My wonderful Sisters,
So I wanted to let you know that I made it home all safe and sound. It was the absolute most hectic 24 hours of my life and I know that Heavenly Father was really helping me out because there should have been no way that I made it home because I had SO many problems trying to make it and traveling alone internationally is not fun at all it turns out. It is really just kind of a lonely affair. I don't think that I ever want to do it again solo, so I really need to get started on finding that next companion of mine (hahah, just kidding, but not really).
To begin, it turns out that the agents in Ulaanbaatar really do care about the kilos that your suitcase weighs and I was about 2-5 pounds over on each one. Before even starting my trip, I had to open up each suitcase and wipe off the top layer to cut down on weight; I think that I flustered the agent because he kept saying that I was 2 kilos over and I kept asking what the pound equivalent was because I didn't know. Finally, I took about 1 pound worth out and he just said fine without weighing it again and let me through to enter the terminal. The flight out, then, was booked to capacity and the flight attendant/gate agent basically told everyone that they were only allowed one personal item (like a purse) and made us check the carry-on, it was really weird and I was anxious and accidentally bit all my nails off while waiting because--just like the buses--I was one of the first to line up, but people kept cutting me, so I was the second to last to board. I was charged $100 for a 'third' bag, tsk tsk, it was just a carry-on!
All is well that ends well, I paid the fee and made it one the plane baraga l nail-less and more flustered than I should have been, but it was okay. During my flight to Korea, I started to study my Mormonii Nom and the girl sitting next to me started helping me with pronunciation. She was 13 years old and attends the 1-p school, is incredibly nice and I read 1 Nephi 1 with her where I read a verse in Mongolian, then she read the same verse in English. She was truly cute, by the end of the trip, she was reciting Mongolian poetry to me and being courageous with her English that she knew. I just kept thinking over and over again how much I love Mongolia and the nice people here, even my parting interactions testified of it.
My time in Korea was something else, though. I had a four hour layover and had been up since 3 AM because I couldn't sleep, so when I got off the plane, I made the main objective to find the gate, then I would try to rest. I walked the exact same path that we ran through on our way to Mongolia where we went down to Gate 28, just to be sent back to the Customer Service desk by Gate 12 to get the boarding pass, but it turns out that United Flights will print their pass at the gate, conveniently located at the neighboring gate of 13, so I didn't have to actually run the same route, I also passed the same Jamba Juice that Sister Bottorff wanted to make the last thing she had before entering a foreign country, and I couldn't help but just mentally relive the whole experience in my head. This time, I checked in at the gate a good 3.5 hours early.
Once I had my pass, I thought about how much time would be sent sitting, so I decided to spend some time walking around. I started to pop in and out of the little stores near my gate, not looking for anything in particular; however, as the minutes ticked by, I started to realize that I was feeling some weird emotions inside of me. I wasn't completely sad, I wasn't completely happy, I wasn't completely hungry, I wasn't completely tired--suddenly it dawned on me: I was lonely. For the absolute first time since my mission began, I was completely alone and without a single friend next to me--the little girl became my friend on the way over (her little brother came by and she even told him that we were haiz boloj baina). Now, I was in this completely busy airport completely alone and I was feeling it. So I randomly kept walking around, losing the bounce in my step little by little when I saw this sign for a lounge and decided that I had time, so I was going to see if it was like the other lounge on the way over with the free shower. Next to the sign was another sign saying that there was a Prayer Room and I thought that if there ever was a person who needed a minute to go somewhere to pray, I probably qualified, being a lonely missionary.
As I walked around, I couldn't find the prayer room, but saw that there was a Korean Museum that I could walk through. I am not a museum-going type of person, so I wasn't drawn to it originally, but I saw this huge bell and it looked soothing, so I walked in and there was a button on the wall saying that I could make the bell ring. I couldn't resist so I pressed it and the sound was beautiful. Then there were free postcards with ink stamps, there was also a free picture-making stand, and the room was full of soothing nature sounds--I feel like Heavenly Father lead me directly to that room in order to have me experience a little peace and stop thinking about being alone. It worked. I still had about 2 hours and decided to lounge on one of the chairs when I accidentally started to doze off. The most miraculous thing happened, right before I started to fall into deep sleep due to exhaustion (again, I had been up since 3 AM and it was now 2 PM), it was like somebody shook me awake. I looked at the time and instantly booked it back to my previously-found gate to wait in a line to board--but I stopped and had my first Jamba on my way. All of those feelings of self-pity were swept away and didn't return (discouragement doesn't come from God, after all).
The Korean flight was long. Very long, like 11 hours long. I had a seat next to the window and saw some of the most amazing sights, though! I saw the sun setting from above the clouds, I saw completely clear skies and more stars than I could count, I saw a lightning storm cloud and the lightning lighting the clouds from above, then, near the end of my flight, I saw the sun rising slowly lighting the skies, too. There were movies playing in the cabin, but you needed earbuds to hear anything and movies without sound are not as interesting as the ever changing heavens.
Then, when we landed in San Francisco, there was 'congestion' at the customs gates. We ended up sitting in the plane for and extra hour, then I got stuck in the customs lines for an hour, and my 4 hour 'stress free layover' disappeared and I had a very hectic time trying to get to the gate for my flight to Denver as our plane also arrived late to begin with. To my eternal luck, my next flight experienced a 1.5 hour delay!! So, the original 1:15 PM departure time turned into 2:30 PM and I got through Customs at 1:25, made it to the Security point at 1:35 PM, cleared customs by 1:55 PM, then RAN THE AIRPORT to get to my gate and made it through by 2:10 PM--just with enough time to call home from a stranger's phone and tell my Dad that I was going to be late. While we were in customs way early on, there was a soldier who was also trying to get home through Denver and he called the Customer Agency and due to scheduling, if I missed by original 1:15 PM flight, the next available one would be 6 PM, 9 PM, or the next morning. So when I made it to the gate to board my flight, I thanked Heavenly Father for the delay.
I made it on and made it home. Completely pink-eyed and my head a little fuzzy and hair dirty, but I was home and that is where my heart is. Seeing my family again after all of this time away became the most amazing blessing that I could have ever asked for.
So, all the stress was completely worth it.
With all my heart,
Jessica (I was promptly released from my Missionary Calling at 8 PM on Friday night)