Missing Home

 

big skies

 

My tall daughter wakes at teenage-time, somewhere just before lunch.

She shambles, taller than I and still baby-sleep eyed, and hugs me.

I had a dream, Mum, she says, a horrid one: I dreamt about how much I was going to miss you when I go to school in England.

And I will miss you, I say. Because what else is there to say: I know she’s going to miss me. Though probably not as much I will feel her absence here. She’s 5’10 with lots to say: she leaves a big hole.

I don’t want to tell her about the other things she’ll miss.

When I went away to school in England, at the age she is now, I hadn’t ever worn tights before, never owned a winter coat, didn’t know it could get that cold. I knew I’d miss the sun, my mum, dad.

I expected that.

But I hadn’t counted on the myriad characteristics of Africa that I’d long for until it hurt, like a hunger pang, a tummy pain that wouldn’t go away. A lump in your throat. You don’t though, do you, miss a thing until it’s not there? Especially when it’s not necessarily palpable, not something you can quite put your finger on, or catch its essence in the lens of your camera. Or put it in your suitcase.

So. Off I went, barebrownlegged and green as they come.

I learned quickly why I needed to wear tights when barebrownlegs were rendered blue and goose bumped.

And I learned that Africa’s so big that I couldn’t fit all the bits of her into my suitcase and didn’t even know I’d left them behind until I was so far away it was too late.

Too late to bottle the scent of rain on dust, so that I might flick the lid off from time to time when the longing grew so overwhelming I thought I might burst, and inhale deeply: the smell of Home.

I still, nearly thirty years later, can’t put my finger completely on all the things that collide and collapse and combine to make this place so familiar that it feels like a glove, slip it on and you know it fits. (Not that I’d worn gloves before then either).

See. There’s this space. This big spilling space that stretches and leans and reaches so that a spreading sky can cast itself huge and blue overhead, blue calico strung tight and sprigged with the tiniest horsetail white so that it’s out of piercing range of sharp landmarks, so that it’s pulled high and taut and doesn’t dip and sag and steal those landmarks thunder, so that the stage, when the rain comes is generous for the show is always spectacular as it muddies the blueness and steeps it in charcoal clouds which it rips apart with jagged swords of hot light. You can see for miles in Africa, miles and miles: put your flattened palm to your brow and screw up your eyes and see the furthest away horizons, where the earth touches outspread fingers with darkening sky in reassuring gesture as night falls, as if to say, ‘it’s ok, it’ll all be here in the morning’. Before it plunges itself into mad psychedelic dusk, a son et lumiere, a disco in the sky, the moon a high-strung orb.

distant horizons

 And it’s the peculiar way the dust hangs, plumes of it kicked up by the hooves of cattle or the tyres of a car so that it cobwebs suspended and its motes morph gold and smudge the picture to soft-edged texture. The way it backlights late afternoon.

Dust

And it’s the broadwhitetoothed smiles in black and mocha faces, the hopeful way a woman will sit patiently roadside with three piles of six tomatoes each. Waiting for a buyer. It’s the scent of roasted corn she turns on a small fire. It’s the totos that gather at her skirts and laugh and point and wave. It’s the cheerfulness with which a girl will hold a banana leaf aloft as an umbrella in torrential rain. Getting wet doesn’t matter: not when she has cultivated a field of maize. It’s the determined way Africa’s little people soldier valiantly on in the face of adversity and corruption and the crappiest governance. The way everybody says hello. Even, especially, when they don’t know you.

It’s sitting by a river and watching the gentle, slow-tempo, movement of chocolate brown water, gazing at a distant log wondering if it’ll raise a crocodile’s head, noticing the lion ants scurry and dig and home-build in the sand at your feet. Watching and thinking. About everything and nothing. About where in the river it’ll be shallow-safe to take an evening bath.

river watching

And it’s the noises you don’t hear until they’re not there. The click and hiss and high-heel kicking of cicadas. The way the noonday bush broils as if a hundred tiny pressure cookers were on an invisible hob. The muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. The shrikes and doves which become white noise until you can no longer hear their squabbling and songs and mourning calls. Roosters who haven’t learned the rules: you’re not supposed to announce the dawn again at ten to three in the afternoon. Who cares? he laughs shrilly, throwing his head back, this is Africa, man, we bend rules here!

bath time

But my daughter already knows: I’m going to miss Home too, Mum.

And I don’t know what to say then.

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22 Responses to “Missing Home”

  1. Potty Mummy Says:

    I love your writing RM. And what I am almost as much in awe of is how you remember everything to write it down. For example, imagining the cicadas in high heels is one thing (and not a small one), but retrieving the memories and knitting them all together is something else entirely…

    x

  2. Jo Says:

    I agree with PM, you’re writing is so amazingly descriptive.
    You seem to be giving us your memories.
    I’m starting to get a feel for your beautiful home.
    x jo

  3. Sophia Says:

    I love this. I know this. I know instinctively how my heart would break if I left Scotland. It wouldn’t just break for Scotland, but for Britain and Britishness, and for the long, hard love of language that persists here. My body also speaks the language of cold weather, of hibernation and bulking up.

