They were all there. Crowded around the laptop like kids around a campfire. Smiling faces, jostling left and right, trying to be the main focal point of the laptop’s limited camera. Munkhkherlen’s face, then Enkhtor’s, then Chimgee, the librarian’s. The camera spun. Saruul came into view. Smiling she made a clucking sound with her tongue shaking her head. “Oui! You look the same! Your hair is long! Shave your beard!” Whirling color. The camera shifted again. Munkhkherlen leaning in closer than necessary, speaking into the lens. “Justin aa! I had a dream about you. I dreamed you came into the teacher’s room. You were wearing your deel. You surprised us!”
I had been home from Mongolia for over five months but through the miracle of modern technology all those almost forgotten familiar things were back with stunning clarity. The white washed paint chipped walls of the school’s teacher’s room. The cracked window and thin curtains. The very benches I used to sit on everyday. Miss matched patterns and torn upholstery. Through Skype, the online video calling platform I was instantly transported from my New Jersey bedroom back into my former rural village in Mongolia. Ten years ago this would have been impossible.
More often than not the would be traveler uses this technological marvel to bridge the gap between where they are and where they call home. The study abroad student Skype’s home from Europe. The solo trekking backpacker video chats his girlfriend from East Asia. A volunteer in Central Africa laughs with her mom and dog thousands of miles away. We go to Skype to assure those we left behind we’re alive and well. We also us it to remedy homesickness, that inevitable symptom of long term travel.
The advances in modern communication are mind blowing. My small rural village in Mongolia, disconnected from running water or central heating was still able to connect with me instantly through the web. As the internet continues to cast its digital net further and further into the most remote places on Earth why not take advantage? Just like we use Skype to cure homesickness why not use it for the opposite, to cure those pangs of travel nostalgia?
We return back home and get back into our daily lives and old routines. We hark back to those days abroad, dwelling on where we’ve been, who we met and what we’d seen. With the marvel of Skype those places can be as unforgotten and tangible as they were when you left. Miss that home-stay family in South Africa? That flatmate in central London? Those locals that hosted you in Argentina? With programs like Skype, they’re all one click away.
As I stared passed the smiling faces of my former Mongolian coworkers I looked out the window in the small teacher’s room. Outside, the small village of Omnodelger was the same as when I left it. A horse was tethered outside the local market, birds dipped and fluttered through the blue Mongolian sky, the dirt road looked gritty, dusty and brown, the way it did every spring. It curved out of view, leading off to my former yard where my former ger used to rest.
Like most, I’m a sucker for old travel photos and journal scribblings. Taking them out and gazing in fondness at the memories they invoke. With Skype it brings on elements that photos and journals can’t provide. Here through my computer screen Omnodelger was a living breathing place. With all my happy chatting coworkers, the hustle and bustle of the town outside and the familiar aura of the teacher’s room, where I had traveled was right here alive in front of me.
Never had hanging up on a call been more difficult.