Ah spring. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I am leaving Erdenet in two weeks.*
Wait, what?? Oh my god let’s not talk about that. Let’s rummage around in my photo files instead.
I’ve talked about these ladies before. Here they are, at a dance recital that was exactly like dance recitals back home (noisy, cute, kinda interminably long, lots of helicopter parents running around with bobby pins in their mouths, everybody taking videos of everything).
The girl in pink’s mother, Enkhmaa, is one of my teachers and a very charming lady — every time she sees me, she smiles big and says, in English, “Hi, my friend!”
The day of the recital, she saw me in the teachers’ coatroom getting ready to go home. “Hi, my friend!” she said. “Are you free? My daughter is dancing at the Children’s Center this afternoon. Would you like to go with me…and…um…” Her dazzling smile faltered. A shadow of worried uncertainty passed over her pretty, pretty face.
“…and take pictures?” I asked.
“Yes?” she said.
And I was like, “Girl, you have correctly identified our relevant social currencies! Just let me get my hat.”
Those social currencies being a) her ability to invite me to interesting and/or adorable events, and b) my ability to take nice photos of her and her daughter.
I ain’t going to deny that this dynamic doesn’t ever get old for volunteers with nice cameras. It’s usually at big work banquets, when coworkers you barely know are clawing at you and demanding you take another photo of them, that your DSLR starts to feel like a smelly dead albatross around your neck.
But for me, those feelings of resentment are actually pretty few and far between. First of all, Enkhmaa is a delightful lady and her daughter is incredibly cute and they can use me for photos all they want. And second of all, the usin’ goes both ways. I mean, if I’m honest with myself, exactly how much of our decision to apply to the Peace Corps was motivated by my desire to, for two whole years, get invited interesting places by photogenic people and take awesome photos of these places and people? The answer to this question, I suspect, is dark and shameful indeed. Let us cast it from our minds.
Here’s another example. So I was taking a picture of this yak outside our building yesterday:
And these two dudes start laughing and hollering at me. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” they yelled across the courtyard, waving me over to their bench. “Aw Jesus,” I thought, “Do I go see what these drunkards want? Do I pretend I can’t hear them? Why can’t a person photograph a yak in peace around here?” I started walking over to them, rehearsing sassy remarks (and personal safety remarks) in my head.
“Good morning,” Dude #1 said, squinting into the sun. Dude #2 furrowed his brows at me.
“Good morning,” I said, stiffly.
Dude #1 held up something I hadn’t noticed, something that had been sitting in his lap: A newborn baby. And he broke into the world’s biggest, most sheepish grin as he asked: “Won’t you take our picture?”
Aw. A happy ending (also: they weren’t even a little drunk). I gotta remember to email this guy with his files.
So where were we? Oh yeah cameras and those cute little girls.
Remember how I said they sit in the Teachers’ Lounge and do their homework? Here is my proof. How cool are those stands propping up their textbooks? Do kids in the states use those? I mean in my day we sure didn’t have no etc etc etc
Homework is only so entertaining, however, when there are toys to play with:
This brings us to our final odd ‘n’ end. Kiddo’s facial expression in the above photo sure does remind me of myself, in this gem that Ryan took during a taxi ride to UB a couple months ago:
This guy, unlike Courtyard Dudes With Newborn Baby, was a little drunk. About five minutes after getting on the road, he turned to me and said, “I’m going to sleep now.”
“Uh…ok?” I said.
“I’m…I’m going to sleep now,” he said again. “Is that okay?”
“Yep, that’s okay,” I said, wondering why he needed my permission.
“I sure am going to sleep,” he said, yawning, his head slowly starting to lower itself onto my shoulder. “Like this. Is this okay? I’m going to sleep now. Okay.”
And so it was for our six hour car ride. When duder wasn’t resting the full weight of his incredibly heavy head upon my person, he busied himself by (and I am now consulting the notes I scribbled down during the ride):
- insisting we drink from his water bottle, even after we showed him we had one ourselves
- repeatedly showing us pictures of his three kids, all of whom had names starting with “Az” (“luck”)
- assuring us that he doesn’t usually drink, but his buddies peer-pressured him into it
- inviting us to have dinner at his place when we got to UB (no)
- noticing me reading something on my iPhone and asking, “Are you reading a letter from your parents and crying?” (it took us a little while to understand what the hell he was asking, understandably, since…what?)
Well there you have it! All the loose ends wrapped up. See you back here in a month or so, when I will lamely attempt to summarize my service and my feelings, or maybe just post a bunch of karaoke photos and call it a day.
*Dare I write about what we’re doing for the rest of the year? It usually gives me the heebie jeebies to announce plans on the internet before I’m absolutely completely sure they’re going to happen (i.e. after they have already happened), but I guess I’ll tempt fate:
May 20 – July 10
I’ll relocate to Darkhan to work as a TEFL trainer for the incoming class of volunteers again (to any M23s reading along: Hello! See you soon!). Ryan will remain in Erdenet, pining for his wife, surviving on a diet of toast and ramen.
July 11 – July 21
Some…thing? We will be doing something? I mean, I’ll definitely come back to Erdenet for a couple days so we can pack up and maybe say a few last goodbyes (although as far as my teachers are concerned I have to rip the Farewell Band-Aid off next week, before I go to Darkhan; I shouldn’t wait until July, because by then it’ll be summer vacation and they will have all scattered to the countryside or wherever)(this is actually a powerful incentive to delay the goodbyes — if I wanted to be sneaky I could just say a breezy “See you in July!” and then, like, not see anybody in July, and thus avoid any messy displays of emotion, forever — but I guess I should do the right thing and say my proper goodbyes in person, and horrify them with my crying)(Maybe I can also keen? Or perhaps fall to the floor and rend my garments? While ululating? O, they will pay for being so nice to me and making me feel sad to go). The only thing for sure about our final week and a half in Mongolia that we’ll be in UB for the last part of it, filling out paperwork and feeling strange.
But also feeling excited! For the following:
Late July – mid November
China (partially with Dave and Yoko)! Laos! Bangkok! Myanmar! Malaysia! Singapore! FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD good food street food oh god vacation, four months of vacation, first time out of Mongolia in two years vacation, ASIAN FOOD VACATION COME AT ME BRO I AM WAITING FOR YOU
Thanksgiving and Christmas
USA! USA! USA!
2013 – forever
So: Our plans for the foreseeable future. Of course, if one of us trips and breaks an ankle and none of this fun vacationy stuff happens, it will be because I posted this. Please sweet Temperamental Gods of Announcing Things Early, let us have our vacation? I want it. Real bad. Thank you.