This week has fallen to interviews. Through the small camera built into the upper rim of my laptop, possible future employers observe my posture as I attempt to navigate a field of questions aimed at dissecting my background. I try to answer concisely, and find myself consistently failing. Instead my eyes float to a blank space overhead, and I am back in my village. Mainly to myself, I start answering an inquiry, peppering the reply with details that mean little to my audience.
In front of the white cabinets of my parents’ kitchen, my tenth grader hurries along the small pebbled path. She calls out for me to wait, and asks if our weekend study date is still on. I slip upon the ice, causing her hand to shoot out, hooking her elbow around mine. Now stopped, I admire the dipping sun, directing her to do the same. The remaining glow backlights the icy mountains.
My concentration is broken by a passing car outside, and I remember the question – “What experience do you have with teenagers?” My memory receding, I cut off my rambling and begin to list off the appropriate resume bullet points.
Today is Sunday. The day of relaxation, and also the time to finish up weekend chores. Yesterday I chopped wood and coal for two hours to stock up my supplies for the upcoming week. Today is reserved for sleeping in late, buying water and cleaning my ger, body and hair.
To get water I must first empty out my two containers by filling up my dry sink basin and water boiler to their limits. Then I scrounge up sixty tugriks (the equivalent of thirty cents) and put it into the front left pocket of my plaid work-coat. The water wheelbarrow sits in front of my family’s house so I walk along my khashaa path, take a hold of the frozen handle and drag it towards my ger. I set the handle down, grab my two containers, and place them strategically onto the wheelbarrow. The 40 liter metal one must sit in the back, allowing the yellow 20 liter plastic container upfront so that when full the wheelbarrow does not tip over. Continue reading
People talk about me all the time. This statement may come off as horrendously egocentric. But, it’s also true. As one of two white people in the land of asians, I sorta get noticed a lot. It’s not my fault- light just tends to bounce of my skin a little more than the others living here. Anyhow, I don’t understand the majority of what people say about me. But sometimes I catch on. What’s understood is more often than not the usual- “Why does that foreigner walk so darn fast?” and “That white person actually speaks Mongolian!?” or my personal favorite: “That foreigner is so pretty with her huge nose!”.
But once and a while a really good one comes along. Continue reading
Until now, smoke has conjured up notions of both bodily and environmental harm. The suffocating smell coating everything its spidery tendrils manage to grasp ahold of, only relinquishing its ownership after multiple washes in the washing machine or shower.
My sentiments have recently adapted to my current reality. Every night, against the soft black backdrop of sky, pipes and chimneys dot the horizon. They emerge from gers and wooden houses that emit a slight glow, indicating the presence of multiple bodies inside. Rusted old boxes shoved full of wood and coal exhale through their narrow tunnels of metal or brick, allowing a gracious path for the puffs of smoke created.
Once released, the smoke slowly twirls about, encircling itself. The malleable form offers itself to the elements, letting the wind and snow direct its short journey. Its particles begin to separate, drifting apart from each other, disappearing amidst a smattering of stars overhead.
Smoke now connotes warmth. It creates comfort.
It signifies the presence of life.
It’s 12:30 at night. As I rise from an over-sized chair in preparation to brush my teeth, I notice that my bad water bucket is nearly full. I groan, foreseeing the quick yet chilly trip outside to empty it.
I pull on my mom’s thick old grey ski socks and shove my feet into my fur-lined hiking boots. Grabbing the blue bucket from underneath the dry sink, I unlock the two deadbolts, shove my door open and trudge outside. While I quickly cover the white ground towards the fence, my khasaa dog barks twice at a phantom burglar, then snuggles back into her self-made hole. My shoes plunge into the hardened snow creating a crunch that echoes throughout the surrounding yards. I splash the contents of the bucket onto the white snow, spin around, and walk briskly towards my ger.
As I take my last leap over the snow, a realization hits me. This is that time in my life; that epic period that I will recount to my children and grandchildren. How in the middle of a snow covered world, I made a life. I am in a village, in the middle of Mongolia, heading towards my ger. I am experiencing something that can never be replicated.
These everyday tasks usually feel normal. But right now I have been gifted for the briefest moment with the realization of just how exceptional my life is.
It’s 10:30 at night, and I’m talking with another Peace Corps volunteer over the phone updating her on my day. I tell her how yet another teacher is pregnant (surprise!), and that I got roped into participating in a Mongolian dance for this year’s teachers’ concert. My phone beeps twice, signaling that another incoming call awaits my attention. I see it’s my host father and tell my friend I’ll talk to her later, pushing the green button twice.
Host father: “Ariel, my home.”
Me: “Odooiimo?” (Should I come now?)
Host father: “Odoo.” (Yes, now.)
Me: “Za…” (Okay…) Continue reading
Upon receiving my invitation to Peace Corps Mongolia, a few assumptions popped into my head. Of course, it is a well known fact that assumptions are often false, and lead you to act like a… well you know. But it’s impossible not have some, at least it is for me. Here are a few that I had almost two years ago on the fateful day in Israel when I found out that I was going to be spending two full years in Mongolia.
- That my love of scarfs would finally pay off.
Once a Mongolian enters a building, the scarf comes off. Fashion scarves just aren’t a thing (aside from the silky little ones that are frequently patterned with animal print). Whenever you wear one, people ask you if you’re cold. And by people I mean EVERYONE. So after the fourteenth person asked me if I was cold within ten minutes of walking into the school, I gave up on introducing Mongolians to the concept of indoor scarves…sigh. Continue reading