The beige Tarmac of Barcelona Airport rolls past on my right, through the tiny windown of the A320 that is carrying me back to the UK. As thrust pours out of the engine only meters away from me, I feel the familiar compression in my stomach as the hulking piece of metal accelerates down the runway; this time it is an almost sickening sensation. How many flights so far this year? 21? 2 more next week. At least a further 2 more this month. And then there’s potentially a new deployment coming up in Asia in June… I’ve already spent more time in planes and airports than in my family home.
Flying is a chore.
Over there, partially hidden by the wing are the Pyrenees, covered with snow like cake frosting. I hate the cold: I’ve spent 2 years basking – or is it baking – in the sun, as I’ve travelled the globe with work. I shiver, partially at the thought of the (most likely) miserable weather waiting back in Britain, partially as a result of the disparity between my left and right sides: one chilled by the air conditioning, the other soaking up the unfiltered sunlight penetrating the glass.
I realise I’m being negative. Maybe I should read my book, but I’m not in the frame of mind for the Khmer Rouge and Palestine and the rest. I’m on a break from all that: one month of no Ebola, no temperature checks, no interrogation of my bowel movements, no donors and NGOs and government officials.
Slowly I’m decompressing.
The days since coming back from Liberia have been fleeting, but already I’m growing weary of recounting what I was doing there. I’m considering not talking about it, or coming up with a 3 sentence answer and leaving it at that. The problem is people don’t leave it at that – it’s all such an alien experience for the man in the street. I’m not sure what to tell them.
I remember being in Berlin in January. There were still EVD+ patients at the ETU, football was still banned and the curfew in Monrovia had been temporarily lifted on December 31st to allow people to attend church. I hadn’t been touched for 2 months – physical intimacy was an indomitable mountain and I’d forgotten how to walk. That said, I was grateful to find myself on a date with a UN officer who understood the emotions and reverse-culture shock I was experiencing. There’s a huge level of trust needed to be physical on any level after experiencing an environment where every day you were reminded that even a simple handshake could be deadly. Intimacy is safety.
While the Ebola epidemic has come to an “official” end in Liberia, it’s clear there is still a lot of work to do and a hangover from the trauma. Likewise, though my time there is over on paper, I think there are impacts from my experience that are going to only emerge in the next few months as the dust settles or I scratch the surface or something like that. The next thing for me is to give myself the time and the space, to let those things emerge quietly, away from a field setting where the last thing you need is to deal with issues from a previous mission. For now my only job is to put myself first, rest and allow myself to just be.