It was a long trip. The flight from Entebbe left an hour late because a man from California got really sick and had to get off the plane. The flight to Washington arrived an hour late, because there were storms between there and Boston, so we had to fly over to Syracuse and then south. It was after midnight on Friday night when I cleared customs and saw the CPP and Secret Agent Man. The CPP and I are incapable of not staying up talking until all hours when we find ourselves in the same city, so it was really late by the time I finally fell asleep, only to wake up at 6:30 Saturday morning. I was nearly asleep by the time I got to Nashville that evening.
Stupid jet lag.
It's so good to be back. It's so hard to be back. I'm getting used to it. Seeing friends in Washington was good. Seeing my family was wonderful. Remembering Allie, and seeing how sad the CPP and SAM are was hard, but it was also good. One thing I learned this spring is that it's really important to be around people you love when something terrible happens. Nobody can bear the sadness alone. We need our friends. The CPP gave me the program and the cd from her memorial service. It made it real. She's really gone. It's hard. But we could be sad together, and that makes all the difference.
After so many years, you'd think I'd be used to the culture-shock that happens when I get back to the west. It's always harder to come back than to go. Friday on the plane I was seated next to a woman who'd never left Uganda before. The flight attendant asked me to help her make her very tight connection. Can you imagine what Heathrow airport looked like to her? I felt terrible that we had to run - she couldn't believe how big and expansive and abundant everything was there - but we had to hurry and she didn't get to absorb it all. I've found myself wondering what she thinks of Toronto a lot this weekend. There's so much stuff, so much food, so much.
Re-entry is hard. I went to Target yesterday and managed not to cry until I got back out to the parking lot. This always happens, there or at the grocery store or someplace else. There are just too many choices, and all of them are so out-of-reach for my friends in Africa. It's hard.
E told us one night about how shocked she was when she first arrived in America to see how much food the students at the university wasted. She and C knew what it was to be hungry, and she would get very angry at people who took more food from the cafeteria line than they could possibly eat, or who threw away perfectly good food when her friends at home needed it. What bothered her the most, though, was that in just a few weeks, she was doing the same thing.
It's amazing how quickly you forget. I have yet to finish a meal in a restaurant since getting home, even at Hard Times on Saturday. There's just too much. I went back to Target today, and bought some clothes (different clothes! excitement!) and some stuff, none of which I really need, but all of which I can afford. And I didn't cry. I picked up a copy of a book I've been dying to read and an album that really is that good, and I didn't even really think about the Congo, until I got home and read an email from Mr. Florida about what's been happening in Goma, and I missed it a little. But only a little.
Saturday after lunch, the D.A. and I had a long talk. It was like it used to be, only it wasn't, because it can't be. Nothing is the same anymore. You see things that are too awful for words, or you see trust broken, or you see unreasonable hope, and it changes you. Forever.
He asked me what all this - this Congo thing, this PhD thing, this life thing - was going to mean. He didn't get a good answer. I was in a hurry; I had a package to mail and a flight to catch. It's too hard of a question, and the jet-lagged day after 26 hours of travel was not the right time to answer.
Or maybe it was. Knowing concretely that Allie is really gone, reconnecting with old friends, the shock of choices, hugging your parents - this is a strange, temporary space that disappears before you know it. It gets easier and easier to forget that people are starving, that children are dying, that armies are fighting. What will this mean? I'm afraid to answer. But I do believe in "the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling," and I have to believe that the experience of Congo and the reality of home and the sense of injustice and the piercing question you can't escape adds up to something.
It's hard, but it's good.