We’ve been home for two weeks and I am continually shocked by the sameness of our town. It appears that virtually nothing has changed in a year and a half. With the exception of a rebuilt courthouse and a couple of new businesses, everything looks the same. It’s as if I woke from a dream about living in Africa to find myself still here in Pittsboro.
No one has aged a day. I find this a little unsettling. While my hair has turned from grey to white, seemingly overnight, everyone else looks just as they did before we left. Add in the zooey feeling associated with a nasty head cold and I feel like the ghost of Rip Van Winkle each time I leave the house.
I’m astounded when past acquaintances recognize me. My first impulse is to keep moving as if they had called out “Obroni!” And then, before I can decide whether to greet them in twi or with cheek kisses, I’m enveloped in a warm embrace. When they ask me about my trip to Africa I blink numbly and thanks to my cold, begin to cough into the crook of my arm, effectively ending the conversation. Part of me wants to say, “Africa?” while another side wants to say, “I could write a book, do you have a couple of weeks?” or “Just read anything Paul Theroux wrote about Africa.”
Truthfully, our time in Africa had a profound impact on us. And it would take a book to explain. When I try to describe the nuances of the landscape or the impact it had on my spiritual growth I begin to sound like a bigot. People shrink back at the telling of what I intend as uplifting stories. I have a better picture of Sub-Sarahan Africa now and I’m afraid it isn’t pretty. Ditto with what I’ve learned about myself.
Yes, my return home has been like Rip Van Winkle with a twist. I aged and then traveled back to the past where everyone in my town still looked the same. Even the technology is the same. I slid into the driver’s seat of our 1995 Ford Escort, Christine and knew exactly what to do. Even though I hadn’t driven anything more complicated than a wheelbarrow for a long time, within moments Christine and I were flying up the Gum Springs Road. There was one moment where I encountered oncoming traffic, downshifted and forgot my gear pattern, but other than that my car seems to drive itself just like before, pulling effortlessly into my familiar haunts as I make my rounds.
I’m still using the same phone albeit with a new phone number. But all 100 or so phone numbers of people I apparently called in the past are still unchanged in my little cell phone. I flipped it open and called my Mom the other day and was able to stay on the line for two hours without losing service once. Even the ringtone I assigned Bob’s number remained the same. When I hear the first clarinet and oboe notes of The Pink Panther emanating from my pocket, I know it’s my one and only. If someone suggests I give so-and-so a call, I don’t need to ask for their number. In fact, in many cases I still remember the speed dial number I assigned them.
It will be interesting to see if the sameness wears off and I begin to notice things that have changed. Or if, after I am able to speak a complete sentence without lung trauma, I feel compelled to share tales from afar. My guess is I’ll pick up where I left off, gratefully embrace a community that held open a spot for me and leave my African experience in the dust.