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.