We sat at KuDeTa knocking back fanciful cocktails and watching the sun crawl down the sky, slowly slipping, grabbing at the clouds. A beautiful beach sunset. Beautiful people emerging from the sea, wet skin sparkling under the refracting rays.
I immediately thought of Dili. The sunset, salt and sand on golden skin. Especially since I was knocking back those gin cocktails with a friend from Dili and we were talking about the place.
I’d also caught up earlier in the week with another friend from Dili who will soon be heading back around the other side of the world. A friend who never seems to lose her cheer now slightly less bubbly, a little more tired.
It sounds like it has been a tough few months there. One wonderful woman we knew was lost in a terrible accident just hours after she had been sitting on a fence telling a friend about her dreams for the future.
And other stresses too. Robberies with machetes and other crimes that we try not to speak about. When you are in the Timor bubble you don’t want the outside to think poorly of the place – it has enough struggles as is – so you zip your lips when it comes to grabbings and gropings and masturbating men by the sea. But these things happen there. You shrug them off, you compare them to greater darknesses to make them seem lighter, you say ‘these things happen at home too’, but they simmer away underneath, prickly stress under the skin like grains of sand in your sneakers. Instead you talk about the parties, about the long Sundays by the beach, sipping beer and coconuts like you’re in the middle of a tourism brochure instead of eking out an existence in a place still full of social aftershocks.
Stresses piled on sadness, joy and beauty. A cocktail so strong that not everyone can hold their drink.
Another round of drinks arrived at the wicker sofa and the lanterns lit up, bobbing in the soft breeze.
We talked about how hard it is to answer the question that everyone asks… ‘is Timor safe?’
At the entrance to the bar, a security guard waved one of those magic bomb wands over another foreigner’s bag as they kicked sand up with the back of their thongs. There’s no bomb wands in Dili. But Indonesia always feels safer, even though I wonder if those stupid bomb wands are turned on 90 percent of the time.
As my friend said, living in Dili is like walking down a dark street on your own late at night. Not directly threatening, not necessarily unsafe, but a higher risk of someone jumping out and grabbing you than if you walked down a similar street during the day time.
And there’s always that general sense of knowing that you just don’t know if something will happen or not, even though you look down the street in both directions and can’t see any signs of trouble at all. Things change so quickly.
It’s not the kind of place to hedge your bets because you never really know the odds. But at the same time, to exist and live you need to be fearless, so you often end up throwing down more chips than you ought to.
And the only ones that can ever understand the gamble, the up and down and the sand in the bottom of your sneakers, are the ones that have been there themselves.
The ones who understand why you loved it, why it tired you out and why you’re still talking about it and thinking on it nearly six months after leaving town.