10 minutes of sun

I live in a quite pleasant setting. A great deal of privacy compared to any other living situation I’ve had in East Timor. Doors with vinyl coverings with textured, fake wood tooling, shell ‘curtains’, loads of cupboards and sideboards, two skylight-type windows, a sit-down toilet, nice breezes, a TV (half-burned out), and a 3-CD VCD player to go with. Here I spend over half of my day reading and writing. Escaping. Movies take me furthest away. But my books have been escape routes as well. Amazing how much time I spend in my own world. Thinking about food, home, my childhood, my various possible futures, writing. Thinking of ways to break up the alone time. But breaking up the alone time, that is leaving this house alone to do my research, is psychologically exhausting. Going places where my actions are entertainment for everybody — constantly. There is never a moment I go unnoticed. Every word I say, every trip I take to the toilet, every bite I eat… It’s all for consumption.

It’s as if I save up energy and strength to go out and interact with people positively when I’m on my own. It’s like standing in the sun and sitting in the shadow. Truly amazing how 10 minutes in the sun can require a good hour the shade. Sometimes I think I’m weak for needing such solitude, for not being able to remains ‘on’ for longer than a day or a day and a half. But I think everybody develops their own ways of coping. And perhaps these limits — the sun/shadow ratio, can be changed over time. For the moment I am grateful to have such an accessible shadow. It has really made the difference to me.

I feel at ease around other internationals, like the military observers and the Portuguese teachers and the GTZ folks, but there is something truly great about feeling undisturbed, free to write and read and wait. Perhaps it’s just this night. My first night alone with electricity. A Hugh Grant movie and Indian leftovers. Sitting and reading and deciding to capture these thoughts.

I don’t find myself continuously comparing myself to William Least Heat-Moon, but I find his journey so easy in this bizarre way. I realize that moving is tiring. And traveling alone is lonely. But is a man. He has enough money. He has reliable accomodation and transport. He speaks the language. I look at my experience over the past year and a half and I think it has not been all that easy. There were only few times when I felt so acutely alone feeling. But I had already sealed off my escape routes. As if the bridge had fallen behind me. But the very logistics of life here — things I’ve become accustomed to now, like tropical disease, language, bad Timorese-foreigner relations, basic sanitation (lacking!), deep misunderstandings and cultural missteps, money problems… It seems like a lot now! I’m reaching this satisfied feeling that my time here is reaching natural completion. That it’s time for me to go experience life as a young person in the US for once. To surround myself by people more my age (not exclusively, but just some!), look for balance in the ‘first world’ figure out how I can live there. In the end, I don’t feel that I’ve had to force myself to stay here. This has not been as masochistic an experience as I may have painted it in my mind. It is stimulating and life-affirming to be here, even if I have to take it in spells like the hot sun. But I think my soul has become tired by constant moves between scorching sun and cool shade. I need that soft spring or autumn light, a more even warmth.

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