Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Diary of Departure

Like a whirlwind, it’s over. My life in Aishalton has ended. In less than a week I have travelled a road that reminds me of grief. My departure felt like a rupture. As I write I recognise wryly how melodramatic that sounds. I think illness makes all misfortune strike us disproportionately.

The short version is this: in May, I came down with a nasty infection of the back which I had once as a child. Heavy antibiotics didn’t cure it, and it flared up again, so I came to Georgetown in June for treatment. A third time it attacked, at the beginning of August, and by the time I finished yet another hefty wallop of two simultaneous antibiotics, I barely had stamina left to stagger up to the training centre. So when the fourth flare-up began, we talked it through and accepted that I am no longer strong enough to recover in Aishalton. I am so weak now that every Tom, Dick and Harry ailment is felling me. My back needs cured, but I’m also risking malaria, dengue and who knows what by trying to soldier on. Workaholic- yes: hero or masochist- no!

The longer version? Here is a little diary of my last week. I wish I could have said goodbye to Aishalton, my home, in a less peremptory fashion.

Went up to the centre at 7:30, first time since last Mon. Got through an hour, then started blacking out. Had to hang on to the blackboard. Then had to sit down, which kills my back. Bailed out at 9:30. Fever. Got home and lay down. Don’t think I can do this any more. I am going to have to bite the bitter bullet, and find a way to leave.

B and Father Varghese online chatting about possible charter. He is stuck in town and needs to get back- I am stuck here and need to get out. Kills lots of birds with one stone. Half of me says “Yes!” and the other half cries “No!”. How can I go, right in the middle of everything? But how can I stay, harried by pain and worry just like that bullock I can see in the mango grove, harried by dogs while it waits for the slaughter?

Charter booked. Saturday lunchtime. Can’t get my head round it. Can’t believe I’m going just like that. Abrupt. But keep feeling flashes of relief, too. It’s out of my hands now. No more agonising. Alea Jacta Est. I’m so grateful for the flight. Jesuit generosity has never been so timely.

My last night. Videoed a stunning sunset, said goodbye to my literature students and trainees who were playing volleyball, preparing for the Deep South Games next week. Went out to the latrine late. There was just one firefly. Just one generator running. Just one ‘Moo’, and not a single star.
Goodbyes. People brought little gifts of their belongings- a locally made woven picture that looks just like my house, two beautiful seed necklaces that must have been hard to part with. Some women had found time to make me something: Psalm 23 painted on a cotton cloth, my favourite snacks for the journey.
I hadn’t expected tears from anyone except myself. There were quite a lot of tears. The only goodbye I didn’t regret was to my pit latrine. That I will not miss, never. At the airstrip some people were waiting, and there were speeches and gifts and a Wapishana song written hurriedly for me.

Flying out. Big, wrenching sobs, the kind a child cries. As their faces disappeared I was almost wailing: this is not something I do. Too sudden. That’s what I keep thinking. So much of our psyche there (yes, I did type ‘here’ unconsciously and have to change it) is formed by the difficulty of travel. It’s a part of our identity, that two-stage long-haul. I feel like MacDuff, from the womb untimely ripp’d. The flight was loud but calming. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw the sun sailing strangely through the trees, passing like a silver disk below the canopy. For hundreds of miles the rainforest is flooded, and the sun was perfectly cast in the invisible water, travelling along with the plane like an impossible dazzling shadow.

So here I am, sucked out of Aishalton by some unseen hoover and deposited in Georgetown, amidst all the comforts except the home-made, and all the luxuries except the smiles of home friends. I close my eyes and I see Aishalton: some part of my mind still thinks I live there. I wonder for how many days it will remain as ‘home’ in my mind? I won’t know until suddenly it isn’t any more. ‘A few more moons...’, as Chief Seathl reminds me. Flux is the order of things.

Now it’s Sunday, and I lie on a comfortable bed in the Jesuit House in Georgetown, waiting to see a doctor tomorrow. Allowing for medical exigencies, our plan at the moment is to stay in Guyana until November. James has a list of photographs untaken that haunts his dreams and will pack out his days. I have a mountain of tasks to complete, conversations to finish by Skype, bids to see through and reports to help people draft in Amerindian cyberspace. The reflecting can come later. Before any of that, it’s rest and medication, rest and medication, the soothing hum of air-conditioning and the kindnesses of Bob and Malcolm.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you get well soon. As difficult as it may be to leave friends and work unfinished. If you end up severely ill because you did not look after yourself, the loss to everyone will be so much greater.

    I am in Georgetown and have lots of contacts (and know lots of doctors) and may be able to assist you. Please don't hesitate to email me: n[dot]ramkarran[at]gmail[dot]com