Dili Musings

>> 19 October 2014

I'm now well into the third week here, which means I'm nearly through the first month, which means only 9 more to go (hah)! Some days are really great, and some days are really awful, and some days are a combination of both extremes.

One of the things I am of course struggling with is the language. I feel really confident speaking Tetun unless I'm around certain people, especially those who call attention to the fact that I'm new and assume that I can't speak Tetun. Sometimes things come out of my mouth completely spontaneously and actually seem to make sense. Last week I stopped at the Tiger Fuel station to ask the guy not to fill me up, but to open the bike up to physically look if there was any fuel in there. For an entire day, the fuel gauge needle was at the halfway mark, but then the next day it was at the full mark, so I thought it might be broken. He popped it open and we determined that my motorbike was, in fact, full of fuel (a miracle that has not yet been accounted for because I only asked for half a tank and paid for half a tank), we both had a chuckle over it, and I went on my merry way. This entire exchange took place in Tetun, and I was comfortable and confident that we understood each other.

Another thing I struggle with is water. In my house, if the power is out, then the water is out, and the power goes out a lot (developing nation, what can you do?). We have a huge bucket of reserve water for showers, and our drinking and cooking water all comes from bottles, but it's still maddening. More maddening is how often I forget that my cooking water comes from a bottle. When my meal is drying out and sticking to the pan and I dash to the sink for a cup of water to thin it out, I pay for that single cup of water later. Usually what happens is I become unbearably drowsy, fall into a sweaty sleep, and wake up later with significant gastric discomfort, which usually lasts for the rest of the day. All because I put a cup of tap water into my rice and greens.

Something I have definitely been enjoying is the food. I had sort of forgotten that if I don't cook here, I don't eat. This is a huge problem for me in the mornings when I just want to drink a gallon of coffee, but for the most part I really like it. The grocery stores are such a wonderful adventure of weird, un-readable products in every language imaginable. The produce is so cheap and plentiful and my house has a really well-equipped kitchen. Still, I'm so glad that I brought my Wusthof knives with me (and had just had them sharpened), and that I brought a pint-sized gelato's worth of nutritional yeast. Besides loving the taste, the nutritional yeast makes up for the lack of meat in my diet by providing my body with protein and B-vitamins.

On the subject of things I'm glad I brought, my PAINTS!


Read more...

How am I going to prioritize my physical and mental health while I'm abroad?

>> 12 October 2014

I had a great discussion on facebook tonight with a friend and former self-harmer about the importance of talking about mental health and self-harm. No, it is not for the attention. It is a response to intense emotional distress and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. In any case, it reminded me that I made a promise to prioritize both my mental and physical health while I'm abroad. So, here goes:

For each month, I am leading a writing workshop (possibly twice a month!) with a group of English language-learners and students. Teaching is something that requires my entire focus, and intense, prolonged preparation. It is also a source of great anxiety for me, but also an extremely enjoyable undertaking. This weird combination results in a very strong sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment, so I am really glad that I've already found at least one place to host my workshops :)

I've also got at least one painting planned for each month, which is quite the departure from June, when I was doing one painting a DAY. This is much less of a chore, and much more of an indulgence. In addition, I made sure to find one holiday per month to decorate/cook/have a party for. It's what I'll work on in case I ever have any free time. Hah.

Finally, I've also got choir once a week on Wednesdays, which for me is just a wonderland of sight-reading and screwing up and getting it just right and enjoying the other musicians I'm around. The glory of sound, forever, amen, is what leads me to joy.

So that about takes care of my mental health, but what about my physical health? I've brought plenty of floss and have been brushing every day and flossing once a week. I'm trying to figure out ways to enforce a healthier diet (yes, I easily eat one-two whole bunches of greens a day, but I also eat a LOT of instant noodles), as well as a healthier lifestyle. Driving the motorbike is safer than walking or taking taxis, so I'm just going to have to find a weekend swimming club or something, or join a gym (heaven forbid). For now, I'm doing my best to be active every day without intentionally 'exercising'... bleh.

Read more...

Arrival!

>> 05 October 2014

Well, after a stop in Tokyo and Singapore, I have finally arrived in Dili! All the flights were smooth and pleasant, and all the airports were relaxing and full of tasty food. I originally wanted to get out of Narita airport and go into town for a little while, but a soon as I stepped outside I realized two things: that I was not in Hawaii anymore and that places that are not Hawaii often have ‘seasons’. So I went back in and gorged myself on noodles and dumplings. Yummmm. My layover in Singapore was considerably longer so I stayed in the airport hotel and had a much-needed rest, hot shower, and lovely walks through the many gardens in Changi airport. I arrived in Dili refreshed and ready!

The embassy staff met me at the airport and took me to my new house right away. I got unpacked, made a list, and left to go do some shopping. My phone was not yet working, so I wasn’t able to get in touch with any of my Timorese friends as I’d hoped, and so the first night was actually full of ‘what in the world am I doing here?’ thoughts. I finally got it going the next day, which made me feel generally more confident. That and the fact that my Tetun has come back with record swiftness. The cab drivers thought I was making a mistake when I told them I’d been in Dili for ‘loron ida’ (one day)… they would say ‘semana ida?’ (one week?)… ‘fulan ida?’ (one month?). Very satisfying!

At this time I’ve been in Dili for nearly 4 days and I feel like I am ready to get started. My house is mostly set up, I’ve gotten to see all my friends now, I’ve connected with two people who want to host my writing workshops, and I’m meeting my new boss today. The embassy staff have been outstandingly communicative and diligent through the various administrative processes, and I am really appreciative of all their help.


Dili is pretty much how I remember it, except better. There seem to be new Timorese-owned businesses and NGOs popping up everywhere, and the kids in my neighborhood now sing Frozen songs in addition to Celine Dion and Bon Jovi classics. The buildings are getting taller, the streets are getting cleaner, the cabs are getting safer. It’s still really hot, and getting hotter as the rainy season approaches. I’m looking forward to buying a motorbike so I can travel around a little bit and get around town more autonomously, but apart from that, life is good!

Read more...