I arrived in Mongolia after the longest period of non-stop travel that I have ever embarked upon until this point in my rather short life. Having been ushered through the Mongolian “security” I moved in to the reception area where two men greeted me. I was tired and as they led me to their car I could not help but be reminded of a film, the whole experience felt surreal. And the feeling of “out of my depthness” was completed as we pulled up to the 1950s communist block of flats that would be my home for the next four weeks.
First impressions aside I was surprised my the hospitality of my house Eej(mother). She didn’t speak English but was ready with food and tea! I was introduced to my house brother and sister. Neither said a word, and my slight feeling of being out of my depth grew. By morning however I was ready to take on Mongolia and all 2.5 million of its people if needs be. First however I had to tackle Mongolian food which is nice, nourishing and fattening-but repetitive!
I spent the next few weeks teaching English on week days at a private secondary school. Mongolian children are lovely, lovely people to work with. Although a little lazy they are polite and unusually trusting, making for a truly rewarding and gratifying teaching experience. They usually have a good grasp of basic English but there are basic teacher taught mistakes that I spent forever trying to work out! The teachers were friendly and almost every one of them wanted to “practice my English” with me, which really helped me to settle down.
I spent a great deal of time exploring Ulaanbaatar, a city at war with itself. Under the shadow of new westernized tower blocks and a giant blue glass building, families live in the traditional Mongolian gers, with a satellite dish attached, and a car battery running everything electrical inside. The struggle between old and new is forever present in Mongolia, but for me the charm of being invited inside a ger for some Suu te Tsai(milk tea) will never be forgotten.
My final week was spent with two Americans and a 21 year old doctor from Taiwan, travelling around Asia. The tour guide arrived, with a polite smile and limited English vocabulary, it became apparent that he was the ideal choice for a guide, with a seemingly limitless knowledge of the countryside and a strange ability to not get lost!
After some trouble with the fan belt we managed to get stuck into Mongolia good and proper, visiting monasteries and small towns along the way. I hope that the memory of helping to build a ger, on the banks of the Khovsgol river will never be forgotten, because to me that more or less symbolised everything that Mongolia stands for. The wildlife was amazing, yaks, cashmere goats, wild horses and eagles everywhere. But best of all was a rare chance to see two great black vultures, four and a half feet tall, and strangely majestic!
My five weeks in Mongolia finished all too quickly, I left having made some good friends, and with a head full of unrivaled memories of a country that won my praise and admiration. To that end reader I would urge you, beseech you-raise some money, get on a plane and go to Mongolia. Witness the country as it was when Genghis Khan (man of the millennium) roared across its vast open steppes, sleep in a ger alongside people you have known for all of an hour! I guarantee that you will leave feeling happy and content in the knowledge, that whatever challenges the world throws you before your final hour, you will be able to handle them with a smile, and the words “mal sureg tanag tavtaiyou” ringing in your ears.
Samuel Cranny-Evans taught in Mongolia on a placement arranged by Frontier in April 2009