Letter to all, June 2001


June 18, 2001

To All:

Monday, June 18th I left Tom with a non-committal "See you later" and headed for UB in a jeep (referred to as a jar-n-use-69). As far as a drive to UB goes, this was a very nice ride. There were 3 adults and one teenager (referring to myself as an adult) in the backseat, the driver and his wife in the front with a boy sitting on a box between them. We stopped at no guamzes - it being a "fast car"; yet sill took about 17 hours due to many stretch breaks and taking time to eat the soyvhum they'd brought. We also took time finding a man's ger, he had crammed into the luggage space in the back for a few hours. (Later when I asked if I could sit back there, as I was tired of the tight, cramped space in the backseat, I got a laugh filled of refusal at the absurdity of me wanting to sit in the "Sheep's Seat".) His family had moved while he was in Dalanzaagad so we had to search a bit for his ger. They were de-furring the camels when we arrived. Camels, especially babies, have the oddest sounds of a sort of deep throated squeally, squeaking. I think Ton-Tons in Star Wars made such noises. Karin likeness it to a man screaming, but with a surprisingly high pitch for such a large animal.

Back to driving. I gradually watched the cows turn into something edible opposed to the walking skeletons draped with a hide that live in the Govi. The landscape was also deserving of the word "lush". The word came to me, and then my not completely stale memories of America challenged my generous perception of this Mongolian land. But I think that all adjectives are relative. A horse is big next to a goat, but shrinks next to an elephant.

When we finally left the lushness for the streets of the city, which are just like any other city, our countryside driver drove like many small town folk that annoy me when driving in San Francisco. I crawled into the generous apartment of Lee and passed out. Next morning I set out early to stop the nagging worry about getting my brother and father tickets to Govi during the most touristy time of Naadaam. Funny how it was best for me to go all the way to the city rather than trying to buy them in Dalanzaagad. I'd had to stop at the bank and cash in travelers checks and dig into "vacation pay" because everything is done in cash here.

Then off to Peace Corp to get filled in on life. I felt I had to sit in a chair, with my legs pulled in, and not move to stay out of the COS's (people ending their service) way as they darted around the office tying up their affairs. I felt lucky to have the conversation of Matt B, Matt E and Peter to accompany my lunch. Then more errands. There is an outdoor food container market that has low prices, but is hard to navigate. I bustled about, then spoiled myself by going to a market that is very American like (It has shelves, customers can mill around, with marked prices, a check out line and cash register machine!) It also has higher prices, but it offered a comfort level. With bags of food I went on my way to Peace Corp. A very conversational young boy approached me. He begged, but not in the usual "Precious Moments" overly big eyes sort of way. I started chatting with him. He was 7 years old, but very well mannered and nature in speech (this was in Mongolian). He lived "outside", had several brothers and sisters with the oldest being 21 with a job as a driver. He didn't ask for money, but wanted food. He led me to a store, and then waited outside, declining to come in. I bought milk, bread and sausage. Handed him the bag, asking if my selection was ok. Then we went our separate ways. Just a casual meeting. Will he remember me as I remember him? The word in Mongolian for remembering is sanaj bain, the same as missing.

I later stopped at an open stand to buy the dried dates I so love and bought an apple for a kid. Only to get bombarded by 3 others immediately. When I told one boy to take 1/2 the other boy's apple, he said he couldn't because the boy I had given the apple to had an older brother. I walked onto Peace Corp. Later we all headed off to the airport to greet the fresh fish (newly arrived PC's). Funny to watch them come in and we could play a game of seeing who seems to be like old PCV's. Also, it's a very odd time for me now. Losing so many friends who are finishing their service and see all these new friendly people who I know will soon be very close friends. Especially with some of them having read this website and knowing more of me than I do of them. All I knew as 22 guys, 15 girls. 5 teacher trainers (we only had 2) and several older adults. We only have 3 over 30. Being caught in the middle of so many beginnings and endings has set my mind in a somber mood. The walk to Lee's allows 20 minutes of reflection. I am alone. I feel the world existing around me. I am separate, but feel touched by the wind and intimate with the trees. I don't like the impersonal city, but notice the swallows and sunset that, too, seem to somehow exist within the city. I feel there is nothing, but this continuous nowness that slides along becoming tomorrow, but never fully being so.

