Mongolian Tuesdays
Paul Dewey
Washington, DC

Mongolia is a country full of friendly folks. A place where the summer green steppes go on forever dotted with solid white yurts and grazing livestock. A destination I never imagined myself, and certainly not hunting for a bathroom sink.
    And so it was in 1992 that I had the opportunity to stay with my Peace Corps host family. I was in a 3-month training program with 29 other volunteers who had decided to make a difference in the world and commit two years of their lives to doing so. We were embracing the culture and language of the people who had been so isolated from the west. And as part of our adventure, I was placed in the home of a wonderful family to help me understand the way of life in Mongolia.
    While living just south of Siberia, it became quickly apparent that goods were not readily available. Everything from flour to toilet paper was difficult to come by. The recent collapse of the Soviet Union, which had served as a major trading partner and provider of goods, had taken its toll on the markets. While adjusting, I also discovered that Tuesday was my "bad day". In fact, everyone in Mongolia has a day in which you must be more cautious, a day of the week on which you are vulnerable to evils of the world.
    And it was on a Tuesday that I was not careful enough. The basketball court abrubtly pulled me to the floor after a turning of my ankle, providing me with a sickening pain. My foot swelled to double in size in only a matter of minutes with my stomach ready to release my last meal (most certainly consisting of mutton).
    Fortunately my host brother, Munkhnast, shared my burden by assisting me home as I hobbled along grimacing and cursing. Upon arrival at my host family's home after a 1.5 mile endless journey, my Mongolian mother reminded me that Tuesday was in fact my "bad day". But she had in mind a special remedy for my injury. Salted black tea to be consumed and then rubbed over my ankle and wrapped in cloth would make me better in no time. It was not quite what the doctor would have ordered stateside.
    For three weeks I walked with crutches, bouncing on one foot without them. My host family had an endless stream of helpfulness, catering to my every need. At times it was a bit embarrasing to have them fetch my books, my food, and even my underwear. I felt that they had taken on much more than expected, but try as I might to do things on my own, they insisted on assisting.
    On another early Tuesday morning, fate would make my life even more interesting. I had jumped in the shower to get ready for training. After doing the usual cleaning (even behind my ears) I had decided, as I had on many routine occassions to grab for my towel. But somehow, on this early Tuesday morn, my good foot slipped, causing me to land on my nearly healed ankle and not without major pain. Of course during my naked, wet fall, I had naturally grabbed for the nearest thing to latch onto, hoping to prevent myself from hitting the ground at full speed. But on my speedy trip downward, the only item I seemed to find was nothing less than the bathroom sink which wasn't happy to brace my fall. Instead it ripped completely out of the wall as I fell and shattered into what must have been a million pieces.
    Of course lying naked in the bathroom with a throbbing ankle among broken pieces of a sink in the middle of Mongolia in the home of your host family was not my idea of a "good" day. And while my host family came rushing to my rescue, checking to make sure that I had not killed myself in their home, I could only think of how difficult I had just made their lives. They would find no Home Depot or Payless Cashways around the corner to pick out their new sink upgrade. They would be living with not only a highly demanding, injured American guest, but now without their bathroom sink. But instead of worrying about misfortune, my host mother only reminded me with certainty that Tuesday was in fact my "bad day".
    And many Tuesdays have passed since my days in Mongolia. I am grateful for my experience and have not forgotten what we take for granted here in the U.S. Today, I rest more peacefully knowing that my host family once again can rinse their hands and have the sink to catch the water. Somehow, even in the worst of times, they were able to find the needed utility.
    And in our long-distance correspondence we now laugh at the trouble that their American guest caused them. Friends for life undoubtedly, the real value of my Peace Corps experience!


Paul Dewey's Peace Corps project was Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). He worked for the Selenge Province Ministry of Education in Sukhebaatar, Mongolia during his service from 1992-1994 teaching English language and methodology to language instructors. He also taught secondary students and community groups. Now a graduate student, he currently serves as development director, raising funds for the National Peace Corps Association.


 

I also discovered that Tuesday was my "bad day". In fact, everyone in Mongolia has a day in which you must be more cautious, a day of the week on which you are vulnerable to evils of the world.