So a friend asked me, ‘The outpost?! Why on earth are you going back to the outpost?’
She’s right to ask; I wasn’t always very gracious about outpost living (though a little older now, it’s lost some of its teeth).
It’s a long story.
When we left, first time around, it was in a bid to follow a dream, which had sustained us latterly in the Outpost as we’d plotted and planned late into the night over too much wine, but which was hastily and rudely unpicked. By family. Relations beyond repair, it rendered a situation so untenable we were forced to look for another job. We were invited to start a project in Zambia. That sounded like an exciting distraction after the sadness wrought of broken dreams. But the project in Zambia that we moved to (two truckloads, two dogs, one cat) didn’t manifest. That happens in Africa. Projects, even the best intentioned, even the best laid plans, often don’t come to fruition. So we were on the hunt for an income and a home again.
One year after leaving the Outpost, we tracked back north from Zambia to Kenya, two trucks, two dogs (one getting frail and old) and a cat (frail and old) to start another project. In every sense it sounded ideal: bush living in a familiar part of the country with the beach and a town where we could enjoy Pizza and cappuccinos just an hour’s drive away. Easy-peasy. Except that as we crossed the Tanzanian border into Kenya, having driven through Zambia and Malawi, we received a telephone call. ‘The funding is looking precarious’. It was becoming farcical. The project failed before we even arrived.
For five months we had no income and three children in full time education in the UK. A friend lent us a home. Ant was losing confidence. I lost a stone. Those were the darkest hours in a long night. I remember sinking to the floor in the supermarket one day, overwhelmed, exhausted. Ant was offered a short term consultancy in the furthest, deepest southern reaches of Tanzania. He took it. No choice. Bills to pay. I stayed on in the borrowed home, living on Xanax and adrenaline and scouring the internet for hours each day for jobs. We saw each other for two weeks in four months. We spent time deliberating our future in the hotel where Ant was living when I visited briefly. I cried a lot.
It was a relief, after two years as nomads, to secure a position on a remote tea farm in the mist. It was lonely. But we were together, at home, able to pay bills, take stock. Our children were able to return to the same house for consecutive holidays. But there was much about the position, on every level, that didn’t work for us. We took it because we were desperate, and a position of desperation does not lend an even playing field for big decision-making. I felt isolated in the mist, hated the drawing in of fog bound days which isolated me further, I was almost an hour’s drive from my nearest neighbour, three hours from a supermarket. I walked a lot. The old dog died, the old cat followed suit soon after.
So when, a year ago, employers from old Outpost days came calling and asked if we’d be prepared to return, we knew we would. The Outpost wasn’t, isn’t, an easy place to live. But nor was it an alien entity, the option seemed to present a case of ‘better the devil you know’.
And so we came back. And it’s busier and noisier and it’s less dislocated than it was – the roads in and out are tarred now, there are regular commercial flights four days a week – there weren’t in my day. If I thought the Outpost was tough first time around, the hiatus between leaving and returning was much, much tougher. I never want to feel so adrift again. Ever.
I learned a lot during those bleak years of moving and then moving on, I learned that laying blame wasn’t sustainable or useful, I learned, in case I hadn’t already been aware, the importance of ‘home’. Especially in Africa where, as Brits and despite a century old history here, our residency is a precarious thing, dependent on work permits. I learned how to make lampshades. I learned to design fabric. I learned, and this is the really important bit, to know when you’re lucky.
I know I am. Now.