    I always look forward to your posts. They teach me and take me away.

  4. Irene Says:

    My heart was broken once when I left my home country and I could not explain to anyone the essence of what I missed, but when I came back I embraced all of it and cried from happiness that it was all still there. All I needed to do was sit there and walk there and drink it all in and I was the most content person in the world. Unfortunately, I could not take it with me. Fortunately, I live there again now.

  5. Grannymar Says:

    It must be wonderful to feel about a place in the way you describe. I never did. Somehow I always feel like I am passing through. I have enjoyed my travels through life but they are all just journeys, I never longed to be anywhere. Perhaps I have spent to long alone.

  6. Grannymar Says:

    It must be wonderful to feel about a place in the way you describe. I never did. Somehow I always feel like I am passing through. I have enjoyed my travels through life but they are all just journeys, I never longed to be anywhere. Perhaps I have spent to long alone.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  7. doglover Says:

    From the lone shieling on the misty island
    Mountains divide us and the waste of seas
    Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland
    And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.

    It doesn’t matter where we come from, if our home made us happy it will always be with us … as with Scots emigrants in Canada.

    Maybe that’s why at 77 I still live in the house that I was born in!

  8. R. Sherman Says:

    Your first sentence caused me to laugh out loud, inasmuch as it would appear your daughter and mine are kindred souls, at least when it comes to sleeping until noon.

    Your connection to a place is something our modern, transitory society lacks. We’ve traded “connectedness” for mobility and I think we’ve lost something in the process. Perhaps it is a sense of belonging to something, to somewhere, that’s important.

    Cheers.

  9. mamank Says:

    And I thought I missed Africa before I read this….looks like a good time to go make the best chai possible here and remember…and try not to cry.

    beautiful writing by the way.

  10. Mud Says:

    Stunning and sensually evocative. You have passion and flair in your writing. I love it.

  11. nuttycow Says:

    RM – you really should write brochures for Africa – you condense it all so sweetly into such evocative posts. She will miss home and she will miss you but speaking from experience, it makes it all so much more wonderful when you get back.

    Love to all.

  12. Iota Says:

    I hope she will be too caught up in the busy-ness and youthful excitement of making new friends and making sense of new experiences to mind too much. And at least she will have a mother who understands.

  13. gaelikaa Says:

    Parting is such sweet sorrow – you just know how it will be for her, but she too will know only in time…..you reunion will be wonderful.

  14. Cheryl (Lizzy Frizzfrock) Says:

    This is a most wonderful description of Africa. To be able to love something so much and realize what is missed when you are away is heartwarming. Your daughter may have her own words for all this beauty and simplicity, but she needs to read yours in a quiet moment. Lovely, just perfectly lovely.

  15. ladyfi Says:

    So very eloquent! Love it!

    Hope she comes back soon… (I went to a boarding school in England and hated it. Hope it is a very positive and joyful experience for tall daughter.)

  16. rosiero Says:

    You and me both!

  17. Tash Says:

    it’s not just the land and its sounds and smells and the creatures we share it with. It’s stuff like how other people act and talk and think, which is so foreign it makes us lonely… It’s eating different food, and even liking it, but hating how it makes you put on weight, and wishing it was more like what you had at home… Like you say – the clothing. Not being able to go barefoot – for fear of frostbite… Echoes that you never get in a happy home… It’s feeling the sun in your bones. Not just on your face. Inside… being warm on the inside… but you know – because it will be a new, all encompassing experience for Amelia, she’ll have enough distractions from feeling homesick all the time. And every return will bring so much pleasure – for all of you.

  18. Arlene Mascarenhas Says:

    The feelings …. you describe exactly how I felt when I was 12 …. coup détat …. my mum freaked and shipped me off to a milliary school in Southern India. (We are not ‘tajiri’enough to afford England). I never ever stopped missing home, my family …. even at the ripe old age of 21 …I could not wait to come home. My sister on the other hand took to boarding school like a fish to water. She just loved it, made friends, never wrote home and just got on with being independant.

  19. Hadriana Says:

    It’s funny this post reminds me of a lot…Egypt and other places. Yes you describe things so beautifully. Puts me to shame. Nevertheless it is good too…gives me something to aspire to!

  20. xiao Says:

    I stumbled upon your blog from googling “missing home” as i’m currently experiencing huge pangs of homesickness. Thank you for this post. You describe your home so beautifully that it reminded me of the wonders that I’m missing from home (though I don’t live in Africa).

    I don’t think homesickness is something that can be cured, only left till one is too busy to notice it. I just wish it didn’t hit so hard sometimes …

  21. Ash Says:

    Just came across while searching words “missing home” as I am.

    And the blog’s title caught my attention as I am from India. And the expression ‘memsahib’ was born in India during England’s rule.

    Nice one.

  22. ReluctantlyMzungu Says:

    Reblogged this on Bless Rains, Bring Mud and commented:
    I read this a long time ago, shortly before I left home in Uganda and moved to the United States. Ever since, I’ve kept it bookmarked for review during those moments when I feel paralyzed by nostalgia and have to believe that others understand.

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