Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Appendage Lost

Yesterday started out super fun. It began with a slow morning followed by perusing the black market with Aaron then a long walk joined by Suzanne. We wound our way through the ger districts until we got to the new monastery, sadly we found it locked. Then we swung by Suzanne's counterpart's ger where we sipped on salty black tea, played with her two-year-old son and chatted with her ancient, but always smiling mother. After that, Aaron and I set about concocting what he called a "Tuscan feast". We cook for our friends and sitemates about once every other week or so and this week's menu was creamy polenta topped with a rustic tomato stew of white beans and vegetables simmered in red wine. Our super rad missionary-esque friend Marvin contributed his near orgasmic garlic bread and even though the beans were a wee bit undercooked, it made for a fine meal. Later we met up with the Russian ladies at a local disco. Upon entry, the club seemed to have been revamped; it now boasted a table section adorned with tablecloths(!) and a Christmas light contraption that serves as a sort of curtain separating the dance floor from the rest of the space. A waitress led us to a table near the door where we deposited our coats and shimmied our way over to our friends who were already breakin' it down. It was fun, despite the outbreak of a fierce brawl between two University girls and rather shoddy music. I returned to our coats for a momentary respite and reached my hand into my pocket to check my phone. I found the pocket zipper stuck. It was open. My keys were there but I vividly remembered zipping up my coat pocket with my cell phone inside before abandoning it. I frantically dug around for my phone, but I knew it was gone. Diving under the couch, I scoured the area though I somehow felt my belonging's complete absence. My friends dialed my number only to reach a busy signal. My heart plummeted. My phone was gone. That was it. It wasn't ever coming back. As acceptance grew, silent tears streamed down my cheeks as I felt the colored lights of the disco transform into a sick, circus nightmare in which all the strangers are really foes. This is not the life I thought I chose for myself.

Before you judge me for being overly attached to a piece of plastic or to the outside world, it was what this gesture stood for that was particularly difficult to swallow. I just felt so violated. I know that, unlike the student who ended up on the floor with a foot to her solar plexus, my physical being was not harmed. My lot could have been much worse. However, it was difficult to squelch the voice inside that was raging and screaming "I came all the way around the world to be here in a spirit of love and friendship; I left everything I had behind to help and this is how your re-pay me?!" But a greater part of me knows that one Mongolian does not represent the actions of many. Though many are innocent of this crime, phone stealing is a recurring issue here. I am well acquainted with the dangers and frequency of petty theft. On a comparison in UB, I realized that I was one of the sole people among my friends whose Peace Corps issued cell phone had not been absconded with...yet. What also made this difficult is that my phone is also my lifeline to these far flung friends. When you live in such an isolated, unique and occasionally hostile environment, you tend to cling to the people who share similar experiences. My phone is the vessel for both absurd jokes and pained commiseration; it is the thing that saves me when I am having a hard day or find no one here to listen. It symbolizes my connection to my bosom buddies in the Peace Corps and reminds me that I am part of something greater. Moreover, part of the pain of this experience stems from the irony that every single one of my Mongolian friends, even my students, have nicer phones than I do. My phone is essentially the same model as the first cell I got my Freshman year of High School. It's not likely that it will fetch any sort of a price at the market. All my cherished memories in the form of saved texts, the comfort of easy accessibility to my friends and the safety promised by the flashlight on the tip of the phone is being tossed away for a mere paltry sum.

In Mongolian cell phone translated literally is 'hand phone', which makes sense both physically and metaphorically. People here are constantly on their cell phones. Landlines never really made it here in a big way so everyone has and loves their cellphone, even youngsters; they are very dependent upon them. For me, when my phone was stolen, I felt as if a real part of me had been severed. This was the part that trusted that nothing bad physically would ever happen to me here, the part of me that believed that because I was here to help I would escape unscathed. This part trusted strangers as friends for the most part and felt secure almost always. But now that has been distroyed, and with my hand phone, goes the part of me that trusted so freely and openly. Another innocence has been amputated.

When I woke up this morning, the anger and frustration had faded with the darkness. Honestly, I'm just disappointed it's not a better story. I went to the club, my phone was stolen, the end. Not a very exciting trade-off given the fact I now have to deal with getting a new phone activated when I am busy lesson planning, grading and teaching during the few hours that the stores are open. But c'est la vie. Nothing to be done. Now I can only process, heal and get reconnected. But for the time being, if you need me, I'll be reachable by e-mail, Facebook and carrier pigeon.

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