I don’t think it’s something anyone would choose. The distance, the time difference, the plane journeys, the expense, the phone and video calls instead of chatting on the couch. But as people say “you can’t choose who you fall in love with”.
For the past 2 years I’ve been in a LDR with a fantastic guy. Puncque and I met when I was living and working in Malawi and we dated for pretty much my whole time in the country. When I left 4 years ago we tried the long distance thing but neither of us were in the right frame of mind. I was not happy to be back in my childhood bedroom, working in a job I disliked and with no idea of how I could engineer a move back to Malawi. He was looking after his ailing grandmother and had always told me that he would never leave Malawi as long as she was alive. Add in complications of power outages, network outages and suddenly even something simple like a phone call becomes 100 times more difficult.
Two years later we got back in contact and after many long phone calls and heart to hearts we decided to give it a go. We both knew it would be difficult but after 2 years of the dating scene in Dublin, with some horror stories, I knew that this guy was someone I had loved and someone who made me happy. My foray into dating in Dublin had not uncovered someone who interested me, someone who had a similar outlook to me, someone who I wanted to see again. Puncque made (and continues to make) me laugh, he makes me feel like I’m special and he calms me down and helps me not to overthink like no one else I know. He makes me happy and isn’t that one of the most important things? I was willing to take a leap of faith and see how it could work.
Multiple plane journeys, a lot of whatsapp calls and many hours spent looking at visa options have filled our last two years. In the past 24 months we have managed to spend 10 months together either on tourist visas in Ireland or in Malawi. The time together has been great, better than great. Yes we have had our arguments and disagreements but we've come through them. We've also had some amazing times, from partying until the sun comes up at Lake of Stars to surveying Dublin from the top of the Sugarloaf. From watching the sunset over Lake Malawi to watching it set over the Atlantic Ocean.
Long distance is difficult. The lack of contact, the lack of physical contact. And I’m talking about the little things, the kiss on the forehead when you leave for work, the hand on the small of your back in a crowded bar, the little hug when you’ve had a bad day and the hug when you’ve had a good day. These are the day to day things you miss. Not the big fancy dinners, not the crazy nights out but the little things. The watching a TV series together, cooking a meal together, going for a hike on a sunny day. You can’t just go and meet them for a drink. Each visit is pre-planned, it requires visas, plane tickets and knowing that your time together has an end date, an expiry. But that's not to say there aren't great moments. The minute you lock eyes in arrivals at an airport, the making everyday special, when you finally get to be in the same place at the same time. We’ve both been working very hard to find a way that we can be together but options are limited. We had come up with a solid plan and on my return to Ireland I was to start getting my paperwork in order while Puncque organised things on his end.
Then, less than 24 hours after I landed, I got a message that no one wants to wake up to. “Hope you got home ok. Just wanted to let you know we’ve had to take Puncque to hospital. We’re not sure but we reckon it’s malaria.” Knowing what I know now, how I wish it was something as simple as malaria. Something that following three days of medication would be cured. This is where long distance relationships really hurt. The person you love is in hospital, they don’t know what’s wrong and from what you can tell it’s something pretty serious. But, you’re thousands of miles away and relying on people relaying the information to you. Do you hop on a flight? Do you cancel work? Do you charge it to your credit card and just deal with it later? What do you do?
At one point I had 2 flights on hold (God bless Ethiopian Airlines and the ability to reserve a fare for 24 hours), and had rang the Dublin office to see about stand-by flights, this was after the words brain bleed started circulating. And then you wonder, yet again, what to do. You wonder if you being there is a selfish thing? Is it really best for the person you love? What’s best for his recovery? And this is where hard decisions have to be made. No decision will be the right one. You can’t consult with that person who you want to be beside and you are making decisions based on scant reports, from his family, from friends who have seen him briefly, from people you have never met but have medical expertise in a country where, if it were me, with travel insurance, I would have been airlifted to Kenya. But in your home country, where you don’t have health insurance, this just isn’t an option.
And then, at what point do you go? And how long can you go for? Again, visa restrictions, expense, the inability to work while there, all things force you to put a time line in place. But who can put a time line on this recovery? Who is to say how many physiotherapy sessions it will take? Who can tell you that you only need to be there for a specific length of time?
These are things that have been running through my mind for the past week and a half. And continue to race through my mind everyday. If money were no object, I would obviously be there, by his side. But realistically my savings are finite. My ability to work and earn money is confined to Ireland. But again, is that a good enough reason to be separated? Who knows. What’s the next step? Who knows.
What I do know is that we are both blessed with amazing friends. I will forever be indebted to those in Lilongwe who found him and brought him to hospital. To those who visited him, to those who helped me understand what was happening and to those who just asked "How is he? How are you?" This too shall pass and hopefully our plans are just temporarily postponed.
Get well soon P x