Saturday, February 20, 2016

Visits with Fear

Over the past couple of weeks I've been thinking about fear. Again. This is a topic that cycles around. I wrote about fear a few times here. A year ago I shared my thoughts on Fear of the Other--how Americans viewed strangers and our general skeptical nature, and then simply Fear, where I talked about managing the fears around my big move. I also talked about how darkness can initiate fear. This past week fear came up for me. More than once and in reaction to various things, places, times. I wonder how much of our life is really about experiencing and managing fear in one form or another. I am coming to agree with FDR and the statement from his first inaugural address, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He nailed it. 

I went dancing with girlfriends on the Saturday night before Tsagaan Sar. The club was pretty empty and it was nearly ALL women, but we were good with that as we went to DANCE. Around 2:30 in the morning, we dispersed and headed to our respective homes. In my first days here I would have been fearful to walk home in the wee hours of the morning. I wondered if I SHOULD (again....that American impact of should!) be afraid, but I didn't live that far and a walk sounded good. I walked half of the distance with my friend Julia, then said goodnight and walked the rest of the way home alone. The streets were empty and I felt perfectly safe. Lights were still up on the State Department Store--I do appreciate that the block I live on is well lit at all times--and I enjoyed the solitude.  

A week later, I went for a walk in the late afternoon. While it will sound perhaps hard to believe to my readers, spring really IS in the air here. We are hitting 10-20 degrees F in the afternoons and the sun shines brightly. I went a couple blocks west on Peace Avenue and explored Max Mall. Afterwards I decided to hike up the hill to the north to see what I could see. I found a couple gyms in the area to check into at a future date and then quickly found myself on this street, pushed right up against a ger district. If you pull up the picture, you can see on the hill directly beyond the vehicles a mix of mostly gers and a few single home structures. The ger districts surround Ulaanbaatar and are the main contributor to our air pollution problem. They burn coal in their stoves and the exhaust is expelled into the immediate air that we breathe. I couldn't believe just how quickly the air got thick with coal smoke. Only two blocks north from Peace avenue and I had to put on my mask. I went east on this street and took the next major road south to get back into the heart of downtown. All the while, people did look at me and sometimes stared. A foreigner wasn't an everyday occurrence in this neighborhood and I passed no others. But I did pass men, women, and children. Just regular people going about their regular everyday lives. 

Yet, these were unfamiliar streets and UB isn't built on a grid system like most cities in the U.S. At first I could see the Blue Sky building (major landmark in the city) and did I know my general direction. But I was quickly down amidst tall apartment buildings and couldn't find a familiar street. The sun had just set and the air temperature was dropping. My butt was cold!! I could feel myself wanting to panic, to be fearful. I was weaving between buildings, and taking alleyways, looking desperately for a major thoroughfare. I soon hit a road that was made of brick, a sort of cobblestone, and it felt familiar. There are horror stories of foreigners being messed with (physically pushed or roughed up) or mugged (as mentioned, robbery is a problem in UB) and I know these stories sometimes try to bubble up inside me. I have NOT had an experience of these things, but as a foreigner they are passed on. Each time my heart wanted to race, I talked myself down. It wasn't yet dark and one really can't get lost in UB. It's not all that big. Truly. 

Found Colorado! 47 states to go...

Once I hit the cobblestone I could see I was just a block or so behind the State Department Store. I was only five minutes from home. :) I can't see in my mind how the roads I took led me to this location, but there I was just the same. I think in the future I will use an app on my phone to track my walks. I do have a map in my mind and need to flesh it out with these winding streets and neighborhoods. I also recognized that even though I felt lost, I could have, at any point, turned on my data and used Google maps to find where I was. 

Lastly, I rode the public bus home from Zaisan after spending time with a friend. It was nearly 9 pm and I had to wait 15 minutes or more for a bus to arrive (they do stop running around 10 pm, but get sparse as the night wears on) that would take me in my direction. I didn't feel cold and felt safe sitting and waiting at the bus stop. I was carrying home a couple of bags and don't like having to take so much on the public bus. Again--horror stories abound of being pick-pocketed. I try to avoid riding late ( darkness makes things scarier). But as I found a seat, felt perfectly safe the entire ride, and enjoyed that there was less traffic to contend with--I wondered why? Riding late was fine. My fear was unnecessary. And, if for some reason a bus would have never arrived, I am only about a 3.5 mile walk to home. I can't wait for the days to get longer and warmer, as I will choose to make the walk home more frequently. 

I'm sure she'll be back around....Fear. I do my best to acknowledge her appearance and visit to my world, and then kindly send her on her way. I have no doubt she has others to visit, to push, to terrorize, to stretch. Without her though, how would I increase my confidence, my knowledge, and my comfort in this time and place? Yes, she is a necessary evil. 

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