You may have noticed that my blog silence extended a little longer than I anticipated.
You probably thought that I (Dora) decided to stay Kenya-bound and master the detail of chapatti and mandazi recipes before returning to run an artisan cookery school back in the UK (thankfully – for Food & Hygiene Inspectors – this is a big fat no). Or, you perhaps conjectured that I had embraced the idea of ‘Kenyan Time’ to the extent that I missed the return flight, and persuaded the 40 accompanying students that they were doing such a great job volunteering (they were) that it would be a shame to return to finish their A Levels in the UK.
Sadly not so.
Turns out that while I was Dora Exploring in Kenya, my lovely Sis was doing the same in a different continent. I returned to the UK knowing that Sis had arranged a change of address and needed no help from me with removal vans. Even though I returned armed with this knowledge, I still find myself totally floored that no-one can give me her correct postcode. I am no good without a forwarding address.
As we land at Heathrow I have to stop myself from Whatsapping Sis to tell her that we are home safely. She probably already knows this. I then feel the need to check in with her to discuss what outfits we will wear to our neice’s wedding a few days’ later. Silly really because Sis had already advised me to wear ‘that’ green dress and hinted that she may not be well enough to attend herself.
I admit that although I knew Sis would not be here on my return, I hoped it was perhaps a big sister joke she was playing. We said we would never say good-bye, and we didn’t, but I feel slightly put out that she checked out before my return. I don’t want to accuse her of lying, but she did say she would still be here after Kenya and her word has always been her bond. She must have been having an off day. We will need to have words – perhaps I will need to use these ones.
On reflection, if you do have to receive the most terrible news, perhaps the best place to receive it is in rural Western Kenya. To be precise, it is best to receive it by phone from the man my sister adored, and to know that your duet of sobs is drowned out by the singing of hundreds of African primary school children who are greeting your own students while you sneak behind a classroom to take the call. I wonder whether Sis planned it like this.
It is also best to receive such news surrounded by the wisdom of young adults – some of whom I didn’t know very well before the trip – who do not have the awkwardness of adults around grief and so unashamedly swoop in for random acts of kindness (mostly in the form of hugs or card game distraction) whenever their teacher looks a little zoned out during the subsequent days.
It is best to receive such news knowing that young people will change your own rules for you. (The students did). I flippantly told all students and staff at the start of the trip that we each had an allocation of five crying sessions to use over the next two weeks. When one of the students suggested we hold a minute’s silence in memory of my sister at the end of the evening circle time, I could feel my second big cry of the trip coming in.
The students had adapted their trip song from ‘Pitch Perfect’s’ ‘You’ll Miss me When I’m Gone,’ to ‘We’ll Miss You When We’re Gone’ (#seewhattheydidthere) and they had already sung it – to much acclaim – in front of Kenyan church congregations, schools and on the school buses; I asked if they would sing this rather than offering a minute’s silence (Sis was never a big fan of silence, she always got the giggles). They did.
Touched as I was, when we get a moment, someone does need to tell the students that their singing was rubbish that night – there was a total wobble around pitch and clarity (#ironic) because of their blatant cashing in on some of my cry allocation (There is no ‘I’ in ‘Choir’, students, unless you spell it correctly, of course). As a crescendo of sobbing broke out in circular fashion, the students declared any crying null and void in terms of the trip’s cryometer. They even allowed me to sneak off to my tent to howl at some fireflies and pretend that I still had three more cries left before we returned to Heathrow. They even let me off my washing up duty. I love it when respect for a leader is shown…
Back in the UK, I am not quite sure how to fill the massive void my sister has left. We toast her at my neice’s wedding and I know Sis will approve of my medicinal use of Pimm’s to drown out her absence, even if I do spill most of it down my green dress. The tables at the reception are artistically scattered with little packets of Love Hearts and I save Sis the sweets with ‘Let’s Party’, ‘All Your’s’ and ‘Call Me’ written on them. I know Sis would have appreciated the conga around the reception tent and that she might have even joined in for the YMCA medley at the end. Perhaps the wedding invite didn’t reach her; it is difficult to send things accurately without a postcode.
So, I am left with the sense that I still have a lot of exploring to do. Sis may have justifiably earned a new postcode for her little slice of heaven, but us lesser mortals need to rely on her daily sat nav updates if we are to have any hope of reaching the same future destination. I am just not used to a world without Sis in it and I certainly don’t appreciate her absence.
My sense of direction has never been as strong as my sister’s and I will need to dig deep to trust my own compass. Thankfully Favourite Daughter reminds me that her aunt may not have left a physical forwarding address, but she did leave us all with very clear guidelines for life navigation. She reminds me that while I may be distracted by my search for rainbows and dragonflies as a sign that Sis is still close by, in reality, Sis left me with a much more reliable Ordinance Survey map to just get over myself and embrace adventure.
Allow me one last wallow then. In the absence of circle time, and with the useful addition of Pimm’s, I feel a song coming on, Sis:
“I’ve got my ticket for the long way round
The one with the prettiest of views
It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to make me shiver
But it sure would be prettier with you”.
RIP HKR 22.7.19