Tuesday, 15 March 2011

back in the UK

so - its been a while, I left mongolia on 4th December 2010.  I spent two weeks making my way from London to Lockerbie.  two days after I returned I was walking through shoreditch when I was stopped by three young men, clearly in high spirits.  we got chatting and they invited me to come for a drink with me.  Thats how I ended up drinking tequila in a strip bar at 3pm.......

Since then life has been random and exciting, annoying but with moments of spleandor.

I had a wonderful christmas and new year with my family in scotland, lots of food, sledging and funtimes doting on newest addition to te family, Sampson the wonderbaby.

I was at a lose end, lifewise, and I decided that a good enough avenue to coast down was moving to Liverpool to be near some of my oldest friends,  So I moved....as in, I got in my car and drove down not knowing what to expect, having never ever been to liverpool before.

I am homeless, unemployed, bt happy enough.  POverty is paralysing me, but I am staying with my friends, dancing in their performing troupe sometimes, and drinking cheap tea at hppie cafe's while I job hunt on my laptop.

Monday, 29 November 2010

My last ride – frozen eyelashes, looking cool and fake babies......

Since I have been in Mongolia I have slowly but surely embraced horse riding. It is something I was so looking forward to doing, I love horses, and have felt a yearning to ride for a long time. Even as a small child I was fascinated by horses, and was actually kind of ‘in love’ with Pegasus – whom I felt was the ethereal embodiment of perfection, and with whom I felt a kind of affinity. (One might infer from this that I feel that I myself am an embodiment of perfection and this is not an erroneous assumption to make, but that’s a whole other story.)

Since I have always been confident and competent, and generally been good at new things I have tried, I felt pretty sure that I would take to horse riding very well, I am calm and intuitive, which I thought were good complimentary qualities to confidence and competence when it came to horse riding.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I am also full of shit, and that a horse is not something like a game or a skill that one can master by being clever, it’s a great big unpredictable beast with its own agenda and it doesn’t care how clever you are, it’ll do its own damn thing thank you very much, and it doesn’t care if it hurts you, or annoys you, or frightens you. Uh oh........

So – I blogged about my first riding experience in Mongolia a while back, in June, and you would have thought that would put me off, but another thing I am is tenacious....and so I kept taking every chance I could to go riding (and spent all my money in the process, oopsie) and made sure I went with people who were more experienced than me, and who cared about me, so I felt safe and secure in developing my own riding confidence.

And it paid off, as now I am so comfortable on a horse, and I am so sad that I will not be able to ride anymore, but my last ride was so amazing, that I feel like that will in some way assuage the pain of this loss.

We went off to steppe riders, me, Natalie, elide and Evelyn. When I looked at the weather online that morning it said -24c, which before living in Mongolia would have freaked me out – now it’s like, ‘only -24, no worries’. (Lower than -30 however, begins to get painful). When we arrived at the camp, we were all struck by the beauty and wonder of the snowy steppe. Miles of white, we felt swamped by the lack of horizon, the sky was white, the ground was white, it was like that scene in the matrix when they first ‘plug in’.

A cup of coffee in the ger and getting our chaps on, was all the time we wasted before heading t’ward the horses, short, stocky, furry creatures. Natalie is a very experienced rider, and I always feel more confident riding with her, she and I mounted first and raced off ahead.

One of the things I hate most, up there with carrying heavy things and adults speaking in baby voices, is waiting around aimlessly, so I was so grateful to just follow Nat, who was also obviously itching to get on out there.

It was just amazing, a little disconcerting at times, as the marmot holes were hidden by snow, so the horses often tripped, the first few times this was quite alarming, but I realised that I just had to – you guessed it, man up and deal widdit. Whenever it happened I still couldn’t help but gasp, but I didn’t feel the knot of panic I did the first few times. It’s not that I am a fraidy cat, I just really don’t like to be in pain, or, sooo much worse, to lose face.

Luckily the last time I came off a horse it was because I decided to jump ship, and managed an impressive stunt roll (cool). I didn’t fancy my chances of maintaining my dignity, or the use of my limbs, if I was thrown unexpectedly off a stumbling animal (not cool). And I looked so awesome galloping through the snowy steppe, in my (fake) Ray Bans with my hair billowing out behind me in the wind, cig in my lips like cool hand Luke, with all the poise and swagger of a seasoned cowboy but with the smouldering looks of a young gypsy girl.....that I couldn’t bear the thought of that perfect image being ruined by being my being killed or seriously injured.

