Sunday, July 18, 2010
Firstly apologies for not posting anything sooner. I was away on vacation for a while and then spent time saying goodbye to so many people who left recently- starting with my special friend from Hovd and ending with everyone who is in the Peace Corps Mongolia generation before me. So now with just about everyone gone except for yours truly (who has also run out of party money), it's time to buckle down to work. I could go back to Hovd to do some of the work I have to do but things like meetings with people here in UB keep me in the city. And the thing is- the more I stay in UB the more I love it. It's easy to write off such an unattractive city. In fact, I recall a guidebook calling it "an architectural boil on the ass of the earth" or something equally as flattering. But I've recently discovered the undercurrent of color that runs beneath the smattering concrete and potholes. The city is alive and moving. There is an electrifying and sometimes terrifying clash of rampant poverty rubbing up against new money. It's like a modern version of what I think Victorian London must have been like. Enormous class division, dirty, busy and alive; a place where things are rapidly changing. A place where the rich and poor are crammed into the same boat bound for modernization. What is most amazing is that people want to learn here. One of the biggest struggles working in the countryside is that many individuals I encounter are set in their ways. Things have worked for them for literally centuries and many people, understandably, see no reason to change it. But in UB people yearn to go abroad and drill me about America with voracity in their eyes. Last night it all sank in- why I like the city life here and why I take such a shine to Mongol city folk. I was invited to a party at a club I had neither heard of or been to. Since most of my friends have left and the rest resigned themselves to tea and cuddling with their respective bf's, I decided to pull up my big girl pants and go alone. It took me a solid hour to find the place. In fact, just as I was about to give up poking around shady, dark alleys to find a disco that didn't exist, I stumbled upon it. Descending down a decidedly sketchy flight of stairs in the pursuit of churning disco music, I passed a number of well dressed, albeit tiny guys. Puzzling. At the bottom of the stairs I rolled solo through the double doors and there was the club, buried far below the street. I soon found out why it was so concealed: it was a gay club. Serving as a haven for gay Mongolians to live life the way they want, this disco lets them dance the way God intended gay men and lesbians to dance. My Mongolian friends flagged me down and I went to join them. We danced until late in the night and I made fast friends with many of the interesting people I met there. At one point the music stopped and a space was cleared for a show. I turned to my friend and asked if it was a fashion show. She smiled and nodded and then proceeded to enplane that the ladies modeling the sexy little del-inspired numbers were actually men. I was dumbstruck. Firstly, they looked good. I would have had no idea what was going on beneath their skirts if I hadn't been told. But more than that, they could be killed for such an act- and they knew it, too. But here they were, slinking down the dance floor in clear sky-high platforms in the figurative face of all the skinheads who would knife them if they knew. What courage! At one point in the night two girls my age plopped down next to me and asked if I was gay. I smiled and explained to her that I like boys. One of the girls looked confused. I told her in Mongolian that my friends and family are gay and I think it's fine. She was overwrought and frantically spoke to the other girl in Mongolian. The girl translated into English and thanked me for supporting them. I didn't know what to say- of course I would come hang out here. No big deal. This ain't my first rodeo, cowboy. But then I realized that UB is in a truly transient state. This was not my cushy liberal arts college nor my block where homes know no color or gender, neither was it my 'Kumbaya' singing, hand holding Unitarian Universalist Congredation. It's half way. Being in UB is neither the hyper conservative countryside nor my Pride Parade hosting neighborhood. It's a middle ground that I feel drawn to. There are gay clubs but also hateful skinheads. It's a mix. There's a fight to be fought here and not only for equality in sexuality. There's a job to be done helping the street children living in the sewers, convincing the new money to share the wealth and spend responsibly, to educate those who will hate and harm others. So much to be done! But alas, I know I must got back to the hudoo. Not to say anything discouraging about Hovd, on the contrary, I love it. It's a wonderful place to be. However, after the night in the underground club I knew then and there what it means to me to be in a city. The electric shock I feel with confronted with the diversity inherent in a massive concentration of people is addicting. Dancing last night I didn't feel so different any more. I've spent the better part of a year discovering first hand what it's like to be foreign, alien because of my skin and as a result I am often discriminated against. But last night it was as if all my whiteness and the stigmas that leech to the American flag fell away. I was just a person having a good time at a party in the city. That's what I want to remember myself as being, not a lily white and highly targeted dollar sign, but a girl, eyes closed, surrounded by her friends, dancing the night away. A hot child in the city.