European Interlude
on Alex MacMillan (Namibia), 30/Jul/2012 11:40, 34 days ago
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When we first booked my flights back to Europe for two weeks, we thought that we might be in Namibia until October. Since then, circumstances and job offers mean we're going back mid-August, but I was still looking forward to a brief interlude of being in Europe after a year of living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Having finished my VSO placement in Namibia - which was very strange and a sad goodbye indeed - I got onto the plane bound for Jo'burg, and then London. It was going to be a packed two weeks - I was going to se our VSO support group, attend interviews, see family that I hadn't seen for over a year, and attend a friend's wedding. Of course I'd forgotten that the Olympics would be on, but even the promise of travel delays didn't deter. The flight over was hideously bumpy, as storms over the Equator and Congo meant the plane vibrated for a good five hours, and suddenly my lumpy cheesy vegetarian pasta didn't seem quite so appetizing. Landing was a bit of a shock - the European summer was colder than the Namibian winter, and I'd forgotten just how grey and heavy the sky can be in the UK. Plus, I was ill and coughing. Great start.Still, it was lovely the see the family again and catch up with them. The dog finally recognised me after sniffing around in a puzzled manner for ten minutes, eventually concluding that I was ok after all. However, I felt quite disorientated being back. Everything that I'd been working on, fighting over, thinking about, just didn't exist here. Having undergone this tremendous, huge experience, I'd been catapulted back to exactly where I was before. Things looked pretty much the same, and the people were the same - yet since I'm so different now, I felt out of place. One striking difference between the UK and Namibia is that, in Namibia, everytime you speak to someone, in a shop or at work, you can't just plunge into conversation and/or questions. You must first ask how people are, and how their family is. Then you can ask what you want. I've become used to asking 'how are you?' and enjoy the little ritual that demonstrates respect for the other person. This doesn't, however, translate back to the UK so well (to England at least, in Wales people do talk more). Everytime I'd be on the phone to the bank or go into a shop and ask people how they are, they'd look at me strangely before replying 'fine...' but wouldn't return the greeting. It felt very strange not to engage in this act of politeness.Going over to Paris with Mum allowed breathing space and a mini-break - we wandered the Luxembourg Gardens, saw free exhibitions, and ate out in cute little restaurants. The weather was fantastic too, and we basked in the warmth whilst eating ice-cream. I had my first Starbucks in over a year (skinny chai tea latte!) and sampled every bit of cheese I could. A quick turn-around in the UK and I went to a friend's wedding in London, which was lovely - I missed Alex a lot, though, especially since on the phone I could hear he was really stressed about preparing for a big day the coming Monday, and wrapping up his job. Reminding myself that we'd soon be back, I enjoyed catching up with old friends.That Tuesday, I was due to give a presentation to our VSO support group, who've sponsored both our placements at VSO throughout the year, and who've provided us with invaluable advice at difficult times. I was going to then take the train to London and stay with my friend Sarah, fit in an orthodontists appointment and fly back to Namibia. Fate, however, had other plans and a wet-trampoline incident saw me visiting the doctor with a chipped bone and sprained ankle instead. I had to cancel all three appointments, much to my annoyance, and spend my last two days on crutches. It's given me a whole new perspective on facilities and services for the disabled (Tescos - excellent, Marks& Spencer - needs a lot of improvement!).  Flying back to Namibia was awful, as turbulence from hot air over the Sahara and then again over the Congo meant I was awake the whole night biting my lips to prevent myself from squeaking too loudly. The burly gentleman sat next to me was very kind and patient (though less so at 4am when I shook so much I tipped orange juice everywhere). Immigration, though, had never been so easy, as I was taken past each queue and stamped in without question - even at Namibian immigration. Crutches have some benefits, after all. Being back in Namibia is lovely - seeing Alex when I came through the doors was magic. And he's been beyond amazing helping me out until I've felt able to walk on both feet again (it's not easy being on crutches here as there's very few facilities - the disabled mostly stay at home and don't go out. It also means people aren't used to accommodating those with reduced mobility, so, for example, you're left standing uncomfortably in long queues forever). It's Alex's last week of work this week and then we're going travelling next week to the South of Namibia. Two weeks today we step back onto a plane (I feel sick at the thought already). So we'd better make the most of it.