Monday, July 17, 2006

From Six Months to Six Weeks

I will be home in six weeks. That is a crazy notion. It seems like just, wait, it seems like quite a bit longer than that, that I departed SFO and embarked upon this nutty journey. I have been feeling really emotional about leaving UB. I had an opportunity to go on a tour to Khovsgol, which sounded absolutely fantastic, but I stayed here because it would have left me with only 3 or 4 days before I was to leave. And, I'm not finished with my project yet. But most of all, I couldn't imagine having that short of a time left with my pals from LEOS (NGO I am volunteering at, for those who need a reminder.) We tried to organize a trip last weekend, but it was cost-prohibitive. Good thing anyway since I had the whole foot injury to contend with. I am really hoping I can get one last jaunt to the countryside this weekend...

I told (via gestures, of course) the woman who looks after my building that I was leaving in about 10 days, and word must have spread a bit because last night at 10 pm there was furious knocking on my door. I was a bit concerned about opening it because I couldn't see who it was through the peep hole--not enough light in the hallway. I said "Hello" and I heard "It's me." It was a girl's voice, so I opened the door. It turned out it was Degii, a girl on the 4th floor I met when I first moved in. On second thought, she might have said "It's Degii." But she said she heard I was leaving and asked "why". I didn't know exactly what to tell her. "I need to go home...and see my family and friends." She invited me to her home tonight. I don't know what this will be it for dinner (god, I hope not only because they don't know I am vegetarian) it for just hanging out? I guess I'll see in a few hours. I was really touched by her invitation. I am starting to really feel like I am welcome in my little neighborhood and so it makes me quite sad that I am leaving it.

The other night I walked through a game of soccer (right in front of my building) to go to a shop nearby for some Mongolian black tea (for my foot), and on the way back, all the boys (probably ages 5-8) stopped and said "Hello". And two nights ago, as I walked from the Topaz Hotel mini market back to my apartment, the crowd of boys were on the steps of the neighboring building applauding me! It was so cute and totally funny. They like to say "Hello" and "Hi" to me, which they all did, and I said "How are you?" and "See you later." They mimicked me and I smiled and went on home. Anyway, even though conversation is limited, they make me feel like I belong. And make me realize even more that kids can be so dang adorable!

The other day I was sitting outside, away from the computer, and I scribbled the following down in my notebook...

I am drinking a Budvar (Czech beer) at a pub called Dave's Place that has a large outdoor seating area overlooking Sukhbaatar Square. A man on a horse, pulling along a second horse slowly rode by. Montains rise behind the city buildings to the left. People mill about the square. And I just think, damn, I love this place.

I love the little things that, when I first got here, I found totally remarkable, but are still charming. Like the man with the horses on a city street, or a man with three camels going down a main, rather busy road the other day. Or the interactions with other people. The universal joy of laughing with someone about something silly even if you don't speak the same language.

I love the things the gals in my office say. Like when I ask Enji, "How are you?" and she replies "Not bad." Or how Khulan asks me questions like "Scarlett, how long have you been vegetable?" or, "Scarlett, why didn't you tell me my hair was dangerous?"

The city grows on you. When I first arrived I was intimidated by traffic and the Mongolian Cyrillic and sometimes a bit on edge walking around, a bit unimpressed by the pot-holed roads and the dirt. Those were the things that stood out and the rest of the city's charm and beauty were hard to notice. Now all those things (except the traffic, though I am better at dealing with it) have fallen into the backdrop and the glory of UB stands out.

Before I got here, I was excited because I felt that the size of the city would enable me to really feel like I could know it. Sure, parts of it are still undiscovered, but I have gotten a pretty good lay of the land and feel like I can navigate around and know where I am (most of the time).

Well, I am leaving on a high note. Can't beat that!


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