Monday, November 5, 2012

... a few words on integration...

Integration – this word is a big Peace Corps buzzword, one that I’ve almost become desensitized to. Some people define it in different ways, but to me its how well you acclimate yourself to your surroundings. In my circumstance, it’s the degree to which I’m able to immerse myself in Mongolian culture.  Some days are easy. Some days you can’t get enough of the attention, the milk tea, the being pranced around from event to event as the trophied American. But some days are more taxing and really do drain you.  The days you're called upon for another impromptu tutoring sesh with your neighbor on their English homework, when all you wanna do is watch Dexter. Or when you're in a total groove at work and instead the day takes an unforeseen twist and you're getting drunk with your co-workers and celebrating a hair cutting ceremony at 2pm on a Tuesday. (And yes, both happened to me this week.)

But today was a different kind of day. Today Anthony and I did our usual round to the Black Market, our town's large outdoor market (where you can get linoleum AND sheep innards,) to get our groceries for the week. It just so happened that this particular week, we didn’t have much to buy, but it was a nice day and we wanted to get out anyway. The sun was shining, the snow was melting, and the day rocked a friendly feel that was all too eager to invite us out to join.  The first place we stopped into, the shop owner (who I visit practically everyday,) greeted me with a nice, warm 'sain uu naidzaa' (hello my friend) and followed it up with a hug. Whatever happened to grocers just hugging you for no particular reason... ?

As we continued on to the Black Market, we split up and I went looking for some nails as Anth was left with the very important task of nabbing tomato paste. I found some in the ‘hardware aisle’ and picked out 6 or so and asked the woman how much they were. She looked at the nails, looked at me, flashed me a smile, and said I could have them. She asked me all the routine questions, if I lived here, what I did for work, etc. She had a really warm smile and seemed genuinely interested in me. I wandered out of that aisle convinced that the world really is full of good, decent people.

We got the rest of the things we needed and headed out of the market. As we were walking to yet another store one we’ve lovingly dubbed the ‘Cheese Store,’ my friend Boloroo pulled over and asked if we wanted a ride. We hoped in and she dropped us off at the store after telling us that if we ever need a ride, to give her a call. Welp, no cheese was to be had today, BUT a big box full of brown bananas caught my eye. With thoughts of banana bread swirling through my mind, I picked a few up and asked how much and the lady told me that they were bad. I told her I’d still like to buy some and she ended up giving me as many as I could carry. 

As we got home and I emptied my bags, I thought back on our outing and the goodness of the people who helped make my day better. I think that is what integration is all about…

Represent Gobi-Altai... REPRESENT!