Friday, June 29, 2012

I'm Leaving?

June is drawing to a close. As July begins, I've come to notice that the number of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers has dropped dramatically. The M21 group, my group, is clearing out and making way for the new batch of volunteers (M23).

The first M21s to return to North America left over a month ago. They've already begun finding jobs, buying cars, renting apartments and taking college classes. They're so completely separated from what they were just a month ago. Most of the English teaching volunteers left Mongolia in mid-June. A lot of them went straight home, but others are traveling the globe in search of beaches and forests. It's really a very short time before I join them. I officially finish my service on July 31st and should land in Egypt just hours after I sign the last piece of paperwork. But despite all that, it still hasn't really sunk in that I'm moving, that I'm leaving this country to settle into a brand new place for the foreseeable future.

I've turned in my paper work, found my plane ticket out of Mongolia and my plane ticket back to the States, I've applied to grad school and signed my assistantship contract, so why doesn't it feel real yet? Why does it feel like everyone is just on vacation and that I'll see them all in UB again soon?

I guess maybe I'm one of those strange people that can't imagine the future until it arrives. I can't anticipate being gone until my last bag is packed and I'm standing at the airport waving good bye to my home for these last two years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Land Travel

One of the first things you learn upon arriving in Mongolia is that travel is a pain. You leave the airport and take a bus, taxi, van, whatever out onto the “streets” of Mongolia and learn that travel here sucks. The vehicles are old and rickety, the paved roads are unmaintained and the unpaved roads are…way more common than the paved ones, and the distances are far, very far. Despite all these things, people have to travel and so there are routes to get around.

Some are rather blasé, a simple straight shot down a paved road or an overnight train ride. But others are more epic and provide plenty of food for the imagination. When I first arrived in Mongolia, the most inspiring and interesting and, to me at least, attractive trip was the trip to Bayan-Olgii. Bayan-Olgii was an inspiring destination in itself. It’s where Kazakhstan meets Mongolia; it’s where shamans still perform rituals; it’s where men hunt on horses with eagles; it’s got mountains, mosques, and lakes. When I arrived in Mongolia, I’d never heard of Bayan-Olgii; I didn’t know that Mongolia had different ethnicities or that some percentage of the population speaks Mongolian as a second language and Kazakh as the first. Once I’d heard all this though, I wanted to live there. Failing that, I wanted to visit.

There are two ways to travel in Mongolia, by land or by air. Air travel is expensive and boring, so when I was planning my trip this summer, land was the clear choice. Did you ever know someone who climbed mountains just to see the view or someone who ate a chocolate covered ant just to know what it tasted like? Well, I took the bus from Olgii (the capital of Bayan-Olgii province) to Ulaanbaatar just because I wanted to know what it was like. It was long and mostly boring, but with some beautiful sights along the way that I couldn’t have seen from a plane. I met some interesting people and got to learn a little Kazakh from my bus mates. The route went from Olgii, through Khovd, Govi-Altai, Bayan-Hongor, and Uverhangai, to UB. The entire trip was bumpy and tiring, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, just very boring. Next time I take a deck of cards.