There hadn’t been a single incident up until Wednesday that made me doubt my decision to join Peace Corps Mongolia. That isn’t to say that I haven’t had my fair share of challenges. I definitely have. Ask my PST trainer Jess who I cried on after a particularly rough day or my site mate Mary or my friends Molly and Cae and they’ll all tell you that I’ve been stressed here. However, during none of those rants or break downs did I think to myself, ‘Maybe I’ve made a mistake in coming here.’ None of these challenges have made me consider going home early.
Then I woke up in the middle of the night, early Wednesday morning, after having shivered violently for two and a half hours to a headache, muscle aches, vomiting, dehydration, and a fever of 104F (40C). I don’t recall ever having felt so miserable in recent history. At that point I think I was a bit too delirious for clear thinking, but I did manage to register with a great deal of sadness the fact that I’m half way across the world from my mum. Yes, even though I’m American I do call my mother ‘Mum’ because she’s Scottish – like born and raised Scottish, not American my-great-great-great-grandfather-was-the-chief-of-the-clan-Mc-Something-or-other Scottish.
Sure, after calling the medical urgency line, getting my fever down a bit, and talking to my mum on Skype, I had a much more reasonable outlook on the whole thing. I could even recognize that this was no different than the times I was sick at university only an hour and a half away from home, but for a moment there I was soaked through with pure, unadulterated misery because I’m thirteen time zones away from my family and sometimes that’s just really, really hard.
I remember one day, after hearing her accent thicken while on the phone to my granny, asking my mum a few years ago if it’s difficult living so far away from her family. She moved from Scotland to Germany when she was 18 and has never returned to Scotland to live since then, but her mum, brothers, and sister all live in or near Edinburgh still. She told me that sometimes she has to stop herself from thinking about it or else it gets to be too much and that the first six months away from home are always the hardest. I’ve kept that in the back of my mind, waiting for the 6 month date to pass thinking somehow there would be some magical moment where ‘poof!’ my homesickness would be magically reduced. Dear Reader, as you can imagine, that moment never came.
There was no poof, maybe some gradual ebbing, but the truth of the matter is homesickness never goes away, you just get better at dealing with it. The work of adjusting to a new place, language, culture, and work environment keep my mind occupied. Weekly calls provide me with news from home and just hearing my parents’ and sister’s voices help keep the homesickness at bay. When I left for Peace Corps it was with the knowledge that this would be the longest time I’ve ever spent away from home. I knew it would be hard, but I figured doable. I was planning on returning home for a wedding around the 15 month mark, but I found out recently that I won’t be able to after all. Obviously, I’m devastated that I won’t be able to celebrate with the bride and groom because they mean so much to me, but despite the roller coaster ride that is living so far away from home, I felt surprisingly calm about not being able to go back.
So, yeah, it gets better, or rather you get better at handling it, but there are still times when it punches you in the gut and it’s hard to breathe. During those times I thank the great powers that be, Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Terence Perceval, John Deane, Graham Daniels, Diethelm Ostry, and John O’Sullivan, the mother and fathers of computers, the internet, the world wide web, and wifi. Without them I wouldn’t be able to call my family over a weak wifi connection from about 6,378 miles away (and yes, that’s an accurate distance). The marvels of modern technology, I tell ya!