Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fear of the Other

A side experience of this adventure has been
seeing how people react to one's
Zorig, Hongoroo, & Amgaa
seemingly outlandish plans. Yesterday morning I announced to my entire faculty that I won't be returning in the fall and provided a very short version of Zorig and I's story. And then revealed our plans for the future. Overwhelming it was received well and I've only heard people wish me well on my next chapter in life.

However, it hasn't always gone so smoothly. I think Americans, as a general group of people, are skeptical of "others" and fearful of what life outside of the USA provides, or not. For example, here is a list of various responses and questions I've gotten over the past few weeks as I've shared my future plans with friends, family, and acquaintances:

  • How exciting!
  • Do they have running water? Electricity? (of course!)
  • Will you be living in a ger? (not living, though perhaps we will have one in the backyard for entertainment purposes and we'll stay in them sometimes when we travel)
  • You know, Heather, women may not be treated as well over there, so I hope you are careful. Mongolia is not the US. (This seems obvious to me!)
  • What will you be able to do for work? (Not sure yet....but hopefully work for an International School in Ulaanbaatar)
  • Do you have to give up your US citizenship? (of course not!)
  • Do you have to marry him to go there? (this depends on whether I get a work VISA, etc...but of course we plan to marry!)
  • Mongolia? Really? Is that part of China or Russia? (neither, it's an independent country)
  • Have you had him checked out? Are you sure he is who he says he is? (this one shocked me most of all and I was left nearly speechless)
  • Where will you live? (in an apartment in Ulaanbaatar and a house just outside of city)
  • You are one ballsy chick! (one of my favorites! haha)
That is just a smattering of the various responses I've received. I can say that it has gotten easier to own the truth with each time that it is presented. It feels good to be done with announcing/telling everyone at this point in time. Now I simply live into the future we have imagined together and begun to solidify the plans with our daily actions.

Now I'd like to share a tiny example of how differently Mongolians see the world and interact with one another. This past Saturday we drove to Denver with some of the purchases Zorig needed to ship home to UB. In downtown Denver I found myself in the basement of a Nail Salon (where Mongolian women were doing nails and which I assume was owned and run by Mongolians from that community in Denver--did you know that Denver has the largest population of Mongolians living in the US?) getting his boxes and gear weighed and priced by a Mongolian man, let's call him T, that has been living in Denver for four years. There were no labels on the boxes or bags. Z and T talked in Mongolian while I drank tea and tried dried yogurt (from Mongolia--not sure if I liked it or not). Then we said goodbye and left.

In the car I asked about the lacking labels and about the absent exchange of money. He simply said that T would put the labels on, take pictures of the boxes, and get them shipped. Also that payment would be made to the account he was given on a tiny slip of paper. There was no hesitation about knowing that his gear would make it to his friend in UB. No doubt from T that Z would make the payment in the coming days. If T said he would do x, y, and z, then it would be done. I was mystified. Here in America, we attach our own labels and we take our own pictures and create piles of documentation to track each and every item. And we certainly wouldn't leave unmarked belongings in a basement of people we had just met in person and tracked down via the internet only days before.

Mongolians trust one another and have faith in one another. They are forthright and honest. I think I would liken them to what Americans might have been like with one another prior to WWII. In the past 70+ years we've become isolationist within our own nation. We teach "stranger danger" and we expect the worst from those different from us. The OTHER is something to fear, to be concerned about, or to distrust. It's not that I didn't know this before meeting Zorig, but spending three weeks in Mongolia and then watching how he operates during these seven weeks of his visit, it has become abundantly obvious to me that I am moving to a place where people are yet trustful of one another, where they have faith in the goodness of one another, and where people say what they mean and mean what they say. I find it inspiring, refreshing, and exciting.

At the top is a picture of Zorig, Hongoroo (our driver for the fishing trip), and Amgaa (our local area fishing guide). Dad and I spent six amazing days with these men. They were always kind, thoughtful, and happy to be present and in the moment with us. Granted, my entire life has changed since that trip occurred, but the way they interacted with one another, with us, and with everyone we met along the way, will always be a bright and lovely memory to me. It's how I want to be.

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