“Are you certain these are the dates you want?”
The helpful woman in the airline office was looking at me, smiling, as she asked the question with her finger hovering over the computer mouse button.
I hardly noticed the smile though, and was instead staring, slightly slack-jawed, at the black and grey computer screen staring at us both. There, my immediate future was spelled out in block letters.
I’m coming home.
I have been talking and thinking about departure dates and travel plans for months now, plotting my route back from Uganda to Canada. First I expected to head home in February. Then March. Then April. Now it’s April. After yesterday, it’s definitely April.
I’ve booked my ticket home.
Living and working here, I often think of home. Not in a homesick way— I have been focused too much on the experience here to be homesick. But all the same, there are people and places back home that I think of often.
All along, when I thought of going home, I thought of those people and places I will see when I land. Yesterday, though, as I stared at that computer screen I thought of what I will be leaving behind and how, all else aside, a part of me won’t want to— doesn’t want to— get on that plane.
I remember well the flight here. Flying into Amsterdam was fine, no problem at all. But then my connecting flight to Uganda was delayed again and again, leaving me sitting in a sterile airport departure lounge with nothing to do but think. Of what I was doing, where I was going, who I would meet and what I left behind. Can I really do this?
I remember sitting on that plane, finally, and spending eight hours thinking and thinking and thinking, with the only interruption being the 20-ish year old missionary sitting beside me, staring out the window in amazement at the sprawling darkness below us as we began the descent into Entebbe. “My god, don’t they have electricity??” she asked, her face pressed against the window.
She blushed when I pointed out that we hadn’t yet broken through the clouds.
Stepping off that plane and into the warm night seemed so surreal and what passed me by on the drive into Kampala that night was proof that I had a lot to learn.
But what seemed so unfamiliar then is perfectly normal now. No, it’s not perfectly normal— there is still too much to learn for me to say that— but it’s at least comfortable and a setting that inspires a feeling that makes you want to explore and understand everything around you even though you know it’s impossible to understand it all in such a short time.
Besides asking question after question of those around me, that drive to explore and understand also means a whole lot of writing. I often don’t make sense of my thoughts until I sit down to write. And only then can I look over what I wrote and realize That’s what I was thinking…
R.W. Apple Jr., a journalist who passed away in late 2006, once said “the best stuff you ever write comes from a place you don’t understand,” which is a line I’ve kept with me ever since reading it in his obituary.
He was talking about a place inside you, that you explore in your writing. But he may as well have been talking about a more tangible, physical “place”, because the best writing also comes in that struggle to understand the world around you, whether that world is the street in front of you, or the culture around you.
These past months have been spent asking questions, reading books, listening, so much listening, and meeting a lifetime’s worth of incredible people I don’t want to say goodbye to.
What do you do with an experience like this? That’s another question that, come April, I’ll have to find an answer to.