I also have back log journal entries, as well. Since the old e-mails in the last post sort of went over what I was doing for the most part, the journal entries were more about what I was feeling. It all seems a bit melodramatic now but at the time with the culture shock and the intensity with which I was missing home, the melodrama is actually about right. Again, my thoughts on the
situation now are in parenthesis. So here goes...
Yesterday the movie "Edward Scissorhands" came on t.v. in Mongolian. I stayed up an hour and a half passed my bedtime to watch it- a big splurge since I wake up at 7 every morning to walk the cows to the river with my host Mom. The movie was appropriately dubbed in Mongolian but even though I couldn't understand a word, I cried at the end. Before I came here I found "Edward Scissorhands" unnecessarily sad and a little dumb. But now after experiencing truly being an outsider in every way, I found myself weeping at such a poignant albeit bizarre film. For some reason, that night, the movie seemed to speak directly to my situation here. The experience of being completely submerged in a culture yet not being able to participate or worst making a horrible mess of things you try to do is one that not everyone has. A sense of belonging, or lack thereof, has such a profound impact on one's life that I hadn't recognized before. I suppose that it's because I've never felt this out of context and alien that it is particularly striking now. It's amazing how many people have written on the topic- from Shakespeare's "Richard II" to "Peter Pan" everyone has something to say about belonging or not belonging, and I'm only now really seen it first hand. It's a powerful enough thing to make a girl feel like she has scissors for hands.
It is really frustrating waiting for site placement. I feel totally in the dark which is a tough thing in a situation when so much is unknown already- as in most of my day is bewildering. I'm so scared of getting a bad placement, I wouldn't do well in a ger in the middle of no where. I definitely didn't sign up for that. All this unknowing makes me think of sailors in the Middle Ages, sailing into sunset, headed for God only knows where, clutching a map riddled with monsters and dragons, armed with only vague ideas of how to crew a ship. Only those sailors made it to the Bahamas, that is for sure not in my future.
Over the last few weeks, I've stared to feel really young. Never before has 22 felt so infantile. Perhaps I'm realizing that I am really physically very young-in college 22 is ancient, in grown-up years it really isn't that old- the transition from college to grown-up is one I've been working on in addition to all the other stuff. There's also the fact that I am pretty bewildered by my surroundings and feel like a little puppy most of the time, unable to fend for myself very well. The more I'm learning here the more I realize that I don't know a whole lot about the world, well at least I realize there is so much more to learn. When we're children, we have the good fortune of not knowing how little really know, often times we think we know everything. But in a situation like this I've become painfully aware of how much I don't know. It's a strange and scary feeling when you've spent your whole life- no matter how long that may be- in pursuit of knowledge to look around and find that you don't really know anything. I mean I can hold my own in a conversation about art, politics, ethics, education systems, etc. But here in Mongolia I have about 20 nouns at my disposal and might as well have a neon sign blinking "confused white girl" over my head when I walk into a store. It's jarring and disconcerning but most of all humbling. And as frustrating as it is to be so utterly brought to ones knees, I hope I never forget this feeling in the future, near or distant. No matter how good one gets at life, it is always important to remember the darkest hours and hold them dear, trusting them to keep ourselves and our egos in check.
Every day I come closer to being at peace with being here. There is still a long way to go- I can honestly say that a single idle moment hasn't gone by when my thought don't immediately go to my life and loved ones in America. However, my dreams are settling. Whenever I go somewhere alone that's really different or even just sleep in a new place I have vivid and often disturbing dreams. For the first three weeks my dreams were pretty intense and left me feeling drained when I woke up. Most of my dreams were about lost loves or abandonment which I think totally makes sense given that I've moved across the world, but the dreams are disconcerting nonetheless. Recently, however, I haven't been remembering my dreams as much and when I do they've been of a sweeter, milder nature, a sure sign I'm getting used to my new life. Recently I got miserably sick, plagued with a fever, chills, aching back, congested sinuses, sore throat and absurdly swollen lymph nodes. I stayed in bed for two days, read all of Pat Conroy's "The Water is Wide" (I highly recommend it!) and sweated out the virus. At night my fever broke and I had a dream of my family being together again. When I woke up in the morning I felt better, like a great storm had passed and was strangely more at peace with my life. For whatever reason, since my recovery being in Mongolia no longer makes me want to throw myself into the Pacific and doggie paddle until I reach American soil. My body has healed itself here, I've reach the absolute bottom and managed to bounce back just fine. So perhaps I should stick around and really give this place a shot.
