If you’re in the habit of checking here regularly (hi Mum), then perhaps you’ve wondered at the radio silence of late. I haven’t written a word in almost three weeks. No pictures, no links, no stories, nothing. But there’s a very good reason for this.
A bewildering mix of the delightful distractions of being home and of wondering how on earth I’m supposed to adequately summarize the last 14 months have kept me from touching this blog. What can I say? How can I possibly write anything even remotely intelligible concerning the past year? What conclusion can I give, when I’ve barely even begun to process it all?
Perhaps I’ll be touched by some brilliance or inspiration whilst I walk you through my return, so we’ll put all those niggling questions aside for a moment. I’m home. How did that happen? Simple really. I booked a ticket, and then 3 days later was on my way to Heathrow.
Wait. I lie. It wasn’t that simple. Not even close. I in fact spent my last month in India agonizing over what my next move would be. There was talk of Christmas in Thailand, of a wedding on the beach in January (not mine, despite a Burmese fortune teller’s prophesies to the contrary), and then at the back of my mind all those unfulfilled fantasies - dreams of sailing to French Polynesia, or of hitch-hiking home overland, or of sneaking back to Burma. But countering those thoughts? The dull, constant ache of missed loved ones. The notion of Christmas at home tugging at my heart strings. And the weariness brought on by India, by a year away, by everything really. Oh yes, and I was broke. Obviously.
Did I want to go home? Yes, of God yes, part of me said yes. But a part of me didn’t want to say goodbye to the freedom, and a part of me was terrified at the prospect of going home - finding myself forgotten by friends, struggling with how to fit back into a reality that seemed so very far away, and wishing I was still wandering somewhere through Asia or elsewhere around the globe. Quite the dilemma then.
So what made up my mind? Well amidst all these existential crises and the usual indecision, I, in my infinite wisdom, decided it was a great time to start applying for jobs. Good one Sarah. Great. Miraculously, I actually got some interviews, Skype interviews but interviews nonetheless. It was when I failed to make the cut for a job I’d interviewed for based in London, but then secured an interview for a job in Bangkok, that it started to dawn on me. I just want to go home. I hadn’t even been very interested in the London job, whilst the Bangkok one was far more appealing, and yet my gut knew what it wanted. Home.
As the expiry date of my visa loomed ever closer, I found that I simply couldn’t imagine flying anywhere else. The thought of turning up somewhere new and starting all over again, organizing where I was staying and what I was doing, was just appalling to me. And so that’s why I booked a ticket home, without telling a soul. And the second the booking was confirmed I felt relieved, over-joyed, and so very, very excited. The right decision then.
What followed was a blur. Touching down in London, marvelling at the abundance of pale faces surrounding me at immigration, and smiling at the discovery I still had a little credit on my Oyster card. Surprising my brother late that evening, turning up on his doorstep. Waking my best friend up one morning by creeping into her room, when she didn’t even know I was in the country. And then, finally, walking down the lane towards my home of 25 years and seeing my Mum’s flabbergasted face in the window, followed by my Dad’s laugh of surprise. Hugs, tears, relief, disbelief and love. I’ve been riding high on all of this for the last few weeks. Witnessing my brother finally propose to his girlfriend whom I adore. Revelling in the company of a friend I had missed every day whilst away. Walking my dogs in the woods near our home, still my favourite place in this world, and marveling at Jack Frost’s handiwork, Delhi’s dust forgotten. Curling up by the fire with a cosy cat in my lap, the low winter sun making the room glow warm and pink. And the reassuring company and conversation of my parents, my own bed to sleep in, and a clean, well-stocked kitchen at my disposal. This was and is all heaven. Heaven.
In fact, it was all feeling alarmingly normal and natural. I’d been warned of reverse culture shock and post-travelling blues by my friends abroad. But I scoffed at the idea of it, snug and smug in my bubble of home comforts.
