“Here I am, safely returned over those peaks from a journey far more beautiful and strange than anything I had hoped for or imagined – how is it that this safe return brings such regret?”
BECAUSE, Peter Matthieson, your safe return involves a bunch of boring stuff like laundry and student loans and bank cards and having to work out what to do with that huge stash of (unexchangeable) Uzbek money the you cleverly hid in your toiletries bag and forgot about (note for any ladies travelling in Central Asia: tampons scare border guards, customs officials, policemen (but not Iranian policemen, sadly) and most other people who might conceivably dig through your belongings and thus it is good to conceal things in their vicinity; their strategic placement in the top of your bag also prevents many a search from going much further) and other things that make hanging out in embassy queues for hours on end seem posititively Bacchanalian.
I’ve been back for two weeks and in that time I have accomplished almost exactly nothing. As soon as I came home my body well and truly crashed, the combination of a gut parasite (a farewell gift from Uzbekistan, ever-thoughtful country that it is), summer cold and peculiarly persistent jet-lag knocking me flat for the best part of a week and leaving me feeling absolutely exhausted. The exhaustion has now given way to lethargy, which basically means extensive lying around reading Jasper Fforde novels and internetting and feeling bad about all of the things that I’m not doing. I miss the challenge and stimulation of travel (I never, ever thought I would think this, but I miss Russian) but apparently can’t bestir myself enough to find something to replace it.
Mainly I am bothered by how normal things feel. I am telling everyone how strange it is to be back, but the awful thing is that it isn’t at all. The past eighteen months are suddenly rolling up like a snap bracelet and it’s as though I never left, which has left me scared that I haven’t changed either, and what if everything I’ve done and seen has made no lasting impression? What if I’ve just let it drift past me? What if I’ve come back no different from when I left? Intellectually I know that this is silly and of course I’ve changed, but I think I had this idea that the person who came back would be confident and assertive and proactive and have her life sorted out immediately, and that hasn’t happened yet, and the fact that I am slotting so easily back into London and falling back into old, slothful habits is making me uneasy. I’m starting an MA in September (disaster response, global warming adaptation and flood management – fingers crossed it’ll be as good as it sounds) which should provide a catalyst to do new things and meet new people which is what I think I need right now. So I’ll hold off panicking until then, I think, but for the moment I am feeling discombobulated in the extreme, and my pleasure in being able to legitimately use that word is tempered by the fact that it is not an altogether pleasant state of mind to be in.
Goodness me, I can whinge with the best of them when I get going. Positives of being home include the happy fact that no one has tried to put jam or salt in my tea, which I have been drinking out of a mug instead of a tiny bowl. No one has tried to serve me vodka at breakfast, either. Decent wine and gin and tonic are all plentiful. There are restaurants offering eight different international cuisines witin ten minutes walk of my house, and the primary ingredient in none of the dishes is mutton fat.
At some point I will write about my long and fruitless quest in Tashkent airport to find the correct person to bribe in order to get my excess luggage onto my flight (you might think this would be a relatively simple matter in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but you would be wrong); the perils of bathing in holy springs along the Pamir highway; and why your next holiday should be in Georgia and/or Armenia (sneak preview: the wine has quite a lot to do with it. Also, pretty churches). But that all has to wait. It is 2.30 am, which means it is time to redecorate my bedroom.