I've been thinking a lot about Van Gogh's painting "The Potato Eaters" lately. I've been lucky enough to see it twice and both times it resonated with me deeply. But since I've come to Mongolia, I've come to understand it on a deeper level. My job in my host family is the designated vegetable peeler and chopper. It's a job I think I got it because I can't really mess it up too badly although they certainly have a specific way of doing it here. I don't mind- I kind of like the tactility and monotony of the job and it's nice to feel useful and included in the family chores. My host family and I eat potatoes about twice a day and I've begun to feel a little like Van Gogh's subjects, exhaustedly hunched over yet another 'tater, squinting to dig out the eyes of said tuber it in the dimly lit house. Even though the canvass is hanging with its subjects hundreds of miles away in a beautiful museum in Amsterdam, I still feel bonded with it as well as with the potato eaters of the past and present. I think it has something to do with focusing on each day, just trying to make it through to the next just like the people in the painting had to do. In training this has become my reality, pushing from day to day, trying not to miss home too much, choking down the food and attempting to cram Mongolian language into my brain. It is a lot to work on but for today it is enough to have just reach an understanding with the potato peelers and a single piece of art.
Shadows of the Past- Every now and then I'll hear a noise that makes me think I am somewhere else. My host sister's cell phone sounds like my ring tone back in America. When it goes off, I sometimes think that it's a friend calling for dinner or waning to throw the frisbee around on the quad. Something dropped in the kitchen the other day and it sounded like a soda vending machine. It has happened many times. It only takes a second for my reflexes that tell me I'm in America to fade, I realize that what I've heard and it's like a light has come on in a dark room, the shadows are instantly gone. But it's the jerking me out of my recollections is the strange part, I am left with the empty feeling that I can't even understand the sounds around me. It's a lonely thing, this feeling. It recalls a world I've left of my own derision but still miss deeply.
Atmosphere- A word on atmosphere. Firstly its the name of the group that whose songs have reoccurred throughout my life with odd regularity, rearing its head at poignant or memorable moments and marking many experiences. Their songs became my anthems during all night paper writing in college, keeping me awake with the infectious hip hop beats and profound lyrics. My favorite song of theirs "The Woman with the Tattooed Hands" reminds me of those nights that blurred into the following day. Those times that I watched the sun rise over Goucher from behind a computer in the deserted library. The song again reared its head during a wild night out with my StandUp for Kids coworkers, speeding through the streets of Baltimore in pursuit of parties. It also reminds me of my Sister. She introduced me to that specific song and we then introduced all of Atlanta to it by blaring out open windows while cruising the streets together. It also now comments on my time in Mongolia. The chorus goes "I've got a lot to teach, but even more to learn" and everyday I find that it's true for me here. It is with that attitude that I try to view my experiences in this foreign land.
Also, the atmosphere here in Mongolia is particularly remarkable. The air smells like mint or sage when the wind blows, a huge different from the streets of Baltimore. The wind here will whisk you off your feet and makes walks by the river seem almost like strolling through a science fiction novel. Walking in town foreign smells fill the air. The scent of roasting mutton- not the nicest of smells- and livestock hangs in the air, waiting for you to walk through it. When you walk here, little white butterflies scatter into the air in your wake and in front of you. They're tiny, almost moth-like and there are so many of them it sometimes looks like a cloud. The sounds are different, too. Cuckoos live in the trees by the river and I can hear them from my house. The chattering of voices speaking a language I don't understand fills my ears daily and is something I have yet to get used to. The atmosphere here is so intensely different from anywhere I've lived before and perhaps that's what makes things feel so foreign.
The latter half of today was good. I've spent the better part of 2 days choking back tears. (My host family pointed to the phrase "what are your parent's jobs?" in the phrase book and I had to go to my wee house to grab the dictionary so I could answer but also so they wouldn't see me burst into tears with how much I missed them and the feeling of 'what the hell am I doing here?!') But being able to speak with the other volunteers later in the day was so therapeutic. I found out that everything I was feeling other people were feeling, too. We took a walk by the river after a game of basketball then I went home for a nap and now am having a good time cooking with my host sister. I think I just needed to talk to someone about all this. Culture shock is a tough one.
Today I was also feeling bad about the way I look. No surprise since I haven't showered in days, have greasy hair and am now just discovering that the pants I brought with me for 2 years are incredibly ugly. I mentioned this to Todd and he looked at me and said "you look like a Peace Corps Volunteer." While you'd think I'd have figured this one out earlier, I was kind of taken aback by his words. It made a huge amount of sense really and while I don't plan on embracing my dirty hair (now that I have running water, I wash it every day), I looked at myself differently for the fist time. I saw a strong adult doing a brave thing instead of a ex-college girl who used to be attractive when she had a blow dryer and an arsenal of cute clothes.