goodbye Orkhon

I’d given my host mom about 2 weeks notice that I was coming. Due to Peace Corps policy about the earliest we are allowed to leave site for COS, I could leave Altai on Thursday morning, and my flight out of Mongolia was the following Wednesday morning. We had a lengthy checklist of things to do to leave Peace Corps (which I’ll write about next) so I had to get stuff done that Thursday and couldn’t leave to my host family’s until Friday around noon. I was hoping I’d have had a day or two longer, but I was also glad I was able to go at all.

The easiest way to get to Orkhon is to take the Erdenet bus from the Dragon Center bus station in UB. So, it’s worth mentioning that Mongolians call it “Dargon” not Dragon. Then, you have to tell the driver that you want to get off at the gas station on the road to Orkhon Soum, and not go all the way to Erdenet. It’s a beautiful 4 hour drive to Orkhon, with plenty of rolling green hills, horses, cows, sheep, and goats along the way.

My host mom arranged for a driver, Will’s host dad from PST, to pick me up. There were 3 others and he dropped them off first; since he is our neighbor it made sense to drop me off last. Riding into Orkhon for the first time in ten months, the first thing I noticed were the streetlights! You couldn’t NOT notice them, towering above everything on the one main street. Development even in this little town of a couple thousand. They didn’t reach as far as my family’s neighborhood, though.

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I arrived around 4:30. It was raining. Mom was at work. My younger host brother immediately began cooking food for me. I’d tell you his name, but when I met him for the first time, his name was too hard for me to pronounce so mom just said to call him “Baga” which I thought was a nickname, but it turns out it just means he is the youngest of the family. Anyway, he made a rice stir fry and didn’t accept my offer to help. While he was chopping and stirring, we chatted. It was so different from those first few weeks. I remember he took me for a walk my first weekend and he tried to teach me to count to five. I could get 1 and 5, which are each one syllable, but 2, 3, and 4 were all slurred together; I just couldn’t hear where one stopped and the next started.

Another story from that first weekend: Baga was asking me for the English names of the foods we were eating. I answered, potato, cabbage, or carrot and he repeated. Then, he held up something I didn’t recognize, because it was sliced and cooked. It was yellow, darker than a potato, but lighter than a carrot. I said that I didn’t know, and sure enough, he repeated, very carefully, “I don’t know” as if that was the name for turnip! In our first two “survival Mongolian” lessons, we’d learned important words like toilet (for the outhouse), toilet paper, meat, fat… we’d also learned the phrases, “What is this?”, “I like…” and “I don’t like…” But, we hadn’t yet learned how to say “I don’t know” in Mongolian. Lost in translation.

When my mom arrived, one of the things she noticed was that I had the same sandals from two summers before, when I lived with them. She said they must be very sturdy. But, I reminded her that I don’t wear them for the 8 months of winter, and I was also able to say that Govi-Altai was very dusty so that I didn’t wear them too much there in the summer, either. I was able to tell her about my summer travel plans and that I wouldn’t have a job after the following Wednesday and that when I returned home I’d be living with my brother’s family while I figured out where to live and work permanently. Then, I heard her repeating all these things when she was talking to my sister or dad or a friend on the phone, so I knew she understood me, and it was great to realize that I understood her.

She saw that I had brought my pillow, my beloved pillow from home, and said that it was nice. I told her I was leaving it with them as a gift, but that I needed to wash it, which I did on Saturday. (I think I wrote that Mongolian pillows aren’t much of a pillow at all…) I also gifted them my Peace Corps-issued sleeping bag; it’s much more appropriate for a Mongolian winter than anywhere I’ll end up. I gave my dad my Swiss army knife, Baga got my Red Sox hat, and my older younger brother, Erka, got my headlamp with fresh batteries. I also had a PST photo album printed when I got back to UB that I had sent back to them.

My visit included enough downtime, enough alone time, to wander the town and say goodbye. I also visited with the M23 PCV who lives there, and met 3 of the PCTs training there. Sunday late morning, my family sent me off with wishes to get married and have a baby when I get home. If either happens, I’ve no doubt that my Mongolian friends and family will be more excited than my American friends and family 🙂 It was a good goodbye. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as the first time, when I was leaving for the unknown.

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Peace Corps cautioned us not to make promises about returning to Mongolia, but I’m so certain I will return, it didn’t seem like a promise, just a telling of my future plans. In three-to-five years, I’ll be back. I never did visit my host family for Tsagaan Sar, and when I realized it could coincide with a trip to the Harbin, China, ice-sculpture festival, the other trip I’d wanted to take from here, well, it seemed like a no-brainer. So, if anyone wants a tour guide to Mongolia, IN WINTER, you know where to find me.

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5 Responses to goodbye Orkhon

  1. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    I thought I just posted a reply so if 2 show up for me, sorry about that. Love, how about playing tour guide in SUMMER some year for the Naadam festival? Your offer though is tempting. Glad you got to say some goodbyes and I love the “get married and have a baby” comment! 🙂

  2. Ally says:

    My favorite was the part about Baga! So neat that you had that plumb line of where you began to see how far you have come! I also agree with Priscilla…the “get married and have a baby” comment is priceless!

  3. Kathy P. Willis says:

    I’m so glad your goodbyes were good ones & you got that precious chance to be with family again. Wow, Love, you surely have come a long way & I can’t imagine you not going back one day & picking up where you left off – but only for a visit, not to stay again! 🙂

    I totally believe that your American family would be super excited to see you married with a baby (or two!). I, for one, look forward to that!

    Stay safe in your travels, little one. We all look forward to seeing you again real soon.

    Love, Auntie ❤

  4. susanne woyciechowicz says:

    Well, you don’t know me, but I read all your blog posts…starting because I have always wanted to visit Mongolia and am too chicken to do it alone and haven’t seen a travel groups plans that sound good. Now, mind you, winter is not when I thought about going. There is a trip this winter from israel (where I live) to the western area to watch the eagle hunters….but it involves horseback riding and is short and I decided I am too old for that. I am fairly fit but will be 70 next year. Do you think you might be interested in traveling back with an “older” women? I am interested in traveling with you for a guide. If there is a chance, my e-mail is susieraywojo@gmail.com. My best wishes for your return to a different world with an easy reentry in a difficult process.
    all my best, Susanne

  5. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    @Susanne, I love your spirit! I’m one of Love’s many cousins and I’m turning a milestone myself this year (I’ll be 50 in November) and like you, there are some things I’ve wanted to do, places I’ve wanted to visit, etc, and the older I get the more I realize some of those things won’t happen unless I make them happen, so I applaud you for reaching out to Love and hope your wish of visiting Mongolia comes true for you. BTW, I really like your last sentence, it’s a fairly short sentence but it says so much, it’s very nicely worded 🙂

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