Article | Ready, Set, Go – Bougainville to New Zealand to Timor-Leste. It feels a little like a race, actually a lot like a race, a race against time. My journey from Bougainville, Papua New Guinea to my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand for a fleeting visit before moving to Dili, Timor-Leste.
A tiny little envelope appeared on the screen of my mobile, something I had been anticipating for a few weeks. The subject read ‘Congratulations Pack’. I took that as a good sign and eagerly read the email which confirmed I would shortly be moving to Dili in Timor-Leste, one of the world’s newest countries, gaining independence in 2002. I called my partner to tell her the news and we crossed our fingers that she’d also get the role she had applied for in Timor-Leste. She found out just minutes later that she did.
I was reading the email while in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, where I’d been since late 2016. I hadn’t been back to my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand during this stint and I knew, upon completion of my time in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB), my return to Wellington would be a fleeting visit. I had often thought about my hometown while being away and dreamed about my life back in Wellington. What it might look like? What I might be doing? But that all changed with this email.
This concerned me a little and bought on some anxiety. I wanted to ensure I had sufficient time to ‘reset’ before heading onto the next stage of life, which was Timor-Leste. I wasn’t convinced I knew what this meant, nor how I would achieve the mysterious ‘thing’ I sought. I pondered over the ability to ‘reset’ for the longest of time as my stint in Bougainville drew to a close and the answer evaded me still. To be perfectly honest, there were a few tears shed. I didn’t have the answer, yet having released my emotions, I felt calm, but still a little apprehensive. I was also very, very excited by what the future might hold.
We had planned one last adventure in Bougainville before departing. It was an adventure we had been wanting to attempt for a while – climbing Bougainville’s highest point of Mount Balbi. It was the perfect distraction and one which would require my full focus and both mental and physical strength, as we hiked for 3 days, climbing up through Bougainville’s remote bush to the summit of the volcano and back. Those couple of nights I spent under a tarpaulin in the bush, while the rain lashed down, were the coldest I’ve been for a long, long time. In a strange way it helped to refocus on the moment and not let my mind whirl out of control and worry about what might or might not be.
Not long after, with a short stint exploring Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territories of Australia, I was back in my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand sitting in Marauni café in Lyall Bay. It felt great. I was waiting on poached eggs on toast and a flat-white without a care in the world. That’s not to say it lasted long. Unfortunately a certain amount of stress seemed to be inevitable with the amount we wanted to achieve during our time back home. But right now, I was at ease. I was thinking about the walks I wanted to do – Red Rocks to watch the fur seals, Otari-Wilton’s Bush up to the Skyline looking over Makara and one of my favourites exploring Miramar Peninsula – and about catching up with friends, as well as just seeing the city again.
Yes, I still had the deck to stain, a small storage unit to sort through with the target of emptying and saving $2,500 a year, kitchen cabinets to clean, sand and stain, post deployment medicals to attend to ensure I didn’t bring anything back from Bougainville that I shouldn’t have, pre-deployment medicals to attend to ensure I wasn’t taking anything to Timor-Leste they don’t want, as well as vaccinations, 3 appointments of vaccinations actually, a dental check-up, a pre-deployment volunteer briefing, as well as moving on a weekly basis from one Air BnB to the next, with an ever-increasing entourage of luggage. But despite this somewhat challenging checklist of things to do, at that particular moment it was all good.
It wasn’t to last too long as I mentioned. The days rattled by extremely quickly and I started to notice a pattern. My mood appeared to be linked to the weather. It seemed crazy but it definitely seemed to be a pattern. Maybe having lived on a tropical island like Bougainville, where it was mostly sunny was playing a part? I noticed if it was a fine sunny day with blue skies, I’d be buzzing, and if it was grey and cloudy, my mood would be the same, grey… I chatted to a friend over coffee, who was my neighbour in Bougainville and was also recently back in Wellington and the topic came up. Funnily enough, he had experienced a similar thing on his return, just a few months earlier than me. This instantly made me feel re-assured and it dissipated after a week or two. The closer I got to my departure date, the more the self-assessment of ‘being ready’ and ‘reset’ started to resurface.
