Stevens Take On Life In Foreign Land Within Their Stride

Leaving your country of birth to start a new life in a foreign land isn’t always easy. It becomes even more challenging if you are raising young children.
29 Sep 2019 11:38
Stevens Take On Life In Foreign Land Within Their Stride
Merewalesi and Thomas Stevens with their two daughters Shekinah (left) and Terumah in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photo: Sheldon Chanel

Leaving your country of birth to start a new life in a foreign land isn’t always easy. It becomes even more challenging if you are raising young children.

So when Thomas Stevens, with his wife, Merewalesi, and two daughters, moved to Timor-Leste last year, he did not know what to expect.

Almost one year on, the couple, who have been married for eight years, say they have no regrets.

“Most people take time to get used to, or even like, a new country,” Mrs Stevens said.

“But for us, when we got off the plane on October 21 and drove through the city, I fell in love with this place almost immediately.”

Mr Stevens, 40, was born in Cuvu, Sigatoka and raised in Levuka. He is the manager research and analysis at the ANZ Bank based in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili.

Mrs Stevens, 34, is originally from Keiyasi Village in Navosa, is a certified personal trainer with a growing list of clients.

Their two daughters, Terumah and Shekinah, aged seven and five respectively, study at an international school in Dili.

The Stevens family is part of a small but close-knit Fijian community living in Timor-Leste and contributing to its development.

“There was a big need for skilled people in Timor, so when I was offered the opportunity to move here permanently I took it,” Mr Stevens said.

“It was like a leap of faith for us, but everything has worked out better than expected. We see this move as an investment. The kids are very happy too and that’s a big plus point.”

The family spent roughly one-and-a-half years in the Cook Islands prior to the Timor-Leste move, with Mr Stevens stationed there as part of his role with ANZ.

Their friends in the Cooks tried to talk them out of moving, given Timor-Leste’s history of violence and political instability.

The country became independent in 2002 after Indonesia was forced to relinquish control of the territory as a result of a popular 1999 United Nations-observed referendum.

Although that period (1999-2002) was marred by intense violence, the country of roughly 1.3 million has made steady progress in its development since then.

The prospects for development are expected to further improve after the signing of a major maritime border deal with Australia, which could unlock billions of dollars of offshore gas and oil revenue.

For the Stevens family, it’s all about perseverance in the face of the challenges.

Mrs Stevens believes Timor-Leste has the potential to be a “great” country and she wants to be there to see it “when it does”.

“Maybe some of our (friends) concerns were valid but that happened a long time ago. The country is trying to forget it and rebuild; we want to be part of that process,” she said.

The couple have taken the challenges in stride and have no plans to return to Fiji any time soon.

That is not to say the family do not miss home.

Both Mr and Mrs Stevens have fond memories of their time in Fiji, recalling the abundance of seafood and tasty Fijian-made snacks.

There are some similarities between Timor-Leste and Fiji as well, which Mr Stevens said has made it easier for the family to adjust.

“The weather, environment and food is also similar to what we get in Fiji. The people are friendly, always smiling,” he said.

The local language is one aspect of life in Dili they are still trying to master.

Timor-Leste’s official language is the native tetun, while locals are also fluent in Portuguese.

“When we were growing up in Fiji, it was compulsory that we learned English in school. But here, English is probably their fifth language so that has been a challenge,” Mrs Stevens said.

Moving abroad and being exposed to a culture that is often completely different from yours can be a surreal experience.

For the Stevens family, it meant coming out of their comfort zone and adjusting to a place they had only read about before arriving.

However, as Mr and Mrs Stevens often reiterate, the move has paid off and they are looking forward to a bright future.

They have managed to carve out their own piece of paradise in tiny Timor-Leste.

Edited by Percy Kean

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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