Missing You

Missing someone is part of loving them. Not until you are apart do you realise how much they mean to you.

– Nikhil Saluja

I’ve come to realise that since returning home, I’ve occupied a state of limbo. It’s been over a month since I returned to Irvine, and that’s an odd amount of time. It’s been artificially stretched by difference, not distance, and exacerbated by my internal refusal to believe that it’s over. Dire Dawa, my little home in Gerba and my place at JeCCDO have taken on a dreamlike quality; similar to a sepia film tinged with a gold haze. For the most part, any less than perfect memory has dissolved, leaving behind a hyper-real utopia in my mind.

I’m aware that I’ve been distant since coming home. I just don’t know how to connect to people in the same way. I’ve been through a massive change, but other people haven’t. They aren’t interested any more. They don’t want to hear me talk about it in the same way they did a month ago. For them, the novelty has worn off. But it wasn’t novelty. It was my life. And it was the happiest I’d been for a very long time. I try not to occupy myself thinking about it too much, because as I’m doing now, I end up in tears. I don’t know why I’m crying when I do; whether it’s sadness, frustration at not being able to explain myself, the overwhelming feeling I get whenever my host family and Ethiopian friends come to mind or if it’s just some kind of outpouring of grief. It’s been more difficult being back in ‘normality’ than I’d like to admit. I just need a hug every now and then.

I’m now back at university. I’ve only had one class so far, so it’s not really sunk in yet, and I think I’m still pretending that in a few weeks my visit home will be over and I can go back to my life in Ethiopia. Walking from the train station to the campus last week, I saw two people standing at a bus stop, and knew instantly that they were Ethiopian. As I walked past them, I could hear them laughing and joking in Amharic –, I heard one of them say to the other: ‘N-deeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh???????’

It was like hearing a voice you remember from childhood, but is almost lost to you. I can’t even begin to describe how happy it made me to hear those words again.

I’m pining. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming that I’m back in that house with the people I love so much, and the realisation that I’m not breaks my heart. I wake up from vivid dreams, shattered by the knowledge that my other family aren’t living my life alongside me anymore. I wear the little necklace that Mesai and I picked out together every day, because I feel close to them that way. Our once parallel tracks have split, and I’m back in a world of excess, stress and self-gratification, while they remain fixed in my head as occupying a state as close to bliss as anything I’ve ever known.

The thought that moves me most is the memory of Sara. Never in my life have I met a person so filled with compassion, kindness and intelligence who has also faced so many difficulties in such a short time. I think of all the things that I have that she does not; of all the opportunities that I have in the palm of my hand that will be ever out of her reach. And whenever I feel listless, or like I don’t care, or ‘I don’t want to do this anymore #firstworldproblems’, I think of Sara. I think of how she had a smile for everyone. Of her teaching me Amharic in the third week I was there, and it was just the two of us. That she wanted to speak to me so badly that she practiced English while she cooked, cleaned and washed. How we understood one another implicitly, despite coming from completely different worlds. That she was my friend, my sister and a wise woman all rolled into one. I remember her saying something in English for the first time, and how thrilled she was, and how thrilled I was. I remember her holding my face in her hands when I left, in the semi-darkness of the living room, silently crying, and saying ‘No, no, Lauriti, please no, beka beka. Laura is agir is very nice. No, no Lauriti. Ewadeshalow Laura.’

By some stroke of divine influence, or fate, or something, I found the sister I always wanted: an illiterate 18 year old Oromo girl who ran away from home and works as a maid in Dire Dawa.

Soulmates. Even the cat.

Soulmates. Even the cat.

I’m back. N-dehhh?

Well, hello stranger.

 

It’s the beginning of my third week back in the UK,  and it’s really about time I put up a blog post about coming home, and everything that’s happened since the last time you heard from me. This post is going to cover: saying goodbye to Dire; coming home; my Ethiopia night and the Action at Home training that I attended over the weekend in York. That’s quite a lot to get through, so I’ll see how we go.

 

Leaving Dire Dawa

Leaving Dire Dawa was genuinely heartbreaking. I didn’t realise how normal life there had become until I was in sight of it slipping away for the forseeable future. The night before I left, my host dad and I sat in the living room watching a TV show about Ethiopian cultural dancing, complete with a dance lesson. We passed pleasantries about the people we were watching, about how there was always one person going in the wrong direction, and how getting up to join in was just a little bit too difficult. It was all very…normal. And to be honest, I’m glad that’s what we did. After that, he went to bed, and I sat up a little longer than usual (despite the early start the next day), watching Ethiopian soaps with Gelila and Sara. We lay on the roll out mats in the living room with me in the middle, and my adopted sisters on either side.

