It's Tuesday morning. Our mission here in Mongolia is ending, and we'll be heading for home this morning. Just as it was last year, it's a bittersweet time. Certainly we're ready to go home, anxious to see our families again (and to sleep in our own beds!) but we're going to miss this place, and these people. We have been so graciously received, so kindly treated, made to feel so welcome and appreciated - well, we're just going to miss these folks!
As instructed, we have brought our luggage into the big anteroom outside the dining room and left it there. It will be loaded into the bus that waits for us downstairs. After a final good breakfast in the dining room, we make our way down and gather outside, chatting with our interpreters and other Mongolian friends. One of the construction workers has brought his wife and little son to see us off. He and Bobby have become good friends, and he just wanted to say goodbye. Here's a picture - did you ever see a cuter little kid?
Finally, everyone was there, and it was time to get on the bus. Omar and Pastor Alex are not with us. They left a few days ago to go back to the states. There were prior commitments they had to fulfill, and we understood. We're just grateful that they came over with us and saw us through the perils of the Beijing airport, and had the privilege of participating in the baptism at the river last week. We're now in the capable hands of Dr. Ron, who has made this trip several times, as have some of the other guys, so we know we'll be okay. Our Chinese tour guide, David Wong, will meet us in Beijing.
We board the bus, and find comfortable seats. Again, it's a large bus, and we have plenty of room. We're accompanied by Susan Smith and Nicholas, as well as Badmaa. In addition, Batsengel, Oyuka, Mango and Goldie are along to translate for us. Of course, Badmaa translates too, but she can't be everywhere at once. As I've said many times, we are well taken care of on these trips. I have never, ever, felt unsafe, or even mildly insecure.
The trip into Ulaanbaatar is uneventful, the highlight being the stop at the halfway point. Same old wretched outhouse, though I must admit there have been some improvements. For one thing, it has been moved over several feet, to a new location on the hillside, and apparently, the old site was covered with dirt. An excellent decision. Also, some shrubs at the edge of the gravel parking area, which were very tiny last year, have grown quite a bit, and provide a bit of a screen across the front of the little building, which serves to block the prevailing wind a little bit. The smell was present, and strong, but didn't knock you out of your shoes like last year.
In addition, a new gas station has been built across the road. This is really progress! Now, when I say "new gas station," don't think "truck stop, mini-mart, showers, arcade, etc." Think tiny orange building about fifteen feet long, and perhaps a cold case where sodas will be kept. At home, it wouldn't attract much notice. Out here, just below the Siberian border, it will be a landmark.
We encounter a small hitch. Our bus has a flat tire! On a car, that's no big deal. On this enormous bus, it's a very big deal. Undaunted, our driver sets about to change it. I think he was prepared to struggle through the job alone, but was very relieved when some of our men pitched in and helped him. Big, burly David and several others helped wrestle the spare from underneath the front end of the bus. Mercy, it's huge! Feeling very grateful for the fact that I'm female, and therefore not expected to get involved, I stand and watch with admiration as the guys manage to coax the flat tire off and get the replacement installed. The job is finished, everyone congratulates the workers, and we can get under way again.
Back on the bus, and again rolling through the beautiful Mongolian countryside. I experience again the twinge of reluctance to leave, just as I did last year. This place is simply beautiful. Wild and spacious, big skies and rolling hills, animals ranging free, no fences in sight - it's lovely, and it very quickly carves a place for itself in one's heart.
I said there were no fences. Well, that's not quite true. At some point, Eloise and I began to notice a very odd thing. Along the side of the road, there were little "fenced" areas occasionally. They were about twenty feet off the road, and were about twenty feet wide. It's hard to determine the length, because we were moving rapidly past them, but I'd guess it at about a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet. The "fences" consisted of sticks, not much more than twigs, with what looked like orange twine strung between them. At first we couldn't figure out what they were enclosing. Then we noticed that there were some baby trees planted at fairly regular intervals inside the little enclosures. Grass and weeds were growing up around them, and we missed them at first. They were only about three feet tall, so were easy to overlook. Most looked brown and dead, but a few appeared to be alive. I can't say they were thriving, but they did seem to be trying.
There has been very little rain here recently, and the grasses are not very green. Judging by the fact that the grass around the little trees was also not very green, we concluded that no one is watering them. Someone has gone to some effort to plant the trees, and to put up the little toy fences, but without water, they'll never survive. Winter will hit here in about eight weeks, and without some well-watered, deep-reaching roots, the little trees will be lost. It's too bad. Also, the little fences, which were apparently intended to keep the free-ranging livestock from nibbling on the little trees, would be completely ineffective. I can't imagine that string keeping anything out. A cow probably wouldn't even see it, and would walk right through. Well, at least someone tried, and maybe a few of the young trees will survive.
We made it into UB just fine, and went directly to the Tokyo Hotel. We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and got back on the bus. Lunch is on the agenda, and we're ready! We went to another hotel, reputed to have good food in their dining room. The hour is late, however, and we decide just to have a good bowl of soup and move on. I'm glad we didn't order a huge meal, because it took forever to get that bowl of soup! When it finally arrived, however, it was very good, very filling, and we enjoyed it.
Back on the bus, interpreters close by as always. My precious Goldie stuck to me like Velcro. She was concerned about my unstable knee, and I could feel her little hand beneath my elbow at every turn. We went to the big State Department Store, for some requisite shopping. I really needed Goldie there. More than once, she whispered to me, "You don't want that, that's tourist junk." She helped me buy a few nice things, though. At the state store, you make your selection, and give it to a sales person. She writes it up and gives you a slip of paper, which you take to a central desk. That's where you pay, after which you return to the sales person and give her the receipt, and she then gives you your merchandise. An unwieldy system, but I suppose they have their reasons for doing it that way.
We returned to the bus at the appointed time, and headed for the Cultural Show. I'll tell you more about that event next time.
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