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:
Okay, let’s go down now.
Okay! Cool! I’m just going to run up there and take a picture real quick!
- Time for another episode of Katie’s Lame Mongolian Jokes: Enablers Edition!
TUUL, GESTURING TO DUDE
Katie, this is my husband.
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???
Uhhhh…It’s a secret!
TUUL AND OTHER TEACHERS
OOOOO YES VERY GOOD! Hahahaha!
Ryan, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
Okay gotta pack up and go to UB now. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.