Monday, September 29, 2008

The Time That I Went To Mongolia

Well, I promised I'd tell you about the Times That.
So here's a bit about

THE TIME I WENT TO MONGOLIA (insert Space Odyssey music, of course)

Well, I should mention I'd never flown before.

So by the time I took a bumpy puddle-jumper ride from Ft. Wayne to Chicago, my tummy was, well, a little upset. Which it tends to in travel anyway, because, as my mother puts it, I'm high strung. Which means that when I was little, every time we'd get ready to visit the grandparents in the state away, I'd puke the night before out of sheer excitement.

It was a rite of passage, the first time I managed not to puke upon packing for the trip to Michigan.

But anyway, by the time my group boarded the largest plane EVER in Chicago, destined for Beijing, well, I was pretty excited. And nauseous. Have I mentioned that?

Here's the thing. Once you get on a major international flight, you can't get off. That basically was the only problem.

Because I didn't know it then, but I was about ready to get airsick.

Let me mention again - nonstop Chicago to Beijing. Which means hours - and hours - and hours - in a small space with a baby in the row in front of me screaming WAY-JA WAY-JA WAY-JA for hours. And hours. While being the sickest I've ever been. Ever. What that means is, sympathetic girls from my group surrounding me while I threw up into an air sickness bag while the five year old several rows back was doing fine.

SO humiliating. The flight attendant kept stopping by anxiously to make sure I was okay. Apparantly I was looking pale. HA! My brother frequently makes remarks about my complexion, usually like this: "wow, you make that slug over there look tan." So when I look pale, well...

But we finally arrived in Beijing, and of course it was only after I used the airsickness bag that the Dramamine I'd taken finally set in. So from Beijing to Ulaan-Baatar, that world famous okay I'll explain it: Ulaan Baatar is the capital city of Mongolia. In fact, really, it's the only city in Mongolia.

Oh. Right. And Mongolia is here:

It is cosily tucked between China and Russia.

Memories from Mongolia? Burning a fire in a stove with dried dung. Repainting a fence with the only paint available: lead. Washing my hair in a frigid Mongolian river. Watching a Batman movie dubbed into Mongolian on a tv in a ger (yert) on the outskirts of the city. Buying a wool rug from the open air market for less than $60. Meeting abandoned children who'd been left on trains or doorsteps. Seeing a martial arts demonstration by the Ulaan Baatar police force. Climbing a mountain and finding piles of rocks strewn with blue fabric on the top (blue is a lucky color and is often attached to offerings to the divine - ie, the rock piles. I think they were like prayer piles of rocks.) Finally getting our picture taken with a real, live Mongolian camel - which, by the way, are much much shaggier and hairy than the camels in the Middle East. Oh, and almost getting stranded in Mongolia because China demanded we have travel visas for our three hour layover in the airport, at the last minute. Oh, and mutton. Lots. And lots. Of mutton. Or, to quote "The Hobbit," "mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey if it won't be mutton tomorrow." Oh, and playing sheep knuckles. Yep. It's a game you play. With sheep knuckles.

I know what you're thinking. But yes, sheep have knuckles.

Random trivia about Mongolia? Well, the world's tallest man lives in Mongolia with his wife, who's about two feet shorter than he is. And Mongolia used to be Communist, but isn't anymore since the fall of Communism in Russia. And many Mongolians' claim to fame is still Ghengis Khan. And make no mistake about it, they are fiercely proud.

So yes, I've slept in a Mongolian ger, and used an outhouse with no door, and yes, I've eaten an unidentifiable meat that I think was beef heart but I'll never know - which is probably for the best. And yes, I've had jet lag that plagued me for three weeks and experienced reverse culture shock, which is why, after emptying my room a third time for Goodwill, mom finally asked, "how much are you getting rid of, anyway?" And yes, I've seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dubbed into Mongolian, and yes, I was surprised when I could read some of the Mongolian signs, and then realized that my Greek studies were paying unexpected dividends.

And yes, sometimes, I miss being away from home.


Bob said...

ahh...those halcyon days...those salad days of travel. The stories are flooding into my conscience from very dusty old files: the woman B. and I followed in Italy, watching her buy groceries from an open air market, with the still furry bunnies hanging from ropes, their heads hanging in eternal sleep; the trek up the Eiffel tower in January, but only so high because the ice had closed the upper levels; the confrontation at the Moulin Rouge in Paris with the female manager and her coatcheck man; the folded-over pizza in Venice while watching an old black and white American TV show dubbed in Italian; the man peeing on the side of the road just outside the Amsterdam airport and the other men standing in chest high stalls on the street corner in downtown Milan, peeing and ignoring the American tourists in the big bus next to them....ahh....the memories, and those are just from the trip to Europe in the early 70's.

Jo said...

Hi Elizabeth, I've been following your blog from time to time. I think this is my first comment. I am just curious, did you partner with World Hope while in Ulaan Baatar? What enticed you to Mongolia? I have supported missionaries working in orphan ministry there in the past....

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

Good questions...I went to Mongolia with a team from my college, IWU. We worked with some Wesleyan pastors, a Wesleyan missionary, and a group founded out of Texas that works with orphans in Darhan, their name escapes me at the moment.
Honestly, I'd been wanting to go on a trip, but not really someplace like the Dominican Republic that's close, and that everyone and their brother has been to. When I found out one of the teams was going to Mongolia, something in my peabrain clicked and I thought "ah! Mongolia. That's the ticket." I tend to do "Firsts" in a big way. First time out of North America? Mongolia! I am very glad I chose a place that isn't a "hot spot" of activity, but an out of the way place that really needs service, aid, and support. It's a fascinating place with a mesmerizing history.

Jo said...

Ah! Well, props for doing something so uncommon. I used to try to do that, too: "Firsts in a big way."

I think you probably were working with the missionaries I supported. I don't think there were more than one set of Wesleyan Missionaries to Mongolia back then.