I land in Abu Dhabi, alone and find myself a seat which looks as comfortable as a bicycle without a seat... Or tires. So plonking myself down I wrap my Masai blanket tight around me, to attempt to recreate the warmth of Africa and attempt to sleep. I stubbornly set my alarm for my boarding time, stupidly expecting sleep to come. I was naive. I was also lucky. As I was sitting there listening to everyone yell at each other across the terminal, I suddenly realise (just in time) that I was an hour out time zone wise, and almost missed my flight!
It would probably come as a surprise to many go you that I have never had sleeping tablets. An ADHD squirrel like me goes a million miles an hour all the time, sleeping tablets stop the magic... Or terror depending on your view. Anyway, I decided for the first time to have a couple of sleeping tablets on the flight from Abu Dhabi back to London. The instructions said take 2 tablets 20 mims before you want to go to sleep. All I can say is, I am glad I waited until I was seated on the plane. I don't remember take off, or landing and only a brief moment in the middle of the flight when I could smell food and woke up. Of course... to me, food is more powerful than the strongest drugs. Fat kid for life.
As I arrived back into London Heathrow I basically hand back my tan to the immigration desk. Which is all I did. For someone who has just spent 3 months in Africa, coming back to a country that is terrified of the concept of Ebola I thought I would have a bit more of an interrogation. Lord knows just coming back from a weekend in France comprises of a full cross examination, investigation of how many real teeth my paternal grandmother, and a full cavity search with option happy ending. But from Africa. Nothing. No Ebola test, no 'what countries have you been to', no bag search. The only question I was asked was, 'when did you leave the U.K?' Surely she had the answer to that question on her little screen. How that is helpful or relevant, I don't know. But I also don't care, I was free of the oppressive Heathrow and on my way home.
Small things get you excited when you come back from a big trip. Wearing a t-shirt you left here. Remembering you brought a new jacket a week before you went away. Remembering that you do own shoes, that aren't flip flops or converse.
There have been a few things that have really stuck out since returning to London. Appreciating a toilet that has been cleaned some time since it's installation, flowers on the table to welcome you home and the ability to drink shower water are just a few.
There are also things that remind me of Africa. Watching a train full of passengers standing still and patiently as the train arrives on the platform, reminds me of a wilderbeest migration. Static, queuing people, not moving a heck of a lot just waiting for the person in front of them to move a slightly more to the left or right.
Yesterday I watched a very overweight person walking along the road, she had both arms out, almost like stability, like a tightrope walker. And for some reason it reminded me of a giraffe, constantly moving its head from one side to another to compensate for it's lopsided walking style.
But the most powerful impact on my return to real life is music. Listening to music that reminds you of your travels, is exhilarating and depressing at the same time. I have spent the last few days trying to interpret it differently to fit it to my new location, new scene which is actually an old scene. It's all very confusing.
On the home front, I have forgotten the code for my front door, I have got lost running home, I have played netball very badly and I have forgotten where to put my socks.
But the biggest problem of all has been the sun. Or lack of it. It's not even the warmth that I miss. It is the actual evidence of the sun. Yesterday I saw an amazing moon, incredible sitting right over the Thames next to Canary Wharf, it is was set against a pitch black night sky. The only problem was, it was 4:30pm. That's not night, that's not even afternoon! I would consider that late lunch time. It's ridiculous. Returning to London has made me realise how blasé the UK is about time and it's construct.
I think I may have blogged about this before so I apologise if I am repeating myself. Sunset in London may be beautiful, but you wouldn't know, it's not even noticed. Street lights turn on, people are still working, travelling on the tube or generally inside, oblivious to the completion of a day and the beginning of the night. The night is not a scary or all encompassing concept, it is just an extension of the day. A change. For some, it is the only time they see the city. Their daylight hours are taken up reading a computer screen in a badly lit cubicle, lined up next to others that have pictures of tropical islands as their screen savers. Places they will never see, as they barely see their own city.
Africa on the other hand is completely defined by the sun. The day starts at sunrise, it's as if the sun drags them out of their homes onto the street by the collar and dumps them on the side of the road with all of the rest of their neighbours. Sunrise is not just a number heard in the shipping forecast, or read online. It is a magical and stunning event, appreciated and reviered for its beauty.
From there, the hustle and bustle ensues until the sun rises high into the air. Once there, movement slows to a crawl. Shade is sought. Time stops. As though the sun is on a pendulum and when it reaches the midday position and the concept of time slows down. Tying a noose around the population, staving them of oxygen, energy and will.
And when the sun begins to dip, as if given food at the edge of starvation, life begins again. The movement returns, the energy restores. But quickly as that occurs, the sun begins to set over the horizon, the bookend of the day begins. The same stunning beauty of sunrise repeats itself as sunset, as if the sun is celebrating a day well done by framing it in reds, oranges and purples.
And then there is darkness. But unlike London darkness that has the ability to be extinguished by a switch, African darkness is all encompassing. It is terrifying and exhilarating. It has the risk of threat behind every corner. Whether it be animal, human or physical location related, the darkness has hidden agendas.
Wow, I need a job! Africa has had its impact on me far more than I ever expected.
Oh and for anyone wanting to see some of the photos from my epic adventure, I made a book.
You can see it here