I’ve been home for 12 days. I still find myself tearing up, crying, bawling at everything/ anything. I still haven’t turned on my telly. I didn’t start unpacking for 1 week, was this a sign that I didn’t want to put my old life back together because I felt different now?? Or was it because I wasn’t ready to be home?
Everything I do I compare to Kenya. For example my first night going to bed involved me having a shower, brushing my teeth with tap water, slipping into my sheets and reaching over to grab the remote control that works my bedroom light….I thought wow what a princess compared to my nightly routine in Kenya which involved having a shower spending a lot of time scrubbing my feet, filling up all my water bottles from the 5 litre bottled water, bolting the front door closed, brushing my teeth using the bottle water to swish, puling all the curtains closed, switching on my mozzie zapper, spraying my exposed skin with mozzie spray (mozzies usually absolutely love me), opening my bedroom window, switching on my torch (I’m scared of the dark!) switching off my bedroom light and diving onto my bed pulling the mosquito net over me. What a difference! Getting ready to go out here I grab my wallet, my keys and my phone and off I go. In Kenya I would pack my backpack – make sure I had water, water purifying tablets, hand sanitiser, hand wipes, sun cream, mozzie spray, toilet paper, enough Kenyan Shillings, phone, journal, pen….
When I did start to unpack the first things I took out of the bag was all my training gear. A quick bit of background, because I was going away for 3 months I practically moved out of my apartment and had someone else move in while I was gone. So, unpacking was really like moving back into my apartment again. So, the first bag I attempted to unpack was clothes, my training gear to be specific. Now I have just been to Africa for 3 months and in terms of training gear I lived in the same leggings, training top, training bra and 2 pairs of sports sox. I wore these items 6 or 7 times a week for football, yoga, running etc. and I was fine…when I started to unpack leggings after leggings after leggings I stopped to take note of over 12 pairs of training pants on my bed I was like holly hell Carlisle how many training pants do you need? I put them back in the bag and stopped unpacking, I clearly wasn’t ready to do a stock-take on how much stuff I have….
At first, when I first got home I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t extract by brain out of Kenya. I found it hard to relate to anyone. If I wasn’t taking about Rafiki, Kenya, the Queen’s and King’s I wasn’t interested and this made me feel selfish because it’s important to be interested in your friends lives right….so I’ve pretty much stayed away from everyone as much as possible.
I feel like I’m in shock, I feel like I’m in a daze. I keep asking myself was I just in Africa for 3 months? Did I just spend time developing relationships with a heap of incredible people? Did I just climb to the 4th highest summit in the world? The adventure that had a 10-month lead-in time and lasted 3 months was now over, I was on the other side of it…how strange. I kind of relate it to be like returning home after a honeymoon. A major life event that usually requires a load of time to prepare, costs a lot of money, completely fills your mind and absorbs all your free time, then all of a sudden the honeymoon is over and you and your partner return to work….I don’t know how that feels but I can imagine the massive anti-climax which is what I am feeling wrapped up with missing the kids and people I had just spent 3 months with and not being able to contact them combined with feeling like I wasn’t ready to come home yet…
One of the biggest things I noticed as soon as I got off the plane in Sydney was that I could understand everything that was going on around me. I could understand the systems, the processes, and all the communication. It was tiring. It was over stimulating. It was boring. It soon dawned on me that for the last 3 months I had pretty much tuned out for about 80% of the time to all those things. I was surrounded by language and systems that I didn’t really understand and yes I tried to learn the language and systems but for most of the time I was tuned out. I was more of an observer, spending a lot of time in my own head watching and listening and trying to make sense of everything. I’d been having an out-of-body experience for 3 months…
My first night out for dinner was a disaster. I was with one of my besties, my Dad and a family friend. We went to a very busy area in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. We debated for a while over where to eat, I just wanted to say – who gives a flying fuck…it’s food right, let’s eat anywhere…but I refrained and stayed in my head. While sitting at the dinner table I could see other people’s tables full of food, way too much food. I could hear children around me asking for things ‘I want…. I want …..’. The food I ordered didn’t taste very good (or was it just my mood or had I got use to simple cooking and basic fresh ingredients?) I couldn’t finish my meal and I felt guilty as hell. I hardly said anything the entire night, I just stayed in my own head. I know my Dad and my friend were concerned for me but how do I even begin to explain what was going on in my head without sounding ridiculous or ungrateful or cliché?
When Sarah asked me to write something for the website I was more than happy to share. I don’t know if any of this will resonate with anyone else. I mean let’s face it we all embark on these types of journeys for our own individual reasons therefore we all get different things out of it and have different responses and learn different lessons. I have spent so much time since coming home reflecting on why…why did I want to go? I had a book of reasons why I wanted to take 3 months off work. I had a handful of reasons why I decided to go to Africa and I had a plenty of reasons why I wanted to visit Rafiki and the thought of climbing Kilimanjaro excited me.…now I just need to convince myself that home is where I want to be…can I convince myself? Will time help or hinder??
