My Mongolian sister is in America!

Back in October I got a message (in Mongolian): What’s the distance between Boston and Chicago? I had known that my host mom had a younger sister in Chicago. Or, at least, I thought I knew that… funny thing about cross-cultural interactions, you think language is the only barrier… that just translating the words will make everything clear. Come to find out, that “younger sister” is an only child! Near as I can figure, Mongolians use the same word for “generic younger family member” as they do for “younger sibling.” Maybe she is a niece or a cousin of my host mom. And, my sister calls her what I thought was “older sister” but maybe it is more like “generic older female family member.” Someday I’ll figure it out.

Back to that text. By the end of my time in Mongolia, I had heard so many people with plans to travel abroad only to have something fall through. So, when I read that my sister had an interview to get her Visa to America, I thought the chances were 50/50 that she’d actually get here. I was cautiously optimistic. I didn’t allow myself to get too excited, but I did promise that if she came to Chicago, I would visit her there (using the future conditional tense in Mongolian for the first time ever!).

In December, I heard from her again. She was coming to Chicago in January. Not knowing the details, I asked how long she would be here, like “how many days will you be in Chicago?” The answer, 2 YEARS! Unbeknownst to me, she was coming here to study English. And I’m immediately thinking that I need to see her as soon as possible. And, then, as often as possible.

Not having seen her in the year before leaving Mongolia, I needed that connection for me. I’ve been missing Mongolia pretty regularly since resettling into life in America… I miss that relaxed pace of life, the friends dropping by unannounced, the semi-legit reason for not hearing from people, and the disconnect from so much pop-culture nonsense. I needed to reaffirm that what mattered so much to me when it was happening wasn’t inflated as time has passed. Also, I was eager to have the chance to speak Mongolian with someone who I knew would be patient and helpful. During these last 20 months out of Mongolia, I have continued to study my Mongolian vocabulary and phrases almost daily, so this visit would be yet another benchmark in my language learning.

A very large part of the reason for me making a visit my priority was to show her that I’m here for her, now that I know firsthand the value of “comforts from home” when you are away from it. Though I am American, our connection is Mongolia. So, though I may not be the obvious friendly face from home, who better than me to put her at ease as she adjusts to life in a foreign land. To my mind, I was the Host Country National and it was my turn to welcome her to America. I didn’t put it into such “Peace Corps speak” at the time, but that was the sentiment I felt. I also wanted to encourage her in her study of English not just for the opportunities it can bring, but also so that our conversations aren’t limited by my Mongolian language ability.

Until that happens though, with all our communication in Mongolian, and me not knowing which questions to ask, there were a few glitches. The family members that she is staying with didn’t know I was coming! But, they still welcomed me in and invited me to stay for the 2 nights. And my long-weekend visit that made so much sense with my 9-5 work schedule was foiled by her Saturday and Sunday class schedule. Still, we made it work. And when she slipped her arm in mine and we began walking in step with one another, I got what I needed.

Sears Tower at sunset.

No pictures of the three Mongolian meals (made with beef, not mutton) but you’ll just have to take my word, it was all so good.

Brunch with one of my first Peace Corps/Mongolia friends, Vinh, who I remembered at the last moment lives in Chicago and made time to meet us.

5 Responses to Stateside

  1. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    Love the update & so proud you’re keeping up w/the language! Really excited for you that you got see your “sister” & friend (Vinh?). Hope she’s able to visit you in Boston while she’s in the States. Thx again for the post!

  2. susanne woyciechowicz says:

    I think it’s great that you are following through on your language acquisition and suppose it means that you intend to return at some point to work in or visit Mongolia. I followed your blog before I got my chance this fall to go to the western part only. We came through Siberia and the Altai mountains to the Eagle hunting festival, but saw so much as we went off road for two weeks. It was as great as I had hoped and I am so glad I go the chance to see some of the landscape and culture. I also hope to return and maybe explore the more central region.

    Do you know if there might be any short term volunteer projects for the likes of me? 70 years old , living in Israel… good health but not 30 any more……

    all my best, susanne

  3. Darlene Grant says:

    Dear Love, what a wonderful entry! That you continue to embrace your Peace Corps country of service in such a warm, loving, and patient way is a real testiment to your strength of character and the continuing value of Peace Corps Volunteer service to the soul, and the world! I am very proud to know and to have served with you! Great photos! Shout out to Vinh too! Good luck to your host sister in her studies!

  4. Ally says:

    This is so totally awesome!! I love relationship! Connection!!! I’m sure to see your face was as awesome for her–being in a new place!! Praying for you–that God will lead you in the coming months, years–and that you will know when it’s time to take another step on a new path!! Love you so much cousin! So very proud of you!!!

  5. Kathy P. Willis says:

    Yikes! Finally just read this post – so sorry, I must have been busy when I rec’d it & filed it away!

    Pictures are fab – so happy you were able to have that visit with your sis & reconnect with your friend. Forever & always proud to call you my niece. Much love, Auntie ❤

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