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Before travelling to Sierra Leone I was advised that after about 3-4 months I would benefit from a trip back to the UK to avoid any burn out and allow my body and brain to rest and reflect on what I had seen and done. This was opposite to what I was feeling at the time, which was sheer excitement and enthusiasm for getting out to Freetown and staying there for the 12 months. However as I am a well behaved individual, I not only listened to but also followed this advice and had a 2 week holiday in the UK at the end of November and beginning of December.

Initially when booking this break my thoughts went to taking the time off in the UK over Christmas and New Year. However I quite liked the idea of having Christmas in Sierra Leone to witness the excitement surrounding the holidays. Additionally, it was my Mums Birthday at the end of November and I wanted to celebrate that.

Despite my initial hesitations about taking a break back in the UK I was extremely grateful when it came

I could definitely feel a lull in my energy levels, the thrill of the work had become slightly dampened, the stories of the children I was treating were affecting me more, the early mornings felt like they were non stop and I was beginning to crave a great big juicy steak. Clearly spending the day at a beach, swimming in warm waters, eating freshly caught fish and drinking freshly squeezed orange juice wasn't enough relaxation for me. I needed short dark cold days in Edinburgh to properly rest!

Despite having lived the majority of my adult life away from Edinburgh, I can safely say that I think it is one of, if not the, best city in the world (obviously there are lots of cities I haven't been to but I ignore that fact). Admittedly it has an added bonus that family are there and nearby.

However, there is something very enjoyable about being able to wander through Holyrood Park within minutes of leaving the house, marvel at the architecture from different centuries and sitting drinking coffee in one of the many independent coffee shops. Although my knowledge of the city isn’t that up to to date I do take pleasure from providing friends with recommendations of what to see, do and eat when there. If you’ve not been go visit Edinburgh!

Hot showers, staying in bed till 10am, walking but not dripping in sweat (actually just not constantly sweating), wearing woolly jumpers, my dads cooking, haggis and just breathing Scottish air were all great treats but the highlights of my time in Scotland were:

My Mums 60th Birthday

It was a lovely day with family, food and fun. My sister did an amazing job in preparing the food and puddings while also organising everything (I helped by blowing up balloons) and everyone. I'm not really sure how she managed it; but she did and will say it’s natural talent!

An open top bus tour of Edinburgh

Somehow there was a day in December that had bright blue skies and was dry (although it was bitterly cold) and it was great hearing stories of Edinburgh’s past. It also reinforced my belief that my mum would make an excellent tour guide, she would argue that she doesn’t remember the dates and figures, but she does have an abundance of obscure historical stories

A trip to the theatre to see An Edinburgh Christmas Carol

The sets and costumes were amazing, the acting great and the story was heartbreaking, funny and warming throughout

Half way through this trip I decided to break up my relaxing and go visit friends in Bristol, London and East Grinstead

The hospitality shown was very welcoming, I don’t really enjoy imposing myself on people so the fact people were willing to put me up for a night or two was really helpful. Although, I am sorry to one of my friends girlfriend, who had to put up with 2 drunkards getting back to her lovely flat late at night two nights in a row, I promise we did try to be quiet!

I also want to apologise to everyone that I didn’t see or visit when I was in the UK; time and travel was limited. Those I did see, it was energising seeing you all. As good as it was sharing what I have seen and experienced it was better hearing about everyone else’s adventures and plans. Spending time with friends and family, especially over food and drink, is definitely something I enjoy and thrive on. So thank you to everyone for making the time to hang out.

The holiday came to an end in the middle of December when I boarded a plane back to Sierra Leone.

Leaving the UK was made all the more difficult by the passing away of my Granny

I was very grateful to be in Scotland when it happened; one of my biggest worries/fear about my year overseas is how I would cope and what I would do if a family member died and I wasn’t able to be there. I was also very pleased that during my stay in the UK I was able to get to Peterhead to visit my Granny and Granda to share time, pictures and stories with them.

Once back in Freetown it became clear that Christmas and New Year are big occasions here. There were concerts and festivals most days with beach events going on until 6am and there were market stalls but just not called Christmas markets. A slightly upsetting moment was when I was at the national stadium for a football match and to visit the market stalls only to find out that at a festival some of my friends were at Idris Elba came on stage to play a short set. What made me feel a wee bit better was knowing that a couple of them had left before Idris came on stage so they also missed out!

There were a couple of Christmas occurrences which I think will stick with me for a while. One was having carol singers come round to share festive joy and goodwill. The other was buying a goat so that at works Christmas beach outing it could be used to make celebratory goat soup.

Christmas day involved making a treacherous motorbike journey up a very rough road to get to a friends church. Where I got to clap, jump, dance and shout for Jesus. A Christmas meal was had as members of the International Church gathered and shared food, nothing was missing and there was an abundance of pudding so I was incredibly happy. That evening I managed to video call the family and wish them a Happy Christmas. They had all given me some presents to take back so I could open them on Christmas day. I was moved by the gifts and just how relevant they were and the amount of thought that had gone into them. I think I struggled most with not being able to give them a great big, all embracing hug in thanks and love for them being them and for the presents.

The final bit of festive fun was on boxing day when me and a few friends went to one of the beaches for 5 nights in a beach hut. This was blissful, there was the odd day/night when a local beach party was going on but in general it was very quiet and still. There was grilled lobster, fish and shrimp every day (sometimes twice a day). I did try to do a wee bit of swimming to burn off some of the calories but I don’t think it made a dent. The time there did confirm my thoughts that as much as I enjoy a city break, and as much as I enjoy an active holiday, the holiday I do best is a definitely a beach break! Although this thought may change depending on what I do on my next holiday!

All in all December was a very relaxing month

I have been back at work for a couple of weeks now but still feeling very excited and enthusiastic about what is in store over the next year; even though I know that there will be challenges and setbacks ahead. Prayers with all of you in everything that you do and undertake.

Thanks for reading, much love and God bless x

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