In searching for a song to describe how I am feeling at the moment, I need look no further than the theme from that timeless Disney classic Aladdin: "A whole new world…!"
So let's flash back to a week ago…
After months of planning, stressing, packing and dreaming there I was; Air North Flight TL 512's fasten seatbelt sign was on and we were preparing for landing.
I noted necks craning around the plane looking out the window, which signalled to me that we were not the only ones entering Timor-Leste for the first time. Marco has recently taken to opting to look after both our boys on flights so my usual travel companion Isabel was perched up on the seat next to me, breathing heavily and fogging up the window glass.
"Mummy Mountains! Mummy Ocean! Mummy…maybe crocodiles?"
I understood what she was thinking. What felt like only metres below me was a landscape I was not expecting, but was surprised and delighted to inhale. Enormous mountains of green as far as I could see, low lying white cloud tickling the mountains belly as she exhaled across the deep blue ocean that surrounded her.
As the plane 'dog-legged' around the island from north to south and straightened for landing we were rewarded with a full landscape of the city of Dili. A maze of tiny houses and brown roads winked up at us and I inhaled once more, much larger and more developed than I had imagined yet clearly tinged with a developing world colour.
Only half an hour earlier I had overheard a conversation another family was having with the flight attendant who was unashamedly shocked at their explaining that they were, as we were, moving to Timor-Leste - not just visiting. With a concerned frown she was telling them how much their young family were going to appreciate life back in Australia and how lucky life was back home.
I recalled this conversation as we were landing (also thinking the attendant probably should have exhibited a little more diplomacy), held Marco's hand across the aisle and felt an immense calm. I knew we were exactly where we needed to be at this point in our lives, and that our kids were the lucky ones to be invited into this beautiful country, despite all its obvious challenges.
Bumbling through collecting over 150kg in luggage and then customs with three kids was never going to be easy, but before I knew it we were ourselves weaving through the maze of Dili streets and heading to our house, located in a compound along with other families.
Potholes, families of five on one motorbike, a few goats, more than a few chickens, street vendors selling bags of pineapples and coconuts and a few make-shift houses were just some of the scenic attractions that accompanied the ride to the house. Marco hasn't visited Timor since 2010 when he was last living here so was amazed himself to see some very new, elegant looking government buildings as well as Timor-Leste's answer to Sydney's 'Bondi Junction' - Timor Plaza, which boasts Dili's first 3D Cinema and Burger King. A whole new modern world for Timor-Leste.
The first few days were always going to be messy, but despite our container not having arrived yet (we anticipate it could be still be some time away!) we are self sufficient in our new home.
Marco is proving to be the expert tour guide (having lived here for 15 months in 2008/2010) and has already zipped us around town in his boss' car (we are yet to buy our own, this is easier said than done over here). Driving will no doubt be one of my biggest challenges, in a country where road rules seem optional and the national sport appears to be fitting as many people into a motorbike or into car as you can. The driving and road madness reminds me of driving through Bali, if I was to look for something comparable.
The supermarkets are very typical of Asian stores I have been to before in Malaysia and Bali, and despite lacking a few things we have come to take for granted (such as fresh milk…its UHT here or nothing), we can get almost everything we need if we search hard enough.
As we keep hearing, a simple trip to do the shopping involves visiting all 5 supermarkets to get exactly what you need, as one might have cheese, but not bread - the other might have yogurt, but not tonic water. I am learning quickly that 'brand choice' is not a luxury here, so if you don't like what's available - then too bad. Supplies do run out of shops on occasion so we have been advised to stock up on basics such as UHT milk, butter (frozen), nappies and preferred brands of biscuits. As one of my new friends pointed out to me today, no point standing on high moral ground if you prefer 'organic, hormone free, cage-free range eggs fed a vegan diet and massaged for stress relief': if you don't like what's available in the stores then you don't eat eggs! Although Marco also pointed out to me that he has never seen a chicken in a cage in Timor, they all roam the streets - so perhaps this is the ultimate in free-range?
I am learning very quickly that wasting food is not an option here, and every morsel of produce is used up, and gone are the days of the kids being fussy with what they eat. For example, this week we have visited all the supermarkets and the local vegetable markets over several days whilst negotiating some seriously scary traffic. As a result, tomorrow we are dining on a roast lamb rack (frozen, imported from NZ) basted in honey and mustard, frozen corn and peas, roast potatoes with dried rosemary, a bottle of Australian Riesling, and most importantly for dessert - gelato!
This meal is being greeted with great expectations, and despite us only being here a little over a week we already appreciate what a feat it has been to put together. It also goes to show that with a little determination anything can be achieved, so basically not a bad start.
A very wise woman who lived in Timor for many years herself, advised me when packing for Timor I should just 'pack what makes you happy!' Never more accurate words have been spoken and I am very glad in our freight I have a bread maker, coffee machine, coffee grinder, a yogurt maker and all my Kitchen Aid appliances. Phew!
Our house has ample space for what we need and just meters from our door is the compound pool, gym and BBQ area, which is very convenient considering the climate. Not great swimmers (yet) the kids can't be missed sporting enormous Australian Flag floaties on each arm as they bob in the water, and even when Isabel launches herself into the water from a running height, seemingly plunging to the bottom, she manages to pop up with a great look of surprise spluttering 'I do it again!!'
Marco has been at work all week and I have been wrangling un-fun stuff like sourcing internet (slow and expensive), and a mobile phone card (relatively cheap). Over the coming weeks I will be able to sort out home arrangements better, and know life is going to be very busy with Oscar starting pre-school, plus I am also commencing some online study in March.
In addition I plan on taking 'Tetum' classes in the first few months so I can negotiate life on Dili streets, in particular shopping, better. I am currently gesticulating with my hands and mumbling in my own made up English/Tetum/Portuguese dialect - 'Language de la Sal' which lets be honest, helps no one unless that person wants a good laugh.
The kids and I are trying to learn a few phrases here and there, and on entering the compound one evening the poor security guard 'Antonio' was very surprised to see two little white kids screaming 'Diak-ali' (Are you well or not?) at him over and over again very loudly out the window with great enthusiasm.
My first impressions of Dili have been very positive, and from the moment we landed at Dili airport we have been greeted by big warm smiles, and welcoming, helpful hands. As we are learning, Dili is a city of many contrasts like most developing nations.
Next to our compound is a village of makeshift houses made out of pieces of corrugated iron, goats (I did see a cow but he's since moved on) and chickens roaming around and rubbish being burnt as in Timor recycling simply does not exist. Then a hundred meters or so up the road are multiple Embassies from around the world, as well as restaurants and bars, and on visiting the later it's hard to believe we are actually in Timor as they are so modern and serve great international food.
For a country so dramatically different from Sydney where we lived the past four years, I find it remarkable how little the kids seem to comment about some of the challenging things that pass us daily. On our second night we had an early dinner at the Dili Beach Hotel, which is situated overlooking the main beach. As we were eating our spread of Nasi Goreng, Pizzas and Thai Green Chicken Curry, Isabel stood at the balcony watching a group of local kids who had stripped off down to nothing, their little brown bottoms bouncing in the swell as they screamed in delight as the waves caught them. Multi-drain running next to where they played, the beach known to inhabit crocodiles. I am quite sure Isabel didn't see what her danger conscious mum saw - rather a group of little girls having fun and how much she would have loved to join them too.
So there my friends wraps up our first week in our new home. I am excited about exploring so much about this tiny nation already, and look forward to you coming along for the ride.
Until next time,
Adeus & Bo Maromak (Goodbye & God's speed)