I flew in from Uganda late on Saturday morning. It was a long journey (eighteen hours of boda, light plane, car, car, big plane, transfer, big plane, car) with a sleepless night before it, accompanied by a ceaseless circulation of thoughts. Life in Uganda was a minute by minute succession of sensation and learning and stunned emotions; the time I had counted on for reading and writing and reflection evaporated in the reality of being there. Physically, water had to be fetched and floors swept and paths hoed and dishes washed and fields slashed and children minded; intellectually, plans had to be made and discussions had; emotionally, stories had to be heard. Listening is as exhausting as field labour, and I have been trusted with the stories which I must now carry, with care and respect and honour, and find a way to communicate to people here, in this strange world where water comes from taps and food left from today’s meal can be safely stored to save cooking again tomorrow. Trauma is cruel and chaotic. It throws the threads from which life is woven into disarray and creates strangulating knots in its struggles to escape itself. I need to tell you about this. But I need, too, to tell you about the returned child soldier who killed as a boy, and who now holds his own child close, working with every fibre of his being to become a place of safety for them both. He taught me how to plant guava and cashews; I taught his son to count to five.
I got home on Saturday lunchtime, and early on Saturday afternoon a gorgeous crowd of boys arrived for a birthday party. I had to shoehorn in an emergency trip to the shops with the available children, as Sunday was not only Father’s Day, but the birthday itself. It was extreme re-entry. I had no idea whether A would prefer a magnetic sand timer or some pencils that looked like drumsticks, or which number in the Skulduggery Pleasant series he’d read while I was away, or whether we needed any more wrapping paper. I didn’t know whether the Father’s Day cards being held up for my inspection were funny or offensive. I’d forgotten our little town had so many people in it. I paid for the children’s selections with no idea what I was buying for whom. I kept it together through the party, and the evening, and through Sunday, when we all put the new Lego Rock Band drumkit through its paces and couldn’t quite cope with being in separate rooms. Monday was my radio show, followed by a meeting at eldest’s school, and a teetering pile of household admin, and the pulse in my brain telling me to write about all this, write, write, write. For I have promises to keep, and miles to go…
Yesterday, I let myself breathe. I revived my sourdough starter. I made bread. I gathered elderflowers. I made a batch of vanilla ice cream. All these are slow processes, requiring long periods of cooling, or resting, or simply waiting for the spiders and insects to fall from the flowers so they can be returned to the garden. I picked my rhubarb. I made a jar of lemon curd for the friend whose birthday I forgot. I read no history or biography or trauma recovery research – I read Noel Streatfeild’s Holiday Stories, a gift I received just before I went away, and which brought me softly to a kind, loving place where I could sit with my dear and beloved friends Pauline Fossil, and Lalla Moore, and Doctor Jakes and Doctor Smith and cry softly for that safe place in childhood which those who’ve had, take for granted, and those who haven’t, will forever seek.