Monthly Archives: November 2011

24 hours in the Gobi

Aw guys, thanks for the sympathy.  My finger looks almost normal these days (which is amazing considering how unattached my fingertip was two weeks ago), so let’s move on to other things now that very little evidence remains of my weeklong self-mutilation spree.

Hey look, I went to the desert:

Down there you can see a bunch of teachers and staff from my school, listening to a tour guide talk about a 19th-century monk and his meditation caves and whatever.  I can’t be too sure what exactly it was about because right after I took this picture, I ran back to the microbus and spent the next 20 minutes massaging my frozen toes and shoveling cold trail mix into my maw.  The English teachers were huddling, penguin-like, in the van, too.  They were like “Katie, do you want to go down there and see the…things?” And I was like “Why, do you” and they were all “NO, WE’RE COLD.  Give us your peanuts.”

The trip was put on by the school, and it started the first day of fall break: a 12-hour train to UB, then a 12-hour train to Sainshand, then 24 hours in Sainshand exploring Khamariin Khiid, then a 12-hour train back to UB, and finally a 6-hour bus back to Erdenet.

I found out about the trip in the teachers’ room after eavesdropping on some conversations.  I immediately made somebody explain what they were talking about (“Gobi?  You’re going to the Gobi?  Why?  Am I going too?”) and then I spent a couple days harassing my supervisor about it: When was the trip?  How much would it cost?  When should I give her my money?  Did she ask the director yet if it was okay for me to go? When would we buy the train tickets?  This makes it sound like my teachers were excluding me from plans, and they were, but not deliberately.  It’s weird.  Last year, another volunteer and I discovered a shared phenomenon at our schools: There’s this thing when you’re in the teachers’ room with all the English teachers, and everybody is chatting and getting work done.  You feel all warm and cozy and integrated, sitting there with your pals, lesson planning and shooting the shit.  But then, suddenly, everybody gets up and leaves without saying anything to you.  You think “huh, whatever” and you keep doing whatever you’re doing.  After a while you get hungry, and you head to the cafeteria to find some food, and lo, there are all your teachers eating lunch without you. Because they hate you.

Just kidding!  It’s because you’re a foreigner and basically invisible, get over yourself.

I bring this up — the way I had to burrow my way, hookworm-like, into the trip — because my god, did you read the itinerary I typed out up there?  I mean, when I found out about this, the idea of staying home was unimaginable.  Going on a weekend jaunt to one of the holiest places in the country with your host country pals is, basically, the reason everybody joins the Peace Corps.  But the closer the trip got, the more the idea of going seemed unimaginable: Forty-two hours of travel.  Sixty-eight hours in a row with my coworkers.  Two sleepless nights on overheated trains packed with drunken teachers.  Jesus.

But it was too late, I’d spent a week lobbying for my inclusion and I was going, damn it (and I was also bringing my camera with me, under the directive of the training manager).

So I survived!  And I had fun.  Here are my notes from the bus:

  • Food: Strange vacillation between fasting and gorging.  We’ll go 12, 13, 14 hours without a meal (there is never a plan for breakfast, why doesn’t anybody ever have a plan for breakfast) and then boom: Bag of hushuur, bag of horse meat, candy, coffee, juice, aruul, vodka, wine, more hushuur, strawberry cordial (?)

  • I think, after two nights on the train, I understand what it’s like to be a parent hosting a child’s sleepover party.  The teachers and staff are the children, except with vodka and wine instead of Coke and cheetos; I am the parent, lying blearily in bed as they thunder and gallop around me, baffled by how little sleep they seem to need.  Except I’m not allowed to shush them, and also they have access to me in my bunk and can (and do) grab my feet at 3 am and yell “HI KATIE HI HI HI HAHAHAHA HA”

  • Not one fucking camel!  Can’t believe this shit.
  • This is what you do at Khamariin Khiid:  Get there at sunrise and greet the sun.  Walk three times around a couple of stones, flinging milk and rice.  Drive to a big bell and ring it three times.  Drive out to the old monastery and clear your mind.  Write a wish on a piece of paper and burn it.  Throw more rice, pour some water, lie down on some rocks and absorb their energy.  Hold a blue scarf while you sing a song.

  • The most interesting thing was the tour guide, who went from rock to bell to monastery with us, explaining to everybody the order of things:  What to say when the sun comes up, where to pour the water, how to clear your mind, which song to sing.  Is there anything like this in the Western world?  It was kind of like visiting a cathedral as a devout Catholic, but having a tour guide lead you through the Mass.

