A deep sense of joy, a sort of elemental euphoria, characterised my homecoming. Everything was at once ‘new’ and yet ‘familiar’. T.S. Eliot’s words from Little Gidding, the fourth poem from Four Quartets (1942), come to mind:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Although this is, hopefully, not the end of all my exploring, I am acutely aware of that sense of (re)discovery in everyday experiences e.g. lying in bed listening to the roaring westerlies; walking on the beach and feeling the pull of the ocean; being lulled by the rhythm of the waves; watching impressive cloudscapes give way to spectacular sunsets; noticing the beauty in wild hedgerows, rolling hills, green grass, familiar flowers and remembered bird-song; walking down the street and interacting easily with everyone I meet, as one who belongs; feeling safe and secure among family and fellow countrymen; revelling in little things, like the familiar smell of my mother’s home-baking; and so much more. For now, I feel in complete agreement with George Eliot’s line in ‘The Mill on the Floss’ (1860):
What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known, and loved because it is known?
As well as this sense of joy, there is a profound sense of ‘release’. There was a strangely oppressive feeling about living in Bangladesh. I noticed it first when I left to visit Nepal (see post 59). It’s difficult to articulate possible reasons. I think there was an unconscious build-up of tension in the process of trying to get to grips with living, and particularly working, in Bangladesh. The act of leaving triggered a sort of pressure-valve release of that underlying stress. This was entirely new for me: I usually associate a feeling of ‘release’ with travel. But while I might find cultural differences and new ways of doing things exciting and intriguing and even endearing when I travel, working within a new cultural milieu can be challenging. So, for example, if I had been travelling in Bangladesh (as opposed to living there) I would have loved the idea of vagueness about time and the future. I would probably have waxed lyrical about how we are tyrannised by time in the West. But when this translated into a lack of a culture of planning in the workplace (see posts 25, 48), the poetry went out the window! I have learnt that while nothing fazes me when I travel, my particular work experiences in Bangladesh tested me intensely. The sense of release upon arriving home was palpable.
I know that the feelings of euphoria won’t last and that there is a difficult period of readjustment ahead. I know from experience that reverse culture shock is much harder for me than culture shock. But, like Alice, I have stepped through the looking glass quite a few times on this journey and I can do it again. I know too that I will soon feel the need to travel once more and that I will miss Bangladesh deeply (see post 58). But I’m not thinking of any of that right now. I’m home.
What I notice most of all about this place is the silence. There are times when I find myself transfixed in the countryside, marvelling at the stillness. I want to make a deep retreat into this calm cave of comfortable silence and rest a while.
The five photographs above are from the Burren (from the Irish word ‘boíreann’, meaning ‘rocky place’), a beautiful karst-landscape region not far from my home. For more see Burren Beo and Burren National Park.