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A Toe in the Water

July 30, 2011

How does one step back into the stream of a lifestyle he’s so radically departed for thirteen months? Gingerly, I suppose. I don’t intend to sound overly revelatory after only one year, as a whole crop of volunteers that have been gone for a full twenty-seven months are now returning to the states and rediscovering the country of their birth, but it is a moment of rediscovery.

I’m home for a brief furlough now, spending time in the places that I’ve called home for both long and short periods of time; places that were routine and places that I thought I’d understood but now have the pleasure of rediscovering, not because they’ve changed, but because they’ve stayed the same and the way I see them has changed. I’m lucky I think, most of my friends are still in the same place, doing mostly the same things I’d left them doing when I decamped to Mongolia more than one year ago.

Organization. That is the single word that has summed up my sense of awe at being back in the United States–the level of organization it takes to achieve the variety and everyday, unwrinkled transportation of goods and people from A to B. Perhaps my destiny lies in supply-chain management, because it’s something I really continue to find magnificent. I’m standing in grocery stores looking at shelves stocked to the edge with all manner of spices, fresh produce, fresh baked goods, sauces, pastas, beverages, any and all varieties of meats and cheeses–the best the world has to offer. It is someone’s job, every day, to determine how much of each item to buy, and how to get it from it’s producer on the other side of the world to the shelf on the bottom floor of the Whole Foods in Union Square, Manhattan, New York, 10003. And how many people are there along that “new silk road” to lift, shuttle, ship, fly, and cart that little jar of chili sauce? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? It’s something I’ve thought about vaguely, but had it truly magnified in all of its splendor during this trip–just sitting and watching a city of some ten million people skitter about buying this and that, on their way to and from work.

I remark on it as if it’s something new, which of course it isn’t. The little allusion to The Silk Road is not without purpose. Instead of ships and airplanes, Mongolia once did all of this overland with horses and camels–foods, crafts, news, people, political envoys–all passing under the stewardship and peace provided by the Mongol Empire. No country is an island unto itself, at least not really. It was the truth in the thirteenth century, and it remains so today, only the bridges have changed.

No man is an island either, and being reacquainted with friends and family this trip has just proved to me how invaluable they are to my survival and well-being in Mongolia. Even on the other side of the world, I continue to feel their generosity, support, and love.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2011 1:38 pm

    You stepped back into the US…..and have now returned to your second home…..share your views of re-connecting with Mongolia… you have reverse cultural shock the second time around….or is it a piece of cake??????…by the way for those of us sharing Rob’s work and journey…..if you havent done Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World….and enjoy Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road recordings…..

  2. August 28, 2011 10:17 pm

    When this reaches you Rob I assume you are back in the Gobi…”Back in the Gobi Again, Back where a friend is a friend…where the etc.etc. etc….you get the drift…..saw JOE B. on TV arm wrestling with a Mongolian sumo due all decked out…..appears Joe did not make it to the GobI?….trust you are A OK….off to DC to the PCV reunion…..and of course will share the picture of the two of us….5 decades….the old dude and the young due….we well and be safe..

    Big Al

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