Autumn, a non-existent season in tropical zones, tricky to explain I remember:
“So Mr Mark, leaves die and fall off, like ours do in the dry season. But that in the West dying leaves are so beautiful people look at them? You travel to look at dead leaves?
And the sun you say, it is up far later than six and is dark by the afternoon?”
Polite smiles of disbelief; outlandish information that was never quite believed. Seasonal change is hardwired, hard to dislodge and now we are back to our own again. The placements are finished, we are back in the UK and have that uncertain, Monday after the weekend party feeling.
It would be difficult to go back to our old life in the South East of England, we need somewhere else to live and somewhere completely different to the last three years too; Dartmoor it is then. At the end of the month we move there for a pilot programme (I don’t think development vocabulary will ever leave us).
Other returnees have said much the same thing: that (unsurprisingly) your interest in your adventures lasts far longer than the attention span of those at home. Once the returnee answers some fundamental questions and establishes that they didn’t live in a mud hut, that it was very hot, that they had seen some of the wild life also seen on TV, interest quickly fades and its back to Bake Off, Jeremy Corbyn or the price of housing. Which is as it should be, a shared communal conversation, few in Gulu would sustain discussion about countries far away either.
Main question (after the mud hut etc): What is it like being back? Impossible to answer, there are no real points of comparison
Points about being back that stand out (in random order and probably of no real significance)
Aeroplanes: apart from the bi-weekly plane from Entebbe and the training jet that went round and round clockwise like a child learning to ride a bicycle, there were no other planes to see or hear (despite being the noisiest place I have ever lived). In the South East the sky is full of trails and planes, and small clouds. Gulu skies were either empty or dominated by vast cloud dramas bringing intense tropical storms.
The dim light and the cold, obviously, but really it’s the damp: arthritis and rheumatism waving to say hello.
So much traffic: so few people in each new car; so little carried; no motorbikes; no broken down charcoal trucks.
Every Ugandan vehicle was always full beyond its limits, now we see shiny vehicles with a single occupant in well behaved queues.
Roadworks: an international feature approached with national characteristics, no one in Uganda would dream of doing anything but driving straight through it all.
In the UK we wait fretting slightly, moaning that no one is actually working, but we wait nonetheless.
Conversations in shops: we have learnt to ask people how they are before starting any transaction, to ask how the night had gone, about the health of the family and so on. Try that in Tescos and you would be arrested.
Houses are full of digital machines that harass you with alarms.
Worrying whether the (enormous piles of) laundry you seem to have brought home will ever dry on the washing line, realising that you will have to go back to doing your own washing again, hoping your Gulu washerwoman (and all the other people you ended up employing without really trying) will have found new clients, hoping that she/ they will have spent the money you gave her/ them for school fees on her/ their children.
Cheese eaten in the last three years: Parmesan (or so the label said)/ Gouda (ditto)/ something vaguely cheesy from the dairy at my placement college.
Cheese eaten in the last fortnight: Cheddar (Scottish and English and of various ages)/ Brie/ Cotherstone/ Feta/ Goat (hard and soft)/ Roquefort/ Swaledale (sheep)/ Wensleydale.