As I mentioned in my previous article, it is not easy to travel in this country (but then nothing really is). Travel doesn't only include turning a Russian van into a clown car, but also the preparation for an extended trip (which really could be any trip if I can't find a ride back to my site) during the winter.
I obviously don't have the luxury of turning my heat down a little and then taking off for a week, so I have to start preparing for a trip a few days in advance.
Number two is preparing wood and coal for my return trip. When I do return, everything in my ger is very, very cold so warming it all up is obviously important (you think coming back to a dirty bathroom is bad? Try returning to a -10 degree house). Rides going to my site usually only return at night during the coldest temperatures, so preparation is key.
Before I leave I will chop up a bunch of wood and have my coal bowl filled. I will also usually have a fire prepared in my stove so all I have to do when I get back is add some kindle and light a match and within an hour or so my ger will be warm enough so I can at least get out of my jacket and gloves and jump into my sleeping bag and go to sleep (and then wake up a few hours later to repeat the process; life is beautiful).
After my water and fire are taken care of I have to prepare all of my valuables. I don't know how smart it is to keep valuables in this country, especially when you live in a ger (this is a lesson I learned early on, when my bedroom ceiling at the house I was sleeping in collapsed under the pressure of a bunch of rain water and ruined my computer; to say the least, not the happiest day of my life) but I do have a few. After my computer was flooded I got a travel DVD player to watch movies. This and a few other electronics are the main things that don't take to cold very well, so I have to make sure and wrap them very tightly in something warm. Now, they may end up being alright without keeping them warm, but there is no way I'm taking that chance. I think one "sanity saver" lost is enough for me.
Those are the three main things I have to take care of before leaving on a long trip. The preparation isn't all that hard, it's the return that isn't much fun, but if I don't take the time to prepare, my return trip can turn into a nightmare really quick.
The first time I ever left my site for an extended period I left almost six gallons of water in my barrel. I didn't realize this would be a problem until I got back to my ger at a time of the night when all of the stores in town had closed and I didn't have anything to drink. I was already pretty dehydrated from my day of travel and really needed a lot of water but couldn't find any. My ger was also freezing. This being the first time I had ever traveled, I also hadn't prepared any wood or coal for myself (actually I was completely out of both at the time). So, having no water and no fire, I figured my life really couldn't have gotten any worse at that moment.
Now this is the part of the story where things are supposed to get worse, but to my surprise I found the best present a dehydrated, freezing cold, Mongolian Peace Corps Volunteer could ever hope for; a (somewhat) warm and working travel DVD player (how does the saying go? Two out of three ain't bad. So I was half way to "ain't bad"). I quickly put in a movie (Spaceballs = Classic), jumped into my sleeping bag, zipped it up over my head and fell asleep to the warm glow of Mel Brooks' genius (disaster averted).
I am typing this article away from my site which I will be returning to within the next few days and I have a fire prepared, extra wood and coal for the morning, no water in my ger, but bottles of water ready to travel with me for the night and following morning, and again, a DVD player nicely tucked into a blanket with Dumb and Dumber at the ready. So, the cold makes things a little tougher, but as long as I have my DVD player, life is good (until the summer anyways when I don't even have a ceiling to hold the water that's going to ruin my DVD player; until that day though, I'm content with life).
Note: I have written eight articles for the Chronicle Times now and after living here for almost nine months, things aren't as fresh and exciting as they used to be. Therefore, I am going to ask you to make my job a little easier and ask me any questions you may have. Whether they will be about Mongolia the country, its culture, its people, or my life and experiences here, I will answer anything. So feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the heading type "Mongolia Question" and I will begin answering people's questions in future articles. So don't be shy, and ask away.
Brett Campbell's mailing address is published for those Chronicle Times readers wishing to write to 'Our Man in Mongolia."
Mongolia (via China)
9-Year Secondary School
English Teacher Brett Campbell