One of the best parts about living in Western Mongolia is not just experiencing all that Mongolia has to offer but that the rest of the world comes to you. A huge advantage of being in a lage(r) town is that it has a big draw for many aid and development organizations, so there are a lot of foreigners stationed in town for me to play with. Hovd is also the transit, trade and agricultural hub of Western Mongolia, making it a thoroughfare for a wide variety of people. Among other things this means that starting in the spring and well into autumn we get a steady stream of couch surfers floating and crashing through town. Despite the limited amounts of goods and services that make it here, it's amazing how people manage find their way to Hovd. Even though an avocado has never graced the rusty bed-springs of the makeshift market stalls, I have managed to get a slice of life from so many different corners of the world and the people who come bring with them fragrant breezes and exciting stories.
The catalyst for this post was last night. There are three Russian girls, young women really as they are my age, who are teaching in Hovd for a year. Occasionally our American-Swiss contengecy will collide with theirs on the weekends to have fun. Due to an unfortunate situation with her boyfriend's mother, one of the Russian girls has to go home. Our little foreigner crew has set the bar pretty high on craziness when we party with the Russians, in part due to some serious Russian drinking games, but last night went above and beyond. It was a very fitting sendoff. Walking to the disco, linked arm-in-arm with two of the Russian girls, I was overcome by how cool it is to hang out with so many different kinds of people. En route they belted out a Russian song about rain and a jilted lover while I hummed along merrily, happy to be a part of such a neat cross-cultural exchange. They tried to teach the song to me, but sadly that didn't go so well. I was happy to appreciate it though.
There have been so many similar moments in my time here; bits of life when I am completely immersed in a different culture and thrilled to be so. Couch surfers are fantastic vessels for this exoticism. I've eaten a sublime rustic breakfast lovingly made by a pair of Israelis. I've been tutored in the nuances of making psychedelic techno by a quasi-famous English DJ. I've experienced the shock and awe on the faces of Mongolian waitstaff as they watch French gypsies play accordion and dance in the middle of their restaurant. I've devoured traditional Indonesian noodle soup and shrimp chips and laughed with the cooks with gusto. And then there was living with Swiss people, a wonderful and fascinating experience.The couch surfers haven't all been lovely, however. There was an alcoholic Londoner who passed out on my floor uninvited after I caught him fondling my dirty bras (his excuse was "it's been a while"). But that was mostly just entertaining and overall it's been such a wonderful adventure getting to know people from so many different places. Even the people from America are interesting. We are all so different and from extremely varying places that our lives have been completely nonuniform. The Peace Corps Volunteers are very dissimilar and then throw in the American missionaries and religious aid workers we hang out with sometimes and it's a veritable melting pot. I consider myself extremely lucky to have met each person I've come across and am in constant wonder that people manage to find our little town, marooned in vast expanses of desert as it is. And though my Russian friend will be sorely missed, I am not only joyful to keep the company of so many other cool people but also look forward to the warmer weather and the rainbow of traveling characters it will bring.