Then suddenly I remember all the yesterdays (Jangar, do you hear that?) and wonder how they came to be. I miss people. Miss them deeply in a way I don't know if I've ever grasped before. I ache with a new emotion that is not of myself, but of others existence.

Wednesday and Thursday blend together. I procrastinated going to the Black market by having a beer with Matt B. in an open air German style pub. Then we went to a quiet little monastery I'd discovered the day before (it's near Children's Palace). From the outside it looks ready to collapse from rot, but inside is breathtakingly moving in its intricate beauty of detail. And it's so quiet, compared to the tourist crowded Grandan. I want to learn more of Buddhism. I avoided buying prayer beads because I want to understand more about them first, only to be given beautiful rock ones by Tally. So I guess it was meant for me to have some. There are 21 stones with one extra as a "head". One goes around the circle rotating each one as they repeat the mantra "om manee budnee khum".

Again, full of lofty thought, I decided to chill out at Peace Corp with some beers and watch Copland, then American Psycho - an awesome disturbing mental trip. Which set us up for the Carlsberg club. Tom, pat, Mia, Legler and I went to this very fun club and danced our asses and worries off. Us Americans were often attractions and we got to be very friendly with many other dancers, even having one named Mogee and his friend walk us all home inviting us to go horse riding the next day. The cover charge was only 1,000 compared to 5,000 at River Sounds. I went there Friday night with Theo and his 2 visiting Greek friends. It was not such a whirlwind night, but cool because they had live music with actual instruments instead of the usual Casio. I didn't get such warm vibes from the crowd either. It was an older group that seemed to be mostly women and almost all of the men that were there were Europeans over 40, which was just odd to see them dancing with much younger beautiful Mongolian women. But this was the end of the day. The daylight hours were spent in Zuun Mod (which I was soon to learn had been renamed Zoom Zoom by the M12's).

I sat down to lunch to meet the girl who was now living with my old host family. Her name is Amy. I gave her a pocket dictionary someone had put on the free shelf at Peace Corp because I knew how valuable it would be to her. At the table was Tom (M12) and Zak - the only persons name I remembered from the bombardment of new faces from the airport arrival welcoming. They all had to go to training (ha ha) so I visited Laura's old host mom to ask of a yarn-making co-op that I know she is involved in. I went to my parent's house. Only grandma was home at first and I felt so at home being able to actually talk with her for the first time. Then mom came home and then later my old friend Billgee (since he'd seen another M11 who let him know I was in town.) He shocked me with news that he'll be going to France for a year all expenses paid, to build a ger. He's a wood craftsman.

I walked out to see my aunt washing clothes in the river and had my little sister break my heart. Before, during earlier visits, she'd called my name and would run to me. This time who couldn't answer, "Who is this?" Then she finally said "Amy". We are both pale skinned, brown hair and blue eyes and Dogee is only 3ish. Still it hurt a bit. Then it was back to UB (renamed Ubigs by M12 Nate) to hang with Theo at River Sounds only to drag my tired ass to Zoom Zoom again at 8am the next morning to pick u some M12's to act as tour guide of Ubigs. They were with me in mental state only as they'd had their Welcome Party the night before. I was the lucky guide of the self-named PCHC's (Peace Corps Hard Core) group with Zak, Tom, Nate and Bobby. We were assigned a Mongolian language teacher and were off. The Mercury Market, an electronics store (definitely a class diversion in this country) change money, point out MIAT and Nassan's guesthouse, then take them to the best tsoyvhun joint. The waitress was very bitchy from the start. A shame since all Peace Corps love the food, but lately I think she's been tired of dealing with foreigners. The guys thought my Mongolian was great because they didn't understand I was only saying a few simple phrases, including "I don't understand" and "What did you say?"

Then we were off to PC and onto Gandan. We talked, among many of the other fulfilling, fresh conversation, what Buddhism is here. Then got quite indebt buying prayer beads. Amazingly we got a car to taxi all 6 of us, 2 on laps, to the Flower Hotel where a couple of them did the first call home. The time rushed by so quickly verifying the clich‚ "when having fun..." and then it was time for us all to regroup at the Children's Palace, though I'd barely done half the "show them" list. The productions of traditional performing art seemed better than last year and once the jokes stopped, the reality of the contortionist being disturbing in her non-reality set in. The want to spend more time in the city (and with me of course!) spurned action, and Zak, Tom and Nate arranged to stay with me in the city and not take the group bus back. I rushed them off to the "we suggest you take them there" Black Market. We even saw Mikhail in the parking lot for the first time in months - small country.

