Exile


“I feel a shadow passing over me, it could stay for ever more
Like a wave I’m breaking far at sea, there’s no one to hear the roar

And the days are drifting into seasons, they’re the hardest I have known
A million spaces in the earth to fill but, no going home, there’s no going home

I can dream before the break of day that I’m back with you again
Then the morning blows it all away and leaves an echo of your name

Still a thousand miles lies between us where we’re waking up alone
And what if I could cross a hundred borders?
There’s no going home, there’s no going home.

When it thunders from the empty skies I shall be there
No one to hold you when the storm birds fly is there no one left to care?

I search the rumours with my hollow plans and all I want is what’s mine
Lost and lonely in a foreign land I’m left too far behind the lines
I want to tear down these walls between us but I can’t do it on my own

A million spaces in the earth to fill and there a generation waiting still
We’ve got year after year to kill but no going home
No going home, there’s no going home.”

At 1am on the 26th of August, flying somewhere over Egypt I couldn’t sleep. I’d said goodbye to my relatives, waited for hours through a storm to pass so that we could set off and my travel sickness pills had worn out. So I couldn’t sleep. I had watched the film – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel if you remember – and there was nothing else on BA’s system that I hadn’t seen or didn’t have on my hard drive, so I turned to my ipod.

I started singing along to the Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts version of Exile from Steve Knightley. Obviously I was singing along in my head, I’m not a complete arse. At that point I kept repeating ‘no going home’, partially because it’s catchy, also because I wasn’t going home. Not for at least two years, and though the lyrics can be read as depressing, I listened to them as full of hope and adventure.

Now, a month later, I’m re-packing my suitcase and heading back again. Dad’s not doing too well and if I leave it much longer, then I might be too late. So better to go now whilst I can talk to him and sort out some bits and pieces than get back justt in time for a funeral.

In the last few weeks since people found out I’ve had some really lovely messages, so thank you if you were one of those. Some close friends haven’t managed to say anything, but what is there to say? Whenever I’ve had friends with sick or dying close relatives, I’ve not known what to say, mainly things along the lines of ‘It’s all a bit shit really isn’t it’ and then going on normally with people. And now that I’m in that situation, I’ve not got much more to say. It’s been commented on that I’m taking it all pretty well, but what more can I do? I’m disconnected at the moment, so can’t be of practical use, I have a job to do and children to teach, I’m now running the junior choir, teaching year 7 and 8 singing lessons and have started a staff singing group. I’m helping out with the West Side Story rehearsals, not to mention planning lessons and marking books. Today we made art works inspired by Rwandan Poo Paintings. They are cool, look them up.

When I go home, I’ll be visiting sick relatives (more than just Dad now, but he is in the worst shape) copying choir music, buying small instruments and chorizo to bring back. I’ll try and update this a little more regularly if you would like to keep reading. In the mean time. get on youtube and listen to Kate and Kathryn sing this song. It’s beautiful.

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And I know things now.


I tried writing a diary a few times in my life.  I’m amazingly bad at it.  I begin with the strongest intention of keeping it going to keep a record of my most insightful thoughts so that in years to come I can look back and see how I have developed as a person.  I usually last about a week before I realise that all I write is drivel.

My first diary was half my life ago, as a 14 year old with a crush on Ewan McGregor and Robert Downey Jr. (still love him), pining over a boy that didn’t really notice I existed until a year and a half later when he was very drunk (don’t worry nothing dodgy happened).  I found it a couple of years later and binned it.

My second attempt was at 16 when I had my first boyfriend and was taking my GCSEs.  More absolutely terrible writing – first about how amazing he was (he really wasn’t) then about what an arse he was (very true).  I think I burnt that one when I was 19 and moving to university, before starting a new diary to outline all the amazing, exciting things that moving away from home for the first time would bring. Didn’t keep it up.