As it turned out, I had no need to even worry, as I didn’t fall, in fact I won a race that Natalie started (and which I didn’t even want to be part of at first, as I was still preoccupied with the whole horse tripping over thing) but turned out my horse responded with more oomph to Natalie and the other guy’s shouts of “chuuu” than their own horses did – so all I had to do was sit tight and even managed to say, nonchalantly, as I thundered past them, “eat my snow dust, suckers”.

I had layered up so thoroughly in preparation for a sub zero trek, I wasn’t prepared for how warm I got riding. Luckily I had decided not to wear a helmet, so I could take off my hat and scarf with ease, and shoved them up my jumper. Which made a bump, which one of the Mongolian guys who was riding with us, Baysaa, decided was my ‘baby’. It was so funny, this light-hearted flirting, our feet touched as our horses passed, so I reached to touch his hand to dispel the bad luck, but he held on to my hand, and said in Mongolian, lets ride and hold hands, so I said Za, ok. And we rode for a little way together, holding hands and him singing a folk song for me. Then my scarf began to fall out of my jumper and he offered to put it inside his Deel, whence upon it became his ‘baby’.

We rode for maybe only 2 and a half, 3 hours, but it seemed a long long time, walking, trotting or galloping through all this white. It was snowing at first, small soft flakes that froze on my eyelashes and eyebrows and made me look a little like story book pictures of Jack Frost (the supernatural being, not the television detective) with my pointy nose and wild eyes. Then the snow stopped and the sky cleared and the beautiful blue contrasted the wondrous white so sharply it was breath taking. Sometimes the snow was so deep it went up almost to the horse’s thighs and it had a hard crust that made a satisfying crunch as the horses clopped through it.

By the time we got back to camp though, my feet were completely frozen, despite tights, thermal socks and legwarmers; they had gone totally numb below the knee. This is quite a weird feeling, I managed to get off the horse ok but walking down the hill to the Ger was like some kind of semi out of body experience....the top half of me was moving, but it just didn’t really know how this was happening.

Aaah, the warm ger, and the mutton stew, and the rice and the chilli sauce, and the stove and the chattering and then we wrap back up and head for the car and for UB and I leave the steppe behind me forever, and I feel sad, but my favourite Mongolian folk song is on the radio, the one Baysaa was singing for me, and I hum along and decide I will buy a CD for when I come back to UK and paint my mothers living room.....and that song will always remind me of this perfect day, so it isn’t lost, and even if I can’t ride anymore, as it’s so expensive in the UK, and I would have to relearn the whole thing with English horses (plus they are so much bigger so much further to fall so much more cool to lose...) I will always have this memory, like a snow globe in my own mind.

Nakedness, Mitts 'n' Gritts, and Muugii gets her bum out....

My colleagues wanted to do something special for me in my last week, and decided that a trip to the ‘саун’ was in order. So after work one day last week, Muugii, Soyol, Nurze and I all went for our special treat......I was told the саун was like a sauna, but I was still unsure what to expect (this being Mongolia afterall..) but the ladies were so lovely about it all that I decided I would just go along with whatever – which is generally the flow I have gone with though all my time here, drawing the line only at downing vodka shots at lunch time.

The саун turned out to be a communal bathing/pampering centre. And it was soooooo nice. We arrived and after some negotiations had been made by my colleagues with the staff our significantly bulky outdoor gear was taken from us. Through a door, we were led, into a kind of antechamber with lockers for clothes, we undressed - and they quickly noticed the tattoo on my shoulder that says ‘Mongolia’ in traditional Mongolian script. I had been anticipating some comments, and had had maybe a little trepidation as to how they would take this gesture.....but they seemed to really like it, and seemed genuinely pleased that I loved Mongolia so much I would have it inked onto my body!

It became clear quite quickly that Muugii had elected herself to be in charge of me, and once we were all towelled up she ushered me into a shower wet room. It was a slightly odd set up, an L shaped room, in the shorter part, three showers, with some nice shampoo and body wash, in the longer part, two ‘bed/table’s covered in Clingfilm, past these, the steam room.

