Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Hard Part

I've been IN COUNTRY now for 129 days, or 4 months and 6 days. That's one-third of a calendar year. I have yet to live through the frigid winter that is around the corner of the calendar. Zorig tells me repeatedly that life in Mongolia is about SURVIVAL. I'm yet learning this truth; I suspect it will be true for me, but that it will have different meaning. It will be more than learning to live in the cold and pollution. My surviving here will be different than the surviving he's been doing his whole life. 

In recent days and weeks it's occurred to me that THIS is the hard part. 

By THIS I mean: assimilating, adjusting, and integrating myself into this country, culture, and way of life. Overhauling my personal life, selling my home, car, and belongings, shipping what remained around the world, finding employment, and getting on a plane with five 50 lb suitcases--that was the EASY part. Now the real work has begun. Learning to live within this developing country with it's alternate way and view of life is the hard part. 

You see, I was "domesticated" in the United States of America. I was trained by my parents, by family and friends, by my schools and churches. I was raised and taught how to live and operate within the world by my American society. (For more info about this idea of domestication....please see The Four Agreements.) I see the world through a lens that is shaded and tinted by my American ideals, judgements, expectations, and social mores. This is neither good, nor bad, it just is. 

Now I live in Mongolia. People raised here have gone through an entirely different domestication process. What they expect (or not), value, think, feel, judge, and how they react is different. In recent weeks I have found myself being in conflict. Not because people are starting fights with me. It is internal conflict as I try to manage my assumptions and judgements about how Mongolians live their lives. That sounds bad, I know. But let me try to explain it with an anecdote.

My stepson recently had his Fall Break--a week off from school. Unfortunately his week did not coincide with my week off. So it goes. Anyway, Enji came to stay with us for a good part of his week off. Simultaneously, Zorig took off on a fishing reconnaissance trip to the north (before it gets really cold around here). I found myself feeling upset FOR Enji. He comes to stay with his father, and then his father takes off on a trip?!?! They spent no time together. When I asked Enji how he felt about this reality, he simply said, "It's normal." I was mystified. He wasn't angry, hurt, upset, or bothered, AT ALL. He stayed up late, played video games, watched movies, had a friend over to spend a night (and he and I hung out some too!). He did everything he would have done, even if his father had been here. 

BUT....I know how this situation would have gone over on an American kid. I told Enji about this. I said, "If I were you in America--if I went to spend the week with my dad and then he left on a trip--I would be hurt or angry and upset." Enji listened and I know he understood me, but it was obvious that he saw no reason to have any of those types of emotions. He loves his father, he knows his father loves him. They FEEL one another. 

So my question we, as Americans, create the neuroses and drama that we are always fighting our way through? Do our kids act hurt and angry and upset because we have taught them they should feel that way?

I wanted what these men had....smiles, laughter, ease of being
I am coming to believe that Americans live with far too many SHOULDs. Mongolians, on the flip side, live with next to none. Here you do what you want, when you want, and you don't feel guilty or bad about it. Why? Because it is your life to live; and you are free to do what you desire, what you want. Simply put--Be yourself. (And NOT what you assume, think, or believe others think you should be.)

I noticed this quality of Mongolian life in that first trip with Dad in 2014. The week we spent fly fishing on the Onon River included three Mongolian men--Zorig, Hongoroo (driver), and Amgaa (local fishing guide). I was fascinated by their ease of being with one another, laughing, talking, and being quiet at times. They were not more than acquaintances at the start of the trip, but there was never awkwardness or tension--even when we got stuck in the middle of the river!! 

While I could have NEVER predicted the events that would follow that trip, I can tell you that I was drawn to the laughter and voices of those three men. I wanted something which they had. An ease of existence, a feeling of freedom in self expression, and so much laughter and smiling. Yes, I wanted that in my life. You see.....Life just IS here in Mongolia. I don't know how to explain it any simpler than that. 

I AM excited about learning to live my life this way. Love should be freeing and not controlling. A person's life journey should be a joy and discovery and NOT bogged down with outside judgements or expectations. An individual should feel free to express themselves and not be fearful of what others think. We should be honest with ourselves and with others. We should not feel as though we have to apologize or make excuses. We are each of us human, after all.

But do you see.....I can't escape the need to use "shoulds"......

I am yet a work-in-progress. Thanks, Mongolia, for this immersion course in living life freely, openly, honestly.


  1. Thanks for this .... for a lot of reasons. And I once did some work around and the difference between "change" and "transition." I think you are describing this difference perfectly. "Change" was all that external stuff...selling your home, your car, packing, finding the best market in Mongolia, etc. "Transition" is all the internal stuff -- the mental, emotional, spiritual impact of the change. Very thoughtful blog!

    1. Thanks, Vince, for taking the time to comment. Yes....I consider this my mid-life transformation, or better yet--evolution. What I love about being human and having free will--I get to choose my next iteration. :)