Sunday, July 29, 2012

Preparations

Hello again people who happened upon this page,

It's something like...36 hours(as I write this) until I leave Mongolia (my math could be wrong). So I'm finalizing my preparations for Egypt and Turkey. I've got a few more signatures to collect on my paperwork and a few more souvenirs to purchase, but the bag (notice the lack of plural there?) is packed, the plane tickets are purchased and accommodations have been found.

Since I'll be traveling in largely Islamic countries during the holy month of Ramadan, I've decided I should observe some of the rituals to be respectful, so I'm going to begin fasting tomorrow at sunrise. I know I missed the start date, but better late than never applies to everything, right? I've also found a decent headscarf, but I feel silly wearing it. We'll see if that's really expected or considered important. I'll try to keep the blog updated as I make my way up through Europe, but no promises.

Now... I had said I would write something about Mongolian travel, so here we are.

I'm sure everyone has had experiences when traveling that were frustrating. Tires pop, flights get delayed and sometimes friends bail on plans. Sure it might make you want to tear your hair out, and sure maybe your entire trip has to be scrapped, but these instances of unpreventable trip disaster are the exception rather than the rule.

In Mongolia the opposite is true. It is exceptional when a car ride doesn't result in some kind of breakdown. It is remarkable when scheduled buses leave on time. It is almost unheard of that all passengers arrive on time. Sounds unbearable, doesn't it?

Thing is, that it is bearable (for me anyway). These things, these travel catastrophes, are out of my control. They are an inevitable part of travel in a country with no roads and few off-road vehicles. And since they are inevitable, I just have to give myself up to the fates and accept what happens. I I have adopted a new travel philosophy here that makes travel almost a zen experience. There is no point in getting upset, getting impatient, getting frustrated, or feeling despair. None of those things will alter your ETA in the least. The only thing that they will do is make my trip less enjoyable.

As a supplement to this Hakuna Matata travel mode, I also simply decided to trust in the driver. You do this when you get into an airplane as well. You surrender control and simply expect that the pilot knows how to fly a plane better than you. You cannot judge his methods because you yourself are not a pilot. With cars it is different. If you can drive, then you judge the driver. Why did you take Main St? Peachtree has fewer speed bumps. The speed limit is 75 and you're only going 60 (or you're going 85). You typically cannot refrain from offering advice or comparing the driver's way of driving to your own. I've stopped doing that here. I trust my driver to get from point A to point B through a network of roads that don't really exist except on the map. The reason I trust my driver is the same reason you trust your pilot. He has the skills and experience that I do not have and never have had. The Mongolian countryside is at least as confusing and strange as the world above the clouds, so if the driver choose to drive on the grass rather than the paved road, I trust that he has a reason.

I enjoy traveling in Mongolia. When I travel, I give up control of my life for a dozen or so hours. I trust in the universe and in my driver to deliver me to my destination unharmed. And so far at least, they always have.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Readjustment Worries



This will be yet another installment of Lauren's self-analysis series as she prepares to leave Mongolia. So if this sounds boring, as it should to any normal human being, feel free to skip and wait for the next installment, which will probably be a detailed description of why travel in Mongolia is simply terrible. For now...an internal monologue.

It's 9 days until my flight to Egypt. Between now and then, I have no remaining Peace Corps duties. I had thought that once my final project was complete that I'd finally start recognizing how soon my departure was, but the realization still eludes me. America still feels just as far as, or farther, it did when I arrived two years ago. Usually, I find it impossible to reconcile the calendar and my reckoning of time. I can't wrap my brain around the fact that soon, very soon, I'll have an indoor toilet, soft toilet paper, high-speed internet, cars, and constant, ever-present English. I don't know how I'll handle it.
I don't know how many of the people that read this blog have lived abroad. From the stats, which I do enjoy checking, I know lots of you find the blog through PC Journals. So you've at least though about it, or served yourself. Do you understand why it frightens me when I realize that I'll soon trade my outhouse for a porcelain pot? Do you understand how high-speed internet and washing machines can be more frightening than coming here was in the first place? As silly as it might sound, I think I'm afraid that when I go back to America and all it's finery, I'll forget everything that happened here. I'll become the same person I was when I left and it will be as if the last two years never happened. I'll fall back into my old patterns, see the same people, go to the same places, eat the same food. And if that happens...what was the point? If I go on as I did before, and the people here go on as they did before, then why did I leave at all?
And what if I don't fall right back into place. What if America, which also went on as it always has, has gone too far and I cannot catch up? Justin Beiber, Ipads, and an election, that's too much already. But my family has also continued on without me, I have to catch up with them as well. At least 3 new babies, a marriage or two, children that used to be babies, new jobs, new apartments, holidays and family reunions, I honestly don't think I know anyone anymore.
Simply put, I can and do worry about almost anything. But you my lucky blog followers, are just about the only people who get to read about my internal insanity. People have moved, adjusted, removed and readjusted for centuries, and I can only imagine they will continue to do so for the next few centuries. So I'll manage fine in the end. Look forward to a less whiny post next time around!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Activities

So you're a TEFL Peace Corps volunteer and work at a secondary school. School starts on Sep 1 and ends on Jun 1, so that obviously means you have all of June, July and August to drink and be merry, right?

Not so! Just like all the other sectors of Peace Corps, TEFL volunteers are supposed to be on-duty 24/7 for the time they're in country. Since school is out and your main job is null, you are expected to find secondary projects to fill that time. Really this just means that you are now on an even keel with the other volunteers (at least in Mongolia) and are forced to make up your own job for a little while.

The way I solved this problem last year was to sign up for a summer camp. Mongolia has tons of English camps, sports camps, and I'm sure other types as well. I signed up for one camp and followed it through the whole summer. This had the advantage of not requiring me to spend money or time on finding food, lodging or travel the whole summer long. It had the distinct disadvantage of keeping me in one place the whole summer long.

This summer I took a different approach. So far, I've done a camp in the far west, worked at an orphanage in the big city and taken a short vacation to the far north, and I'm not finished yet. Tomorrow (or whenever I get a bus ticket) I'm headed out east for a seminar on Women's Empowerment. By using this method, I'm spending way over a week with my butt in a bus seat; I'm spending just over 200,000 Tugs on tickets (though I'm crashing with other volunteers so no lodging fees); and, I'm seeing the entirety of my country virtually guilt free and without using my precious-few vacation days.

If you're a really enterprising volunteer, you can find plenty of opportunities during the summer that will fulfill your Peace Corps requirement not to be a lazy bum, while still having a great time. Find all the camps, seminars, conferences and schools that might want a volunteer and do some comparison shopping. Maybe one is near a beautiful lake that you've been dying to see; maybe one will put all volunteers up in a nice hotel for the duration; maybe one just has a slue of awesome interesting activities and great participants. Working during the summer, at least to me, is a lot more rewarding than sitting around anyway. Also for some volunteers, summer secondary projects are their most lasting and effective work in-country.

Now, off to do COS paper work!