Clean laundry has been a hard thing to come by lately, mostly because of my own reticence to bother hand-washing an enormous load of pants (the hardest to hand-wash), shirts, and sweaters (a close second), especially now that we’re getting on towards summer. I’ve really only felt responsible to my underwear and socks.
Part of it is just myself hoping to revel in every last moment I have in Mongolia—hand-washing laundry was a part of that reveling at first, but now it’s mostly just a chore. I’m quoting a friend, but I will miss everything about my life here. I know that sounds strange to those of you that have endured my whinging at one moment or another—about transportation, or too many buuz, or uncommitted co-workers—but I’ll miss all of it, because all of it meant I was in Mongolia and that has been everything to me for two years of my middle-twenties.
School is in its springtime “limping” phase. Classes are still happening, but everybody has their mind on the fatted calf, quite literally—the birthing season was late this year, but it was a good one. We’re all looking forward to the return of summer, warmer weather, but instead of a return I’m looking at departure. I’ve fielded a repetitive script of questions this spring, mostly asking about whether I’ll be here next year. It’d be dishonest if I didn’t mention that I was a little happy when people expressed dissatisfaction at my plan to leave and return home. Everyone wants to be wanted, I guess.
I talked about legacy a mere twenty-some months ago, but to even begin to decide what that might be is probably myopic. I’ll save those sorts of heavy assessment for my official documents to be submitted to the US Government before I leave—no really, there are a lot, and I’m always at a loss as to what should be included. What was work? What was just me finding the things here that I needed to continue for twenty-four months? I guess I don’t have a good answer to that yet.
I’ve had some visitors in the last few months, which makes me feel like my investment in Mongolia (not monetary, but physical, psychological, and emotional), will most certainly pay off. The world is again starting to take notice of its biggest empire, born from the steppe. A PhD candidate and a journalist have found their way to Tsogttsetsii in the last six weeks, and it’s been fun to feel like an expert in a place where I often still feel lost. Spending the rest of my life here probably wouldn’t teach me enough to know it completely—not least because it seems to change a little bit every day thanks to the radical transformation Mongolia is experiencing.
My most recent visitor is working on an article about how Mongolia is changing as a result of the mining industry here, and my town is sort of the epicenter of that seismic shift in Mongolia’s zeitgeist. I won’t give away too much here, because the article will probably be out in the near future, but I’ll certainly link it when it comes out. We went out to meet some herders that have been directly affected by the advent of the mining industry in the Gobi—suffice it to say, we met some big personalities. Chief among them was Tserenbazar: A leathery and bearded man of 60 who said that he’d been forced off his land by the road south to China that cuts directly through his pastures. Thousands of tons of coal are tearing down the road here every day, and kicking up great plumes of desert dust in the process. He said that dust is always in the air, blanketing the grasses for 20 km on either side of the road. In the last twelve months, they’ve been unable to enjoy the innards of the sheep and goats they butcher for their families (a popular treat here), because the stomach and intestines are a muddy black color and filled with grit. I just hope the millions don’t forget the hundreds that have called this place home since before they can remember; an old story I suppose, happening now, and it’ll certainly happen again.
It feels like such an uncertain time to leave Mongolia. I’ll depart the country for good in June, and if I’m ever so lucky as to come back, I won’t be returning to the place I remember. The America I left has changed too, undoubtedly, but the trees, the grass, the buildings, the people I remember are mostly where I left them. In the Gobi at least, the nomads have already started wandering farther than before, because they have no other choice, and most of what I have come to know in the last two years may become unrecognizable.