At the end of my third month living in Dili, I’m taking a minute to zoom out and reflect more broadly on how life here is going so far.
I did the same three months into my year in Melbourne – I kept a blog that year, and in its April archives you’ll find a post titled Less lost, less frequently: 3 months in Melbourne. In that post, I reflected on how I still got myself confused and lost often, navigating my new city, but that after three months of wading, I was beginning to find a rhythm. And, I’m seeing now, the same is true in Dili.
A huge chunk of my move itself was exceptionally, underwhelmingly easy. Once I’d accepted AVI’s offer and broken the news to my parents (in a teary cross-country phone call that remains fresh in my mind), I followed AVI’s pre-departure instructions, had the vaccinations the doctor recommended, and got a little better at saying goodbye each of the (many) times I had to do it. Before I knew it, I was bunking down in a Darwin Airport hotel room for the short night’s sleep that precedes the early-morning flight to Dili.
All the niggling administrative things I was embarrassed to admit were difficult for me in Melbourne – finding the right tram route, learning where my nearest supermarket and bank were, deciding whether to take a jacket out or not – were either totally taken care of by AVI, or just not things to be worried about here (their absence from my mind just as likely a result of me caring just a little less about having every single thing packet-perfect organised here than in did in Melbourne). From a sim card to a lift to Tetun class to outfit advice, AVI had our backs.
Which, of course, gave me free time and mental energy to devote to a series of powerful existential crises in my first few weeks here.
None of them particularly troubling – besides the notable freefall of wondering, in my very first week, about the extent to which outsiders can really help in another country (and the logical next step of then wondering what the hell we’re here for) – and in those early weeks neatly sated by some stern self-coaching. “Sophie,” I told myself, “you’re here for 18 months. You have 17 more months to find things to freak out about. There’s no use wasting your fretting energy now, when you don’t even know just how much you have to panic over.”
Some neat sophistry, perhaps (though, what else would you expect?), but enough to calm my mind, at least – and I was right; there’s been a lot more to worry about since that first month. Inequality, privilege and power sit inescapably at the forefront of my mind. Less troubling topics, like fretting about being a task-oriented neurotic in a much slower working environment, feeling shy and stupid for failing to speak Tetun, and missing kale and soy milk and Melbourne’s autumn leaves swirl around in there, too – furrowed-brow fretting curiously coupled with childlike wonder at the tiniest things here. It’s a weird – but not unpleasant – mix of thoughts.
And, of course, there’s a lot going on besides worrying.
In Dili, a litre of kombucha costs just $5, and everyone smiles. In Dili, I hear John Legend’s All of Me with a reggae beat underneath it in a tinny microlet at least once a week. In Dili, I can make a new friend one weekend, hang out with them three times in five days, share entire life histories and every idiosyncratic thought we’ve ever had, wave them goodbye back to Brisbane and clap straight back down onto the Skybar to find a new pal. In Dili, a chorus of hellos welcomes me every time I leave the house and step onto the street. In Dili, I pass giant cacti and friendly piglets on my walk to work. In Dili, I can find long blacks for $1. In Dili, I watch the sun set over the ocean every night and try and find a new way to caption my same Instagram post. In Dili, I teach English to cruelly handsome young men with fades shaved into their hair. In Dili, reggae band play in beachside pubs every evening. Swing low, sweet chariot. In Dili, I make overnight yoghurt on the benchtop and eat it on the porch with persimmon every morning. In Dili, I swish my long skirts. In Dili, a portrait of Kate Hudson sits in a tais frame above my kitchen doorway, and we use a tais dress as a lampshade. In Dili, men carry sticks across their shoulders laden with banana hands, piles of oranges, plastic water bottles filled with honey. In Dili, every expat hates every expat bar and every expat is always there when you go for a gin. In Dili, I eat fresh mango and papaya. In Dili, I’m never more than ten metres away from a palm tree (and coconuts, sliced open on the street, cost $1). In Dili, I’m meester, meester and the boys on my street shriek when I say hello. In Dili, I explore the ocean depths and feel smaller and more humble than I thought I ever could. In Dili, the sun never stops shining.
Dili is a much smaller city than Melbourne and life here is much slower; much more intuitive. Less about ticking off dot points and Broadsheet must-sees and more about leaning into things and learning by doing, seeing, tasting.
Dili is sweet iced tea and sweat on your top lip.
I still haven’t grasped that I live here, properly. It still feels like a dream; like someone else’s life. For me it’s a hazy tropical paradise with my only due a little existential angst about the supreme unfairness and wrongness of pervasive poverty (how lucky I am that my only exposure to it is feeling guilty about my wealth and opportunities). It’s challenging to live in a place with such visible inequality, and uncomfortable knowing I benefit every day from that inequality (as I do in Australia, but there, it’s much easier for me to wilfully ignore). I can’t decide what the cheap mangoes mean – is it don’t pity the Timorese; their circumstances are tough but they’re resilient and sparky and they live on a beautiful tropical island – or is it how can this paradise be so poisonous underneath. Or maybe they say stop overthinking it, and there’s no symbolism there at all.
I love living in Dili. I’m so glad I moved here. I’m so glad my mind is being turned and stretched to new things; that I’m being challenged; that I’m meeting new people and (slowly, clumsily) learning a new language; and I’m glad I’m trying to be patient and calmer and still and that Dili gives me innumerate opportunities to practise that. And I’m glad for tropical fruit, whatever it mean.
Moris diak. It’s a good life. And I’m very glad for 15 more months of it.