There were a couple of other ladies pottering around, naked, and two or three ‘attendants’ (for want of a better word). We four all showered and washed our hair together, having deposited our towels at the door. Muugii, Soyol and Nurze made no bones about checking out my naked body. In fact, Muugii, who had obviously initially been trying to play it cool, gave up on any attempt at feigning disinterest and indicated that I should lift up my arms and turn around for them. They chattered and giggled and pointed at my waist and bottom, admiringly. Mongolian women, it seems, in general, do not really ‘go in’ at the waist, and they tend to have sweet little sloping bottoms, rather than a big round booty like what I got. I think they found my skin tone interesting too. Luckily I am no prude and they were so obviously just genuinely curious and unabashedly pleased with the opportunity to see a naked white girl that I didn’t mind at all, and in fact had my own natural curiosity, only I was a lot more subtle in how I went about making my observations!

Once the ‘inspection’ had finished, and our hair was washed, we took turns to sit in little stools, on the little sheet of plastic we had each been given for “underrr yourrr bum!” and an attendant gave each of us a perfunctory head massage while she put some kind of thick conditioner in our hair, which was then covered with a shower cap.

At this point we were ready to go to sit in the steam room, a tiny little cubicle with four seats, it was so funny, as the steam was coming out of a tube underneath Muugii’s seat, and much hilarity followed as we gestured and intimated that Muugii’s bottom was in fact the actual source of the steam; “thank you Muugii!” I understood in Mongolian and I just laughed along with them.

From the steam room we went back and forward form the showers a few times, and then took turns to lie on a plastic covered table and be exfoliated by a girl with mitts and grits. I don’t think I have even washed myself so thoroughly! I felt a bit like a child, and a bit like a princess. And actually a bit like an object, but not necessarily in a bad way. There was something sort of competently mechanical about the detached methodical manner in which I was scrubbed that was actually quite reassuring – and removed even the chance of self consciousness.

There is something very nice about communal bathing I think. My friends and I have often washed together, nothing remotely erotic or weird about it, just companionable and relaxed. A group of women can really unwind and indulge in the peculiarities of their gender; vanity, comparison, gossip, co-operation (you wash my back I will wash yours) etc, when bathing together.

After the scrub I was steered back to the shower, and it was indicated that I should wash off the hair treatment. As I was about to turn around to do this however, I felt a hand on my shoulder gently push me back the other way, and I realised the scrub girl with the mitt was washing my back.  Now that's what I cal service.

When we were all as clean as clean could be, we reclaimed our towels and left the wet room. In the next room, a row of lovely big fat soft massage beds beckoned invitingly. As I made myself comfortable, I was brought a cup of green tea and once I had finished and was putting my cup down, an attendant came silently up behind me and whispered that I should lie down on my front. And thence began a lovely relaxing wonderful massage. I have had two or three massages in Mongolia, and all of them have been incredibly painful, and being a qualified masseuse myself, I have even been a bit concerned about some of the quite frankly brutal techniques they have used. But this particular one was lovely, although I realised how horribly knotty and tense and tender my shoulders have become here.

All too soon it was time to turn over, and one by one my hands were picked up, massaged, and then painted with hot paraffin wax which quickly cooled and hardened slightly, and my hands wrapped in plastic for the duration of the facial treatment, which consisted of mainly massage, but then a facemask was applied and then we were left for 20 minutes, sooo relaxed and comfortable, I nearly fell asleep, I think one or two people there actually did, as there was the gentle sound of snoring coming from somewhere, but I was so floaty and floppy I didn’t really register, perhaps I did fall asleep....

I was so sorry when it was all over, but I felt so good, so chilled, so CLEAN! But once Muugii mentioned dinner I realised that I was also very hungry. We walked a short distance to a Chinese restaurant, where I let them order, saying, truthfully, that I would eat anything at all on the menu. It was a lovely meal, and even though they kept forgetting to include me in the conversation, I was very content, and Muggii did make a real effort to express things to me in English.

By the time we finished our meal we were the last people in the restaurant, which was a very god thing as it turned out.....