Foolish. How very foolish. I should have known it couldn’t be that easy. And, of course, it all came crashing down the other day. I was down in London for yet more reunions, to see friends I hadn’t seen in over a year. Which was wonderful, and brilliant, and yet… And yet… Not so straightforwardly joyful as I’d expected. In a way it was thoroughly reassuring for it to feel so very natural, to feel as though we’d seen one another just yesterday, to fall so seamlessly back into the usual teasing and joshing. But then something clicked, and I realised - this last year, this time spent in absentia, it seems so much longer and more… more… important or perhaps… significant to me then it ever can to anyone else. It will remain inexplicable to my friends. Friends who I’d missed relentlessly and who I know had missed me and who I could tell were thrilled to see me… But friends who will so quickly tire of references to other countries, who won’t want to ask questions, and who cannot relate. Friends who never did read this blog during my time away, and yet who are now so quick to make jokes at its and my expense, “Oh I couldn’t read it it was too long, you wrote too much, I didnt bother”. So friends who couldn’t understand why I didn’t have a tan because they thought I’d spent the last 14 months in some vague kind of paradise, lazing on a beach day in and day out, doing… nothing. Ouch. This realisation hurt. I felt hurt, a little precious and self-absorbed of me perhaps but there it is, and then the truth of my being back and the weight of the last year came crashing down on me and I felt… Sad. Sad and more out of the proverbial loop then I had done on the other side of the world. So sad in fact that I left a Christmas party in floods of tears. Oh dear.
The come down had begun. Sadness, fear, uncertainty and a feeling of loss and of being more lost than ever… All of it crawled its way into my chest. It probably would have stayed there clawing and choking me if it hadn’t been for my brother and future sister-in-law who gave me hugs, tea and perspective. As they so wisely pointed out, my adrenaline had just given way. Having ridden high on the giddy wave of home-coming, I’d finally stopped. And now I have to breathe, to reflect, and to make sense of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and most importantly and terrifyingly, what comes next. So I think a few tears, and a little melancholy confusion, is probably alright. Right?
My mind keeps wandering to thoughts of ‘this time last year’, and it seems near and far, normal and unbelievable, unfathomable and yet… it’s all happened. I’ve been looking back over the plans I’d made before I’d set off, the notes, the map I’d laid my itinerary out on. It still hasn’t sunk in. It still doesn’t feel real. Surreal is an irritatingly overused word, but I think I’m justified in using it right now. It feels surreal.
A dear friend gave me the best advice I could have received though. Take your time. Take your time to sit for hours on end doing things you haven’t done in months. And so I’m sitting in my sitting room, the fire crackling, the christmas tree lights twinkling, and my eyes glazing over as I stop concentrating on the book/job description I had been looking over, and instead, I just sit. Visions of sunsets, of open roads, crashing waves, friends, jungles, forests, bustling markets and cities, and starry starry nights all come rushing in. Memories - evocative, sad and happy alike - all of them rise up and I let them.
I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know what I’ll be doing come January. But for now, I’ll let that slide. I’ll enjoy Christmas with my nearest and dearest. I’ll take baths, go on long walks, eat cheese, and be merry. And I’ll welcome in the New Year. I’ll welcome it, despite feeling a sadness that the best, most rewarding, eye-opening, challenging, unpredictable, overwhelming and incredible year of my life is now drawing to a close. I can’t regret any of it, and wouldn’t take back any of the time, tears or money spent. I have given way to my wanderlust, allowed myself to be consumed by it, and I have grown from it, more than even I can know.
So thank you to those of you who have shared it with me, through my long and winding wafflings, my stories, anecdotes, and my every thought posted here. Thank you for sticking with me - for offering up words of wisdom and encouragement, for congratulating me on my victories and giving sympathy and commiseration when things went wrong. The wanderlust isn’t quite bust, it and I just need some rest and some normality. It will creep up on me again, I’m sure. After all, there’s still so much world left to see…
Rest assured, I’ll write again.