I’m homesick. Well, sick at any rate. Not severely, but when you’re a long way from anything familiar any kind of sick is pretty unpleasant and having the stuffy, snotty wretched head cold that I do at the moment is just enough to tip me off over the edge of sensible into self pity.
I’ve done pretty well in my sick record here so far. I think everyone’s expectations of working in Africa is that you will immediately be struck down with exotic gastro bugs, effortlessly shed several kilos and emerge slender and sylph-like several months later when you return home, which will nicely set off your saint like humanitarian worker halo. Not much chance of that happening to me, I have been almost embarrassingly robustly healthy and actually managed to gain weight in my first two months here which was curiously annoying. Of course the one time I did get a dodgy tummy happened to be when we had a visitor from Amsterdam HQ – an MSF veteran whom I was seriously in awe of and as a result was very cross with myself that it was in front of her tukul that I noisily threw up one evening having failed to make it to the toilet tukul. She was very sweet and came out to check on me just in time to catch me throwing up again, except that with an audience this time I tried to supress it, with the unpleasant net result that rice ended up coming down my nose.
Anyway, I am snotty and sore throaty and am feeling whiny and sorry for myself. I’m away from project at the minute, in Nairobi, for a weeklong MSF field management training course followed by a few days holiday. And it is COLD! No one told me that Kenya got this chilly! I was huddled under my blankets last night at the nice-but-bland hotel we are staying in and got homesick for the warm stuffy sanctuary of my tukul – I don’t think it’s rose-tinted nostalgia speaking, I really do miss it. Resident fauna and all.
And so that was the weird part – I wasn’t homesick for home – my home, my house, the one I own and live in back in the UK, with my central heating and memory foam mattress. I missed my mud and straw hut, with its wonky concrete floor and saggy bed. That was a thoroughly unexpected realisation.
But maybe I should be less surprised that I’m not homesick for the UK but Nasir. Home for me has always been more of a feeling than a physical space. And it’s always alternated in my life with periods of intense distracted unsettledness, no matter how familiar spot I may be in. Where ever I have been in my life after a period of time, I always feel a faint pull, a tug, a nudge of desire to be “elsewhere” – nowhere specific usually, nowhere out of the ordinary, just a strange sense that despite an ability to feel at home pretty much anywhere in seconds, at the same time that pretty much nowhere actually IS home.
Is that unique to me? I doubt it. To aid workers and other travelling workers generally? Maybe more so. Who know how many peoples’ truth I’m telling here, but I doubt I’m alone.
There’s just a comforting familiarity to feeling like a stranger in a strange land. An itch that’s stranger still when that land begins to feel familiar in itself – like home and yet not like home – which propels me off again.
It’s not the prospect of putting down roots or shouldering responsibility in anyone place or job that repels me, the opposite in fact. I often get quietly frustrated at the lack of responsibility that I am given professionally. Now that isn’t something that I can exactly blame my employers for; most prize staidness as a trait in their employees, my patchwork CV hardly reflects that as one of my virtues. Due to travelling and moving so much in my first nine years as a qualified nurse the longest I stayed in any one job was 18 months, which hardly makes me as a role model of reliability in anyone’s books.
In a way though I think that this restlessness is just human, in some way reflected in everyone I know to some degree or another. Most just sensibly confine it to a smaller geographic patch than I do or manifest it in a more conventional way. People choose a corner of the country to settle down in and then buy a house as is expected of proper grown ups (yes I own one too, but on reflection I think that may have only happened while I was pretending to be a proper grown up for a few months) and then rip that house apart, renovate it, pick a colour scheme, decorate it, wait a year or two, pick another colour scheme, redecorate and then up sticks and move to a remarkably similar house 30 minutes away and start the whole process from scratch.
I think it’s that whole urge for home – but change – but home – but change – just a bit more static and a lot less obvious than what I’m doing.
It’s not that I don’t miss a lot of things too though. I missed a lot of family stuff in the last couple of months; a wedding, a number of birthdays including those of my mum and god-daughter. That feeling of connection, of welcome, of celebration, of family embrace was hard to know I was missing out on and gave me a couple of slightly morose moments in mid May. And even with the wonders of skype and email I hate missing seeing my friend’s babies getting bigger while I’m gone too. This is a dangerous direction to spend time thinking in to for too long – but I am now more than six months into my mission now, well over the halfway point to seeing everyone again in September.
Save me some birthday cake people. And if I do another MSF mission then some Christmas pudding too please…