I am sitting in Khartoum's airport. For the moment, everything is life size. The crying kid next to me, the men walking to the airport mosque with prayer mats, the man smoking under the no smoking sign. Soon, the hatch on the KLM flight will close, the announcements will begin overhead, and the telescope will start to swivel. By the time I arrive to Europe, it will have turned completely and everything in Sudan will seem miniature, far away.
I tried to have a simple conversation with the driver on the ride here, but I couldn't manage. Every thought was short circuited before it verbalized, my neurons a crossed jumble of sparking wires. It was then I realized that my brain had already left, maybe even the day before. Right now it is floating in an ice cream pail on some customs officer's desk in Amsterdam. Every now and again he adds another warm mugful of vegetable stock and St. John's Wort, and keeps an eye out for the zombified expat walking around the terminal bumping into pillars while looking at all of the lights.
I will catch up with it. For the time being… bzzzz… bzzzz… crossed, sparking wires.
It took me 48 hours to leave the field. It was a rush to the finish as I received my travel permit just as the plane was arriving, then flew off to the southern town of Rumbek to wait for a connection the next day. Rumbek is Abyei in twenty years. Wide streets with mature trees, green, calm, a large colorful market. I was enamored. This is the Africa I remembered, or at least imagined. People waving hello, children walking to schools in uniformed rows, smiling. This was life as I knew it.
I went for a run in the morning, and waved hello to chidren, even raced one on his bike. It was idyllic. I was about half way through, running on a beaten trail that flanked the side of a road. I made room for a bicycle to pass me from behind, and for a man approaching from the opposite direction. The bicycle wobbled past. As the man passed opposite, he drew his hand back, as if to strike me. In it he held a sapling, as thick as my finger and three feet long. We stood there, him poised, me nervous, waiting. A full moment passed. He laughed, and kept walking.
The spell was broken. I did not fit in. It was an illusion. No matter how well integrated I thought myself, this was not my place either.
I am wondering where that place is now. Yesterday I received an email from a friend who did his first mission last year, and he said that sine his return, he feels uneasy. He is waiting to go away again.
So much left unwritten. There are a million things. I wanted to write about the Casio F91-W, how it is the watch for all developing world traveling needs, reliable and unglamorous. I wanted to tell you about my grandfather, how he used to skate on the thin fall ice, often breaking through, and track diving muskrats to stun them with a quick blow of an ax handle on the frozen surface of the lake, then sell their fur for pocket change. I wanted to tell you about the food in our mission, how we would not call it by its name but by it's color:
"What's for dinner?"
"Ummm…red and brown?"
"Nope…black and brown."
"Shit. I hate black and brown."
I wanted to tell you how some of the women in the hospital, the mothers of the children in the TFC, wrote and sang us a song one day, wishing us strength. I wanted to describe better the team, Franck the logistician who I would trust with my life, Maurizio and his calm, wise ways. All these things, untold. And many more. Alas.
I am leaving with some misgivings. Most importantly, the visa has been slow in coming for my replacement, so she is delayed for a couple of weeks. I am to start work in August and cannot stay. I would have liked it so much more if I could walk through the Abyei hospital with the cavalry, and leave the keys to it in her capable hands.
Second, in some cruel, twist of fate, I already miss Abyei. How can that be? There were weeks that I longed for a reality that was anything but the one that hit me when I opened my eyes. Now it is strange to feel so untethered, to not have the responsibility and privilege to constantly improve something so worthwhile.
I will write some more posts, perhaps with a different frequency, as I see how well the next places fit.
I suspect more thank you's will follow as this winds down, but my gratitude for those of you who have been there throughout this blog, to encourage, to learn, to bear witness, is so profound that even the best words cannot capture them. There were days where I bent down to enter the logistic tukul and sat at the communications computer still bent from all the weight of the world outside of it, and I would receive an email that contained comments from so many of you. When I left the tukul, it was on a thousand tiny clouds. A source of strength and inspiration when it was wanting the most. Thank you.
Oh, the flight boards. I just looked back over the post, and I capitalized everything for the first time. Huh. Imagine that. Will send word once I meet my brain again.
Soon, suddenly, not Sudan.