Moving to Africa, of course that’s a fantastic time to start another one.  I got quite a few good notebooks from people as leaving presents so that I could keep a record.  As I mentioned earlier in this blog (I do hate that word) I managed a whole line on the first day.  I did fill it in later but I’m not good at writing just for myself, hopefully this is an outline that will be a bit more interesting, writing on a screen is fine, but breaking the first page of a new neat notebook is harder to go back on.  I can delete and re-write without you ever knowing, but ink on a page sticks.  This is actually my second attempt at this post, the first having been wiped by an accidental key stroke, but perhaps that’s an opportunity to think about what I actually want to say, rather than letting things just pour out, unfiltered, without relfection or thought for others.  Having said that, I am slightly distracted, listening to a Tori Amos album that I was first introduced to when I was 14 – Under the Pink – I seem to keep coming back to that number, half my life ago.

I’ve not written in my Africa diary since those first two entries, partly because I was working, getting settled into my class, learning who my children are, not just names but personalities and school histories too, making friends, finding my way around the city I can now call home.  So I was busy, night falls at about seven thirty, then there is planning to do, marking, cards to play, meals to cook, Skype attempts…  I’m settled, I’ve even started singing around the house again (apologies to the neighbouring teachers in our flats) but that’s something I’ve not done for years, because I can only do it when I’m happy.

And two weeks ago I had an email from my sister saying that our Dad is very ill.  They had tried to call me but my English phone is playing up, so there it was in a message, Dad’s cancer is back and has spread.  That’s another reason why I’ve been rubbish at updating this – how do you tell an anonymous audience, probably people who know me from school, university, work, and others who have stumbled upon my ramblings something like this?  Would my family even want people to know?  Sorry if you didn’t but I’ve never been good at keeping things in, when I have with certain thoughts, feelings or actions I’ve usually had problems afterwards.  Perhaps being an open book is a good way to go.

So know after feeling settled, a remarkable lack of culture shock and the sense that I’ve found my way again after years of having put someone else first, I feel somewhat lost and adrift.  I know I have to go home to see my Dad, look after him and eventually deal with the funeral.  I want to do that.  I told him before I left and before I knew he was ill that I didn’t want it to be the last time I saw him.  But I also don’t want to go back.  This is my home know, I have responsibilities, I have a class to teach and I don’t want to leave them without a teacher for weeks on end.  So I’m torn. The school has been really supportive and said I can take whatever time I need and I know the class will be fine without me, but disruption is not ideal for them.  The school isn’t hugely staffed and so I can’t guarantee that the class would have a regular teacher for the whole time I’m away – not to mention the staff singing group I’m setting up, choirs, the school production of West Side Story I’m helping with…

Equally, I want to spend some time with my Dad befroe it’s too late to, I don’t want my brothers and sister to be left doing everything without me.  I don’t want to miss an opportunity to help, in whatever little way I can.  I find myself saying things like ‘Hopefully I won’t be away too long’, which is dreadful because it implies that I want things to go quickly for Dad, but I can’t phrase things right at the moment.  And it’s surprising how quickly I’ve settled back into the regular school routine, given that I know I’m going back to England in half term and don’t know when I’d be coming back.

Sorry, rambling again!  I’m fine really, I’ve accepted it, it’s a sad truth, but my Dad’s dying and there’s nothing we can do to make things better for him really, or for each other.  He seems quite upbeat and he’s getting lots of support. Not sure what else can be said.

And so I know things now, that I hadn’t known before.  Look up the original Sondheim quote.  It’s good for you.

As I walked along that long and winding road


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Our first night we were taken to the Isamilo Lodge to watch the sunset over Lake Victoria, meet some of the new staff and have a curry.  Those of you that know me and my eating habits will know that I’m more of a Chinese person, but I have now discovered Paneer and the Beef Sizzler which are both going to have to be eaten more regularly.

I had three glasses of white wine – considering it was a boxed wine it was really rather nice – and realised I was a bit pissed and very sensibly decided not to write in my new diary.  All I managed was ‘I have arrived in Mwanza’ before deciding that the combination of drunkeness, fountain pen, hand made paper and a mosquito net wasn’t really the way forward I wanted to take.

The next day we were taken on a tour of the school and to a few local shops to get essentials, like galaxy chocolate to put in the freezer.  I made a fish stew for the new French teacher because it was his 40th birthday and he was missing his family.

Our biggest adventure that week was a 10ish km hike up to dancing rocks.  They are so called because legend has it that they dance around at night causing large craters on the top of the hill.  There were many brightly coloured lizards all over the rocks and spindly goats making death defying climbs up the steep hills. The view over the lake is spectacular and I got some good photos of the others as they were relaxing and enjoying the view….

