This week I went to a meeting to discuss the opportunity to do some volunteer work for a really great NGO here in Dili. I was excited. I put on a decent work shirt (with a collar), a skirt, a pair of sandals that aren’t jandals and even a bit of lipstick and mascara. I’d had a good read about what they do, checked out the GPS about where they are. All pretty standard behavior.

And then I was late.

I am never late. 

Unless I intend to be, which has more to do with my antisocial nature and general avoidance of certain gatherings, and less to do with my breeding. My sisters, my children, we are all early. Chronically, habitually, without fail, early. Blame our dad. He’d have us at family events hours early. We once flew back from the UK and checked in so promptly that we managed to get on a completely different flight…4 hours before check in had even opened. He once took a visitors’ bag and put it at the door 45 minutes before her taxi came cos he didn’t want her to be late. We used to lie to him about what time things were so he’d cut us some slack. We were still always early.

Here’s the thing you eventually work out about having a “thing” about time. It’s not comfortable. It’s not serene or calm. It’s actually a quite troubling and fairly painful indicator of anxiety. We all laugh about it, but really having that burning pit in your stomach  cos you’re worried you’ll be late, or they’ll be late, or you’ll be late cos you can’t find the place, or there’ll be an accident you can’t avoid and you’ll be late, or I don’t know, aliens may take you away for some anal probing and you’ll be late….whatever scenarios surge in your head about being late, the whole thing just isn’t that much fun.

And then, I’m on my scooter, the sun’s shining and I’m riding along the water front, it smells of salt and heat, and that young guy on his scooter in front of me who smells a lot like Bulgari! There’re a few things in my head, but nothing like the usual cacophony of a million scenarios. I can see the scooters in front of me, I can smell the air, I’m hearing the rumble of trucks coming way too close, I can taste the little beads of sweat on my lips. I’m very conscious. Very awake.

And I arrive at the office 5 minutes late and I don’t care! There’s no panic. No heart beating too fast. No over thinking about how I should have left earlier…or travelled faster.

I am late. And it’s ok.

This is the lesson.

I’m washing the dishes and it takes 20 minutes and that’s ok. I get to look out the window at the dusk and the sun racing its way to the horizon. And I’m rinsing out my undies and t-shirts and I get water all over myself and the floor and that’s ok. The water feels cool against my hot skin and you can never wash a bathroom floor too much. And there’s a street parade that’s blocked off the road to our place when we’re trying to get home and that’s ok too. There’s nothing predictable about the journey from x to y in Dili, and there’s so much joy in a parade.

We went to get our Timor Leste drivers’ licenses today. A complex business that included specific colour folders (yellow), special ID photos on a specific background (red), a form that wanted to know eye colour (black or brown) and a 90 minute wait at Hera (20 minutes over the hill from DilI). My number is called, 30, we started at 16, and I go to the counter to be told that the boss who does the translation for foreigner licenses is away today and come back tomorrow, or really any other time but just not now.

Nothing happens. My head doesn’t explode. I don’t feel a rush of rage or even just a tiny tickle of annoyance. If “righty ho” was an emotion that’s what I feel.

I’ve been worried that I’ll hit the wall. There’s hushed talk about volunteers who go a bit troppo and can’t bear the heat and the dust and the NOISE (god, the noise) and that they seek out a quick trip home to refresh themselves some time during their assignment. They come back perky but possibly just counting down the days until it’s all over. And I guess the joy of writing this down means that if in fact I do go a bit bonkers and need respite you can all say we told you so. But right now, I’ve never felt calmer, never felt more serene, never felt more present and like some newly anointed acolyte to the concept of island time just really really grateful for the lesson.

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