It is almost exactly a year since we left the farm and the house we’d lovingly restored from gently collapsing store-room to a home that was full of light and air and noise.



I thought I’d never stop missing the comforting familiarity of rooms and views and shapes and sounds that had been a part of life since the children were little.  I thought I’d never stop missing being a part of a place – part of a community – to which we’d felt we’d belonged for sixteen years.


I haven’t been back to the house. Or the farm. But I am told that both are slowly and sadly disintegrating all over again, as if swooning from lack of tender sustenance into the dust. The house lost its soul when we left, that it’s since lost its doors, windows, wiring and part of the roof to looters doesn’t really matter.  And the community? Unchanged for the most part. Except that some people – us, for example – have moved on, to have our places filled by newcomers.


You imagine, with shameless arrogance, that when you depart a place that’s been yours for so long you will be missed as much as you miss it. And you are. For a bit. But Africa is used to transience; people come and go all the time. No point in wasting emotion on those who’ve gone. Chuck a rock into a pond and notice the splash, the lingering ripples. Some people make bigger splashes than others. But pluck the rock for the pond’s murky depths and its surface will remain intact. Quite unperturbed. You can’t make a hole in water. That’s what leaving is like.


I minded for a bit. I minded that my friends lives moved seamlessly along whilst mine had stalled on some lonely road with nobody to ask directions of. I minded that I called and they sounded distracted. Busy, social, at the hairdresser’s, God damn it! I eagerly counted the days until we could rendezvous and exchange news (over a cappuccino).


But the old, slow passage of time massages the sting out of missing. This time – when we were back ‘home’ in the north of Tanzania, amongst those we’d known so well for so long – I noticed a shift. In old acquaintances. And in me.


A friend and I agree to meet for lunch. She is preoccupied and in a hurry. We don’t have as much to say to one another as we did once. There are awkward silences where we pretend to be contemplating what the other has said when in fact we are casting about frantically for something to say. (Or at least I am: lest it be surmised Outpost living has reduced me to tedious beyond tolerance). But I realize, half way through my panini, that she is humouring me: she felt obliged to meet me for old time’s sake (hers as much as mine). We are both clinging to a past although our presents are wildly divorced. I have reached my sell-by-date I observe wryly, but without rancour.  It happens: some friendships are built to last, regardless of geography.


Some aren’t.


Those that were will never be about chewing on a piece of panini whilst you worry what to say next. Good friendships, when you pick up the last conversation you had as if there was never a three week or three month or three year lull, means lunch either gets cold or you talk with your mouth full for there is always so much to say. I had lunches like that last week too.


But the erosion of that one friendship personified the releasing of the knuckle white tight grip I had on what was home. 


I drove back to the Outpost yesterday and emerged above the plateau beyond Mt Hanang where the sun was shining again. Where low, black, soggily saturated skies gave way to a deep blue galloping cheerfully with horses tails. I peeled off my jumper for the first time in a week. I watched the Wambere Swamp roll out before me as we descended the Sekenke escarpment. Africa looked very big.  It always does out here. Its vastness hasn’t had urban holes picked in it. That frightened me once: that unapologetic immensity.


It didn’t yesterday; yesterday I just thought: Thank God; almost home.





8 Responses to “Home”

  1. jen Says:

    this was a hell of a fantastic post.

  2. Janelle Says:

    ditto ditto!!! you see! the long road, the journey gets it all out! YES YES! love it! great writing A!! and sooooooooooooooo goooooooooooood to see you in grey little A Town..and thanks for the comments! lots love and howz the new house?? XXX j

  3. Roberta Says:

    What I read in this was melancholy – and acceptance. Very well done, to convey the emotion of it all.

    I’m glad you are back. All of the galavanting around Africa leaves me wondering how the new place is coming!

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Jen, thank you. That’s kind.

    Janelle – and you too. and keep writing!

    Roberta: I think that’s exactly it: melancholy acceptance.

    The house is slow! Very.

  5. black mzungu Says:

    expression! impressive ! sometimes I feel the same people change overnight,there is a saying in swahili which goes ” Fimbo ya mbali haiuwi nyoka! meaning a far away stick does not kill a snake. great writing!!

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    black mzungu – thank you; you’re very kind about my words. i love that swahili saying. i shall remember it.

  7. bloomlikeflowers Says:

    Beautiful expression of a difficult thing to experience and come to terms with. Thank you for writing so honestly. – Lynn

  8. nuttycow Says:

    It’s always difficult to admit that a friendship has come to that but I always feel much more refreshed when I make that break.

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