I was in a hurry to pick up a khoorem I'd had a woman make for me. It costs no extra to have her make one with exactly the colors you want. I'd been there a few days before and ordered it. The same trip I spent hours looking for a long skirt (with the extra pickiness that it not be only big enough to fit more than one leg and not be sheer and see through, although the fatigue made me settle for (I'd been to all the shops I knew), a bit too thin a material. The boys tried on pimp daddy and Obe Onekanobee dells. I pacified the women's frustration that we would not buy today by explaining we weren't tourists, but we all lived here as PC.

Once again, the PCHC crew was ravenously hungry so we taxied back near PC and stopped in at a random guanze and had pizza. I forgot to warn them about the pickles. But it was such a nice experience as we did a complicated order and way of paying, but the waitress was so patient and good-natured. Such a contrast to the earlier bitch of the day. The idea of customer service here is almost nil and only a few smart business people have catered to the buying power of PC as a group mindset.

We went off to stock up on beer to go off to Sean's for a farewell bash. The guy's worried people wouldn't want newbies crashing the party, but were pleasantly surprised when my assurances were more than true and they were swept in with open arms. The PC is a good group. Zak was even sad with me that Legler and some of the others would soon be leaving. We started early and worked into the night with drinks, songs, (too many bonding songs that were as painful for me as they were joyous for the M10's) and cloves of course. All seasoned with the wonderful ease of conversation at a party where everyone is your friend - even the newbies felt this. A shift was started that moved us all to the Tornado club. I called our newly made dancing friend Mogee to join us. We, the PC, took over the club. Also some of our VSO friends were there. As Mongolia-dance club usual - there was a strip show. But they are one girl, very quick, and with out much flare. Later there was a rather talented, though a bit oddly venue, juggling act. The night was fun, but always tinged with a difficult sadness for me.

I said my final goodbyes to Tom and will be forever grateful to Zak for his silent comforting support. People don't always understand Tom and I's platonic relationship if they don't know us well. Be he is one of the best friends that I have. He helped me get through the first year of this experience that may be some of the most difficult moments of my life. I will miss him, but know for certain I will see him again. And oh, how his conceited ego will grow once home and able to read all this!

The days had drained me physically and emotionally, so I and the 3 boys walked the few blocks to Lee's. The quiet, peaceful man who is always willing to help and had offered his home as a refuge. I slept too few precious hours and had to rise early to head for Dalanzaagad. It was so hard to leave the HC's and their plans for breakfast with Lee, also because it would end my procrastination of denial that the M10's were leaving. I wandered to the long distance bus station (one can go to this large parking lot and get a jeep or van to anywhere outside UB. All vehicles have a placard advertising their destination), a small part of me hoping there would be no bus so it wouldn't be my fault that I had to stay another day. There was no bus, but I stood with a small group - one being a teacher friend Sumia from school #3, for a bus was "now coming". We waited an hour and one did come. Not the usual Russian van, but a small tourist bus. We spent 6 frustrating (accented by my language and therefore understanding barrier) hours driving around the city, changing buses back and forth, and sitting and waiting for the musicians who seemed to be the main reason this bus was going.

I foolishly let my frustration turn to anger. I find it to be a justified, but useless emotion. My vocabulary does not allow me to be eloquent, so I could only produce a choppy, rude venation to the driver. It produced no good. As if my words could speed things up even if I was fluent, and it only created an uncomfortable situation. But finally we were off. The ride took 36 hours!! I got on the bus at 9am Sunday and off in Dalanzaagad at 9pm Monday. We had breakdowns, overheating, 2 guanze food stops, a flat tire that couldn't be fixed until sunrise, a break for the driver to sleep, the unloading of the musicians at a tourist camp outside Dalanzaagad and many stops to get out and stretch. As horrible as it sounds - it wasn't bad, just slow. It was a tourist bus with big comfy seats. I had my own with my luggage in the seat next to me. I was able to doze often - sleep is impossible. The people were all nice and friendly. They had water guns, spray bottles and cards.

