A few weeks ago I mentioned that I prepared myself to move to Timor by reading the blogs of foreigners who had come before me. Perhaps the best of those was Dili Dally, a comprehensive, witty and insightful daily-life blog kept by erudite Kiwi writer Pip and her VSA husband Pat.
I’ll admit one of their first posts, Hello World, stuck out to me. In fact, it scared me.
In that early post, Pip shared photos and initial thoughts of their new Dili house, which is in a suburb I now know — a nice area I once described to another friend who lives in my suburb, Farol, as “the cool end of town.”
When I first read it, though, I was terrified.
Not because of anything Pip had written — in fact, the opposite. It was was she hadn’t said. Scrolling through the post I saw a photo of their kitchen, with no accompanying commentary — nothing to explain why it was so sparse, why they used a camp stove to cook, why the benches appeared to be made of coarse stone and gritty tile, why there were only plastic plates, where all the appliances were. Was a kitchen like that… normal in Timor?
Seven months and countless meals into my own experience here, I want to laugh at my old self and then take her into my arms. Because now, I’d kill for that scary sparse kitchen.
My kitchen at home in Farol is lovely: it’s a tight, tidy space with a sink, cupboard, stove and a bookshelf that serves as a well-stocked pantry. It’s got a door that leads outside, so you can open it to cook with natural light (or exhume the room of smoke if you fry your chilis like mad), and while it’s a squeeze with more than one person cooking, I’ve successfully cooked a meal for 15 with the help of four volunteers in the space.
But. We have no benches. Sometimes I balance a cutting board on the hip-height sink and bend dramatically to chop my vegetables. Our oven is a tiny electric thing that tick-tick-ticks from its spot on the bottom of the bookshelf. Our stove is a two-ring camp burner that balances on a desk, and the wall behind it is splattered mud-brown from all the unattended coffee pots my old housemate Laura and I left to boil over. Our microwave short-circuits the power and the kettle lives in the lounge room, because there’s nowhere else to put it.
All I want now is a kitchen with a bench and a window. And it’s hilarious for me to look back now and think about what worried me so much.
Living in Timor-Leste is a series of reminders that everything I assumed was normal isn’t necessarily. From forgetting I have an accent because I’ve grown up around Australians, to panicking unnecessarily over a lack of plans for a Monday meeting on the Thursday beforehand (“Uh, we make plans here aban bainrua, just two days ahead”), to fretting about sparse tiled kitchens — which, of course, are much easier to clean and much better for your headspace. (Why do I still have that malfunctioning microwave, anyway?).
There’s a new normal here in Dili. I’m taking my time to adjust to it, but it’s a good fun learning curve.
So, on the chance you saw the photo above of my little kitchen nook and thought OH GOD, do what I should have done seven months ago and wonder why I’d need anything more. If I need light I can open the door. If I need bench space I can take my cutting board to the dining room table. If I need clean lines I can move the damn ice cream containers into the cupboard where they usually live. (If I need to be sanctimonious about my newfound quasi-minimalism I can write a 600-word blog post about a kitchen).
A reminder, to both of us, that simple is better.