I woke up at 3am, pulled on the clothes I’d left out the night before, and waited for my bajaj to come to take me to the bus station to meet the other volunteers. I was trying so hard not to lose control of my emotions, but as soon as I had to say goodbye to everyone, I broke my heart. All the emotions I had been keeping to myself and letting out alone all of a sudden flooded out, and there was a very tearful living room in Gerba that morning. My host parents both came with me to the bus station; none of us spoke on the way there. Talking precipitated crying. I hugged them both goodbye and tried to thank them as best I could without setting us all off again. Leaving them was one of the hardest things I had to do, and all the thoughts of cheese, broccoli and hot showers in the world couldn’t have stopped me brooding on the family who I was about to leave behind.

At the bus station, the other volunteers (and the nationals too: thanks for getting out of bed, guys 🙂 ) were in a similarly emotional sort of a mood. We boarded the bus fairly tearfully and watched the sun come up as we drove out of the city and through the desert towards Addis Ababa.

 

Home.

Coming home has been a really strange experience. Our supervisors warned us all about ‘reverse culture shock’, and I suppose that I didn’t pay that much attention to it. I imagined it would manifest itself in things like ‘where did all these cars come from?’, or ‘why isn’t it sunny?’, but my inverse struggles have been more difficult to explain. I got upset on a shopping trip because I realised what an empty experience it was, and how expensive everything suddenly seemed. For £40, I could buy another Stanley. Why did people think it was good value to buy a designer t-shirt with that money? I know that I live in a culture where the cost of living is higher, and so prices are therefore greater – I get it. But it’s still difficult paying £1.40 for a bus journey that would cost 6p in a bajaj.

I’ve also found it really hard coming into a house which is mainly empty during the day. It’s silent. Absolutely silent. Gone are the moments of praying for a bit of personal space, and in their place are moments spent wishing someone would come and interrupt the white noise. I miss all the girls arguing, laughing and mucking about with one another. I miss getting life advice from my host mum. I really miss my Ethiopian granny. She’s incredible. I miss Mehret, and how she always knew what to say to make me feel better.

Of course, it’s been so nice to see everyone at home again. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed my friends and family. Even my brother.  Speaking to them about what I’ve done has been really good, but it’s also been quite tough. There are in-jokes that I can’t explain. Experiences that can never be communicated the way I’d like. And no matter how hard everybody tries, they’ll never really be able to get it. I doubt people really believe me when I say I’m pining for Ethiopia; it’s still an abstract place in Africa, where I went to for 3 months and came back from in one piece. That’s why the Returned Volunteer workshop was so good: it was closure, and a chance to speak to people who just understood.

I don’t want this to be a total downer of a blog post: I just want to be realistic. Few of the other ICS blogs touch on the down that sometimes comes after the high, and it’s a good thing to discuss. Other people go through this too – it’s not just me – and hopefully this will be strangely comforting for them to read. You’re not alone! I miss my second home too!

 

Ethiopian Night

So, yeah! I had an Ethiopian night when I got back to Scotland! Lots of people were able to come, and we wore sheetees, Ethiopian t-shirts and agir libs, ate lots of good food (tibs, messer wat, Samrat Chicken Clubs, Special Pizza and roasted beans, to name but a few), and listened to some cracking Amharic tunes.

DSCF1036

Dad’s fairly hilarious plate of food, reflecting my time in Ethiopia

It’ll  count a little towards my Action at Home project, but I have other plans too.

 

Action At Home

As I mentioned at the top of this post, we spent the weekend at a Returned Volunteer event in York. The aim was to bring the teams back together to let us share our experiences, and work out how to channel them into something productive in the community. I personally found it a really helpful experience – I needed to speak to the others, as they’d been through the same thing, and it also gave me the kick up the backside I needed about what my social action project will entail. The current plan is to ring my secondary school sometime this week, and organise to go in and speak to the headmistress about running some sessions with the senior school. I want to open their eyes to the opportunities that are open them, and show them all that you don’t actually need to be a genius to do something amazing. I hope it all comes together.

This has probably been the worst-written post of all time, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. Hopefully the next post will be a little more readable, and a little less ‘thrown together out of desperation’. I’ll leave you with a link to my favourite Amharic pop song. Look out for the bajaj ❤