Monday, May 28, 2012

Changes - Cont...

I just had a great weekend hanging out with the Australian volunteer in our aimag center. We went for a walk/hike to the Eej Mod (Mother Tree) yesterday and then she came and visited my village today. She's a recent arrival to Mongolia and so has a fresh perspective on life here and it's made me realize a few more of the things that have changed about me since being here.

My standards for pretty much everything are gone. When I arrived the freezing gusts of Mongolia kept me hidden away in my house with my heater and stove, now, I venture forth into the wind on the slightest errand or whim. My bed, which is a sheet covering some wooden boards, used to be hard and uncomfortable, but now I prefer it the soft cozy mattresses. In America, I prided myself on not being wasteful. If I cooked something to eat, then I ate it no matter how poorly it tasted. I guess I lied about having no standards because I couldn't keep up that practice here. Sometimes you just can't finish the sugar-raisin rice or the sour-milk-curd ice cream, and sometimes there is just far too much meat in your vegetarian soup.

The biggest change that Mongolia has brought me doesn't have anything to do with food or culture or weather, it has to do with family. I left America without shedding a tear for the family and friends I'd be leaving behind. I had never intended to stay in Tennessee within easy driving distance of the family anyway, and with the internet, phones, and the post, I didn't expect Mongolia to feel any farther away than when I'd gone to university or if I'd moved out west.
But it is farther...and that does make a difference. Not being able to contact my family has been one of my biggest challenges and it's made me realize how dependent I actually have been on them over my lifetime. Maybe I wasn't one of those Freshmen who had to call home every night and visit every weekend, but I did enjoy going out to eat with my sister at the spur of a moment or taking my little brother out for the day or dropping in on my mother for little to no reason.
The internet is iffy at best in my area. The modem that I bought for my house has basic internet, but not nearly Skype quality. So I beg for the key to the computer lab and walk to the school at midnight. The internet is slow; it's choppy and the room is cold, but I get to see some familial faces as long as I'm willing to stay up and no one at home has to work.
A 12-hour time difference is easy to calculate but hard to navigate. While I'm awake and at home, my family is usually sleeping or working. While they're awake and and at home, I'm usually sleeping or working. Early mornings, late nights, and weekends are the workable hours. Phone calls are expensive, but phone cards and the internet mitigate the costs a bit.
And, of course, there are letters. Snails are far faster than the Mongolian Postal Service. Okay, so that's cruel. Letters from America usually take about a month and packages slightly longer than that; I've never a met a snail that could cross an ocean and a continent that quickly. The time delay of letters make them an imperfect form of communication though. I love, love, love, love getting letters from home. They cheer me up on the cloudiest, stormiest, most frustrating days, but they aren't a solid two way form of connection. They are journal entries shared via post. I get to hear about people's daily lives and their inner thoughts and it's great. But by the time my responses arrive in America, the events are 2 months our of date and the writer probably doesn't even remember what was said.
So Mongolia has brought me a greater appreciation for a lot of things in America: Vegetarian restaurants, running water, central heat, stable power grid, highways, and the USPS. But above all that, I've learned to appreciate the relationships that I used to take for granted.

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