Thursday, December 08, 2005

12/8 - 2

I'm part of a yahoo group of RPCVs from Mongolia. For those of you not down 'wit the Government lingo, RPCVs are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, although all of us appear to be in one state of "returned" or another. The three new blogs that I linked to on my site are all from RPCVs in Mongolia and China. Seeing their pictures and reading some of their stories reminded of my time spent in Mongolia.

What is amazing is that I can still feel Mongolia. I dream the language, smell various smells throughout the day that somehow remind me of something there, and will see something as simple as a dark hillside that will remind me of my time there. Driving home from the teen shelter in Vermont, in the dark around 11:30pm, I would drive on this deserted stretch of highway (almost all highway is deserted in Vermont, that is why people move to the upper northeast - to not be around other people). Off in the distance, I would see the beginnings of a small town. Vermont has no street lights on the freeway so you just drive in darkness, surrounded by snow and the occasional tree. I would see just a few lights at first, slowly building into more porch lights, headlights, and then finally street lights. The experience was so acutely Mongolian that I would have the beginning of a panic attack in the car. Rolling down the window, turning up the music, and driving faster were only temporary cures. I kept thinking about coming into the capital Ulaanbaatar from the west. On the one paved road in the country, you crest a small hill and you can see the capital from 20 kilometers away. The electric lights looked heaven sent after traveling for hours in darkness.

In the Russian van, crammed in with 12-15 other adults, children, animal carcasses, vodka, and the ubiquitous drunk man, those lights meant companionship, fluent English, hot showers, warm beds, and television. It meant a break from my loneliness and the work of the countryside. There was no wood to chop or ice to melt for drinking water. Driving in my rusted Honda Civic in rural Vermont, the memories would come flooding back, causing my heart to race and my breath to come quicker, the blood rushing to my face.

Even now, just recanting the story, I can feel my fingers get shaky. There are parts of me that people will never understand unless they have experienced Mongolia.


patrick said...

i get pangs of longing for that excitement i also used to feel from flying into UB for a week of rest with other rpcvs. i think we'll be actively recalling the fonder moments of service with great frequency for the rest of our lives. i miss the place!

Anonymous said...

Last week I was walking past an alley near Fenway Park in Boston, and it wreaked of fresh urine. It made me think of Mongolia. ;-)