What would you find most interesting about my return to the UK during the lockdown, I wonder? The empty train stations? The rolling countryside? The police waypoints and deserted airport? How about the massage I got from the eighty year old homeless man who just lived right there in the terminal? It was a rough night, sleeping there on the cold tiles, but for him it was normal (old normal).

There was also the army there at the airport, patrolling around in groups. They had automatic rifles, but thankfully spent most of their time smiling at the pretty hostesses. They did a thermal scan on me before I got on the plane.

“Parli italiano?” The man asked me.

“Er… Inglese è meglio per me,” I replied, a little begrudgingly. 

I’d hoped my Italian would be better by the time it came to leaving. I’d had ten out of the twelve months of my volunteering project in Italy, and when it came time to leave I’m lucky to say that it was by my own will, not forced by the current circumstances. 

I’d been living quite comfortably through lockdown conditions in rural Umbria in fact; getting lots of sunshine and eating great food in what is already a rather isolated part of the world. But the truth is, I’d found my volunteering placement extremely challenging at times, and the lockdown had taken away all the little social events that were going to be the stepping stones to get me through until the end of my year. It didn’t affect me much to begin with, in fact I’d even discussed with my host the possibility of staying on longer if circumstances made it difficult for me to leave. Then suddenly, one day at the beginning of April, I started looking for a flight and had the strongest urge to pack my bags, which I did, and was fully ready to leave on a moment’s notice despite the fact that I hadn’t decided I truly wanted to. By the end of the month, I was gone.

I’ve come to appreciate what a valuable thing that is nowadays, with the travel restrictions. Of course I wouldn’t encourage anyone to travel unless it’s really necessary, but I think it’s also important to know that it’s possible. If you need to go, you can go – it just takes a little extra planning and preparation.

When I arrived in the UK I came straight to Scotland, where I knew I could maintain social isolation, and where I had a new project to step right into – helping develop a meditation retreat in a remote western glen. Right away I’ve begun applying the skills I learned and developed as a volunteer. We’ve set up a tunnel so we can start growing our own produce, and this week we’ll be planting six or eight fruit trees, which will make a nice shady grove someday. It rains a lot here and when it’s cold we light a fire and put the kettle on for tea. I tried haggis for the first time the other day, and it was very tasty.

Change is the very nature of Nature. I’ve heard lots of great stories from people making positive changes in their lives, as a result of these big changes, and that’s so reassuring for me. Of course, we have to remain pro-active not only re-active but in the meantime let’s continue to adapt to what comes, shall we? 

(…and enjoy the haggis along the way.)

By Joseph