While driving around UB they would shoot people out the window. No one seemed annoyed - it was very hot. We even jokingly pulled up to a local bus station and called out Gov - Gov - Gov - Gov - in the usual style of local buses that call for passengers. It would have been my best ride if it wasn't so slow, but even speed is a personal frustration I dwell on. Too often rushing from one moment to the next, existing in the going to but not the moment.

After arriving at my ger I quickly changed clothes and went to Oyuna's for a bit of dinner, then met Monklay and Zulaa for a smoke, then over to Pat's to catch up. Not one of our usual long drawls as my mind was too cluttered with people and events, so I could only desire sleep. Next morning I was up early and off to run errands. I met up with Sean, fresh off the plane, my area co-coordinator and Pat to discuss site problems and pass notes to people in UB. Then as usual he kindly treated us to a guanze meal. I was still in a rush as I was to meet the Germans driver at 3 to go with Zulaa to Bayandalay soum. We had to wait for the only loving goodbye between Monkhlay and Zulaa (boyfriend/girlfriend). I was finally part of the other side, usually I am the one made to wait and I find it rude. Now I was involved in the friendly procrastination. On the 2ish hour drive we suddenly stopped, the men got out and fetched a calf because its mom had gotten stuck and died in the mud from a spring. How they knew she'd died, how they knew which calf was hers and how they caught it with no horse nor fences on the open steppes, I don't understand.

It was then transported to a ger on a motorcycle. I finally arrived at the German scientists gers in the evening. Little science things for humidity, sun, temperature, etc. surround their 3 gers. The group consists of Karin (German studying pikas) and Vroni (German studying plants) in one ger, Dolgee-on (the cook) and her brother Bikhay (the driver) in one ger and two Mongolian students working toward their masters: Zulaa (studying pika) and Undrax (studying endemic plants) in the 3rd ger. Some German tourists stopped by to visit as they toured the Govi and I conversed with their guide in Mongolian about my impressions after having lived here a year. He likes to interview foreigners. And says just about all list drunk men as what they don't like.

My reason to justify my visit to the who-doe was to teach English to the Mongolians working on this project. So, every moment they are no in the field we work on English; even the cook and driver (we stayed until 12 am one night). It's an odd scene to walk from ger to ger and see so much English study material. Undrax speaks well so I must first discuss the scientific paragraph with Karin, and then try to explain it to Undrax, who knows the concepts in Mongolian. It's very difficult for me, but I enjoy it immensely. It is a completely different way to teach than I usually do. It's also interesting to be able to teach something I don't know. Thank you Integral for student centered learning approach! Karin is also so sweet to often thank me for coming as I even encourage English exchange between her and the Mongolian students. She usually speaks Monglish, but all papers, report and publications are done in English.

I also do a lot of informal teaching, such as conversation at all the meals, writing song lyrics (I didn't know modern talking till Mongolia) and asking questions on our hikes about the same things many times over. And this is also a learning experience for me beyond having to understand all aspects of a "transect" approach to studying an area just so I can teach that one word. I am surrounded by scientists doing their scientist stuff. I have felt like the small child who is thrilled to get to help dry the dishes and not break the plates as I remember to watch the clock for the elusive moment when an hour turns so that I can go out and read the watermark on the humidity tube. Or, when I was involved in trapping so I could take a picture of the different species. Through many instances Karin and I have discussed that we may both be philosophers (lovers of wisdom) but I am definitely a romantic and she a scientist. I felt very bad that my desire for a pointless picture was the cause of such trauma to these little lives. I, placing a glove over the zip lock bag so the critter might be comforted by feeling hidden, as Karin lifted the other critters bag this way and that shaking it down to get a better look. She is here studying pikas. I was walked over to the observation area where the borderless steppe is suddenly decorated with color marked rocks and varying harriers to see domestic animal versus pika graying and how the pika burrows and actually encourages vegetation growth. With all the excitement of only one within the circle can have, I was shown details of behaviors such as a pica's habit of collecting a pile of stones. I figure it is a hobby or for aesthetics, the scientists believe it is a food storage technique.

