I'm miles and miles up in the air, sat on my flight back to Cameroon. For the last two weeks, I have been busy organising my flight, packing and repacking everything with my fingers crossed it will be third time lucky!! And as I'm sat here, I'm consumed by many different feelings about going home: happiness, relief, anxiety, worry - you name it, I'm feeling it!

The last three months have been the longest amount of time I have spent outside of Cameroon in nearly twenty years. Not only has this time been a learning curve for me, it's also helped put many things in perspective both personally and professionally. Sometimes when you're in the forest, you literally can't see the wood for the trees! I've had the luxury of seeing from a distance how the team have done such an excellent job day in and day out, and I'm very grateful and proud of them all.

When the Cameroonian borders were closed and I couldn't get back, a sense of panic fell upon me. I remember being warned I may not get back until June or July, and the lack of a fixed return date really impacted me. At the time it was March and the thought of not getting back until then filled me with dread and I just couldn't imagine it. But it passed so quickly and now it's June and here I am on my way back and so much has happened in between both in the forest and in the UK. 

I'm smiling to myself as I go through my mental list of what I'm going to do first when I arrive in the forest. Of course, a visit to Bertie is still top of the list, and I'm really looking forward to seeing Tamara, Appolinaire, Dr Julieta and the rest of the team. But I'm still one more step away before I can get to them. I will be self-isolating in Yaoundé, away from everyone for two weeks. But two weeks is nothing after everything we have all been through this year.

Even though I am excited to be going back, it's tinged with sadness as well. this was the first time in twenty years that I have spent so much time with my family. For the first time in years, I got to eat breakfast with them, and then at the end of the day when I had finished work in my front room office, we would sit and eat dinner together. And the in-between times of sharing a brew in the garden were so lovely. Then in the evenings, watching television together and arguing over what to watch and whose turn it was to make a cup of tea! It was a three-month period that I am truly grateful for. All those little things that are taken for granted on a daily basis are actually really important. And I know for many, they were unable to be with their loved ones. I was lucky. We didn't do anything special; we were unable to go anywhere but we were together, and at the end of the day, that's what's really important - time with family and friends where there isn't a plan, where you don't have to rush off because you have a meeting or need to be somewhere else. You are just there, exactly where you should be. 

I'm one of the lucky few that has two homes and two families, and now it's time to get back to my forest family. And once my quarantine has finished and I'm back in the forest, I'm looking forward to all the discussions. But this time it won't be about what to watch on Netflix or whether I ate all of dad's chocolate (which, by the way, I did!); it'll be about introductions, vet plans, construction ... the list is endless. And I'll appreciate those agreements and disagreements just as much as I appreciated them in the UK.

So, for now, I've got five more hours before landing - time to kick my shoes off, adjust my face mask, and get some sleep. It's been a long 24 hours, but I'm one day closer to getting back home to the forest!

Stay safe and save lives.


Banner image - Bertie © Ape Action Africa / Ian Bickerstaff

If you missed Rachel's previous posts, you can catch up here

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