It's finally happened. I think I've lost my sense of humor.
The one thing I have always told myself is that a sense of humor is key to surviving this experience, and I think mine is gone. During the last month I fought a nasty case of pneumonia and to top that off, I hit that proverbial wall. Not exactly the runner's wall, but the Peace Corps volunteer wall. This wall entails not being able to laugh at anything and being kind of annoyed by everything Mongolians do (on an annoyance scale of 1-10, "kind of annoyed" is a 7).
There is a chart of emotions the Peace Corps shows us when we first arrive at training. The first part of our experience is considered a honeymoon phase. This is the time when nothing can go wrong. You move into a new culture and country and this is what you can expect:
"Look at that little girl, she's so adorable."
"That guy looks to be drinking a little early. Well he must be celebrating something."
"Wow, these buuz are delicious. I could eat these things all the time."
This was my thought process early on, and except for a little homesickness and the occasional bout of bad luck, nothing could really bring me down.
Well, after that honeymoon phase most Peace Corps volunteers are expected to move onto a different stage; a more, shall we say, agitated stage. In this stage you can expect these thoughts from a Peace Corps volunteer:
Why won't that little girl stop following me around, and for the love of god, why won't she stop saying Hi?"
"Why is that guy drinking a bottle of vodka? It's 10 am. Oh no, he's coming towards me."
"If I have to eat one more buuz, puke will be soon to follow."
So as you can see there is a change in attitude and, as of late, I have fallen into Phase 2. Nudged by weeks of sickness and bad timing I have realized that things are not going to be that honeymoon the entire time and that real stress is going to have to be dealt with.
So this is my way of dealing with it. I know up to now I have painted a nice picture of Mongolia, but it is time for me to get some things off my chest. Not everything is buuz and airag here (Mongolian national food and fermented horses milk). This country has some problems that need to be dealt with, and right now I am going to let you know of the problems that, well, really annoy me.
First off, Mongolians do not believe in lines. I know this may be shocking to our line obsessed culture, but Mongolians refuse to believe in order. Picture an ATM. Now picture a crowd of people really close together looking at that ATM. What would you think? Everyone is reading a notice on the screen, right? Wrong. Everyone is watching the screen as Batbold takes out his monthly pay, and they are all fighting for position to be the next to get their money.
So one thing you learn early on here is that you have to fight your way in, or else you won't get what you want. At a store, at the bus ticket office or even the bathroom; anywhere a line should be, prepare to block off a little old lady before she puts an elbow in your side (it's a dog eat dog world here).
Second, Mongolians do not believe in the sanctity of office meetings. If a phone rings in a meeting in Mongolia, a Mongolian will answer that phone. So when the director of the school is talking, it is perfectly OK for someone to answer their phone and talk on it. Mind you, they don't leave the room. The Mongolian in-meeting stealth move is to cover their mouth or duck underneath a desk. As you have probably already deduced, you can still hear the person talking, but this does not seem to be a problem.
Third, they do not close the door behind them. In a country where the average winter temperature is somewhere between bone-chilling and mind-numbing cold, closing the door is not a major concern. Maybe they can handle the cold. Maybe it doesn't bother them, but I'm skinny and fragile (The pneumonia I got was due to a breeze that rolled through my ger one night. That's actually not true, but what if it had been?). The only thing I can think to say to them is "Did you grow up in a barn?" (I guess though if you don't consider a ger a house, and some people have farm animals living in their hashaa's with them, then yes, I guess they can say they did grow up in a barn).
I don't know what to do. I'm at my wit's end here. These are far from the many things Mongolian's do to annoy me, and I just feel like my breaking point is near. I'm going to re-read this and get back to you...
...wait a second. Mongolians answer their phones during meetings, and act like no one can hear them when they cover up their mouths? Six foot white guys have to fight off little old Mongolian ladies just to get money? Mongolians don't close doors behind them? These things are hilarious (although I still don't think not closing doors is funny). When did I stop laughing at these things? Why did I stop laughing at these things? I've been so preoccupied with poor old me and my so-called big problems and completely forgot that seriousness is my one way ticket to an early grave.
How can I not laugh at these things, and now, how can I not laugh at me taking myself and the world too seriously? I should have done this a while ago. I've been holding these things in too long, and it has been extremely eye opening to get them onto paper. It turns out things aren't as bad as I thought they were. Life is going to go on (although I did think I was going to die when I had pneumonia).
Well, I don't know about you Chronicle Times readers, but I feel much better now.