I arrived home in a hugely misplaced patriotic fever. Red and white flags fluttered from car doors, flats and pubs as newspapers hysterically hyped the next match despite all the evidence of England’s numbingly dull play.
The old football song "it’s coming home" catchily echoed out of car windows. Some days later, the flags all looked rather limp in the wiltingly hot sun and the only thing that came home were the overpaid players.
It’s a strange time to return to your homeland when every street corner is hyping a sense of nation. People asked me before I travelled back what I was looking forward to and despite trying I found it hard to think of anything except friends and family.
After 18 months away, here I was finally back in my home-country with a heightened sense of itself and I felt dislocated.
Travelling across the whole world is now so easy and common that I think we underestimate what it does to our bodies. After spending hours in a pressurised cabin at the edge of the atmosphere broken only by a disorientating stop-over in a no-man’s airport lobby, I was suddenly on land thousands of miles away in a different culture, climate, language, country.
So my first impressions of Britain seemed both over-real and blurred at the same time as jet-lag, tiredness and body-country-culture shock combined:
Straight pavements and orderly gardens and hedges;
Paved motorways crammed with people stuck in their own metal boxes
Bus-stops with people standing at them
A Sikh dad with a pram squeezing past two Black teenagers on a narrow pavement
I had forgotten how multicultural Britain is and smiled as I heard reggae boom out of Brixton market. I wandered into Sainsbury’s to get bread and became paralysed when I saw the 40 different varieties and possibilities. I meet a friend at the lido (outdoor pool) for breakfast and soak up the morning sun in a small paradise hidden from the City. I climb on a bus and then promptly get off when they ask for One Pound Fifty for a journey that should surely only cost 1 Boliviano. I return to my favourite Brixton pub anxious that it had changed to find with comfortable relief the same drunk elderly men, carribean dishes still on the menu, and a jazz session that seems to bring together an eclectic crowd like notes on a page. Dislocation. Connection. Dislocation. Connection.
As jet-lag eased and my body eased back into myself, I found myself adapting quicker than I thought to Britain. I started appreciating the fact that I could put toilet paper in the toilet rather than folded into an overspilling plastic bin. I could speak a language that was completely my own. I didn’t have that inkling worry that the food I had just bought would cause diarrhoea. I sat on a train enjoying a book as sun-parched but still green fields whirred past.
And I caught up with friends and family finding all too often that after 5 minutes of chatting it was like I had never been away. It could have been one of many of my British summers. Liaising to put on campaign events (in this case the speaker tour I had helped organise for Oscar Olivera), the week with friends in a cottage in Wales, sitting with grass stuck on my legs by suncream-stickiness in a field listening to World music, kneeling on the sand watching my niece Lily absorbed in a Punch and Judy show, enjoying a dinner I had cooked for Tom and Katy on their roof terrace as the sun set and neighbourhood noises nestled down.
But despite it all and the wonderfulness of catching up with friends and family, I found that I missed Bolivia. I missed its creative chaos, the colours of clothes and markets, the warmth that I have found in everyday small encounters, the passion and politics and drive to make Bolivia a more just country. I even missed a life that had its awkward and even scary moments, its frustrations, its unexpectedness – a life that wasn’t as easy as walking down a shopping aisle.
Despite more than a year of blogging, I found it surprisingly hard to communicate my love for Bolivia in Britain in a way that resonated – something I don’t seem to struggle with here. At times I found it difficult to talk about what mattered to me or sometimes to link in as I wanted to with people’s lives. It wasn’t the fault of my friends but me. My communication felt dislocated or out of sync.
One day, though, I met up with someone I used to work with who I never knew very well but had always warmed to. She had gone to South Africa and then unexpectedly found herself committed to travelling to Cairo by land on her own. A physical journey had clearly mirrored a personal journey. Our experiences were completely different but there was surprisingly a connection and I found myself talking about Bolivia in a way that resonated and connecting it with my return to Britain.
Out of our respective dislocations came connection.