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Beauty in Change

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View A long way home on Porticaeli's travel map.

Leaving anyplace I have called home is hard, but not for the reasons I expected. My time was up, and there are people I miss every day, but it’s more that I wish they were here then I was there. I had forgotten how beautiful everything is when I find myself deep in a new country, but Mongolia was breathtaking from the start.

Ulaanbaatar is a small city by the standards I grown used to over the past couple years. Most of the buildings are low and the sky stretches overhead. Most of the buildings seem to be in the style of the Soviet Union or China, but there are a few amazing exceptions. The capital building is columns and glass with the khans of old sitting on bronze thrones or riding bronze horses. On the other end is the yurts, which they always call gers. I like the word yurt better. It’s just fun to say. Yurt. Even if it is wrong.

The other thing I noticed is the people. So many of the women here are beautiful, and each in their own way. I think that is a lot of it for me, that they are comfortable with their rich dark skin, or pale skin, or all the shades in between. Many of them have curves, and they don’t seem to worry or feel bad about their weight. Just the variety between different women is beautiful to me. Maybe I was just too long in a place where there seems to be only one standard of beauty, and so much true beauty is hidden beneath the need to be pale and skinny.

The men seem to have something about them that makes me think of the warriors their people once were, a confidence to their stride and their backs straight. Or maybe I am just seeing what I want to see, the ancient horsemen that lived free beneath the eternal blue sky.

Mongolia was my first choice for Peace Corps, or at least I remember it that way now. I have read a few stories about the place, heard rumors, but I don’t really know what Mongolia is in the 21st century. It’s supposed to be the most sparsely populated country in the world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true. The cities still have the feel of ancient towns I come across in other countries, with open air markets scattered throughout and many of surface streets still unpaved. I have had more than one person tell me about how they traveled the country and just set up their tent wherever they stopped, no campground needed.

I am tempted to do that, to just go and see what I can find out there. Hitchhike, or rent something and drive. As long as I have my phone I can find my way back from anywhere I wind up. But I already have plans, for now. I am on a farm for the next week and a half, currently finishing ripping out an unused bathroom and replacing it with a small office and a bed. Sometimes I help shovel out the horse stalls, gathering manure to be dried and burned throughout winter.

Most days I help with the cows, either in the morning or at night. They have to be herded so they can be milked, but there are 44 cows and no fences so it can take time to find them. The woman I am staying with has about a hundred horses also, but they just run free this time of year. Soon we will have to bring down the cows for the winter and gather the grass they will be eating once the plants go into hibernation. The scenery is amazing, the sunsets extraordinary, and the stars fill the sky.

There are a lot of other volunteers here, too. Most younger than I am, traveling alone or with a partner, from Europe, Singapore, New Zealand, and surprisingly Los Angeles. I got along best with that guy before he headed out. We hazed each other, talked about everything from philosophy to Monty Python, quoting and laughing, not even needing to finish our sentences to know the references. It was like having a brother around again.

But we all move on sooner or later. Visas end, work calls, or simply more adventure in other countries. Soon enough, I will be gone too, to Murun, somewhere halfway across the country. I will be teaching again, for a couple weeks anyway, and there is the Golden Eagle Festival in the beginning of October I am trying to get to. Two months here really isn’t enough, but the days are already getting cold and I can feel the winds blowing me onward. The hardest thing sometimes is trying to enjoy where I am before I look ahead to where I might be.

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Posted by Porticaeli 04:45 Archived in Mongolia Tagged travel english photography mongolia american orkhon

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