I caught up with friends, returned to my favourite cafes, drank coffee, walked walks and made good progress on our checklist. We completed medical appointments with no hassle, vaccinations were underway with future sessions booked, a dental check-up was booked, and we had donated, sold or rehoused a lot of our things to free up the storage unit. The days went by as we moved from one Air BnB to another, with our entourage of luggage, in different suburbs like Roseneath, Miramar, Hataitai and Strathmore. It was felt nice to live in and experience different Wellington suburbs and be part of the community, visiting local cafes, coffee shops, supermarkets and so on.
The milestones – both big and small – helped a lot to keep up the positivity and motivation. This was something I learnt during my IT planning roles. Tick off 3 or 4 small milestones, acknowledge and then boom, there’s a big one just around the corner, which can be celebrated and boost motivation even more. This is how I felt with emptying the storage unit. Small milestones of donating this, selling that and then boom, it’s empty! It felt great to walk away from an empty storage unit, which was definitely a big milestone. I’m not so sure my friends who kindly offered to rehouse some of our things will be quite so ecstatic though!
Approaching our departure date, I certainly felt reconnected with Wellington and a tinge of sadness hung over me to be leaving so soon, as I knew it would, yet I was mentally ready. The stresses were still there and the rather large box in our Air BnB kitchen was just one of them. Ideally, it needed to be en-route to Timor-Leste as it contained a bicycle, the one which I would use as my main mode of transport during my stay in Dili, TL. Unfortunately, after initial contact a few days prior, we weren’t able to get hold of the courier company again to organise collection. I had visions of checking out of the Air BnB the following morning and receiving a review something along the lines of… ‘great guests, they liked the guinea pigs but they left a huge box in the kitchen with a bicycle in it… weird…’ However, it wasn’t to eventuate as I received a timely phone call from our volunteer programme co-ordinator, who was checking in that everything was going okay. That afternoon we dropped the bike box off at the office and it would be collected from there. It was like walking away from the empty storage unit all over again. Another big milestone.
As I write this, I’m sitting on an Air NZ flight whizzing over the Pacific Ocean towards Dili, Timor-Leste via an overnight stop in the Denpansar airport hotel in Bali. Did we get everything achieved that we had on our checklist? Well, not completely, but we certainly ticked off the big ticket items. Of course, it would have been nice to have more time to do more walks, catch up with more friends and reconnect further with Wellington, but we knew it wasn’t financially sustainable and we had a life in Timor-Leste to go and make. What lies ahead? A 2-year contract to support the development of tourism in Timor-Leste, and my partner also has a 2-year contract supporting climate change, yet as my time in Bougainville taught me first-hand, you never do know what lies ahead and that’s both the most exciting and at times scariest of things.
They say the magic happens when you step outside of your comfort zone and I wholeheartedly agree. Flipping my routine, home comforts and everything I know about a place certainly puts me outside of my comfort zone. However, time and time again I do it and become better at it. I understand the things I need to do to make it easier, like quickly establishing new routines, setting up a home to work and relax, and making new connections. And it’s those things, as well as learning about a new place, culture and way of living, that excite me.
I accept my 3rd coffee on this leg of the flight and I feel prepared. I’m calm, yet extremely excited by what might lie ahead. Does this mean I have reset? I am still unsure… but nevertheless at this moment, the coffee is great and I’m living a life I couldn’t even have dreamed of just a few years ago. I have nothing to complain about… Yes, at times it feels like a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, but that’s life right and I know I’d be un content at this point in life if it wasn’t this way. Right now, on this plane, it doesn’t feel like a race anymore. I’m reclined (there’s no one sitting behind me…), sipping my coffee, watching the small plane on the map creep slowly towards my destination. I’m quite literally moving onto the next stage…
I reflect upon my sometimes mad, usually frantic, yet always incredible period back home in Wellington, New Zealand with nothing but fond memories. It feels like home and it’s always a pleasure to come home and reconnect once again. That reconnecting with the place you know, the familiarities, the ease of which you can slot back in, the catch-ups, the easy conversations, the flat-whites, the walks, nature, wildlife, and simply just being present, in hindsight, contributed to my reset, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I was worried about the duration of time I had to reset, however it turned out, what I actually did with the time I had was far more important than the duration. I’m feeling ready as once again I prepare for the unknown…
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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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