Last week we returned from a wonderful holiday in Australia. After many months of island life we couldn’t wait to experience the delicious food, plentiful shopping, fun family activities and spend time with dear friends.
Immersed in exciting Lonely Planet listings, I didn’t give much thought to the re-entry process. Australia doesn’t feel far away (the Dili-Darwin flight is only an hour), but I found it really interesting to watch our family re-adapt to developed-country living.
It’s all about perspective.
Within minutes of our arrival, the kids were enthusiastically pointing out everything that was new and different. Walking to the airport taxi stand, they marveled at the sight of BUSES! From many blocks away their keen eyes spotted swings, slides, and…PLAYGROUND! They raced, rolled and ran barefoot in the green GRASS! Up and down, up and down they went on the scary-steep STAIRS!
I was immediately struck by their sense of wonder at such everyday sights and joked that we’d obviously been depriving them. None of these discoveries had been a novelty before we moved to East Timor. But then again…the BEACH! was a pretty fantastic welcome to our new life.
As the taxi maneuvered its way to our temporary home—through the empty industrial area—my husband and I were already gushing: “it’s sooo nice here!” Smooth sidewalks, working stop lights, actual traffic lanes. My friend laughed at us: “Wow, if you think this is nice, wait until you see the actual city!” Clearly it’s not just three-year olds who swoon at the commonplace.
For the first few days it was all a little overwhelming. So much to see, so much to do, so much to buy—and so many people doing the very same thing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d waited in line for things. Though Australia seemed familiar—the many subtle differences sometimes threw us. We were lucky to have a fabulous friend as our cultural guide and soon fell happily into step with the city pace, stretching our island legs and soaking in the “silly season” energy.
Over lovely holiday meals, friends asked me what foods I’d missed most. I would usually mumble something about good cheese, certain fruits/vegetables or fresh herbs, but mostly I tried not to dwell on it too much. I do just fine if I don’t think about what I’m missing and instead appreciate what we do have (such as all-organic local produce and tasty coffee). In my case, ignorance is bliss. Though I will admit that the fresh berries were heaven…
As a family, we had a number of lessons to learn as we adapted to the big city. Staying safe on sidewalks and in crowds was a new thing for the kids—fortunately they learned quickly and without too many hand-holding battles. Navigating transportation was another new activity as we jumped on (and sprinted for) buses, ferries and taxis all over town. For my transport-loving son, this was a real highlight—whispered earnestly in my ear with pure boy joy: “Mommy…I love the bus.” Living in a country with no escalators or elevators made these things pretty exciting too—and pressing light-up buttons of all varieties, lots and lots of buttons.
Another interesting issue to navigate was my daughter’s extreme friendliness, a trait that is encouraged in kid-loving Timor (and Asia in general) but required some toning down while in Australia. Z is a naturally social and outgoing kid—she loves people, adores babies and attempts to engage just about everyone she meets with a cheery hello, smiling wave or a friendly pat. It has never been an issue in Timor, but in Australia it was sometimes a great icebreaker and sometimes…a little awkward. Though always a fascinating social experiment.
Sydney is filled with family friendly sights and activities and we loved taking advantage of these—checking out the iconic Opera House and Harbor Bridge, Botanical Gardens, Taronga Zoo, the Rocks, New Year’s fireworks, and the beautiful beaches and city parks. Yet, it was the little things that made us happiest.
Being able to WALK! everywhere—strolling for miles and taking in water views, cityscapes and green space. Enjoying PICNICS! amidst exotic-looking birds and trees. Breathing COOL AIR! in the evenings while wearing long sleeves. Re-connecting with old friends.
We loved our stay in Oz, but when it was time to go we felt ready to return to our quieter life. Arriving at Dili’s tiny international airport, I watched a group of Americans take in the scenery for the first time, photographing the green hills and swaying palms fringing the rough-looking runway. Walking the tarmac, I noticed the smell of the air for the first time…early morning cooking smoke mixed with fragrant flowers. Driving home on the main road—past rubbish piles, stray dogs and non-working stop lights—there was no comparison between shiny Sydney and dusty Dili. But we were home.
Postscript: Not long after returning to Dili I found myself bemoaning that day’s limited (and somewhat shriveled) produce selection at our local store—still thinking of bountiful Oz. A friend (who lives in West Timor, Indonesia) commented that she’d just been to the same store and was thrilled—compared to the limited offerings she’s used to, it was heaven.
It’s all about perspective.
What surprises you most when you travel? When you return home?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour in East Timor.
Photo credit to Shaula Bellour.