Thursday, September 23, 2010

Echos of a Bus Ride

by Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember. 

I stumbled on this poem during the Great Swine Flu Epidemic of '09. Nestled into a comfy, leather chair, I spent the better part of two months reading literature anthologies. The decadence justified because all classes were suspended. I must have read dozens of works but a year later this poem is the one that stuck with me the most. The way in which the youthful narrator uses simple words to convey such an adult experience really struck me. The story it tells is of a kind of tiny tragedy and I'm a sucker for that sort of poesy. Even though the words were written 85 years ago they still ring true today. Perhaps because we all run into bits of life that are uncanny reflections of this poem.
This summer I was frolicking with a group of new found friends on the beach in Fiji. Beers in our hands and songs on our lips, we were having a great time. But later I was wounded when the others started whispering loudly enough so I could hear that they had given me the nickname Velma. I was the only person on the island with short, brown hair and glasses; apparently I was a perfect doppelganger of the Scooby Doo character. Another incident this summer occurred when unkind words about my body were used in front of me; also bringing a sharp kick to my pride and self-esteem.
But after the second run-in with the mean boy from Baltimore I thought about the poem from a year ago and pulled up my big girl panties. Just feeling crappy about incidents wouldn't help. Even though I am no longer eight like our miniature narrator, it was so easy to let nasty feelings seep out of specific comments and color entire days. But they were my days and I'd be damned if I'd let some haters ruin the beaches or the morning bagels that I intended to relish. I should be the one to decide if I felt crappy about my glasses, pale skin or hips. Eff that! Especially since the things I was ridiculed for were byproducts of my time in Mongolia- resulting manifestations of a physically harsh year in service to others. In the poem the boys' parade had gotten rained on and he was too young to have the wherewithal to pop up an umbrella. His days from May until December was shrouded in one act of unkindness. Instead what I chose to take away from my Baltimorian experiences was that there are eight-year-olds everywhere, some of them just don't look their age. But what I can do to counter these people is to grow up and not let the clouds idle over my days. My friend has a blog called Be Excellent To Each Other. I like that title and have decided doing just that is the best way to live. In striving for excellence I'd argue that there are fewer hateful moments with fellow passengers. And really in the end aren't we all on the same bus?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Something to Blog About

Here in Hovd the leaves are starting to fall and the kids are suiting up in their little French maid outfits and shiny three piece suits. What does that mean? School's in! Mongolian schools are all about being the best. The best chess player, the best English speaker, the best teacher, you get my drift. So as school begins and everyone is reving up for another year of fighting to the top, I've put together some superlatives of my own. I'm not too versed in the ways of the blog world but these are some really good ones I've found so far. If you know about any cool blogs, throw them up! I'm super interested in reading new and interesting ones. Let me know what you read! Or, if you're feeling super competitive, vote for your favorite blog below:

Best Way to Drive Foodies to Distraction/Best Food Porn. Ever.: The Kitchn

Most Funky and Informative Way to Get Your Eclectic Pop Culture Tidbits: Open Culture

Best Beach-y Updates/Artsy Creations/Coolest Blogging Family Member By Far: Linda Davick!

Sweetest and Smartest Wedding Blog/Most Amazing Blogging Friend (Warning- Careful of Incessant and Fantastic Daydreaming): Once Wed

Super Great Way to Flaunt Your Girlyness and Procrastinate Simultaneously: The Frisky

Best Way to Get Fair, Balanced and Visually Exciting Movie Reviews: Metacritic

Most Convincing Argument for That Early Morning Run: Early Monring Run

Most Intriguing and Intelligent Travel and Photo Blog: The Travel Photographer

Best Social Experiment Ever/Most Readable and Addicting Blog: Post Secret

Most Fun Dose of Absurd Photos and Pop News/Silliest Blog by a Friend: Southern Bellz

Sweetest Art Design Site/Most Badass Friend with Lots of Talent: Sticky With Rage

