Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Peace and quiet

March 10th, Cuddesdon

We arrived in at Heathrow airport west of London at 6:35 AM. We had had dinner and breakfast on the 7 hour flight that had taken us directly north from the equator to England. Landing and going through customs was a breeze. Teeth chattering, we dug our coats out of the checked bag that had mercifully arrived when we did. Taking the bus from the airport to Oxford where we picked up the rental car amounted to the calm before the storm.

Curb! Tree! Curb! I was sitting on the left side of the car shouting warnings as Craig, having had 3 hours of sleep tried to learn how to drive from the right side of the car on the left side of the road remembering how to drive a stick shift, but translating it to his left hand rather than his right. In retrospect it might have been worth the extra 100 pounds to get the automatic. We arrived at our friends house in the late afternoon after having made a few forays (some unintentional) into Oxford.

Did you know that the side view mirrors on some cars collapse? The lane into our friend's house is notoriously narrow. We only hit 2 mirrors. But no damage - thanks to the collapsing. Of course we didn't know that before we hit them. Craig refused to drive again for 2 days.

What struck us about the whole exercise is how something so familiar can be so strange. All you have to do is change one little rule. Drive on the left. What would have been a walk in the park is turned into a white knuckle, hair-raising experience. The other thing that struck me is that no matter how familiar a place is, travel is always disorienting. Somehow you carry the place you came from with you for a few days. It's like your point of reference is far away, and therefore not really useful (even though you still try to use it) Using Ghanaian expectations for travel in the UK isn't really useful, but it takes a few days to develop a new point of reference. I don't understand this. I'm an American, not a Ghanaian, but in the month we lived with our Ghanaian friends, we learned to trust them and looked to them for many things. To a small extent we became like them. Now they were gone and we were on our own. It was like we forgot our old selves and hadn't really invented our new selves yet. Weird.

Now Craig is much more at home driving on the left. Mercifully our friends lent us their Tom Tom. I don't know how we'd do it otherwise. This makes the elbow macaroni streets of home look like child's play.

So now we've settled into our digs in England. The College is set in the countryside greening with early spring. The crocuses are up, and the daffodils won't be far behind. It is surrounded by open fields on the periphery of a tiny village with a wonderful pub. We've made it into Oxford a couple of times, but after the heat and noise of Africa and the anxiety of the first few days here, I think we're feeling like we'd like a little peace and quiet.

This is a good place for peace and quiet.

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