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On Returning

September 17, 2012

The trip back from anywhere you’ve been for two years seems like a very short trip. But I suppose after a little more than two months since leaving Mongolia, I’m realizing that the trip back has really only just started. I’m in the United States in body, but a large part of my mind and spirit are still very much in the Gobi—still in my ger.

 I find myself behaving like my grandparents’ generation. That is, with an intense dose of scarcity-minded thinking: “I better order one of everything at this restaurant because when I come back, it might all be gone next time!” That will be a hard habit to break. I also balk at the price of everything and complain obstreperously within earshot of management about how loud the music is in the restaurant or bar. Frankly, I miss the quiet, or if not the quiet, then at least sounds that don’t come from speakers. Do we all really need to shout at one another across the table? I’m hoarse after one cocktail and half a glass of beer.

 It’s funny to even be writing this entry. In Mongolia, I was so careful to keep an upbeat tone about everything that appeared on here, but now that I’m back, I feel like it’s OK to hit my own gang again (Scots are stingy, Minnesotans are painfully apologetic, etc.). That alone makes me feel good to be home.

 And it is good, don’t get me wrong. It is great, in fact. I’ve still not tired of running water, the simplest amenity I missed the most—well, missed the most unless the power was out. And can we all just take a moment and marvel at how organized everything is?  Buses and trains have schedules,  letters and boxes are delivered, people keep dogs as pets and actually pick up their…well, their “leavings;” we can be some very considerate folks, us Americans—when we want to be, of course.  

 I’d hate to think at writing this that it’s the last word on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in the last two years. How can it be though, when people like Paul Theroux are still reflecting on their service all these years later. I’ll be the same, or at least on this end of things I’m insisting I will be. I suppose we’ll see when I’m 71. At my ‘Welcome Home’ party a few weeks ago, where many of you dear readers were present, is where it all came home to me the most since being back—it became especially, pointedly clear how important each and every one of you were in guiding me along a path of choices leading to Mongolia in the first place, and then how your love and support carried me all the way through to the other side. On this end of things, life looks a whole lot less like “Carrot-On-A-Stick”, and a whole lot more like “Blind Man’s Bluff”—multi-directional, where the people I’ve bumped into while stumbling through the last 26 years are by far the most important part of figuring this game out. I couldn’t have done it without every one of you.

 On my way back, a couple of Peace Corps friends and I spent six weeks traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Coming back slowly was certainly the way to do things. Mongolia to New York is an enormous shock to the system, but slowly adjusting to the world outside (and starting that process in Southeast Asia) made the transition feel a bit more seamless, and it let me feel ready to face the parts of this modern world I was most apprehensive about. If I could recommend one place to travel, it’d be Mongolia (because obviously I’m pretty biased), but if I could recommend 4 places, it’d be Mongolia and Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. 

 Expect some Southeast Asia pictures shortly!

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