At the agreed upon time of 2:30 pm on this hot afternoon, Dasha and I meet up with the woman I ‘met’ on Instagram last month, Ochma (pronounced Oh-ch-mah). The three of us chat in the posh little café on the ground floor of the Department Store over cups of blueberry ice cream. There’s some chatter in Mongolian between Ochma and Dasha, which I don’t understand, and twenty minutes later we all exchange cell phone numbers and my care transfer from babysitter Dasha to babysitter Ochma is complete. Dasha departs and Ochma and I finish our desserts.
Never Left Alone: I Have a Babysitter
I gather that leaving me alone in the city is not permitted, which is disconcerting to me, as a committed solo traveler at heart. I’m not sure why I can’t go places alone, but it’s alright since I enjoy the company. And, I appreciate the introduction to a country I’ve looked forward to visiting for over 15 years. Maybe I lost Dasha’s trust by admitting having forgotten my jacket, so am not fully trusted to care for myself.
I’ve been in-country less than 24 hours. Already I understand that in this land I am essentially a baby. Babies don’t understand what is happening around them and rarely know what the future holds, which is exactly how I feel in right now in Mongolia. I can’t read signs at any of the shops and I don’t understand a single word spoken around me. I don’t know where the roads lead, so whenever we round a curve or turn a corner a surprise awaits me. My primary understanding of the world around me comes from people via body language and tone of voice.
Instagram IRL (in real life)
Ochma is super cool! First of all, I understand everything she tells me, providing insight to this new world around me. It’s as though I’ve been watching a foreign movie, and suddenly the subtitles come on. My world lights up, and it feels luxurious to be both understood and understand an entire conversation. She seems around 25 years old and was a computer programmer at a bank until she quit to focus on her singing. She lives with her mom, twin sister, and little sister. I find out that this afternoon I’ll accompany her to 2 events she’s singing at. Chatting as we walk to at her first event, I find out that she learned her fluent English by teaching herself the meaning of the English songs she sings. Remarkable!
While sun beats down on us, we meet up with Ochma’s friend on the wide street. She is also fluent in English, and is actually a professional tour guide with a high-class tour company. She and Ochma recently met at an open mic event. Today they are performing together on their guitars. They describe the open mic nights to me, explaining that not many women participate. They actually watched each other perform at a few of these events before overcoming their shyness and introducing themselves. I’m glad they found each other, and I’m glad I’ve found them, as they are really fun company.
Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar
Sukhbaatar Square is shockingly massive. The space is a vast monochromatic, flat square and the 20-foot tall statues of various wide-bodied men are impressively large—of course Genghis Khan is one of them! There are no statues of skinny guys, here. The two women tell me a bit about Mongolia’s history. There were many wars and warriors, similarly to other countries.
All the graduating students come to the square for their graduation photographs, and the season is just beginning. Strolling through the square, I enjoy watching the colorfully dressed graduates celebrating their accomplishment.
Our stroll speeds to a rush when Ochmaa notices the time. The women are going to arrive late at the event venue if we don’t hurry. We cross a busy road, where cars definitely do not yield to pedestrians. It’s become hot under the bright sun as we navigate our way across an asphalt parking lot and then into a large, loud, dark room.
Next Chapter: The Talent Show & Gladys the Dog
Previous Chapter: Jacket shopping in Ulaanbaatar