Sunday, April 29, 2007


Another dust storm. This one meant my flight couldn't take off today. When you see it you know why. Electricity went off, the dust obscured the sun, the world went dark, the doors were shut and the dust still steamed in and condensed on everything.

Nothing lost, nothing gained

Today I very stupidly lost my bag. I was coming out of the airport and forgot to pick it up off the conveyor belt at baggage reclaim (which is always a bit of a battle anyway). I was just being absent-minded. I grabbed the big bag and forgot to wait for the small one. It wasn’t until I got back to the office that I realised, and then had to rush back to the airport to search frantically for it, ask everyone… It was nowhere to be found. Inside was my camera (with most of my holiday photos), my spare pair of prescription glasses, expensive designer sunglasses, lots of exciting new and ridiculously over-priced development books from Nairobi, assorted toiletries, body moisturiser, face moisturiser, hand cream, special foot cream, Chanel moisturiser… you know essential things. But things I really treasured, not having so many belongings with me here. I surprised myself by feeling an almost uncontrollable desire to cry. I was so tired and I just really wanted my bag back. We got into the car to leave the airport and I was feeling a bit over-emotional about the whole thing (but hopefully smiling convincingly and hiding it well!). I was with the Logistician and the Driver, and I suddenly realised that they looked nearly as sad as I felt inside. What was in the bag? they asked. “Sorry, sorry” the Logistician repeated, shaking his head gravely and glancing downwards as if someone died every time I remembered another type of lost moisturiser. The camera of course rewarded particular dramatic effect and pathos. But as I listed the things they seemed suddenly dispensable and unimportant – of course. I don’t want to be trite and say I feel guilty about my relative wealth and good fortune, and the fact that I even own a digital camera and D&G sunglasses, but it did occur to me that feeling sad was a little melodramatic and not really necessary. At some point I can buy all those things again, but Mohammed the Driver will probably never own a digital camera, even once. Their sympathy and kindness made me realise what a spoilt girl I can be. I looked out of the window, and really looked at everyone making their way through the midday heat (44 degrees today) and the dust. I examined the lines and expressions on people’s faces and tried to imagine what they might have lost today. From my air conditioned bubble I felt the lightness of my fortunate life, and remembered that I’ll be just fine without Chanel.

Rest and Relaxation, Recuperation, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Reintegration…

For the first two days of my holiday, aka R&R, I had a constant headache. I felt detached from the world. I could walk in a straight line, and I’m sure I could have passed the standing on one foot with my eyes closed test, but inside I was pretty wobbly. After 2 days the headache faded, relaxation began. I started to absorb my new environment. Kenya is a world away from South Sudan, and it was all pretty exciting. “God, the roads are so smooth and flat, are they all surfaced? Wow, you’ve got a nice shower, do you have hot water? Where does the water come from? Do you have a generator? Will the electricity be on all night? Oooh there’s real milk in the fridge. Yum, cheese, can I have some?” I’m sure I was a bit tiresome to my friends. I tried very hard not to begin every sentence with “In Sudan…” or make too many satisfied noises when eating. I was a text-book example of a stressed aid worker slowly unwinding, and it was interesting to observe these stereotypical symptoms in myself.

So began the holiday process:

Relaxation: sleeping, eating, swimming, eating, drinking.
Reconstruction: eating more, having a haircut, general MOT!, walking on the beach, playing tennis, getting my strength back.

Reintegration: sitting down to proper dinners in nice restaurants, talking about topics of conversation other than humanitarian aid, hearing about films recently released (realising I’d seen none of them), discussing the French elections, getting shocked and excited for my friends who are expecting a baby, going clubbing and remembering how to dance, slow reintegration back into society, expansion of world-view beyond South Sudan.

Physical reconstruction and social reintegration process now complete, I have returned with supplies of Kenyan coffee, good parmesan and chocolate, ready for the next stint.

if we took a holiday