Mood swings

It’s been that regular period of introspection (and blogging) otherwise known as the first week back from holiday. I haven’t always been victim to it, but there’s a phenomena in Freetown among expats which I call ‘re-entry depression’. It’s mostly described as the negative feelings felt when getting back on the plane to return to your job in Sierra Leone.

As I’ve written before, a few weeks in the West can be alluring. As was the case back in June, we holidayed in France, and were captivated by the quality of life. This was true even staying with my sister-in-law who earns a very humble salary and lives in social housing (surprisingly good quality in France). The flat had high quality fittings – of course running water, constant electricity, piped gas, super-fast internet and plug sockets that don’t come out of the walls. A well-stocked supermarket (Lidl) is 30 metres away and is incredibly cheap. And the metro station is less than 10 minutes’ walk, and puts you in the centre of the city in the same amount of time, and all the attractions there.

If the return to work had its difficulties, the first day back went well, and reminded me why I enjoy working here. Day two though was tough, with some colleagues driving me a bit crazy. On return home in the evening, I was immediately assaulted with a barrage of problems – the compound dog looked sick and was an infection risk, the generator was having problems, the water we’re buying looks cloudy, the caretaker doesn’t seem to be feeding his children or enrolling them in school… It’s a bit much after a hard and long day.

Day three involved some chats with friends about career moves as I look to transition to the next job. I also discovered that I was in-line for an unexpected pay rise next month (small, but still a welcome surprise), and I came across a bonus payment that I hadn’t heard of before, equivalent to a month’s salary, which gets paid to staff from their fifth year at the company (i.e. in two years’ time).

The evening though brought another wild change in mood. At our small church group that meets weekly, a friend who has been heavily involved in providing mental health support to those affected by the recent tragic flooding here unloaded some of the struggles of the past five weeks. The stories she told of the trauma of families reduced further into absolute poverty through losing homes, businesses and wage-earners, and seeing family members swept away by the mud, was humbling. Can we rich people ever really empathise with the poor? Can we really know the stress of having no hope for the future, extremely limited prospects and a daily struggle to survive? Who are we lucky people to believe in prosperity, life improvement and have dreams way beyond basic survival?

In sum, a week of mood swings. How different our lives look depending on the vantage point you’re currently at.

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