Muugii had undone the clasp of her skirt as she ate, to ease the pressure on her full stomach. However, she then forgot she had done this, and so when she stood up to leave the table her skirt fell down around her ankles, causing her to screech and grab for it, as the rest of us all exploded into hysterics at this fantastically slapstick vision; when someone doesnt have enough hands to cover their front and behind and retrieve their fallen garment all at the same time, the resulting manic flapping is always hilarious, and inevitably leads to the entire debacle lasting a few more comical seconds.

So, relaxed and clean and well fed, and superbly entertained, I flicked through my dictionary (tired of repeating “goy bain” – this is lovely) for a new way of expressing my pleasure and gratitude, and found it, бүрэн төгс ‘completely perfect’.

Which was exactly how I felt my evening had been.

my farewell quiz, two mongolian babies and vodka for lunch

Aaah, life in UB, the pace never lets up, the madness never subsides, the pavements are slippery icy, the stray dogs have gone all fluffy, which gives them a cute appearance that belies their true rabid mentality.

So I had my 'leaving do' on thursday, as friday was a public holiday.  I decided to do a pub quiz, as 1, I love the quiz, 2, my leaving do from the UK was a pub quiz so there's some cosmic symettry in there, and 3, I dont like just getting a bunch of people into a pub to just stand around drinking - I like a 'point' to a party.

Anyway, it was a great success, it was so sweet, the guys who wrote the quiz made the first round answers all start with a letter of my name, an accrostick, i think it is called. Anyway, it was a really fun evening, even though my team didnt win! Which I blame on the fact that as it was my 'do' everyone wanted to buy me a drink, so I wasnt perhps quite as clear headed as I usually am for the quiz.........

Friday was the holiday, but I had arranged to meet my colleagues to go and visit our previous colleague who left in july to have twins.  I have been in Mongolia for ten months, and so why I thought, when they said, "lets meet at 12" that any one would actually be there at 12, I dont know, must be the innate brittish nurse time keeper in me.

So I slip and slide my way to meet them at the hospital, texting my friend to complain that I am too tired for this, I go over a particularly slippery bit of pavement (er, why, in a place that is covered in ice for 6 months of the year would you make most of the pavements smooth as marble???? its tantamount to premeditated assault I tell you.) I scream - my legs come out from under me - my phone goes flying into a snow drift - some teenagers laugh at me - and my arm smacks into a random bt of metal.  Nice.

So I get to the hospital, 12:00.  I wait.  I wait.  I wait. 12:40 one of my colleagues arrives and we go up to the office where I messa round on the internet.  eventually, over the course of the next 40 mins or so others arrive and much faffing and flapping ensues. We then go to the supermarket where they spend 20 minutes deciding what nappies to buy.........have you ever been hungover in a supermarket in a gaggle of about 15 mongolian women who are all talking fast and loud and shrill and non stop? Dont try it, you wont like it, trust me on this.

So then we get a taxi, I am put in the front, there is no seat belt, there is ice on the road, we are going v fast.  I stop counting the near misses and remind myself that squeezing my eyes shut will only make my wrinkles worse, so just man up and deal widdit.

Get to Tserma's house, and it v nice, in the ger district, very sweetly decorated and furnished.  we sit on low stools around a low table, filled with dishes of food, I am sitting between motherly Nurze, who very sweetly finds me the peices of meat that are өхгуи (have no fat) and Muugii, who speaks a little english, and every now and again thinks to try and include me by telling me a little of what the conversations are about, and who has my back when the milk tea comes out telling our hosts I dont drink milk as I am allergic. (this is my ploy to avoid dodgy dairy in asia without causing offence).

I am more interested in the twin baby girls, sooooooooo cute, and little and fat and mongolian.  I didnt bring my camera!  So I only have my own memories, but they were cute.  I think there was just me and this one other youngish nurse, who didnt have children, so we were the broody ones, and she was being a right baby hogger, much to my chagrin.

My heart sank when the vodka was brought out, as even though i will drink it with ice and tonic, shooting it, is pretty much the exact opposite of my bag. Every time we toasted I just touched it to my lips in a show of cameraderie, and each time Tserma's husband would top it up a little more, even though I adnt actually drunk any.  Muugii was telling me, katereeen, when you drink, must *knock back action* - I just laughed and pretended not to understand.... and then the red wine came out. 

