“No offence, but like, what do you… do all day?”
It was earlier this afternoon and I was at the kitchen bench with my youngest sister. She’d started her day just after six am with an early trip to school for netball trials. Yesterday, I’d rolled out of bed at 10 and whiled away three hours running two simple errands in the next-door suburb.
I’m back in Perth, Australia; the city where I grew up and where my family lives, 31 degrees south of the equator. I’m no longer in Timor-Leste and I likely shouldn’t be writing on a blog called sophie in timor dot wordpress dot com anymore, but I did technically spend a week of last month in Dili, and I wanted to process more that feeling of leaving. And I wanted to share some updates! Both about this blog, and about my life since leaving Timor-Leste on 10 April, exactly three weeks ago today.
This time three weeks ago (if my time zones are correct), I was chatting at my friend Clare’s dining room table in the rural town of Katherine, still damp from a swim in the hot springs after rolling off a Greyhound bus through the bush from Darwin. I’d made that bus with safe hours to spare after nearly missing my flight out of Dili earlier that morning (Laura and I were sitting at the airport’s Burger King, confident our vantage point would help me see the plane boarding, but I missed it entirely and arrived at passport control after the stamping guy had already clocked off, welp).
Final Dili goodbyes — from English class, to Cristo Rei, and over the bay.
Where I went
Dili, Darwin, Katherine, Litchfield, Darwin, Perth, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Perth. Fremantle. Satchmo.
I didn’t go anywhere else within Timor-Leste in that final week-and-a-half — I soaked up as much time as I could in my Dili home. I’d booked my flights home through Darwin and decided a few days in Australia’s Northern Territory would be a perfect decompression between cities. And I’m beyond lucky that my Melbourne friend, Clare, had earlier this year moved to Katherine — she and her housemate graciously hosted me in Katherine, played tour guides, took me camping and swimming in Litchfield, fed me laksa and iced coffee at the Parap Markets in Darwin, and dropped me at the airport for my flight back home.
I flew home to Perth on the 13th and had enough time to hug my family and have a pint with friends at the pub down the road before I was back at the airport for our Raynor family flight to Phuket — a pre-planned holiday to celebrate Mum’s 60th I’d decided to book my flights home around. The week we spent in Phuket was excellent — capital-T touristy but exactly what I was after. I left our resort once in the whole week and spent most of my time living in a branded bathrobe.
Phuket palms. I took SO many selfies in the bathrobe but they are for ME only.
And then when we got home Felix, my boyfriend, was already in our place in Perth — he spent his mid-semester break visiting from Melbourne. That was the best. The only thing I love more than Felix is Perth and the only thing I love more than Perth is showing it to someone. We had a beautiful near-week of wandering around my city — not quite a tourist trip, but a Sophie Raynor tour: here’s my primary school here’s where I used to live here’s where I sometimes swam laps here’s Bulwer Street where I always used to feel relieved when I got lost walking home here’s the Wembley op shop here’s the Subiaco op shop here’s where Anthony lives here’s where Sarah’s old house is, a different one from that other one I showed you, here’s the North Perth op shop, here’s my cousin’s house here’s a place that used to be a cafe that I went to once but now it’s closed down here’s the train station here’s another North Perth op shop should we look inside?
We walked and walked and walked and visited book stores and op shops and cafes and pubs and wandered Fremantle and had brunch together at my favourite Perth cafe, Satchmo, and saw the sun set over the Indian Ocean and hung out with my family and elaborately cooked together and it was perhaps the worst tour guiding anyone’s ever done ever, but I had a ball, and I think Felix did too. Showing off my hometown was the gentlest way I could have settled back in (the preceding week in a tropical resort of course helped a lot, too), and I’ve been happily pottering here since he left on Sunday.
(These were all from the same day, in Freo — I promise I own other shirts).
What I read
The Trauma Cleaner, Calypso, Dustfall, See What I Have Done.
Having a trans partner. Instagram memers are unionising. Buying pyjamas after a divorce. Our government is bulldozing their inheritance. Zines are fun. A priest arrested on child sexual assault charges in Timor-Leste. When did celebrities get bad at taking criticism. Working on the team that blurs TV nudity. Hope Hicks is the breakout star of the Mueller report. Four student deaths and Indonesia’s democratic history.
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Book review! Dustfall, by Michelle Johnston. 〰️ A gritty pair of parallel stories set 30 years apart in Western Australia’s desperate asbestos-mining town of Wittenoom—disgraced doctor Lou searching for answers and the town’s early-days doctor Raymond wading into something he doesn’t yet understand. This was stark and bare and beautiful and I LOVED it. 〰️ This is a fictionalisation of a critical chapter in our state’s history: the story of the barely regulated mines that poisoned young men and their families and caused the town’s historic honey rise and rapid fall. Raymond’s story happens days before the mine closes for good; Lou’s a generation later with families still piecing themselves back together. This rich story was a good and gentle way of learning here. 〰️ Johnston is a doctor and her writing here is beautiful—poetic and floral without being overwrought; she’s a West Australian Ian McEwan with an easy pace and eye for detail, and her hospital scenes are true and smart. I loved the “bristling tin pot” of Hedland’s hospital; the heat “rolling itself out”; the “honeycomb wire” lacing the mine; and the “industrial maw” of Wittenoom town, and her glittering, full-colour descriptions of the vast Pilbara landscape. 〰️ Both Lou and Raymond hide secrets hinted at throughout the book, and early on I felt frustrated for their seeming obviousness—but I should have been patient; should have been quiet; when I learned both stories I was gripped and glued and heart-racing. I finished this in two days and I want to re-read already; learn the secrets tamped into red pindan dirt.
