C. S. Lewis wrote,"We do not write to be understood, but to understand."
Though this is my usual way of functioning--writing till all the pieces of my scattered heart are carefully aligned in a way that I can finally make sense of them--not even writing has helped to ease my mind upon leaving Africa.
So I stopped.
What any writer will tell you is that to stop writing...well, that is a dangerous thing. Giving in to the temptation of putting down your pen, when you pen is your primary mode of maintaining sanity never helps clear away confusion. Rather, you cease to understand.
I left Uganda.
I cried when I hugged my mother goodbye and left her standing under the vibrant blue awning shading the airport doors. I cried as the plane lifted off the ground and sped high above the continent making the huts and hills shift from barely visible to hidden behind brilliant white wracks of clouds. I cried sitting on the tarmac in Ethiopia, because I was on land, in Africa again after short hour-long flight, but even then I could not leave the interior of the plane. Staring out the window at the fence that separated the airstrip from grazing goats and young boys kicking a football, I felt everything deeply.
Arriving in Dubai, I didn't cry. But I didn't write either.
I tried. Tried to focus on the scattered pieces. The fear of never returning that was crippling my ability to hope. The stark reality that I had spent the last night under my father's roof as an unmarried daughter, though the wedding is still nine months away. The sharp pieces of a hundred other things firmly probing at my soul, cutting the threads that were my ability to write. To understand. We sat for seven hours on less than comfortable chairs, trying to sleep before our early morning connecting flight. Pen poised and journal open on my lap as I shivered in the unexpected blasts of airport air conditioning, all I could do was copy the song lyrics flowing from ipod to ears.
Copying lyrics is not writing...any non-writer can tell you that.
Leaving Dubai and passing through one final metal detector, I tried to gently remove the single Karimojong bracelet from my wrist. The man behind me was nervously pushing, everyone was rushing and as I tried to remove both bracelet and shoes simultaneous, the bracelet snapped and my composure with it.
The obvious symbolism and intense sentimentality made me sick to me stomach and I pushed through the metal detector afraid to make eye-contact with the Muslim security guard for fear of causing a dreadful scene. I cried in Dubai, staring at the bold tan line on my right wrist and the broken aluminum bangle that Lokwi had given me on my first visit to Nakaale when I was fourteen.
"Here," Zack removed his own Karimojong bracelet--the one I gave him three years ago when we had just started dating-- and slipped on my wrist.
"No..." I pretended to be calm and began to give it back to him, " Its okay. Its yours. I am fine. Its just a thing."
"No, really," He replied, " Right now, you need it more than I do."
Sometimes material things really do matter. At least to sentimental people they do. And to rather emotional girls who are feeling very broken.
I wore the too-big-bracelet on the twelve hour flight from Dubai to JFK. In twelve hours, one can do a whole lot of writing and thinking. I did neither.
But upon returning to my future in-laws house in New York, catching up on sleep, praying a great deal and crying just a little bit more, I ordered a book on a whim. The author, Shauna Neiquist, writes the following, which I found particularly relevent considering both my heightened emotions and my inability to begin writing again:
"This is what I've come to believe about change: it's good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it's incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God's hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. 'I've learned the hard way that change is one of God's greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we've become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I've learned that it's not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God's graciousness, not life's cruelty.'"(Bittersweet, Shauna Neiquist)
Understanding everything I felt, and continue to feel since removing myself and everything I own from Karamoja is taking time. But slowly by slowly, wadio wadio, I am gaining the courage to write again.