The other 1/2 of our little camp is into plants. Undarkh took me up into the mountains to look at her research on the self-pollination of endemic plants. I was amazed to actually sit in a small field (once again life is full of relative terms) of wildflowers. I hiked up this canyon maybe a couple of other times. One time late in the afternoon to help check on a weather device that was buried, its counter part had flooded, so we designed and dug a drainage system (I'm helping!) and another time to visit an ovoo (or so I thought). These hikes, and the time I sat and did my romantic thinking as they did their science work, among other rest times at base camp allows for drifting thoughts. Sitting on the mountain the wind, that seeps thru the cracks of canyons (and not the steady ripping stream type of wind, but the throbby, gusty kind) felt like being in a crowd of very soft people who gently pushed and bumped into me, with a presence that chilled the skin with out discomfort, as they hurried off to wherever the wind goes. And looking out to the next ridge filled me with the not uncommon) or is that presumptions that my crazed fantasies are "normal") desire to fly. The crying falcons cause true jealousy. It just looked so smoothly clear and inviting. As I, the weary traveler could lie in its soft bed of air. I felt I could spread my arms and just floatingly fall into the vastness as a physical thing, as a cool pond refreshes skin stifled by a summer's sun. It was good to have the harsh rock that was my seat remind me of the reality my world is confined by.

On Sunday, July 1st, we (Karsten, Monkhlay, Undrax, Zulaa, Karin, myself and the two gods Basser and Aser) set out for the highest peak at 2,828 miles (camp is 2,300) to visit an ovoo. It is pleasant to hike with scientists who are always stopping to examine this or that bit. In site of the ovoo we had to take refuge in a thin shelf of rock as rain, then hail poured down. The rain swept in huge cobweb like curtains; separating us from the sunny steps we could see beyond. At one point we noted the temperature being 8( C. It has been about 16( C earlier (of course someone had a temperature gauge!). Though the sites caressed my soul, I hiked all the way back in silence as my soul cried. And poured it all out on paper once back in the ger: bee bodo bain - I am thinking. I am thinking about me. Thinking about how I exist in this. I can't deal at the moment with the universal consciousness nor past or present. But just this moment. How this soul I have - I will allow this idea thought it's not a certainty (even that word is confusing) exists in this body at the moment as I sit her and feel the chair.

Oh dear - feel the senses - perception, which leads to knowledge. I can't dwell on that either; must keep my head above water - only deal wit the tip of the iceberg. I am brought to this recent clutter of thoughts because the particular body I happen to exist in distinctly differs from some in that I am female. We all went on a hike to a sacred ovoo on the highest peak of the Dond Saikhan (middle beauty) of the Gurvan Saikhan (3 beauties) range mountain. I, however, with Karin, Undrax and Zulaa was not allowed to go the ovoo because we are women. This made me so angry and confused my soul deeply. Why?!... I am reading a book on Buddhist Scriptures and it re-iterates that women are lower. Why is it in so much of my world? I know matriarchies societies exist, even elephants and lions are, but I don't know much of that; it is not my life. How can gods of any sort not be part of everything? Especially when women are blessed as playing part of everything? Even if just passively as a door for the soul t enter the world. (Year, Yeah, we need the seed from men as my guys here countered, but it is not the same. We too provide such a piece, but also act as a vessel). Is it that males are jealous and use their physical strength to impose such religious doctrines on women who have a calm understanding and see no need to fight it? Not needing / wanting the loud front role - since many say the "men in charge" are just figure heads with women truly in control.

I don't want to be sounding like a femi Nazi whining, and it's nothing new and I know men have their own difficulties, but I just don't understand why religion, which I'd hoped was pure and universal, should be so weighted by our societies silly ways. Then again many argue there is nothing beyond our world and we created any sort of God. My anger is also fueled by my original desire to come here to learn more deeply of Buddhism, only to have yet another organized religion make me prejudiced against all. Not that I need a religion, but search for a doctrine of thought that has had so many minds and energy involved it offers itself as a teacher. Not that I throw all out because of certain disagreements, but it does make me lose respect and any ability for deep faith in the rest.

But not all of my stay was work of the body and soul. We took time out to dance around outside, the steppes are a glorious dance floor. We were fueled by stealing into a box of chocolates and one night we drank a bit of champagne and sang songs. The two palette treats were brought by Karsten (a visiting German botanist), who I blamed for bringing the rain, as I seemed to bring a wave of visitors, including Monkhlay who I credited with bringing the sun. The dear boy made a pilgrimage after a day of DJ'ing involving both horse and motorcycle to visit his girlfriend Zulaa.



Tue Sep 11 09:55:58 PDT 2001