I arrived back after three weeks away, set foot on African soil in the middle of a thunderstorm; when we landed it was impossible to see anything in the darkness through rain splashed windows that didn’t allow you know where you were. The tarmac was flooded and there was no-one to wheel the steps out to the plane, so we sat feeling stale and uncomfortable for thirty minutes more before the doors were opened and sweet wet air poured in. The rain was torrential, the long rains have come early J said when he met me, and in the 100-yard dash to the terminal everyone and everything was soaked. Wet steps that made everyone wary and doubtful of what they were doing. First-time travellers here no doubt always feel this way.
One sheds one’s skin during flight and becomes the other person, feeling the weight of the wooden African beads that were hidden before by too many clothes, smiling as they twist smoothly between your fingers. This is how it is when you feel happy because of where you’ve been, but as happy about the place you’re going back to; you move easily, smoothly between the two selves, it took a long time to become like this.
Arriving back here always assails you and it’s always what you expect, but totally unexpected at the same time. A sense of familiar newness, knowing what it is but seeing it through newly born eyes, smells and sounds that you don’t find any place else.
Driving up the long hill to the house, the dirt road made slippery and treacherous by the storm and feet clad in smart new London shoes had to step out into the mud to turn the car wheel hubs to 4-wheel-drive. Mud splashed onto sockless feet, the socks had come off the minute the wheels left the tarmac of icy Europe heading for warmer skies. Much laughter, it’s hard not to find humour in a situation so ridiculous. Once precious possessions, like the sparkliest of gems, are actually not so it seems, deep sticky mud is a great leveler.
Arriving back into darkness because there is no power here, there has not been power for weeks – at least not as a daily reliable source. So the house remains candlelit and the evenings become more insular and secretive; we take care stepping over dark dogs in dark corners and drink wine and tell stories, and go to bed early. And within a day or two it’s as if you had never left, Africa moulds itself back around you, it’s not like a cat who sulks at your absence and takes time with its approach.
Someone I know died last week, was shot by poachers in Maasailand. Sudden, violent, cruel and shocking. Today we stood out in a big open field and his family, and those who knew him well, talked of their love for him. Many tears slid down dusty cheeks and everyone remembered an amazing man; there was laughter at tales that had to be told, but overall an unbearable sadness. A pilot buzzed low over the field in his small plane in tribute, a friend sang Angel from Montgomery with a lone guitar, her voice faltering once or twice as she sang. I think we all feel a little unbalanced by this, as if everyone’s respective worlds have slid just a little off their own axis. I hold J that little bit closer at night.