t need pulsar. Hail microlet. It looks full but they’re pulling over anyway. Squeeze enormous malae body through packed bus and perch on front-most 10cm of bench seat. Catch microlet home.
6:27pm: Clamber out of microlet. Appreciate fresh air. Take fifty million photos of whatever the sunset looks like.
6:30pm: Depending on the day, cook or microwave dhal and rice, or hop in Laura’s car and go somewhere for dinner and Bintang boot. Chatter with Laura (no matter what the day).
9:00pm: Chatter more with Laura over Hokey Pokey-flavour ice cream on the couches at home. Hear about babies having cardiac arrests and realise life is a little more dramatic for my pediatrician housemate than it is for me.
9:45pm – 10:15pm: Scroll Instagram.
10:15pm: Receive text from phone company saying I’ve used up the day’s allocated data. Realise I did need to buy pulsar after all.
10:45pm: Head to bed with book. Realise forgot to buy mosquito spray. Untie mosquito net.
11:15pm: Optimistically set alarm for 7am.
11:30pm: Fall asleep.
Of course, there’s still evenings out and Bintangs on white-sand beaches and weekend diving trips and palm trees backing every scene – don’t get me wrong; this life isn’t quite ordinary, and I’m well aware. But trust that for every coconut and pink sunset in this expat blog, there’s definitely something closer to home as well.