As I closed the door behind me this evening I glimpsed a boy shaking the tree across the road from my watering hole. I looked closely expecting a cock to fall from it, fresh and quivering for a fight. Instead, it was opaque leaves that fell light and dead around his head. Not happy with one shower, he shook it again laughing to some invisible friend. I think he did it just to seem em all fall. Another gleeful flash of beautiful Dili town.
I have been here three weeks now yesterday. Writing this I sit under the cool beams of a local hotel, taking equal advantage of their happy hour and wifi to wind down for the day. Walking up the stairs to the balcony you never know what combination of malae you are going to get and add yourself to. Today, it is a father and his two sons sharing a beer and talking through another day in Timor Leste. Less benignly, a group of cufflinks and ties sit and discuss cognac, lobster and champagne. Seriously. They did that.
I’m choosing a blog format to keep in touch with y’all, near and dear and to document a portion of the dialogue that bounces around my head about my experience and where I am. Some of it is useful, some of it is not. I like the idea of seeing change in the way I think or feel about things here.
So having said that, the last three weeks have felt like a marathon. I’ve had numerous mitochondriae flood my body and my digestive system has had it’s back against the wall. I have met a lot of people, malae and Timorese and had many conversations about Timor Leste’s past, present and future. Less so the latter because there seems to be a general unknown about this country’s future. I don’t know what my next year is going to hold but no one in Timor knows what the next year will hold. For a small country, it holds a lot of big records-not in all the right areas. It is over represented in road accidents, child malnutrition and sexual and gender based violence. But I learnt today that Timor Leste also has one of the highest levels of maritime biodiversity in the world.
Timor Leste has also been a lot of things I wasn’t expecting. Living in Dili is wonderful. It is a small city, flat and excellent for biking around because the traffic though plentiful moves at a snails pace. Unlike Sydney, I find that there is a bucket-load of tolerance and acceptance of cyclists. You’re just seen as another road user. No BMW’s edging you into the kerb or dickheads in utes yelling obscenities at you along Marrickville road. Best of all, for the first time I am the fastest person on the road. Faster than microlets, faster than government vehicles, faster than motorcyclists. It is also the best way to catch a breeze in a city that is unrelentingly hot and dry.
The hills look as dry as tinder and I have heard several people compare it to the Flinders Ranges. I haven’t been but the comparison to Australia is apt. When I first landed I wasn’t able to shake the overwhelming feeling that Dili was home. Since then I’ve figured that this has something to do with the light. It’s clear and thin and stupendously bright. I don’t love wearing sunglasses but they haven’t left my face since I’ve been here. I’m also dirty. All of the time. Caked in dust and today engine oil from who knows where. Each night before I go to bed the last thing I do is sit on the edge of the bathtub and scrub my feet, working a face towel over and around my heels especially which are now permanently black. I am the filthiest malae around and I know it.
Tetun is a fairly easy language in the sense that it doesn’t have the tenses that we have in English. It is straightforward, (infuriatingly so when it comes to numbers and counting) and like much in this resilient country, is morphing and coming up with something new every day. I’ve been doing Tetun classes at an institute here and I am at the stage where I can confidently converse with most Timorese about basic things. Many a cab driver has been on the receiving end of my earnest and flawed attempts at conversation. Today I managed to thank Mana who cleans my room for me when I am out for ironing and folding my underpants. Yesterday she placed all my bobbypins which were scattered all over the house in an ashtray in an attempt to housetrain me. She also went through my drawers and took out the clothes she thought looked best hanging, washing and ironing them. All in all she is amazing and I am both humiliated and grateful every time I come home because I can’t tell her yet how amazing she is and how right she is to put my bras in the right hand side drawer.
Safety is a big issue here. Or it is not, depending on who you speak to. My initial bravado has worn a little thin with a recent and uncharacteristic spate of stabbings around Dili. A powder keg situation of a high youth population coupled with massive rates of unemployment in said population equal trouble so the recent incidents are no wonder. Getting home at night can be a bit of an issue but having said that I have made a point to walk a lot around my neighborhood and am as familiar with people and their habits as they are mine. I figure the best investment in safety I can make is being a part of community.
I leave you all now with a Tetun version of ‘Sexual Healing’ ringing in my ears. Dili is home but home is also home. Ain’t that a wiggy conundrum.