an obscure language,
bundling for -35 degree weather,
talking without words,
having relationships purely through Skype,
including meat in every dish,
singing in another language,
cooking and making things from scratch: bagels, tortillas, pretzels, etc.,
learning to be at home on the other side of the world...
These are just a few of the things that I have learned this past year. It is unbelievable to even think about the fact that I've been away from every thing I have ever known for a year [I realize a year is a tiny amount of time], much less that where I am now is familiar--also my home.
There are some things I wish weren't so familiar, though. I wish seeing dead frozen puppies as I walk to work weren't familiar. I wish the constant awareness of the difficulties of everyone's home life, whether it be because of money problems or relational problems, weren't so familiar. I wish it weren't so familiar that the lack of jobs causes people to have difficulty feeding and providing for their families. I wish it weren't so familiar that somedays people don't even have enough money to take the bus. I wish it weren't familiar that it is so expensive to provide heat for their homes.
Despite that and through all of the things that are gravely familiar, I also have gotten to see what's underneath.
Underneath the calloused exteriors I have found a deep sense of being in the Mongolian's hearts. I believe that they realize and know that at the root of who they are--they are just like their neighbor. Each person's life is burdensome and complicated, so, they treat each other's problems with respect and delicacy.
Everyone is just another person. We are all people.
People that struggle.
People that laugh.
People that cry.
People that are grateful.
Because of their acute awareness of everyone's person-ness, their sense of hospitality is contagious. Their sense of humility is humbling. Their loyalty is binding. Their love is deep.
Because of their awareness of their person-ness, I too, have become overwhelmingly aware of that. That's precisely why Mongolia has become like home. Not because I feel like I have changed anything, other than myself. Not because I feel like I can handle all things Mongolian or even understand all things Mongolians. I feel at home because this is a home, with people, problems, joys, struggles. Just like the home I knew for 22 years. I don't have the same experience with Mongolia as I do Alabama, but people are what make experiences are made of anyway.
As I learn more and more what it means to advocate for Mongolians, I see the need to become more vulnerable, sharing parts of my life that can sympathize and relate to theirs. Vulnerability is our common ground. It's how we realize or similarities and differences. It's how we communicate beyond words and get down to the heart.
In being vulnerable with them and sharing in life with them, I have become so connected to them. I long to be Mongolian. I long for a knowledge of every person's person-ness. I long for a true nature of hospitality, to be taught to be humble, to be loyal and to love deeply.
I wrote about this story before but I'm reminded of it today. In one of the first few months that Erin and I were here we met 2 women who had been living here for a while. They told us that Mongolia had a way of getting under your skin--that it would soon get there and stay, leaving you without words to describe it.
Today I can confidently say that Mongolia is under my skin. It is pleasant, sometimes difficult, challenging, heartbreaking, gravely familiar and joyful. It's impossible to describe and more impossible not to fall in love with.
It's no pocket full of sunshine, but it is rooted in person-ness and all that comes with that--a pocket full of life.