A Decade on: Coming Home



We are back where we started. In the north. Life’s a circle. It’s true.

People ask, ‘it is like coming home?’

Yes – for the familiarity of the skyline, old faces, knowing – mostly – where to go to get what.

And no – for in the intervening ten years much has changed: many old faces have been replaced by new, younger, unfamiliar ones who do not know I bear a history here, who will treat me with the disdain that sometimes attaches to newbies, for – especially – that my own intrinsic geography has changed: I am a different person than the one who left here a decade ago. I am older. The many worries of recent years have left question marks as to the uncertainty of our future furrowed to my brow, but laughter too, in the creases around my eyes, deepened for squinting into many, many beautiful sunups and sundowns. My children are grown – and two flown; when I left they were all school children.

In the last ten years I have lived in almost a dozen houses, a rare few long enough to morph as Home. I have lived in three countries in four years. I have packed a removals truck six times in five and followed it a minimum of five hundred miles cross country, over borders, invisible lines in the African dust.

For the most part, the landscape of the last decade has been lonely. Rare new friends stand tall, like baobabs on a plain that stretches until I can’t see anymore; they have helped me to feel rooted when I did not. And I clung to old friends like life rafts. Some – inevitably – drifted off: it was I who was drowning, after all. I who needed them more than they me; their busier, social, populated lives kept them buoyant. I feel no rancour: my world, for its staggering isolation and vast skies, was diminished. My views at once both sprawled and shrunken: to Ant. To the children. To my animals. To my – increasingly – travel weary possessions. I have taken a handful of photographs everywhere I have gone, to pin to a mirror, a fridge, to remind me what I’m about, whilst I waited for a container chock full of a life lived elsewhere.

If you asked me six years ago, when we left the Outpost first time around, whether I’d be leaving if I could see the maelstrom I was stepping into, I’d have balked. I’d have said, ‘are you mad? you expect me to leave my – admittedly – solitary but safe position to traipse through three countries, six or seven homes, half a dozen jobs, dragging my children behind me in a turbulent wake?’. No thanks I would have said – sternly and emphatically – and I’d have stayed firmly put.

But ask me now, ‘would you undo what has been done?’ and that’s a harder question to answer. It hasn’t been all bad. There have been some very bad bits, some bits where I felt cowed, defeated, broke – and broken . But there has been adventure, tons of new adventure, huge, soaring challenges, new places, new faces, and each one has carved a small groove in me – nicked me with an experience I would not otherwise have had – which partly accounts for the changed shape I bear now.

I have learned many things. I have learned that my children are stronger than they ought to have been at so tender an age. I have learned that you can cart a cat through several countries sitting on the back seat of a landcruiser with two dogs and nobody comes off any the worse. I have learned that I can navigate new cities. I have learned how to make lampshades. I have learned how to design fabric. I have learned which friends will always be worth hanging onto for they have allowed me to cling in needy and unattractive fashion. I have learned how to pack a 40ft container with thrift so that I get much more into it than is seemly. I have learned – in this vast, unwieldy period where I was often disorientated – to narrow my gaze to that which is close and near and manageable: I have made jam. Literally. This most recent move was preceded by four batches of marmalade so that into said container went jars bejeweled with the citrine hues of Seville, perfumed with ginger.

And I have learned, as the flotsam and jetsam thrown up by a single bad choice six years ago buffeted and toppled me, that Ant was my anchor. And I his.

So no. I would not have asked for the last six years.

But nor would I want to erase the lessons I have been forced to counter.

I am Home. It mostly looks the same: those two mountains under which I sit stand majestic sentinel over miles and miles of spilling Africa. It is subtly changed.

And so am I.

14 Responses to “A Decade on: Coming Home”

  1. Rosie Says:

    So refreshing in this era of Instagram ‘perfect’ lives being paraded before us to read something honest, heartfelt and beautifully expressed. I hope you settle in & feel comfortably at home very quickly – & don’t stop telling us about it all, please!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you Rosie … yes, instagram perfect lives. That and facebook … worrisome really.

  2. Ad dy Says:

    Welcome home. Beautifully written. I am sure the scars of the last 6 years will enhance the tapestry of your life.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you Ad dy. A brand new adventure in a familiar old place … and less lonely …

  3. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    Beautiful. It must be good to be home. I always think of the John Lennon line, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans — yes, you could not have gone, but then something else would have ‘happened’ anyway?

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      that’s so true nappyvallygirl – life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.

  4. CIM Says:

    Love your blog and the way youwrite

  5. Sabine Says:

    You are honest about it all and that’s what matters. I hope you have found home again, for whatever length of time. I am looking forward to reading about how you are settling back into this familiarity after the difficult itinerant years.

    It’s such a loaded term, home. When I meet people who have never left their corner of the world, who have been living surrounded by the same relatives and neighbours and friends for ever, I feel like an alien.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      you’re right Sabine … it is … loaded. Home. I’m not supposed to be at home in africa. Yet its the only place I feel at home …

  6. Ben Says:

    How terrific to hear that you are home. I have followed your blog for at least the past eight years, and I have enjoyed every post. Thank you for continuing your writing.

  7. Dave Bryant Says:

    Memshib, the “Rare new friends stand tall and help me to feel rooted” really struck a chord with me. It is so true. I find that due to constant moving, I tend to not let new friends get too close, as one day we are off again. A terrible thing but a reality.
    Beautiful blog this one, more poignant particularly for me perhaps as I have also moved a lot in Africa. Keep up your beautiful writing. As Ben says, many of us have followed the growing up of your kids over these years and your determined desire to keep a home where ever you are.

  8. From OZ to EG Says:

    “Home in Africa”. Never thought I would find myself saying those words either 5 years ago. And yet here I am today as you are too.

    Lovely post. Regards from another African expat wife.

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