So now I’ve been home for 18 days. I’m still messed-up but coping a lot better, well if a sign of coping is getting through a day without crying than yep I’m doing better. I am still suffering from the suck-back big time! (thanks Antonia, thanks Danielle for that expression).
It’s such a strange selfish, hopeless feeling. On one hand I love my country and my city, I have an extremely fortunate life that has afforded me a 3 month trip to Kenya and I want to honour this life and show my gratitude but when I soak up the privileges I feel guilty as f”£k! I find myself checking the time and quickly calculating what time it would be in Kenya and then I work out what the Queens and Kings would be doing right now. I know some of their challenges now, I know their issues and I feel cut-off, I feel hopeless and helpless. I want them to know that I am thinking of them, trying to work through ways that I can continue to help. The things that underpin my personal philosophy to life is trusting relationships, and authenticity…these things are what are now cutting deep…do the children know that I want nothing more than to be there with them. Have I just added to the feelings of abandonment for some of them? Do they trust me when I said I was coming back, do they care, do they still remember me?
I feel like I plucked myself out of my life for 3 months and dropped myself into their lives for 3 months and then returned myself back to my life but now I know what they are facing every day, I have firsthand experience and knowledge of this country called Kenya. I am now aware of this incredible organisation called Rafiki Mwema and the incredible life-changing work of Play Kenya. I have built a relationship with over 60 children/ people aged from 3 years to 20 years old plus a heap of incredible men and women that supported me and welcomed me and taught me for 3 months and now it feels like my right arm has been cut off. I can’t see them. I can’t give them hug. I can’t ask them if there is anything that I can do to help them….I can’t unhear, I can’t unsee, I can’t unfeel all the things I have experienced nor do I want too. I feel like it’s all been switched off but I know it’s still going-on. I feel like I’m in the dark now. I’m a world away from them. It’s frustrating and it hurts my heart. All the children’s stories that I was privy to while visiting have begun surfacing for me now. When I was with the children I would park their story and just be in the moment with them. I tried to add a sparkle to their life and give them all my love, attention and care so they would feel special and important and validated and heard. Therefore, I didn’t spend time thinking about their individual tragic stories until now. I lie in bed and each of their faces pop into my mind and then their story follows. I didn’t learn everyone’s story and now I’m not sure whether knowing their history is better or worse. If I don’t know their story I tend to assume what has happened to them. I know whatever their story is that it would be tragic, unfair, unjust and brutal….
I find myself wanting to shout from the rooftops…doesn’t anyone else care??? I find myself so confused at times wondering why everyone isn’t turning their mind to supporting children in Africa?? And then I remind myself that everyone usually has their thing to support and I can’t expect everyone to feel as passionate about this cause as I do…. I also find myself wondering why people are so caught up in meaningless stuff and then I remind myself that it is all contextual and relative and I too was and will get sucked back into the problems of the privileged. These feelings and thoughts are confusing and make me feel like shit….
I know I am a different person now. I know how cliché that sounds but I don’t know how else to say it…my mind has been expanded, my heart has been enlarged my soul has been revamped and my perception of the world is very different. I got so much out of this adventure and I haven’t even touched on the Kilimanjaro climb yet!! I don’t want to make it all sound doom and gloom since I have returned. There is a part inside me that has now been set alight, a part of me that is breathing life for the first time. I feel like I am more knowledgeable to make better decisions. I feel like more of a global citizen than I was before I left. I feel like I have a way better understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. I feel like I have grown 3 foot taller. I feel like my priorities have changed for the better…
I am so grateful for this experience and I have absolutely no regrets except maybe that I wish I had been brave enough to go for 12 months rather than 3. I honestly believe that if everyone had the time and resources to visit Africa the world would be a much better place. We have so much to learn from them.
I have had friends reach out to me, some friends that I haven’t spoken to in years…they all share the same message. They enjoyed the posts, they felt like they were there with me. Some are thinking of visiting Rafiki, lots are contemplating a trip to Africa now. I have seen the most beautiful humanity come out in my friends and family and I know my trip has left a mark on all of them….I have been shocked at how many of them have reached out in the last couple of week since I returned home checking-in with me, inviting me over to their places, allowing me loads of time to share my stories…I know I am blessed to have so many incredible people in my life.
I feel like I have been walking around in a movie since 30 Dec 2016 when I boarded a plane for Tanzania. So much has changed for me now….and I have so many possibilities at my fingertips. This experience has opened my eyes and I will be forever grateful to Constance Hall who introduced me to Rafiki and to Sarah Rosborg and Anne Marie for being two of the most inspirational women I have ever met. I feel like my life is probably going to take a whole new direction and I’m excited to see where I go….