It’s the middle of Sunday afternoon. Four thousand miles away, I’d be in a green park on a sunny summer day. This morning I’d have taken the dogs for a walk with my dad, I’d have chatted to my brother on the phone; he’s about to fly to the US for the summer. Last night my twin would have driven me to our friend’s stag party before he gets married next month. I might have spent some time watching TV, lazing on the sofa with a cup of tea, getting lost in a Sunday broadsheet. And around midday my mum would have cooked a delicious Sunday roast, I’d be content and full – full of food, love, around friends and family.
I didn’t sleep last night. I’ve had a fever for three days but I don’t have much medicine left to pick from. My first aid box is a little bare, except for rehydration packets and anti-diarrhea tablets. I woke up in sweat this morning; stepped outside to help Bhagchand lay the last camel manure across the courtyard. We’d started last night but it was too hot to finish. I’m the only other person on this side of campus so I wanted to keep him company. I told him we don’t have enough camel manure to grow a proper lawn but I couldn’t get the point across in Hindi, I miss speaking English.
A dried-out aloe plant, gifted to me by Indicorps’, sits lonely on the window sill. I can’t water it this morning because there’s no water yet. I use the same excuse for the pile of dirty laundry. At any rate, clean clothes turn brown in hours, labouring to scrub them clean seems pointless. I climb back onto my cot, lined with a thin sheet. The wooden bed crunches against my spine and pelvis. There’s not really much flesh there anymore to pad me. I’ve lost a lot of weight, I miss my health. That’s something you don’t appreciate enough when you have it.
My alarm clock, a gift from a friend now departed, tells me it’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit inside. There’s no electricity so the fan won’t start. The crisp night air turns to a dry haze with sun rise so I close the windows to keep the heat – and the sand – out. Justin calls me but we get cut off.
The campus is empty. It’s Sunday, so everyone returns to their villages to see their families, I miss my family. Without the children it’s eerily quiet, even Bhagchand leaves me to make the two hour bus ride home. He tells me he’ll be back in the morning. I need to get some food but I’m reluctant to come out of the shade – it’s hard to open your eyes in sunlight at that time – early afternoon. My fever makes the light more undesirable. Out in the open, a blast of sand knocks my hearing aid dead. It’s becoming ridiculously temperamental.
At the mess Kush is cooking, I try to talk but he’s about to go home too. Between his thick lisp and my temporary deafness we don’t get much small talk in. He’ll be back in the morning. He leaves the key to the kitchen with me.
Eating food, the same food, has become an insurmountable effort. The baked roti and dry, oily, sabji has become all-too routine, and I spend five minutes prodding the stark contents of my plate before tearing the bread. A million voices tell me to eat more, if only that was the solution. I crave everything from meat and pasta to chocolates and juice. I miss food.
The campus feels hideously remote, dead; forgotten to the world and hidden by sand storms blowing in from the Thar Desert. There’s no one here, they’ve all gone home to see their families. The kids I came to work with are into the second month of their summer vacation. I don’t get a summer vacation.
Sundays are not good days for me. It’s spare time and isolation that gives me pause for reflection.
I have good days and I have bad days. But today I miss home more than ever. I miss speaking to my parents, my family, and Justin. I miss sharing moments with friends who understand me. I miss the weather, computer comforts, home comforts, a cup of tea when I want it. I miss sleep and good food. And I miss my health and my hearing.
Above all this it was my project that sustained me. My responsibility to my community kept me motivated, it put things in perspective, and seeing my impact on their lives still does bring me happiness. In these moments, I can keep my composition and manner in the most desperate of environments.
But over the summer my project – and my kids – have not been here. They went home.
I can’t think about my home without tearing up. I’m surrounded by a billion people, but they aren’t family; they don’t share my life, my beliefs, or my language. My health has nose-dived and my hearing has all but gone. The people and places I turn to for support aren’t there.
I pull out the brown envelope from under my desk, full of old photos and letters wishing me well from friends, Becky, Siobhan, George, Cheryl, Justin, Laura, Jenny, Helen and Ed, Michael, my parents, grandmother and auntie, and my brothers. I’ve read them hundreds of times over; but photos and letters of support now remind me of what I’m missing.
In all my time here I’ve never wished to go home early. But today, I’m about ready to give up.