  • My first encounter with a mountain that’s off-limits to ladies!  Bummer.  I didn’t know about the lady-restriction beforehand, and had this exchange in English with my teacher at the last plateau we were allowed to stand on:

TEACHER
Okay, let’s go down now.

KATIE
Okay!  Cool!  I’m just going to run up there and take a picture real quick!

TEACHER
You…will not.

  • Time for another episode of Katie’s Lame Mongolian Jokes: Enablers Edition!

TUUL, GESTURING TO DUDE
Katie, this is my husband.

KATIE
I know.  We met last year.

TUUL, WAGGLING EYEBROWS
Oh really?  How?

OTHER TEACHERS, THINKING
Oh man Tuul’s setting her up so good but can she do it???

KATIE
Uhhhh…It’s a secret!

TUUL AND OTHER TEACHERS
OOOOO YES VERY GOOD!  Hahahaha!

DUDE
(uncomfortable look)

Ryan, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.

Okay gotta pack up and go to UB now.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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Ouch

Have you been chopping carrots with a dull knife, like some kind of moron?  Did the knife slip and almost SLICE THE TIP OF YOUR GODDAMNED FINGER OFF?  Are you standing in your kitchen right now, in Erdenet, Mongolia, with a filthy dishrag wrapped around the wound, wondering how to walk out into the living room and break the news to your spouse and house guest, who are currently watching the 2005 Disney film Sky High starring Kurt Russell?

I know exactly what you should do.

1.  Inform your spouse and guest, very casually, of your possible need for medical attention: “Hey um Iiiiiiii cut my finger and it’s kind of…bad?”

2.  Retreat into kitchen.  Your spouse will follow you and demand to look at your finger.  Resist him: If you don’t show it to anybody else, it might go away.

3.  Show him your finger.  Sit at the kitchen table while he calls people, or whatever.  Think about that time in 5th grade when you were at your friend’s house and your fingernail caught on a rusty swingset chain and ripped right off, and it made you so queasy that when you went inside to their fancy guest bathroom, you sat down on the toilet seat and passed out.  Really lean into this memory!  Did you bleed all over your best friend’s mom’s fancy guest towels and soaps, with your dripping exposed nail bed?  You probably did.  What a terrible child you were.  When your spouse gives you a cup of antibacterial stuff to dip your finger into, do it, and then whine about how it stings.

4.  Look at your finger.  WAVE OF NAUSEA AUGH don’t look at it again.

5.  It’s time to go to the taxi stand!  That dishrag is nasty, you can’t let people see you like that — put some gauze on your finger like a real grownup.  Put on your sweater.  Put on your coat.  Try to put on your boots by yourself; fail.  Notice, with some alarm, that the fresh gauze is already oozing blood.  Get trusty ‘ol dishrag back on there.

6.  Get into the taxi with your spouse.  When he says “hospital” to the driver and the driver turns around to look at you, stare at your lap while your face burns…with shame.

7.  When you get to the hospital, you and your spouse will revert to your basest, truest selves, your This Is How I Am In An Emergency selves.  This means your spouse will march around 15 meters in front of you at all times, huffing and puffing, tugging on locked doors, muttering “Where the fuck is everybody, what kind of hospital is this, jesus christ” (the hospital will indeed be creepy and post-apocalyptic, all long, dark hallways and unmanned check-in counters, no people besides you, no sound besides your own footsteps echoing off the concrete).  You, on the other hand, will shuffle along like a dumb animal, clutching the offending part, not helping in any way.

8.  (Have a weird, invasive thought about how this whole situation is probably a dry run for that future time when you will be pregnant and going into labor.  Shudder uncontrollably)

9.  Finally find the nurse you’re looking for, the one who has been briefed about your arrival by Peace Corps.  Obey her when she tells you to go buy a skein of gauze from the hospital pharmacy.  Follow her into a room, where she will silently clean your finger with more stingy stuff and bandage it with the gauze.  Watch her pause quizzically at the sight of the red, angry welt on your hand from when you poured boiling water all over yourself last week.  She thinks you’re a moron!  You are.

11. Relish the thought that you will soon have another house guest — a nurse house guest!  She, too, will help with your booboo.

10.  Give the nurse 3,000 tugriks.  Buy some cheez balls for yourself on the way home.

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