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 .