A Dog's Life

This is actually after school walking into the complex where I live

I am followed by a white puppy to work every morning. Or at least she should be white. Because she lives outside she is pretty dirty. There used to be two puppies that came but a few weeks ago the smaller grey one disappeared. I try to make myself believe she was adopted by some nice family. Unfortunately, I am not that gullible. It was 30 below for months and she was thin. I can ' t really make myself believe that she made it. 

The larger puppy still escorts me almost all the way to school every morning. She used to come the whole way and I would have to shut the school door in her face but she doesn't do that anymore. I think I know why. I saw one of the school guards throw a rock at her through my window after I had gone inside one day. Now she stops at the turn off to my school. 

I don't feed her. I can ' t take her home with me and adopt her so making her dependent on me is not fair. I think that she is living on garbage. At least that is what the internet claims that urban dogs eat. 

I am still not sure where she wants me to go.

She is there every morning running towards me as I come out my door. She has that happy romp that puppies have when she sees me. She throws herself at my feet so I will rub her belly. I didn't touch her for a long time but eventually she became so comfortable around me that she began to basically demand that I pet her even if it just for a few seconds every morning. 

She thinks that my coat and bag are puppy toys and will often clamp her teeth on them which forces me to stop walking to detach her. She put a small hole in my coat yesterday which annoyed me. Still it is my own fault and anyway how can you look at the puppy grin and be mad? 

Rubbing her belly

For the most part she runs in circles around me as I walk to school. She runs ahead and then back to me. I imagine that she thinks that she is giving the all clear sign. Sometimes she get distracted by a stick or a rock or another person . When she notices she's been left behind she runs to catch up as if she is saying, notice me, remember me, guess what I just saw! 

After I start walking I try not to stop or pay too much attention to her. I guess my reasoning is that is isn't a good idea for us to get attached to one another. Or for me to get attached. Being a dog I doubt that she is putting quite as much angst into walking as I am. I am not sure that the plan is working. She wasn't there one morning and I was worried all day that she was gone too until I saw her again the next morning. 

I am leaving for the US and Germany in June, I tell myself. She doesn't have her shots and cant live in an apartment, I tell myself. Adopting a dog when you work all day is irresponsible, I tell myself. I tell myself lots of sensible things but all of them seem to me like excuses sometimes. I don't want to get involved because it would be too much responsibility and money. What sort of person does that make me? 

Common sense prevails however and I realize that I cant have a dog and the life that I have chosen. Except for fifteen minutes in the quiet morning when it almost feels like I already do.

The People That You Meet: Life in Mongolia

The people that you meet

 wonder about the people that I meet or walk by or attempt to talk to in the course of a day. The edges of their lives just barely touching mine. People that I remember and think about but don t really know. The woman who checks me out at the grocery store, the man I pass on the street walking home, or the man I see living in the steam pipes across the street. Who are they? What is their story? Even when we talk I don ' t always know and the connection doesn't always last.

For example, my next door neighbor came to my door the other night. I don ' t generally get unexpected visitors , and since all the doors of the apartments in my building are clustered together , at first I just ignored the knocking. Finally, however, I was forced to accept the fact that the knocking just might be on my door. 

I opened the door to a very nice Mongolian woman who asked me if I worked at the International School. I admitted it and she proceeded to go into a spiel about looking for American teachers. I didn't really understand what she was talking about and thought that she wanted me to tutor or something in English (which I can ' t do because of my contract but wouldn't t anyway as it would be more trouble tha n t it is worth ) . So I explained about my contract which distressed her and made me feel guilty. Because of that I felt the need to help her find a solution. 

It turns out that she had lived for nine years in Wyoming (yeah, I thought that was a weird choice, too) and wanted to start a 4 H club here in Mongolia. While she was explaining this to me standing in my doorway, her daughter, who was three or four years old kept trying to get into my apartment and I kept having to physically block her while attempting to make appropriate and intelligent remarks. It was surprisingly difficult to so while defending your doorway from invasion by a very small explorer and blocking the door as if you were a goalie. After making a plan for her to meet the director of my school she went back to her home and we haven ' t run into each other in the hallway since. 

Some encounters of course are not so simple or pleasant. I went to the little store that is close to my apartment today. It is the actually in the same building. A man was there and picked up a bottle of vodka and a bottle of coke. He didn't buy them though. They were lying on the counter and the man (who was smoking inside the store) was 5 feet away standing just inside the door. Crying. Loud sobs like a kid would. The whole thing was sort of disturbing and uncomfortable even before he came back inside the store as I was checking out. He stood directly behind me (as in about 5 inches behind me) talking to the clerk and occasionally sobbing. I just stood there feeling like a deer in the headlights with my money out trying to pay. I was a little afraid that I would be robbed. This is the problem with not speaking the language (yes, I know , shut up already about the language thing). I didn't know what was going on so in my mind I sort of started preparing for disaster. Couldn't he afford his item and was that the reason he was crying? Was there some sort of personal tragedy? I didn't know and as he came out of the store right behind me I was again all paranoid that he was going to follow me. The whole thing really disturbed me. Adults don ' t usually cry like that. Even in great grief there is an element of control that this situation lacked. It made me wonder if he was crazy, which made me want to try and help which conflicted with my fear and had me just wallowing in guilt. This time there wasn't a connection but there was definitely an impression. 

