Select Page

I finally finished transcribing the last days of my journal from Uganda somewhere around half past one this morning. One last push to get the last precious, straggling words off their handwritten pages. Loving each one, keystroke by keystroke – trying to remember when I wrote it. How I felt. In light of how the post that came after this diary blew up on Matador, here are the last three days of the diary. A prologue of sorts for the curious.

The excerpt begins at the arrivals gate at the O.R. Tambo airport, South Africa. Emotionally, it began much earlier. But it’s difficult to really find the tipping point somewhere between the first and fiftieth page. It was only in the  transcription that it became clear how many of the themes in what became Dark & Light were present in my daily notes. Sometimes in almost the exact words I ended up using.

Apologies in advance for the lack of polish – these are the days as they appear stream-of-consciousness-style in the original diary. I’ve only changed a couple of sentences so that it will make a bit more sense as a standalone snippet.

16 December

…I collect my backpack and the sticker-covered USAID trunk – an early Christmas present for my brother, John. I am home. I feel terrified. I’ve come home through these gates a dozen or more times and I have never felt like this before. I almost feel panicked. I can’t think why. John is waiting for me at arrivals. He loves the trunk.

On the highway home, a lamborghini overtakes us. Driven by an aggressive, insecure yuppie looking for attention. Meaning  perhaps. I think of Rose and her children back in Gulu. I feel disoriented. Somewhere inside, I feel as though this is the bad dream. A grotesque parade of some sort. I’ve only slept two hours. That must be it.

It’s strange to think that Tom and Saskia are still there. Still smelling rubbish burning on the warm wind. Still riding the boda-bodas.

Home, and I bath as soon as the water runs. Hot water. Delicious. Then climb into bed. John is on the phone to my mother.  I don’t feel like talking to her. Or anyone. The answer to ‘how was it?’ is much too heavy a stone to lift. I don’t feel as if I actually have the physical strength to hold that conversation in full. With John, with my mother, with anyone. I want to be alone. I want to drink water. I want to sit and think only of Rose. Of ciapattis.

After bath, dead to the world under a quilt. Interrupted by noisy neighbours and can’t get back to sleep. Dreamed about Northern Uganda. Something about taking photographs, I think. John is out, so I update my journal and play Liar by Dragonette on loop. Over and over. I’m not myself right now, and I suspect that it is somehow related to the shock of being back in the world. It’s strange to think that Tom and Saskia are still there. Still smelling rubbish burning on the warm wind. Still riding the boda-bodas.

Later, going out with a close friend to grab coffee, his parents ask how my journey was. I say something about it being exhausting. What else can I say? It’s not good conversation material. I’m still tired, despite an espresso and having rested. I want to curl up in a ball and just not see people. My back starts to hurt. And my knees. Is it still tiredness now? Or stress?

I wake up a number of times throughout the night. Every dream feels like one about Gulu.

17 December

Wake up. Coffee. I missed coffee. I sit all morning catching up on emails and other outstanding tasks, even though I feel as though I am a thousand miles away emotionally. A thousand, or however many between here and Kampala. I had emailed Saskia to tell them I had arrived safe yesterday and she has replied to say that they miss me. I send a reply to ask how the last day has gone, and to warn them that coming back from the dream may be quite hard. I hope they don’t feel as I did, but suspect that they might.

I need to get my phone changed to allow roaming in the UK before I leave to see Katherine. John and I spend two hours in a Christmassy mall  and the phone shop tells me it will take ten days. I tell them I will come back later. I won’t. I can’t stand the people anymore. I’m tired of the pettiness, the noise, the self important dreams of owning bigger and better stuff.

By the time we return home, I am feeling increasingly anxious. Not with the back pain of yesterday, but with an almost panicky sense of dread. It’s nothing to do with sleep anymore. It’s stress. It’s being home. I try to pick up where I left off – sorting out emails again, but eventually retire to my room. Close the door and sleep. Sleep is not a return to Uganda, but it is an escape – however temporary – from here.

Later that evening, John heads out to socialize with some friends we both share. And I stay at home. I hate myself for not being willing to spend time with close friends, but I know that in my current state I would be terrible company. What I want to talk about with anyone who will listen are the kinds of things that nobody else I know wants to ask me about or hear. Or so it feels.

I wake up a number of times throughout the night. Every dream feels like one about Gulu.

I think of Tom and Saskia returning soon. I wonder if they will feel it too. This psychological battle surely cannot be particular to me. I send Saskia an email to remind Tom not to run out of journal space, and indirectly suggesting to her that returning may carry its own difficulties. I think I will be in the air to London tomorrow when they return, but will try to find them online when I land. Partly, I want to check that they are okay. Partly, I think I’m just looking for someone that I can talk to.

I do nothing for at least another hour. Then scold myself for being pathetic and sit down to catalogue and edit photographs. Listening to the dance group singing again in the late afternoon in Cope camp, and flipping through the pictures of the people we met there, I find my smile again.

Losing myself in the editing, it’s early morning before I am done. I sleep much better for it.

18 December

Up early, I sit back in front of the computer and try to write something that might finally explain to the world what I have felt the last days. I’m worried that I won’t find the words. That it will come across as hyperbolic emotional drivel. I start as best I can, and surprise myself at the momentum I pick up.

I write precisely one draft, click publish, and smile again.


Precisely one draft.