Getting to Site
My travel to site was much less stressful than I had expected. I was dreading dragging all of my gear from yet one more temporary location, though of course in the back of my mind was the fact that my suitcases can be pretty safely unpacked here in the Gobi—that was a relief.
Our flight left from UB (Chingiss Khaan International Airport) at 6:10AM on Saturday. The brutal hour meant that I had to be up and ready to leave our dormitory at 4AM. It felt strange to be leaving all of these friends with whom I have so much in common after 2 months of training. Having gone through this radical adjustment together has made us life-long friends to be certain, and to leave them now was similarly difficult to some of those goodbyes we said in the states. I think we’ll all stay close.
It was odd to be getting on another plane and know that when it landed I’d still be in Mongolia. The flight to Dalanzadgad went smoothly enough, though those prop planes make me pretty damn nervous. Our flight was really only the 3 volunteers that are headed to the South-Gobi province, our school supervisors, and a large Italian tour group. My first glimpse of the desert out the airplane window granted me a view of everything I’d come to expect of the Gobi, but somehow it was a little more. The emptiness really has to be seen to be believed: nothing in every direction for what must be 100 miles, and maybe on the far, far horizon, you’ll glimpse the beginning of the grasslands and mountains to the north, or the sand dunes to the south. This is an environment that will take everything and give nothing back.
I had a few hours of waiting for our car to arrive in Dalanzadgad, which gave me a chance to tour the aimag center. It’s a nice enough town, but I was pretty anxious to get to site. There are certainly some luxuries there though: a shiny new supermarket, and even a place to buy Tabasco Sauce! I was pretty relieved to have a little hot sauce in my back pocket as I left for my site.
The ride across the desert was magnificent and perfectly timed—the sun was setting. In the evening, it’s as if the rocks and sand have spent the day soaking up the color of the sun, and before it sets, the desert is in a hurry to give all of that color back; the most magnificent orange, red, and amber you’ve ever seen fade in and out on the western horizon, while the east deepens from purple, to midnight blue, to black. By the time the sun is down, the show’s not even close to over because the desert stars are truly something to behold. We thought we were lucky at our training site, but being out here, hundreds of miles from any meaningfully-sized city, makes this night sky absolutely one of a kind. In fact, I’m looking at them now through the open hole in the top of my ger.
That’s right, I live in a ger. For those of you unfamiliar with ways of life on the Mongolian steppe, the ger is the traditional dwelling of Central Asian nomads, with variations on it being lived in throughout the region. To be honest, I’d really hoped I’d be placed in one. A part of me would feel cheated if I’d lived in nothing but houses or apartments during my time here. Surviving the winter in one of these will be a story I’ll always carry with me and probably one my future children will groan at when I head down the road to telling it.
The first few days at site have been comfortable and restful. People here are extremely welcoming and friendly. I spent the first day at school pulling weeds around the school (Mother, you’d be so proud. They were all very impressed with weed-pulling prowess). Internet is hard to come by at the moment, but I’ll do my best to keep the updates coming. I’m planning on investing in Mobicom’s internet that links through the mobile phone line. The faster option, G-Mobile, isn’t available here but I’d still like the luxury of being able to answer e-mail and possibly skype while I’m sitting comfortably in my ger.
Look forward to the next update!
All my best,