Just Cause It's Awesome: King of Pops

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Boots, My Home

I've been back in Hovd for about a week and a half now. Though it doesn't seem like such a long time, so much has happened- countless meeting, three couch surfers (two of which were bona fide gypsies...seriously. they brought their own accordion), a total apartment move and lots of joyful reconnecting. For a while I kept waiting, wondering when the difficult times would start. In the fall of last year I had a rather rough go of it. Painfully lonely and perhaps a little too sad, I longed for someone to share my experiences with. Trudging up 5 flights of stairs to a cold, dark apartment every night is not something anyone would look forward to. Even less so with the isolation, culture shock and relative poverty that volunteering abroad wrecks. But thus far...nothing this year. I keep wondering what it is- why am I so darned content? One would think that the exquisite pain of being left by someone they care about so deeply would be a beast to battle. And it has been. But so far my friend has been as present and supportive as humanly possible though he is a continent away and dealing with changes of his own. So perhaps it's the fact that it's still a comfortable temperature outside? Or that I have a brand new and certifiably warmer apartment? Or is it that Hovd has received the gift of four awesome new Peace Corps Volunteers this year? (Us ladies ate soy burgers, gabbed and watched Sex in the City til the wee hours last night. A joy for sure.) Or is it the pheromones pulsing through my brain resulting from a week of thoroughly satisfying runs? Maybe it's one reason. Maybe all of them. I think I'm just more comfortable here. Knowing what lies ahead. and not having to rely on the enigmatic 'here there be monsters' scrawled across my looming year makes a huge difference. As I watch many of my friends decide to terminate their stint in Peace Corps early and return to America, it has thrown into sharp contrast so many things I am be grateful for in my experience here. First there are the basics- great site mates, a really interesting job, brilliant students and an interesting town. But then there is one of the best thing a girl can hope for: support. Parents who tirelessly send care packages and friends who cheer me on at every step are in my corner. Many of my fellow volunteers have parents are unimpressed to say the least and friends who dog them for not being at concerts together in Manhattan. Not me. At this point I'm starting to feel like Jimmy Buffet might have writing his autobiography. Not a cloud in the sky. But really I know there will be hard times ahead. The weather will cool and things will get lonely. But that is later. Right now coming back to Hovd feels like slipping on an old leather boots- the footprint right where I left it, snug and just right. Later my feet might be miserably cold in those boots but this I know right now for sure: the sun is shining warm on my face today. And it's good to be back home.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Year in Pictures

Firstly I'd like to apologize for not posting for so long. The summer was many things: wonderful, tempestuous, difficult, enlightening- in short it was a big, thought provoking three months. But I'm back in Hovd now and have resolved to be a better, more diligent blogger. My new years resolution so to speak. So please come back and read my blog!

So I know I didn't post any pictures on my blog last year. It was intentional- I thought that the Mongolia I described probably wouldn't match up to the one in photographs. If I posted pictures then it would negate the power of written words. That and haven't figured out how to post photos on the blog yet. But I figure there's no time like the present to learn and it might be a neat experiment. And since last year has come and gone I thought I'd put up some throwbacks. The pictures are in vague chronological order and are a random smattering of things that may have and have not ended up in the blog.

My host families house

My host sisters and nephew!

Host family appreciation event.
My host mom Burmaa.
Little horseman at Nadam.
A Nadam wrestler.

My first day in Hovd.
Horehog for Jake's school.

Pretzels: baking victory!
The Kazakh cemetary outside town.

An 'eme' at the circus.
Sunset at the market.

Relaxing after our library horehog.

Teaching me to make buuz.

Hanging out in the countryside.

Bananagrams with Access.

Phantom during Swine Flu.
Performing Phantom of the Opera.

American Center Open House!

Shakespeare in Book Club.

First snow at the market.

Our environmental rally.

Cooking club.

The finer points of pizza dough.

Such a shiny New Years.
Campfire by the river.

Happy Tsagaan Saar!
Sporting our deels.

Milk tea before her cutting hair.
Hair cutting ceremony.

Pickle Jar. Hah!

Hanging out with friends in Olgii.

View from the 'Swiss Chalet'.

English teacher's seminar in Hovd.

Near the river in Hovd.

Baseball with the Access classes.

And the world thaws.

World Cup at Sunrise.
My friend :-)