It’s been Christmas and New Year, 5 days in Bali, 10 days catching up with family and friends, and all the while I’ve been thinking about how to write the blog that farewells Timor-Leste.
It’s been like an ear worm, constantly sitting in the front of my mind, or the back, and I’ve pushed it aside with a “much too busy” or “not right now”. Far too much going on, the truth…I wasn’t sure how to start.
But it’s time. Especially today while I sit indoors and listen to the rain in this bush clad paradise, where if there was ever going to be a moment of reflection it’s right now.
No one would ever accuse me of sentimentality. When they are being kind, they say I am pragmatic, but really, I’ve always had an ability to detach myself from places and people that I’ve had to leave for whatever reason.
Timor-Leste seems a little stickier than most.
People we’ve caught up with since being home seem either very interested or not interested at all and yesterday when we found someone who did want to know about our adventures I found myself barely taking a breath as a rush of thoughts, feelings, observations and new political ideology spewed forth like the dam had burst. Sorry about that Amanda.
Maybe that’s why today there’s the calm. I’ve let it all out and now I can unpack the last 4 weeks.
If being in Timor-Leste was about anything it was about daily challenges and a new way of thinking, but the last 4 weeks were about a series of lasts.
There’s this thing I guess, about when you point your nose to home, I started planning things, writing notes, I even constructed a colour coded excel sheet of all our Xmas adventures. Adrian was leaving at the same time, Mark helpfully made us a Chuff Chart, counting down the days in one column and the things we had to do before we left in another.
Both a mix of the prosaic…don’t forget to put the plants outside, get the sheets off the bed, empty the fridge, to the more romantic, wash the motorbike before you sell her (and not just with your spilt tears).
It was the last time riding my scooter. 4718 k’s on 30 dollars’ worth of petrol, 2 spills, 1 grazed knee, 1 munted elbow. Many, many hours on beach roads, mountain roads, crazy city roads. Too many numb bums to count, a million stares and toots and the odd roadblock and traffic violation. Great adventures and disregard for road rules, Little Red has served me well and is now making a Timorese chap very happy. I brought a strawberry flashing light key ring, checked she was full of gas and handed her over on a Sunday after brunch. Mark poked me on the back of his bike, and it felt like we’d come full circle. My first days in Dili were pillion.
It was the last time seeing the kids at home. Having them appear as soon as I go outside and the funny conversations we have where they teach me Tetun and I teach them English. The meandering chat often ending up about chocolati and whether I have any. I’ve left them a basket of goodies to share. And Mark will be returning with some of Whittakers’ finest for them later in January.
It was the last time feeding Melo pigs ears. And diced New Zealand steak. And mince. And expensive dog biscuits. The last time he looked through the mosquito screen at me as if to say, “you coming? I’m ready”.
It was the last time at Moby’s, a local dive frequented by Aussies and Kiwis and a range of other expats where we watched the rugby and where I first rolled my eyes and said, oh this place just isn’t for me. Right up until I discovered the best fish curry I’ve ever eaten. I ate my last fish curry the night before we left.
It was the last time at Lahata, a beach resort an hour out of town. I think the Sea God knew something was up. He took a perfectly calm wave and dumped me, tossed me onto the seabed, bruising both my knees and my dignity. I spluttered out of the water, top akimbo, all my white flesh and lumpy bits exposed, one reef shoe missing and my Ray Bans never to be seen again. Trying to placate him, I muttered quietly under my breath that while I was leaving, it wasn’t necessarily something I WANTED to do.
It was the last time at the movies. A cool sanctuary as the days got hotter the cinema offered a good range of block busters, weekday afternoons for 3 dollars a ticket. It also frequently loses all power and there’re minutes sitting in the dark waiting for the generator to kick in. That week there were also tears. My friend Jane looked across at me wiping my eyes.
“Are you crying?” she whispered
“nah, yeah, nah” I said
“It’s Jumanji!!!” she said, laughing so hard she snorted.
It was my last day at work. Among so many mysteries, there’s also a musical mystery in Timor-Leste. They sing a very similar version of Pokarekare Ana, same tune, similar lyrics. I said well it may be our song, or it may be yours, but we’re all happy to share so we sang it over afternoon tea.
‘Are you crying?” Mark whispered
“nah, yeah, nah” I said.
My work buddy Akito had suggested he bring the guitar, someone else picked it up and for 40 minutes the tearoom was full of song. I said to the boss, New Zealanders like to bring the party to the party. It felt like home.
It was my last trip along the esplanda, a bunch of brown boys splashing in the water after school, my last coffee, my last basket of washing handed back, folded, pristine taken care of by Grandma.
The last swim in the hotel pool, that $240 membership probably the best thing we did in the first week in Dili.
I had the last sleep in my lumpy bed. The rooster woke me up at 4.30am, and then again at 5, and 6 and at 7. I thought of him in a pot, remembered I wouldn’t hear him again, and hushed my murderous thinking.
And just cos I could, I made one final trip out to Hera to pick up my drivers’ license. They ran out of plastic cards 10 months ago. Who knows, one day I may need it again.
I’ve been to the supermarket in New Zealand, I’m gob smacked at the price of food. I’ve grumbled about the fact that even bloody Timor has better mobile coverage than Central Otago. I’ve been cold enough to wear socks and shoes and I’ve had my first hot bath for over 10 months. Being back feels sort of normal. But only sort of.
I miss the heat in my bones.