I stared at these words in the middle of my laptop screen in despair, hoping they were just temporary. But no, they stayed on the screen, a glaring indication that I no longer had any internet access.
When I arranged to spend a month teaching English in the Zerafshan Valley in Tajikistan, I was relieved to learn that the volunteer organization would give me an “internet stick” – a 3G mini-modem that is so common in many of the countries I have visited as a primary means of internet access. I spent my first two weeks in the village of Shing and while the modem worked, it was extremely limited. The connection speed was too slow to load any websites other than the mobile version of Facebook (thanks Mark Zuckerberg!) and occasionally my Yahoo email account.
I suspected internet access would be worse when I moved to the village of Padrud for my last two weeks in Tajikistan as it was smaller, higher in the mountains and even further from Penjikent (the nearest major city).
I was right.
While I prepared for the possibility by setting an “out of office” response for my email and engaging Ali Garland of Ali’s Adventures to maintain my blog and post on Twitter and Facebook for me, I was still uncomfortable.
I couldn’t remember the last time I went twelve whole days without internet access. What was I going to do during this internet hiatus?
Day 1: Denial. When I first arrived in Padrud and realized the modem no longer worked, I was slightly distraught but also in denial. Maybe it was temporary and would work the next day? In the meantime, I turned to my Kindle and started reading…a lot. (Book finished: Pride & Prejudice)
Day 2: Sickness. I woke up with nausea and stomach cramps. While this should have taken my mind off of my lack of internet access, it made me long for it more so I could commiserate with someone. I spent the day sleeping and reading and by evening, I felt well enough to hold my first English lesson with my host family. (Book finished: Mansfield Park)
Day 3: Acceptance. I accepted the lack of internet and spent the day working on new blog posts to schedule as soon as I got back online. I also explored the area around Padrud, walking 30 minutes to Hurdak Lake and back. That evening, we had our second English lesson. (Book finished: Jane Eyre)
Day 4: Routine. I started to develop a routine, waking up around 8:00, eating breakfast at 9:00 and then spending an hour walking just past Hurdak Lake and back. Returning to the house, I spent the rest of the day reading, editing photos, re-teaching myself how to French braid my hair and counting my numerous mosquito bites (Tajik mosquitoes seem immune to bug spray). The power went out that evening, so we cancelled English lessons. (Book finished: Arabian Nights)
Day 5: Panic. With so much free time, I had a lot of time to think and by this point, I started to freak out about being offline. What if the guy arranging my Turkmenistan trip reached out to me urgently about my letter of invitation? What if my tenant emailed me declining to renew her lease? Had I remembered to schedule my July mortgage payment? What if someone hacked into my bank account and cleared it out? What if my blog crashed and Ali couldn’t contact my host to get it back up?
In the meantime, I did laundry and managed to tear several holes in one of my favorite shirts when I hung it outside to dry on a fence. And the family cancelled English lessons again because they were busy hosting other tourists. I was starting to wonder why I was even in Padrud. (Books finished: The Age of Innocence and Sister Carrie: A Novel)
Day 6: Hiking. With the 10 year-old-daughter of my host family as my guide, I spent the day hiking to Hazorchama Lake and back – a total of 20 kilometers and nearly six hours. After a shower and a nap, I read some more and edited my photos from the day before finally holding another English lesson with the family.
Day 7: Itching. I awoke to discover an itchy rash on my lower back that apparently came from sitting in the grass at Hazorchama Lake. My host instructed me to take a cold shower and scrub it thoroughly with soap and then wash all of the clothes that came in contact with it. Then, I spent the rest of the day updating my resume, reading and doing English lessons with the family. And trying not to think about how much my rash itched or how mad I was that I never replaced the hydro-cortisone cream I left in a hotel room in Turkey. (Book finished: Glimpses of the Moon)
Day 8: Visiting. The highlight of the day was joining my host family to visit their extended family across the road in the village. This took up most of the morning and consisted of me sitting on the floor, drinking tea and eating watermelon and being stared at a lot. The rest of the time I spent preparing and teaching English lessons and playing computer games.
Day 9: Solitaire. I spent the morning hiking along nearby Nofin Lake for about an hour and a half. Then settled in to feed my new addiction: Spider Solitaire on Windows. Playing the Advanced version, I have lost all 169 games I have played, but I can’t stop. Someone help me. I at least tore myself away for English lessons in the afternoon.
Day 10: Preparation. Realizing how close I was to getting back online, I tried to get organized and spent the morning editing photos, finalizing blog posts and making a to-do list. I felt pretty good when I realized I had ten new posts totally ready to go. And then I went back to playing Spider Solitaire…
Day 11: Freaking out. My nerves started to set in as I got closer to leaving Padrud. While I was anxious to get back to the land of internet, Diet Coke and peanut M&Ms, I also realized that I would soon be on my own for the first time in a month. I started stressing about getting a shared taxi to Khujand on Monday and worried even more about my impending border crossing to Uzbekistan on Tuesday. I also started dreading the time I would need to spend sifting through all the emails, tweets, Facebook messages and blog comments that accumulated while I was offline – and worrying again that somewhere in the mix would be some bad news.
Day 12: Reunion. The coordinator of my volunteer program came to visit so we spent the day hiking around Lake Hazorchama and then returning to my first homestay for the night. While I technically could have gotten back online then, I was so happy to see my first host family again that I spent all evening catching up with them and didn’t even think to pull out my laptop. After 11 days, what was one more day anyway?