February 16, 2015

Hey, remember when I was in Mongolia for two years? Yeah, me neither.

When I first arrived home, on August 5, Mongolia was at the forefront of my mind. Everything I was experiencing was through the filter of having spent the previous 2 years in Mongolia. Literally everything had a “this one time, in Mongolia…” story, which I didn’t always share, but couldn’t help but think of. I remember constantly having to refocus on the here-and-now, bringing my thoughts from Mongolia to Boston. Until, at some point, maybe about two months in, I realized that it wasn’t effortless and automatic anymore but required a conscious decision on my part to recall an experience or translate a word. Bringing my thoughts from Boston to Mongolia. Thinking about it now makes me sad because I expected to hold onto Mongolia, well, forever. I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m not prepared for this. I’m more grateful than ever to have written this blog.

So, missing Mongolia definitely tops the list of my observations of readjusting to life in America. It is the thing I care the most about and what I would “warn” other PCVs of as they journey toward becoming RPCVs. But, since there are some other observations on that list, I thought you might be interested in reading about them.

If I thought about it, I would have thought that returning to America, where business is conducted in my mother tongue, could only be easy. Which is probably why I didn’t think to think about it. And then I went to reactivate my old (non-smart) phone and get a new phone number. Remember that story I told about not understanding the Starbucks barista in Scotland? Well, it was like that, except that it was in Boston. On three distinct occasions (getting phone service, joining a gym, setting up a bank account), I found myself pretty slow on uptake, having to ask the customer service representative to repeat, simplify, clarify, slow down, start over… It was so strange feeling like a fish out of water in my hometown. Why do people talk so fast? What’s the hurry?

Sense of time
What’s the hurry, indeed. Remember how I said that making plans in Mongolia was kind of difficult because quite often people didn’t show up or else expected you to drop everything and go NOW? Or how, because the roads were so bad, it took literally twice as long (minimum) to drive the same distance there as here? I don’t know that I can attribute this next part to those classic Mongolia experiences but it may give a frame of reference… For nearly 4 months, I was commuting to my job from where I was living with my brother’s family. Using public transportation, it was about 2 hours each way. And I know that should have bothered me a LOT more than it did. I know that because when I mentioned to people how long my commute was, I could read the pain they felt for me in their expressions. And of course they said how much that much suck. Ultimately, it wasn’t the length of the commute that was starting to get to me, but the crowded trains and those things I’d forgo to make sure I caught the next bus.

Traveling unphased
This is along the same lines as the “sense of time” above, but it is worth it’s own entry because, by it’s very nature, traveling is time sensitive. During last summer’s Europe trip with my two RPCV friends, there were 3 travel mishaps that could have been our undoing. 1) Upon learning that we missed our train stop in Venice and would have to get off, wait for the next train, pay another fare, arriving two hours later than scheduled… we just kind of shrugged it off. 2) Arriving at the Munich train station… with bus tickets. “Huh, would you look at that.” 3) Trying to leave Berlin from the same bus station we arrived at, instead of where the buses departed from across town. Missed bus. New tickets. Delayed arrival in Hamburg and our only reaction, “Let’s get dinner while we wait.” I can’t say, definitively, whether it was the PC experience that made us this way, or if, perhaps, PC is likely to recruit folks who are already super flexible. Feel free to weigh in if you would have reacted the same way, which is to say if you would have had no reaction at all.

The clenched fist
The few times I have truly experienced stress have made me super grateful that I am typically a very relaxed person. Like, physically relaxed. I think of it as my most “Pisces” trait, that go-with-the-flow, carefree persona. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself, on one of what turned out to be many occasions since coming home, with a clenched fist. I first noticed it at the dinner table. I looked down and saw my left hand, in a fist, resting on the table. At first, it was just, “that’s weird,” unclench fist. But after a handful of times, I started to get worried about it. That I wasn’t being as honest with myself about how I was “readjusting” to being back. That my body knew better than I did and, on some level, it wasn’t happy. I still notice it, but not nearly as often. Or, maybe I’m so conscious of the possibility now that I’m constantly relaxing my left hand, preemptively unclenching. I’ll keep an eye on that.

Impervious to the (freezing) cold
While I was experiencing Mongolia’s winters, and later, as Boston’s winter was getting underway, several people pondered whether my acclimating to the Mongolian winter would make me impervious to cold. So, here is an interesting observation: apparently, there is a weather-window where my physical response doesn’t really correlate to the temperature. I have recently figured it to be anywhere between 40-60 degrees; get me outside then and I’m a shivering, quivering mess. But, take it colder, like today’s 11, and I’m actually using friendly words like “brisk” to describe it. This is the view outside my window yesterday. I went for a walk.


In closing, it’s nearly 8 months since Mongolia. I’m still studying my vocabulary every day! But I called my Mongolian Mom for New Year’s Eve and it was a struggle for me. I left Mongolia thinking I’d be back in 3-5 years… now, I’m thinking 2-3. Which I just realized, is now 1-2! Wow, that makes me happy!