Monday, October 4, 2010

Spectrums and Slaughter

Nothing is completely analogous to a rock crashing through your window. It feels like nothing else in the world. The otherwise silent night being sliced by shards of glass cascading into your seemingly safe, impregnable space makes you jolt. It shakes you to the core. The idea of someone actively choosing to shatter your world is confusing and you feel deeply violated. True, it's not like being physically assaulted in any way, but the violent surprise and ensuing shock takes you back to being startled as a child when the wind was knocked out of you. Like a childhood spill, you cry a little because of your shaken state.

One night last week, I had the misfortune of experiencing a rock soaring through my window. Taking a 'chill' night, I had headed home after work and was slaving over a project proposal. All of a sudden, I heard a crash and glass showered everywhere. Before I had time to think, my body reacted, sinking out of my chair and onto the floor. Though my room was covered in a surreal glitter, the strangest part was the silence. Crouching on the floor, I strained to imagine the person on the other side of the glass but the night was eerily silent. I expected something: running, yelling, vomiting, high fives? There was a nothing. Shaking, I called my site mate in the next building and he came over to help with damage control. He scouted the area behind my building and found no one. He helped me clean up the mess, gave me a firm hug and went home. Later I started talking to my Mongolian friends about what had happened and a guy my age confided in me that he used to throw rocks through windows to either kill the boredom or avenge his latest break-up. Having a rock thrown through your window was not uncommon, he implied. The casualness of his admission and his cheeky grin got me thinking about the widespread violence in Mongolian culture and why it's accepted.

Mongolia is a country built on the backs of warriors. The national hero, who celebrates a near God-like status, is arguably the most prolific serial rapist of all time: Chinggis Khaan (or to the rest of the world: Gengis Khan). It is an intensely physical culture- sitting in a dog pile is expected in crowded Jeeps, shoving en route is not a faux pas and a fist fight is something many little boys never really grow out of- in short, the space bubble is nonexistent. It is something to get used to but not something that normally bothers me. What is extremely difficult to grapple with, however, is when the custom of lack of physical sensitivity spills over to other places. For example, at the Eagle Festival last weekend, someone brought a wolf for the eagles to kill. True, wolves pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of many people here, but the wolf they brought to the slaughter was barely more than a cub. Stolen for it's mother at an early age, it was an uncomfortable feeling knowing that the smiling people around me were perfectly comfortable seeing this rather defenseless animal die in an unfair fight after being extremely roughed up for two days. My urge was to free the it E.T. style, but a physical fight, no matter the odds, was a thrilling prospect for the locals.

I am not saying every Mongolian has a lust for violence. Not at all. It is absurd to think I can make an accurate blanket statement about a whole culture. However, there is certainly a back and forth that keeps my thoughts about the resistance and acceptance of Mongolian brutality in perpetual swing. Many of my students think it's rude to push and plenty of my friends were aghast when I told them about my startling experience last week. However, the bitter irony of having someone throw a rock through my window while working on a community development project is a tough one to shake. This feeling of betrayal was exacerbated by the three gentlemen flagging down cars of foreigners on their way to Eagle Fest and making us pay an exorbitant fee to line their pockets, all the while ignoring buses full of locals and the fact that we are low-salary development workers. Having someone throw their weight around for unjust reasons can feel like a physical blow and can smack of violation just as much.

Through all this I strive to remember that this is a life I have chosen for myself and one that I chose again every day. No one owes me anything and I am not a victim. Self-righteous rage is not my style at all and never has been. I think what is throwing me off is the process of getting used to a different cultural spectrum. In the West I know what is normal behaviour and what is not- here everything is altered. Even after living here for a year already I stumble upon things and have trouble placing them in either the 'appropriate' or 'inappropriate' box in my head without judging them by Western standards. Cultural relativism sticks like glue but is a force worth fighting against. And while I now know where wolves and windows stand, I think my next year will remain a puzzle of collecting events and attempting to place mentally them where they belong.

No comments: