It was a question my supervisor asked me one day.
We were in her car, with her husband and young daughter. My eyes widened as I sat in contemplative silence. Was this a thinly veiled threat against my life? Was she proselytizing? The answer was far simpler.
“Buddha,” her husband echoed.
They drove me to the outskirt of town, down the main road. Upon the hills there are dirt roads carved by weathered tires, leading to a massive gold Buddha, sitting serenely upon the rocks, gazing lovingly upon all who scurry beneath. I walked along the mangled earth around the monument, tripping over stones, moving past men with shovels and construction equipment.
“There will be a ceremony tomorrow at 9AM, but this is Mongolia, so it will not start at 9. I think it will be a cultural thing. It will be good for you.”
With those words from my supervisor, I headed back to the Buddha the next morning. It had indeed started at 9AM, as the massive throngs and chanting monks would have lead me to believe. I was with one of my coworkers. She suggested we climb up the hills behind the statue to get a better view. We did so, and watched the festivities.
“Will you walk around the Buddha now?”
Questions are almost always commands, so I stood up, and we began our trek around the periphery. Men and women tossed handfuls of rice and cap-fulls of fermented mare’s milk into the sky. Offerings, tradition rained around me as I walked. I had nothing of my own to offer; no vodka or milk, no rice or grain, so I simply observed. After we finished, the festivities continued. I chose to return home.
Next time, I’ll bring myself a bag of rice.