Sain Bain uu from Mongolia!
Mongolia was a time of self-reflection for me, the cheesy kind. We spent hours on a cute bus driving through the bumpy and unpaved roads of rural Mongolia, wondering if we will tip over and cheering when we made it to each destination. Half the time I slept with my mouth wide open, and the other half of the time I listened to my Spotify playlists contemplating my life or pretending I was in a music video gazing out of the window as the Mongolian countryside passed by outside. Embarrassingly, I even teared up overwhelmed with emotions that looking out of a window for hours listening to angsty songs can sometimes do to you (or maybe just me). I loved every minute of it and reminded me how important alone time and self-reflection time is while traveling in a group.
While we spent a decent amount of time in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s incredibly populated city, my favorite part of Mongolia was the countryside. We had the opportunity to stay in a ger (pronounced more like g-AIR) the coziest of spaces. A ger is a traditional Mongolian yurt style home, perfect for their traditional nomadic lifestyle. You can pick it up and move anytime you need. Its circular, generally white, and seems to always have a beautifully intricate painted door. Most importantly, it fosters community and in our case, closer friendships. Each bed was placed on the perimeter of the ger, allowing us to face each other and converse easily. One night, as we accidentally put out our fire in the stove that was supposed to keep us warm, other students in our program came to our ger (body heat helped keep us warm), and we all sat in a circle mirroring the gers shape telling stories, laughing and crying. We got to know each other better.
While the gers in the countryside felt like a magical trip under the milky-way (literally, the night sky was so clear we saw the milky way), we also learned about ger districts and neighborhoods in or surrounding Ulaanbaatar, a less magical concept. We learned about how much imperialism and globalization has affected Mongolia in ways that they are leaving their traditional nomadic herding life, to come to Ulaanbaatar and mine. There were gers speckling the city’s outskirts demonstrating the number of people who have moved to the city for this different life, trading in their values for stability and success. For example, one of my favorite things I learned was that, the toe of the traditional shoe of Mongolia curves upwards so as not to damage the earth. Yet, mining and the mining industry does just that: damage the earth.
When learning about the new lifestyle changes of those who have moved to the urban city, we also learned about the inequalities and lack of access they are subject to. I found our tours through these neighborhoods (with Ger Community Mapping Center, an NGO) to be eye-opening, yet resemble some of the lack of access people in the states deal with. Lack of access to water meant kids were missing school and walking uphill or downhill 10-30 minutes to a nearby well or spring (risking contamination), and carrying 10 liters the same way back. And adding into this cycle, some parents were having to be unemployed in order to watch their kids at home because they were not in school. Many of these individuals living in ger districts were undocumented in the city which also meant they had no access to free healthcare and had to pay out of pocket for health expenses, and of course, their health was being affected by heavy pollution in the area, poor quality of water and lack of water, dangers of working in the mining industry and maybe even lack of sleep because of potential stress they go through.
While there can be no legitimate comparison, I found some similarities with my life and Mongolia. The gers reminded me of how me and my mom moved around a lot, from home to home or state to state. I think that is why I found so much comfort in the gers, and perhaps why I was so intrigued by the ease of moving this huge structure across a country. Learning about the intricacies of health care reminded me of watching my mom struggle to find health care because of her health history, and how I sometimes didn’t have health care leading me to pay for my own health expenses. I related to the cycles they were living in, in a much different and privileged way, but I saw them and I see what some Mongolian’s are experiencing. I related in a way that reminded me of what I want to do later in my life and reminded me of my passions.