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
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.
Alone. It sounds scary. It is scary. Or, it can be. Only three months ago I felt the undesirable characteristics of this concept. I was unsure of my newfound autonomy. Now I am slowly adapting to the sensation that once left me in the hands of desperation. I am realizing how calming it is to separate oneself from social activities. I appreciate the ability to focus inwards, gifting myself time and energy that once was spend catering to others. This may sound selfish, and it is in a way. But I am finding that in order to lead a meaningful and enjoyable life, selfishness is essential, at least to a point; and finding comfort within myself is well within these limits.
Since coming to Mongolia I’ve noticed a quite a few changes in my myself. Some of these changes I expected, while some took me by surprise. The following are four expected & four unexpected changes.
GETTING USED TO THE COLD
People often ask what the most difficult part of Peace Corps life is. Is it the culture, food, or language? At first it was all of the above. But these past months I’ve realized that the previous mentioned subjects are nothing compared to one overwhelming sensation that surmounts all other challenges presented in this existence in which I find myself living. The toughest part is purely the inside out sensation of being alone.
I will tell you, dear reader the hard truth. I joined Peace Corps as a way to live in a far away land, learn a foreign language, and be thoroughly immersed in a culture as different from my own as possible. The notion of my presence benefiting a community seemed cool, but I didn’t assume that as a recent college graduate I could improve the world much. If a country, or even community for that matter, could really improve in education, health, or any other ways of development that easily, war, hunger and sickness would have disappeared long ago.
I assumed I would, after two years, make some friends, teach some English, and hopefully inspire a few kids in the process. I most definitely did not have any great ambitions to swoop in and save impoverished children from their surroundings. I was coming to Mongolia for myself, and if in the process I did some good, that was fine by me.
And yet, now I find myself frustrated. I’m learning the language and making friends. I’m teaching English, and improving my teaching methods while doing so. Living in Mongolia as a volunteer is maturing me in ways no other experience could. The only problem? I find myself wanting “to do good”. And I mean that romanticized version, the one that many volunteers sign up for in the first place. Continue reading
A wise man once told me that I had one problem: me. I am too introspective. While others often ignore their feelings, I am completely in sync with mine. He said I often dig so deep into my center that I lose grasp on how to steadily hold on to, and deal with, the outside world.
This year has been a hard one. My soum is not an easy place for me. I have a strong feeling that at least one, if not many teachers at my school dislike me. Integration, the cornerstone of a successful Peace Corps service, often feels like an insurmountable wall. Continue reading