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Unfortunately, I’m not great with heat, or the sun, so was offered an umbrella to shade myself and avoid sunstroke.  As a result of this, all pictures of me on this walk are banned from public view – I can best describe my appearance as a slightly melty raspberry ripple in combat trousers under a grey umbrella.  If any of you want to try and illustrate this yourselves and send it in to me, please feel free…

The walk down was an interesting one, much steeper than the way we came I managed to get my foot wedged under a rock.  As we were discussing freeing me a la 128 hours, the boys lifted the rock, leaving me able to continue my stumbling descent.  More goats, chickens and little villages greeted us as we ambled back towards the town.  One lady was outside her house cooking potato samosas which went down very well with most of the group.

As we walked closer to the town we reached scenes that are recognisable from documentaries at home – groups of children running towards us, wanting their pictures taken and delighted when shown their own images on the tiny screens.  Women carrying bundles and baskets with varying contents on their heads.  To the left up a hill another group of women were singing and dancing behind a screen and I desperately wanted to join in.

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Leaving on a jetplane


Two weeks ago I arrived in Mwanza.

I had spent two weeks visiting family and friends, didn’t get to see all of them unfortunately, but still managed a fair few.

My flight from Heathrow was leaving at 19.20, Mum wanted to be there in plenty of time so after bacon sandwiches with my sister, niece and nephew, we set of at 11am.  That should have given us a fair bit of time, but there was a large accident on the M40.  At this point we realised we had no map so called my step-dad for an alternative route, which actually took us an hour and looped us back to where we began again.  Mum found a garage that sold a map of the whole country, not just Milton Keynes or Oxford and we made our way down arriving at 2pm.

Unfortuntely we couldn’t check in my bags until 4.30ish so we stopped for a cheapish 3 course lunch and waited for check in to open.  The night before I had packed and repacked my bags hoping to get them all within the allowed 23kg weight and when we finally got them through to the conveyor belt with built in scales it seemed I had managed to get them about right.  I had left behind most of my teaching books, and I realised later most of my clothes, but who needs them anyway?  I gave Mum a hug and we both managed not to cry as I went through security.

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Because I had tried not to put too many valuables in my hold luggage, my hand luggage was packed with a computer, two hard drives, a jewellery box, torch (not sure why) and spare clothes.  It didn’t make it through the scanner and had to be searched by a Portuguese security man who said it was just because it was so full that it looked dodgy on the scan.  He asked if I minded him searching it then kept apologising when he pulled out pairs of spare pants (clean of course).  With that over I set off through the terminal to meet another new teacher, Suzie.  She said she would wait by Accessorize and I said I was wearing a spotty top.  We managed to find each other within 2 minutes, which was rather handy.

Over the course of the next few hours waiting to board the plane we found a few more new teachers and watched as the storm I had spotted when I arrived moved closer and closer, eventually enveloping the airport.  It was only after we had boarded the plane that the pilot announced that we would be delayed for take off by one and a half to two hours.  Not too much of a problem – I played peepo with the small child in the seat in front.

I didn’t sleep much on the plane.  It got too hot, but I watched ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ which has confirmed my belief that I should be Judi Dench when I grow up.  Or Bill Nighy.  Either would be fine.

When we arrived at Dar es Salaam I managed to take a couple of pictures of the Indian Ocean from the window of the plane…

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and then waited in a gaggle of people for my entry visa.  I was sat at the back of the plane whereas all the others were up the front together and so I met the others we collected on the way.  We now consisted of Suzie, Emma, Emma, Vicki, Phil and Joe.  As we gathered our mountainous luggage, went through the next section of security and queued for an age to check in for our connecting flight we met Sandy and Vlad – Sandy is teaching art and Vlad is a pilot – and Stephan the new French teacher.  We had some minor hassles with weight limits and language barriers, but soon we were sitting waiting for our flight to Mwanza that was delayed by two hours.  Not a problem.  Time to get chatting, have a drink and eat chips with hot sauce.

 

Eventually our plane came and we were flying again, this time with complementary cake and a brochure outlining Mwanza’s night life options.  When we arrived we were greeted by a selection of the school staff and driven to our new homes.