I was out of Dili again this weekend, on a diving trip to Atauro Island.
About an hour’s fast boat ride away from Dili, Atauro is home to some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, which sit beneath pebbly, palm-fringed beach under a sky seeming endlessly blue. It’s hopelessly indulgent to write this, but I did say to one of the friends I went with that it was a good problem to have, wasn’t it – oh, I’m a bit tired of the beautiful tropical island I live on, so I might just hop on the water taxi to the next-door one.
Adara palm grove
Like my last trip, I dove and stayed with Compass Charters. This time, we were on the western side of the island, at a place called Adara – which I’d heard was even more beautiful than Beloi in the east, and which was what convinced me last-minute the upgrade my planned snorkelling to four dives like the rest of the group.
Adara feels wild. Its beaches are pebbles, its palm trees shaggy skyscrapers, its camp’s dingy powered not by petrol engine like Compass’s dingy at Beloi, but by the easy paddling of three strong island men. There’s electricity in the evenings only, simple mattress to sleep on, and – crucially – the most sheer, staggering coral walls I’ve see underwater in my short diving career.
I went with a group of friends – some of whom didn’t know each other before the trip, which is always my favourite thing – for a two-day, one-night trip. We left Dili at 8am on Saturday and were back to catch the sunset on Sunday.
On the dingy from the water taxi to the camp
It was a beautiful trip – and, even though it came third in a row of weekends I’ve spent outside of Dili, it was just the kind of relaxing I needed. And, as I’ve found my diving often provides, it was an opportunity for introspection, too.
Last year, in Melbourne, I worked in an Italian cake shop for a fiercely intelligent woman who taught me many things, including a phrase I’ve since adopted as a mantra: don’t forget to enjoy it. She said it once in response to my habit of getting myself stressed during busy service – this is fun, what we do, Sophie! – and in growing to better-recognise my perfectionism, and my inability to embrace the present moment, I use it as a anchor line. When I’m huffing down the street after missing the microlet I wanted – don’t forget to enjoy it. When I’m stumbling and sweating through ordering lunch in Tetun in front of my Timorese friend. Don’t forget to enjoy it. When I’m bemoaning my cheap-beer-induced soft belly – don’t forget to enjoy it.
That line was in my head as I drifted along Adara’s reef. And I realised, in a flash like a snapper’s silver fin, that in the year I’ve been using that line, I’ve mentally added more to it. Don’t forget to enjoy it as well, I’ve been telling myself.
Enjoy it, as well as fretting about it. Drink the beer, as well as feeling guilty about your growing gut. Practise the Tetun, as well as shaming yourself for not speaking it perfectly yet. Descend Adara’s depths, as well as cringing over your excessive holidaying and spending.
Celeste, waiting for the dingy’s second trip
Because I feel guilty writing this – I’m well aware of the fact that things I think cute and rustic, like the lack of electricity and the Timor gondoliers, are really a sign of how under-resourced Adara is, and it’s a sign of my inescapable privilege that I don’t really have to face that reality. I’m incredibly fortunate for the fact that I can afford to volunteer, for that fact that my volunteer stipend I receive from AVI stretches to cover a dive trip every couple of months, for the fact that the dive instructors speak fluent English and my booking was made easy. I can take a two-day weekend and not have to work or stress or make anything up. I can physically clamber into and out of the tiny dingy and physically complete four dives. I can return to bad news after the trip and still be smiling, because even though it’s bad it’s not the end of the world by any means.
And, uncomfortably, there’s much more at play that I’m not even open-eyed enough to see yet.
Adara sunset from beneath the palm hut
But, I realised as I floated along, it’s ok for me to just enjoy this dive; just enjoy this trip. Enjoying my holiday doesn’t automatically make me incapable of recognising and addressing the inequalities I benefit from, and it’s ok to enjoy a dive without fretting the entire time.
Don’t forget to just enjoy it, too.
And I did. Very much.