Fall Break Surprise and the Gobi Deep Freeze
I stumbled rather unknowingly into my school’s fall break this morning. I woke up to a Gobi caught in the midst of a good freeze. Heavy winds were making my chimney hum and a small pile of snow had gathered on my stove underneath the hole in the top of my ger, my fire having burned out hours ago. I gingerly picked my way to school through snowdrifts that hadn’t been there the evening before, and I felt a little confused at the lack of school-children-sized footprints leading up to the front door—that front door was locked, everybody at home resting and enjoying the first morning of a much needed holiday.
And so it is with many things around here. Not locked doors of course, which are such a rarity in Mongolia that part of me worries about my readjustment to their necessity when I return to the US. I’m referring instead to the fact that I’m usually the last to find out about anything. I don’t say this to sound resentful; it’s merely an observation, and the corresponding flexibility and improvisation its awakened in me is sort of staggering honestly: “Someone is out of town, and next period you’d like me to teach 4th grade for 90 minutes rather than the usual 40? Ummm, sure.”—“My ten-day vacation begins now, you say? Oh, alright. I’ll cook complicated and time-consuming lunches and catch up on some reading.” I know it doesn’t seem like it when you take the organization of my desk into consideration, but I’m a person who likes organization in my working life; an artifact I suppose of being the son of a certain mother—a mother whose inventory of organizational tools used to include eight vacuums and who considers balancing the checkbook a leisure activity. In her defense, she’s since trimmed the army of dust busters to just two, and a modest two at that, considering the “Royal” brand vacuum she once owned used to shake the floor and endanger the survival of our carpet. Her “Harley,” we called it. Love you, Mom.
I’m sure some of you wonder how I could have possibly let this slip by me, but I was under the distinct impression that this break began on the 11th, not the 10th, so really I was only off by one day. This was a rather pleasant surprise, because on a morning that looks like I’m volunteering somewhere in the neighborhood of Dante’s 9th circle, I can’t say I was terribly perky.
Still, there’s a beauty to the tundra, as I’m calling it now—the desert colors of brown and blue have been replaced by one enormous and united canvas mixing grays and whites. It’s not even that cold, yet. I have heavy coats and thick mittens, but all of them are still stored under my bed. Layering, as anyone who’s spent even a single winter in Minnesota knows, is the key; a single garment’s thickness has little or nothing to do with how warm you’ll be. And frankly, it’s only a five-minute walk between my ger and the school, both of which are usually sweltering. Headed home this morning, I even took a quick detour to the store to do a little grocery shopping, deciding that as long as I was out, I might as well begin stockpiling like some sort of hibernating mammal.
This is a rather long and cumbersome explanation for my platitude of the day, surprises can be, and often are, pleasant—even in the midst of that working life we all strive to keep so organized. I’ve spent my unforeseen vacation day stoking the fire, reading trashy detective fiction, listening to “This American Life,” keeping my ger clean, and generally enjoying some time to myself that was never supposed to be.