Who Are You?

Case in point: this wall around the corner from my house.  When I saw it I first got really happy, then really angry, and then really confused.  WHO ARE YOU???!!!  Are you a punk?  Are you a punk who likes Buddhism?  (…really?) Or are you a punk nazi who realized last minute that – oh fuck! – your swastika was the wrong way around… so you drew an arrow.  i don’t get it.

Speaking of things I don’t get: my life here is a rollarcoaster of monstrous proportions.  I’ll start with the bad:

Today, I had to go to the foreigner’s office (oh how I HATE foreigner’s offices) to do my second registration and to get my residence permit.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me and to the university I am researching through, the foreigner’s office had recently shortened the deadline for the second registration from 30 days to 21 days.  So today, I was sent with a few other students to the foreigner’s office, nonchalantly stroll in there thinking this would take 20 minutes, when the officer looks at me, hands me my passport and says very definitively and ominously, “Miss, you have broken the law.” Ummm…. what?

So, breaking the law is really a culturally relative experience.  When I got on the Trans-Sib to Mongolia in Russia a few weeks, there was a guy in my cabin whose Mongolian visa had taken longer than expected, and who had thus overstayed his Russian visa.  So, in this time-honored Russian tradition, he had a Russian write a letter of apology and a promise of a ‘compromise’ to hand to the Russian officer that was to examine his passport.   While we were all barricaded in the tiny wagon as the Russian customs officers boarded our train, he handed this note to the top officer, who smiled, winked, and said “come into my office in twenty.”  After frantically puffing two cigarettes on the train platform, and with us foreigners all glued with our noses to the windows watching him, he entered the officers’ room, where he paid his ‘fine.’  It, fortunately for him, only amounted to about 50 Euros, which the nice officer got to take home.

So, in Russia, when you have done something illegal, you bribe.  Well in Mongolia, you have ‘Vitamin B’ (as the woman at the university, Ujin, said, who also speaks fluent German) or good connections.  Ironically enough, Ujin’s mother was in the same elementary school class as one of the officers in the penalty room at the foreigner’s office.  So, we all headed back to the foreigner’s office, and Ujin’s mom arrived wearing 5-inch high heels, looking fabulous!, and sauntered straight into that office.    

Now, I would love to be able to say that I got off without paying a fine, especially because it wasn’t my fault.  But Ujin’s fabulous mother could only get her school mate to lower the fine to the lowest possible price, therefore cutting off 200 Euros from the actual price, but still amounting to a whopping 140 Euros!  And the really shitty part is that I can not contest it.  Because if I did, it would come out that the officer smudged the price as a favor and I can say good-bye to the university helping me with anything else while I am here.  In Mongolia, first comes who you know… and then comes the law.

So, that sucked.  Now on to the good stuff:

Yesterday, I went with my friend, Uyanga, to one of the women’s NGOs who pledged to help me with my research project.  This one, Steps Without Borders, is a tiny NGO working with women in the Gobi desert who are economically striken.  For anyone who doesn’t know anything about Mongolia, the hottest topic here to date is whether or not Mongolia should let foreign mining companies have increased access to the enormous amounts of natural resources here.  Many Mongolians feel that foreign companies just have dollar signs in their eyes, and have grown very distrustful of foreign investment.  Furthermore, the mining companies that have arrived, have already caused massive environmental and developmental changes, including poisoning rivers and destroying land.  Obviously, that is detrimental in a country, where over a quarter of the people still live off the land.

this is where I'm heading. holy s***

So, Bayarcaihan of Steps Without Borders has pledged to help me.  She wants me to go back to Europe and write articles on what development is doing to nomadic women, as well as work together with local women’s organizations to translate everything into English and create lines of communication between nomadic women’s NGOs and international NGOs…. basically, kinda be their international voice.

Bayarcaihan, whose personality I can only best describe as a ‘bulldozer,’ sat me down, asked me what I wanted, and gave me an entire, INCREDIBLE, research plan.  I will be heading in June to Omnogobi (өмнөговь) to the middle of the desert to live again with nomads.  A month later, I will head to a local town (and I mean TOWN) to talk to local women’s organizations and live with the nomads outside the town.  Then I will head to the local large city, and live with families there.  All in all, I will spend three months in the Gobi desert in summer.  Ironic, considering I spent all this time in Germany getting prepared for COLD weather.  At each location, I will stay with a rich nomadic family, a middle-class nomadic family, and a poor nomadic family, including interviewing women who participate in local beauty pagents, and prostitutes who cater to men working in the mines.

okk… the chorus of “OH MY GOD”s is echoing in my head again.  I.am.so.excited.  But I also know, that I have a lot of political work ahead of me and am a bit daunted by the enormity of the task.  WISH ME LUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