I write this from atop the wooden beamed balcony of the Dili beach hotel. Naked children fresh from a rough tide cluster among the beach weed like Eve. Anchored freight vessels hover around the port and taxis crawl past on the road below. Atauro Island watches me from across the strait. Again, an overwhelming sense of home tugs on my heart as I watch Dili go by. I’m startled as I write this when a floating child in the sea seems not to surface until pop! There he is. A man waves to me with his helmet. Ah Dili. How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
I have been here for just over one month now. If the next eleven pass as quickly I am in real trouble. I can’t help but feel a sadness already about leaving though I am still eleven months out. I am taking that to be a good sign. Having said that I have had some rough days lately, heck I had a rough ten days a few weeks ago. They were sort of a meld of missing my partner, adjusting to things on my own, acclimatizing to the heat and a dense isolation that comes from living in a compound. Cutoff and quietly sheltered, my apartment has all the mod cons like air-conditioning and a bathtub. What it lacks is humanness. I found myself timing my own bedtime to that of the Nepalese family next door’s child so that I wouldn’t have to sleep in the silence. Realizing this lifestyle wasn’t for me I have found a place through a friend that is a lot more real. I move in nine days into the top floor of a Timorese family’s house and I can hardly wait. In a lane full of children, tamarind trees and avocado vines, pigs scrabbling around in the dust and dogs nipping at one another’s tails is where I will be. This is the way that I want to be here in Dili.
Timor has been elusive and inconsistent. Incredible highs and then torturous lows. Sometimes all in one day. You wake up never knowing what to expect and you get better at expecting not too much and going with the moment to moment flow. Something that’s given me some excellent moments has been riding my bicycle. It’s a cheap creaky import from Indonesia but oh how she rides like the wind. I’ve had a deep and abiding love for cycling since I was a kid and Dili provides all sorts of challenges and twists for a rider. It’s also the best way to catch a breeze and shake off a bad mood.
A highlight has been fulfilling one of my adult dreams-to join a choir. I popped into the Dili choir several weeks ago when I was feeling blue after my beloved bossman’s departure, and what singing collectively with a bunch of over 55’s Timorese and malae did for my heart and spirit is best described as expansive. I felt open and buoyant singing at the top of my confused alto/soprano-back-to-alto voice. Tomorrow is once again choir night and you can bet I’ll be doing my throat exercises before bed this evening.
There’s always so much going on in Dili and it is up to you how much or how little you want to be involved. I’ve also joined a hash group here that does runs and walks around different parts of town. Last week the hash route was through Becora up in the hills where much of the trouble in 2006 was concentrated. It’s a very poor area with a lot of vulnerable communities perched precariously on hills made entirely of dust. The kids around there have these amazing sinewy legs that propel them up and down the hillsides. It was so amusing for them to see these large, oafish malae teeter along the dusty ridges. One kid told me we were so slow he couldn’t believe it. I agreed with him.
Work has been an interesting insight into development practice with a local community based organization. Figuring out cultural semiotics and all the densely intricate networks and connections that come with a different workplace culture, gender roles and interactions, how all of these things interact with age and hierarchy has been amazing. Being here I feel as though all my senses are on fire, my ears especially. I can almost feel my ears twisting and yearning outwards trying to pick up conversation. My eyes feel wide and my pupils dilated taking everything in, reading and understanding, connecting and comparing. My brain is full of sparks.
I’ve got the privilege of working with a local host organization working on child and housing rights in Timor Leste. I’ve been engaging in a slow and beautiful process of forming relationships with all of my colleagues. Making clunky jokes with my Tetun, then laughing about my clunky Tetun together has been pretty good. But a recent trip to the district of Baucau was a turning point. Speaking, and listening only to Tetun for three days laid a good foundation in my brain and I found myself thinking about Tetun all the time especially before bed. Sitting with my dictionary figuring out different sentences before the power ran out. I have never before appreciated communication and all its attendant gifts before. Each sentence understood is a delicious reward. Another thin silver chord that seems to reach out tying you a little more to the person you are speaking with. I returned on a high from beautiful and cool Baucau. The temperature cooled my body and mind and the quiet of the district brought us all a little closer together. We shared fish on a stick and Portugese wine from a box and in amongst it all I felt something shift. I look forward to all the tiny shifts.
*A quick note before I sign off to say how sad it has been to watch the fires in Sydney from here. Springwood was my first home and I am thinking of all my friends and family who are in the mountains. All things crossed that it fizzles to whisper of smoke tomorrow.