One thng I have found hard in Monoglia i the winter, is not how cold it is outside, -20 and below is fine with me, I actually enjoy it, for short periods at a time... what is most difficult is how freakin hot it is INSIDE.  heating balsting away, and no ventilation, this is one of my all time worse combinations (people doing baby voices and keeping me waiting is another, fruit in savoury dishes another, and the wearing of green and red is one of the most heinous,  but all that is by the by).

Anyway, so this room is like a furnace, airless and full of chattering women, who seem to be getting shriller by the second, and all they say to me is drrrink drrink! So I smile and sip at my wine, and gaze at the babies, and try to remember what I know about heat exhaustion, and wonder how long we will be here for, and when the baby hogger will let me have a hold of the cuter twin, and whether its just my ovaries being sneaky, or whether it really would be a great idea to have a baby of my own, and why did I forget my camera, and will being this hot damage my internal organs........and so on until suddenly we are all traipsing out, much hugging and smelling, into the blessed blessed cold, and a breath of fresh coal smog.

We get taxi's and I am inthe front again but this time I have my colleagues 6 year old son on my lap, which for me is great, he falls asleep and I get to cuddle him for ages. We have to change taxi's in the middle of the journey though as one begins to fall apart as we drive along the frozen roads.

I will miss the freedom of taxi's here, you flag one so easily, you can put as many people as you like in there, "tin of fish" my mongolian friend calls it (sardines). 

I will miss the cute kids.

I will miss the lovely hospitality, and the kindness and thoughtfulnes.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

root canal, domesticity, and I forgot the other thing

So - I went to the dentist..........

I had been given the telephone number of a Korean dentist, who spoke perfect english, and who was very suave and charming. I almost found myself fawning.  Almost.

He Xrayed my tooth (as has been done several times before, by every dentist I go to telling them about the pain.  As a healthcare professional, I recognise very well the look on the face that accompanies their glance at my Xray, it says "you're faking/imagining/hawking for drugs).  Of course there was nothing to see, tho my friend Yadma who had come to hold my hand said she saw the Xray and I had very beautiful inner teeth.  So it wasnt all bad.

Anyway, he says, no cracks, no holes, but a very very deep filling.  In fact, its more filling than tooth.  (in my head at this point I see Alec Guiness as Obi Wan Kenobi's ghost telling Luke about Darth Vader, "he's more machine than man now" in that fabulous singysongy voice that I put on to make my sister laugh so hard she cant breathe). ANYWAY - upshot is he wants to drill it out, and refill.  I am carried along by the suave, and by trying not to laugh at the alec guiness thing, and so i dont even look to see if the needles are clean, oops.

So he injects me, and i numb up, and he drills and i dont like it, but its more painless than any dentist i ever saw in the UK (every time I go to the dentist in the Uk I need to take a "time out" - seriously, I dont know what is wrong with me, I just hate having a strange man's fingers filling my mouth and sticking thing in it that hurt).  He puts in a temp filling, and says, if the pain continues, come back on tuesday and he will do root canal. 

At these words my world goes into slow motion, like in the movies, I say "what" in a voice that sounds like I left half my palate at home,more like "ghuhut" and i watch his lips as he says again

"rooooooooooot caaanaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllll"

I dont even know what it is, but it sounds so heinous that the muscle under my eye is twtching, but my britishness is irrepressible - "LOVELY!" i profess brightly, "how wonderful.  When can we do it, tuesday?  Splendid, I cant wait, awfully jolly of you to fit me in, what, i say, wont that be a gas.  well, orf i go, back in a couple of days.  toodle pip."

Suddenly I am bertie wooster, and suddenly my world has collapsed.  I cant have root canal, i will die.  probably, maybe, highly likely at the very least.  I cant NOT do anything because i will die, probably.  So I stop trying to make a decision and just curse my rotten luck and my even more rottener crappy teeth, and my maxillo facial neural pathways, if it wasnt for them all would be fine and I wouldnt feel like something with claws was burrowing into my jaw using my tooth nerve as a hand rail.