What I wrote
Women step forward in Timor-Leste’s historic elections, for IWDA’s website. 48 hours in Dili for Coconuts.
New places to eat and drink in Dili. On the weather in Dili. My plans for life after Timor-Leste. How it felt coming home. One day it’ll all be funny. Two different occupations on two different immigration cards. A short story.
How many Thai massages I got in Phuket
Three, in one week.
How I went with the Timor-Leste list
(You may remember I made myself a list of 29 things I’d like to do before I left Timor-Leste, and ticked them off during my last few weeks).
I made 16-and-a-half; just over halfway through.
Green pancakes, my new plant, my last walk up to Cristo Rei.
I drank the wine (it was worth it), decided not to buy the thing from the honking man because it was sausages on sticks, tried to buy bread but got confused about where it was but then got purple sweet potato rolls from a different place, made sauerkraut and pickles, brunched at Beachside (did not buy a crocodile, I’m sorry), visited Letefoho, drank a LOT of tap water, bought green pancakes, cleared my blog, drank in a dress at Hotel Timor, didn’t make playdough but took the kids to the beach and bought them some clay, bought a marungi plant from Manuleana and planted it in the garden, got a jacket made from tais, prepared and delivered the speech (three times!), calmly shopped at the tais market, and finally, didn’t cry, but did feel panicked in Burger King at the airport before I left (but not as stressed as I felt minutes after exiting, when I realised I was at risk of not making it onto the plane).
Clearly have to go back to do the rest.
The last thing I ate in Dili
Takeaway curry from the Bangladeshi place, eaten on my porch with red wine and friends.
The first thing I ate in Darwin
A vegetable pastie from a cafe in the mall.
One stupid google
Do screen glasses actually work
(And update, one week and two errands on — I need glasses).
Three things I’m proud of myself for
- Not picking a single fight with Felix when he was here (lol)
- Managing to build a fire camping in Litchfield
- Moving, in all senses of the word
Three things I’m embarrassed about
- Can’t remember the names of a lot of Perth streets
- Stuffed up with a new friend’s name, job and hometown
- Those three Thai massages.
What I actually do all day
Rainbow re-organising, library visits and beach sunsets.
I reminded my sister earlier today that Felix has only been gone for a few days, and I’ve spent that time alone doing low-key errands and tasks — rejoining the library, re-organising my room, shopping for cushions (lol I don’t need cushions), drinking coffee with old friends, redeeming old gift cards found during room re-organisation, sleeping in, playing with the dog, watching Secret City, cooking beans, visiting the post office and the op shop and the supermarket (it’s still very exciting; there are so many choices, the bread is so GOOD, so much stuff comes pre-chopped for you in plastic TUBS), drinking beer with friends, writing, emailing, reading, drinking with with friends, drinking wine with dad. It’s a slow and pottery kind of week; it’ll be a slow and pottery few months. I’m nosing around like a dog circling its bed, fussing and settling and pushing my way back into the folds of my life here. It’s eerie but not unwelcome how easy it feels to snap back to this life, like, did those two years even happen? Did Melbourne even happen? Was I ever not nineteen and needing Mum to tell me how to get from home to Dianella?
This week to-do
- Doctor, dentist, eye test
- Plan projects out
- Finish clearing out bedroom
One lyric on repeat
From the night to the light all plans are golden in your hands
The only time I can remember crying this month
When London Still by the Waifs unexpectedly came on my Spotify shuffle while I was reading in the bath, omggg
Three small joys
- “Don’t forget to put your important documents in your handbag” text
- Mixed pineapple and mango juice bought on hot sand with my sister
- Felix’s puffed-up curls sleepy in six-am bed as I snuck in home
What I’m still thinking about
Scrambled egg panini and late-Saturday-morning emailing friends at Kaffe Uut.
How many tabs I have open
34, over four windows.
What I started
Kirsty Sword Gusmão’s book. Reading the West Australian over coffee in the morning. Feeling cold. Going to bed before 10. Using Netflix. Using my car’s indicators. Lying in the grass. Leaning in to having less to do. Wearing my bleached-out market jeans. Knowing boundaries better. Using Paypass. Drinking pints.
What I finished
Work with Plan. English Conversation Course. Daily Tetun. Being scared of white bread. Doing all that much.
What happens next
For me: I visit Felix in Melbourne next week for his birthday, then spend the winter hanging out in Perth contemplating my next steps, and eye off a move over east at some stage later in the year. And relax into not having a plan beyond any of that.
For this blog: it remains here and live and available for as long as the internet lets it, but I’ll no longer be posting regularly — I think there’ll be two or three more posts here over the next few months (you might remember my love of other Timor-Leste expat blogs; Pat and Pip’s short three-month post-Timor blog is one of my favourites in their incredible archive, and I think there’s something to be said about the story on the other side of living in Dili for those of us living in or about to move to Timor-Leste), and then I’ll stop.
I’ve got plans brewing for something from this blog I can hold in my hands, and I’ll share that here when it happens, but for now, the blog will always be here, and I’ll be on my email and Instagram and Twitter anytime you want to chat (it feels sort of obnoxious and faux-celebrity to say that, but a handful of people have emailed me from this blog, and I appreciate it SO much — I love love love hearing from you, and I want to help anyone newly arriving to Timor-Leste if there’s any way I can).
Thanks, as always, for reading. It’s good to be home and it’s good to be here.