Of course the people that I have the most encounters with are the people who drive the taxis. There is something so awkward about sitting in a car with a stranger in horrible traffic that people are compelled to fill the silence with something. The taxi drivers sometimes like to chat me up. Sometimes in Mongolian, which doesn't t work so well. Mitquea Mongol (I don't understand Mongolian) . On the plus side I recognize the question when they are asking me where I am from and can now answer. Lots of times they want to know about the States or when they find out that I am not just visiting why in the world I am living in Mongolia. The international school isn't all that well known in the Mongolian community and I have yet to be able to communicate it to someone who doesn't have a kid who attends it. I sit in traffic and talk with people who tell me about learning English in India or about their reasons for driving a taxi in the city. Short simple conversations with people who I don ' t see again but whom I base so much of my opinion on about Mongolians in general .

Fighting the Good Fight for a Hot Shower

Cows on the road

I am in a new apartment this year. This is cause for celebration. Actually I moved at the end of last school year. It is much nicer than my old apartment and close enough to the school that I can walk which is great because that means that I don’t have to deal with Mongolian traffic five days a week. It takes about ten minutes to walk school even though it looks as if they are right next to each other. I will probably be sad about this in the winter when it is nasty cold but I keep telling myself that I managed in Alaska and I can manage here. 

My landlord speaks English. This is a good thing because about a week after I moved into my new apartment the hot water turned off. How water is provided by the city and is generally turned off in the middle of June but this year it was the first of June. Lest you think that a cold shower in June is acceptable I will point out that the first weekend I had to be without hot water it snowed. I was pissed. Here I am paying crazy amounts of money for an apartment and there is no hot water. So I started harassing my landlord. When I would try and shower at 5:30 in the morning and it was one degree above sleet he would get a call. Throughout the day when I had a moment, he would get a call. Three or four times in the evening, he would get a call. This seemed to have little effect on the situation as a whole but was somewhat cathartic for me. Then I had the brainstorm of telling him that if there was no hot water there would be no rent. I am not sure that that was a bluff on my part (I hadn’t had a decent shower in about two weeks at this point) but he folded. Two days later workers arrived to install a hot water heater. Not just a little boiler as I had in my old apartment but my own tiny little hot water heater hooked up to my shower. It took five hours to install and they put in the hoses backward (hot is cols and cold is hot) but I didn’t care. A hot shower… Bliss. 

It is now the middle of September and I still don’t have hot water in my sinks (which makes dishes a pain. I have to boil water first and then wash them. Nuts to that!) so all in all the epic battle of wills concerning my hot water needs was worth it. 

I live in Marshalltown which is apparently the Ritzy complex to live in and I have to say that it is really trying hard to be impressive. Unfortunately “impressive” includes way more gold leaf than you want to know about and landscaping that included fake flowers. I mean it. They planted fake flowers. I know that the whole idea of landscaping is a fairly new one here but shouldn’t common sense at some point reign? A unique and quirky part of my Mongolian experience and that I can’t help shaking my head over it every morning. On the plus side my apartment does not reflect the general tackiness of the place and I am really very comfortable here. 

This is why my power keeps going out.

The road I live on is a main road for Japan town (the part of town I live in) but because my building is the only thing past the first turn off a mile or so away there is little to no traffic. That means that it is the only place in the city that is safe to run at. This means that I am constantly passed by runners on my way to and from work. The same group passes me almost every day and I strongly suspect that they are the Mongolian national track team. There are also less likely people running down the road. Old men in traditional garb, middle aged women power walking backward and occasionally a man herding sheep down the street. I am coming across some interesting new locals living here. 


A hummer in from of the image of Chingis Khan on the mountain.

I accidentally broke the glass door leading out of the building the other day. Since I have been there it has been propped open. Now I know why. There is no such thing as shatterproof glass in Mongolia and when the door swung shut behind me all of the glass in it shattered. I wasn’t hurt but I was both shocked and embarrassed. I found a security guard at the gate but since all I could tell him was “Door… door… door … bad… no!” in Mongolian needless to say he just gave me a look that told me he was about to fetch a butterfly net and went back to his breakfast. I tried to pantomime it next and he nodded gravely at me as if he understood. Eventually he must have understood or more likely someone else told him about it as it was all cleaned up when I got back from school. 

The incident has made me really touchy about shutting any glass door in the school lest I accidentally cause a door to shatter on a child. That wouldn’t be the best start to the year. It is fire drill season at school which is always hilarious. Every time we do one I have this mental image of a scene from Kindergarten Cop where the teacher is running out of the building with a kid under each arm and the rest of the class following while screaming. Of course it is nowhere near that disorganized but scorched cupcakes this morning had us out on the field for a good twenty minutes. This is a big deal when there are three year olds around. I was helping with the preschool class because my students line up with their classroom teacher once we are in the meeting place. Trying to contain 15 three year olds in an open field for 15 minutes was an adventure in itself. And of course the whole thing was complicated by the fact that I had chosen today as the day to wear really high heels. That being said the fire department here responds insanely fast which is a miracle considering the traffic (people don’t pull over for emergency vehicles here) so I actually feel pretty safe. 

I am off to enjoy my weekend. I hear rumors of a salsa dancing party at the American Ger’ll tonight…