So - thats today, five hours til root canal.  I feel kind of sick, although (v naughty I know, shhh dont tell the BMA) a friend of mine has given me a little something designed to help hysterical housewives, so I am planning to pop this little blue about 30 mins before drill commencement and I hope this will subdue me somewhat.

It is -15 outside, I have strted wearing thermals, I forgot that I actually like them, mine, like all of my clothes, are skin tight - and I feel snug and serene in them, its like a full body hug from silk and lambs wool (no messing about with viscose darling).

I actually want it to get colder now.  I wont have long to wait, its getting into the -20s at night now.

righto - I have heard tell of an american in the hospital, and I am going forth to investigate.


Friday, 12 November 2010

What -15 feels like. And how I am a walking cliche.

Aaah, winter is upon us, the ice is creeping over the pavements like a subtle spill of slippery slidiness.  The temperature is into the double figures of minusness.  The snow falls are frequent tho not prolonged.

The snow is nice, tiny mini flakes, cascading from the everpresent sky coming to gently dance upon my eye lashes like so many baby ballerina butterflies brushing my cheeks with soft coldness that is a sweet remedy to the razor sharp wind that boxes my ears and stings my nostrils.

my toes are cold, but all else is fine, i pull my thick tights up high to my middle and wear my wool mix skirt often so i feel like a character in a story set in a girls boarding school in yorkshire circa 1905.

The air is changeable, sometimes so full of coal smog that I become instead a character form a Dickens novel, living in London in the 19th century and wracked with consumption.

my tooth aches, it woke me ast night frm a dream about going camping and forgetting my sleeping bag and being in a bad mood and walking with andrew and carping on about it then narrowly avoiding being hit by a car and andrew laughing at my misfortune, then awake, and pain.

So I am going to go to the dentist.  We shall see how this goes.  I am pretty hardcore in almost every way, I do martial arts, I have tattoos, I ride horses, I climb rocks and trees and anything with footholds that looks like it has somehting fun at the top of it, I have laid out dead bodies, I have restrained mad men, I have seen some things, and yet - and yet, how utterly banal that I am incapable of dealing with a trip to the dentist. 

How embarrassingly NORMAL. 

I shall of course report on the events of the visit as and when.

The sleep deprivation and resulting caffeine overdose is to blame for the jerken sprangling of this post.

Friday, 5 November 2010

the pub quiz is dead, long live the pub quiz

its true, the pub quiz is no more.  Sad times.

In the last month I have been busy busy.  I have been involved in designing a trianing day for the interpreters, as vso state they cant offer a very high salary to interpreters, so they cant get such a high standard of interpreters.  So we decided to make a group to try and maximise the efficacy of interpreters, by providing creative training to help them work to their full potential.

It went very very well, and all the interpreters gave very good feedback, so that was a buzz.  Short lived as it turned out as things went sour when the volunteers, interpreters and vso staff had a big tangle about how and how much the interpreters get paid. 

anyway, I have also been going to the theatre as much as possible, went to see the russian ballet do Romeo and Juliet, which was absolutley stunning, exquisite. I have also been to see two Mongolain Ballets, which are great, wonderful costumes and a really interesting interpretation of ballet.  Next I am going to see 'La Boheme' and the magic flute.

Once a week a group of us have a film night, where I come over to Nicks at 6pm and start cooking a vegge pasta dish, others arrive and we watch obscure films and discuss them with hilarity.

I went the other day to see a performance done by a group of expats, a theatre group who put on "the fantasticks", it was hilarious, tho perhaps not always intentionally.....

work ticks along nicely, now instead of the nurses coming to me, I now go to the departments, and give informal lessons on the wards, and everyone seems much happier with this arrangement.

anyway - i am being muchly distracted by poeple talking to me....so now just going to post a load of photos from charleine's visit.  these are her photos, and I think they are wonderful, she is an artist and her website is http://www.charleineb.com/

coloured garages in Erdenet

me and uya in erdenet

hiking up the hill in erdenet

funland in erdenet

the black market - felt for gers

horse skulls in erdenet

bed factory security guards ger

lunch with the twins, I dont look so impressed but I was just tired, I actually love mongolian food...
horrid tricksy horse

the view from Zaisan

pollution defence

fabric stall at teh market

monument at erdenet

my beauties

lady and her ger

the main square in erdenet

more photos as and when I collate them.