I was invited to a picnic for our school’s director this weekend. This annual retreat is a tradition, but this year was a special occasion because the woman in charge of running all three schools in our complex won a special medal over the summer. I thought this would be a good way to connect with my coworkers outside of school. We went to a ger camp on the edges of the city, by the woods.
It was slightly surreal, laying on my bed, listening to 12 Mongolian women signing traditional songs until 2AM (when I was finally ushered to a ger where people were actually sleeping). It was a little sad to see so many people outside hunched over on my way to the outhouse. The cold of this country has a way of making every sight, sound, and sensation amplified by its chill; your breath creates a misty lens through which all is filtered. It’s not even winter weather by any stretch, but I can feel it.
In the morning, I was roused by howls from outside. Was someone singing? Yelling? I couldn’t tell. My system was run-down from the exhausting sleep I get from my sleeping bag, so I rolled over and slumbered a bit more. In the afternoon, one of my English teachers told me what had happened.
“A teacher, her husband… what do you call this?”
She held up a few specks of dirt on her finger. After a bit of negotiating, we settled on what she was trying to get at.
“Those big dirt piles around the city. You know? He was walking and… it fell down, and he died.”
I had told a group of students a few days before that I disliked all the construction debris everywhere, and how it made everything difficult. I took a spill myself, tripping on an exposed metal rod jutting from the sidewalk just a week prior. I breathed out and watched the mist carried about by the wind. I didn’t quite know what to make of all this. Everyone else was carrying on, enjoying themselves. Maybe they knew there was nothing they could do for her so soon after the accident.
We feasted upon sheep roasted by scalding-hot stones afterwards. I’m not a fan of sheep usually, but they way it was prepared this time around made it delightful. They call it horhok. They even gave me some to take home afterwards.
I still smell like mutton.