When I was given my departure date – 15th March 2009 – everything became very real. Suddenly, there was an urgency to the tying up of loose ends and the innumerable last-minute tasks that are necessary before leaving to live overseas for over a year. The ‘to do lists’ seemed to be unending: there were various VSO requirements to meet; vaccinations and other health-related tasks to complete; insurance to organise; financial arrangements to put in place; the surrendering of my apartment; considerations about my car; etc.
As the departure date approached, I noticed that I was developing a heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings as I attempted to store memories of my favourite places and experiences. For example, there were times when I found myself summoning Mnemosyne as I wandered through those parts of Dublin city that I love most, trying to capture every detail of the scenes of which I was a part. Or, I might be walking on the beach near my parents’ house in the west of Ireland and find myself trying to commit to memory the sound of the Atlantic waves crashing onshore.
Far less enjoyable was the storing of my possessions. Though not a serious hoarder (apart from books), I’m not a minimalist either and packing and removal proved tedious and time-consuming and plain hard-work. Once I had everything delivered, with the help of my brothers, to a new home in a large steel storage unit in Limerick, I felt a little lighter (both mentally and financially!). However, there remained the task of packing for more than a year away and that too proved to be onerous.
During this time my sister happened upon distressing TV coverage of the violent Pilkhana massacre in Dhaka (the capital city of Bangladesh) which she worriedly brought to my attention. The bloody massacre was the result of a mutiny by rank and file guardsmen from a faction of the army that guards the nation’s borders (the Bangladesh Rifles – BDR). Over 50 army officers were gunned down in Dhaka, together with a number of civilians, some of whom were wives of officers. (See BBC News.) VSO advised that they were monitoring the situation carefully and in time gave the all-clear.
And so, finally, after a series of long goodbyes with family and friends, the day of departure arrived.