Yesterday was my first day back in the Practical Action offices after being in Africa for a month. After my work trip to Sudan, I then spent some time exploring Morocco, on the other side of the continent. I love Africa, but I definitely missed certain home things while away: yoga classes, green trees, red wine, BBC Radio 6, dark chocolate, peanut butter, the weekend papers. I think, to my surprise, I even missed the rain. So now I am home, where I can enjoy all those things I missed, and reacquaint myself with the realities of my life.
The only problem is it all seems a bit trivial. My life is trivial. I keep comparing my daily existence with that of the poorest people who I met in Sudan. For so many of them, life is about survival: the desperate, hopeful struggle to grow enough food, search for water, care for animals, walk great distances to collect firewood. I recall one woman from a small village called Kulkul in North Darfur which is grappling with a huge food crisis after last year’s rains didn’t fall. She told me “of course we fear for our lives, but we don’t have a choice, we can’t give up.” I don’t think I have ever feared for my life. Of course, there are universal unifying truths – birth, love, death – but in terms of what I do with my life – going to the office or the gym or the cinema or the pub or supermarket – it all just seems a bit meaningless. It’s just stuff that fills my days because I’m lucky enough to live in a place where I don’t have to spend my days fighting to exist.
So after being immersed in one part of the planet for a month, a few hours on a plane have delivered me right back to where I came from. It’s strange, internally there can be a seismic shift, yet on the outside, everything remains as it always was.
I am thinking of my Practical Action colleagues in Darfur. I wonder what struggles have they faced? And what successes have they celebrated? A colleague, now a friend, informed me of skirmishes and gun fire with government forces in the market place of El Fasher last week. All this is happening right now; other people’s lives, lives full of love and tragedy and struggles for survival and celebrations of success.
I keep returning to a Louis MacNeice poem called ‘Snow’, which has this beautiful line about feeling “the drunkenness of things being various”. It is not about being drunk. It is about feeling intoxicated by the sheer plurality of the world. I feel a bit like that today. Drunk on all that I have experienced in the last month – drunk on all the people I met in Sudan, all the stories of hope and loss and despair I heard, remembering that all those people’s lives are continuing right now, as I sit here typing my thoughts, re-writing my world as I try to make sense of all that I have learned.