“Christy, these T-shirts…they can’t stay. That ok love?”
“Well. It’s just… They’re dirty.”
I looked at the offending plain white t shirts. Well, previously plain. They were caked in the dust of developing countries and the sweat of character forming voyages. The smell took me straight back to that 3 hour car journey, uncomfortably wedged in between an understanding mother and a man in a swimming cap, as we sped through Togo and exchanged those smiles that accompany a shrug every time our limbs collided. I’d given radio interviews in those Tees. I’d been hit in the face by a monkey and I’d fainted in the chair of a hospital whilst they were draped across my bodice. I could feel a speech welling up inside me – One man’s dirt is another man’s war wound, or something. Ah. Shit. No. Something about a forever distorted blank canvas? I’d discuss my emotional journey and parallel it with the journey of the t shirts. God, it was writing itself. Easy.
Mum was looking at me expectantly. I hit her with the sure fire defence of my beloved clothing.
“I think they look quite good on me”
She laughed. I laughed, too. But I still wanted to keep them.
I’ve been back in the UK for 2 days now. Obviously I keep getting asked to make really insightful comments about how different life is here, and I give it a go. But everything I end up saying just sounds dull and wooden. I felt really odd and constricted walking through the beautiful autumnal countryside, and my Dad tried really hard to unpick it:
“Do you not feel yourself? Is it because everything looks different? Is it the weather?”
“I dunno. I.. I spent a lot of time on my own for the last two months”
“Oh so is it the loss of independence? We try and control everything, is that it?”
“I’m…yeah kinda. I dunno… No one says hello when they walk past you”
“Ah! Does everyone do that in Africa?!”
(little anecdote about people doing that in Africa)
“Haha, wow! So I guess our culture must be really oppressive right? Isolated? Is it that you feel less valued here?”
“Mmm. No.. like I said I spent a lot of time alone there… Look, I can’t explain it. I just feel rubbish”
He looked a bit disappointed. I was disappointed as well. I wanted to return with all the answers in the ready formed soundbites that would inform without taking so long that the person would regret asking the question. I couldn’t do it, though. I couldn’t even think through that frustration in an interesting way.
The silence was punctuated by a mumbled and throwaway comment:
“Maybe it’s like coming back from the moon and trying to discuss it with people that had never set foot out of Texas”