Winter Is Coming: Mongolia

I came to a dead stop as I exited my ger one morning. I had barely cleared the threshold when I was greeted by a sideways flying mixture of ice, rain, and snow. My ger, my hashaa, my whole town was covered in a thin layer of white. The biting wind, unhindered by obstacles such as trees, tall buildings, or mountains, seemed to stampede across the open steppe, propelling itself right into my face. I quickly back-stepped inside, yanking on the door against the blustery resistance. Maybe today is a day for gloves.

Whenever I think that I’ve been forgotten, that I surely won’t last another week against unfamiliar elements, a cohort of Mongolians will reveal themselves to show me that they still got my back. Later on that day when the weather still refused to relent, I stood in my doorway looking helplessly at the pile of wood in my hashaa, wet, icy, and inflammable. I gazed back inside my ger, my felt roof now saturated and soaking through with sleet, and frozen rain. I can almost hear the cavalry bugle when at that moment six Mongolian men, no doubt sent at my school director’s request came marching through my hashaa gate. They aren’t empty handed, a huge plastic tarp, a cast iron stove, and a sack of coal. I watch in grateful astonishment as they immediately set to work. Two men replace my old apparently “summer stove” with the cast iron one, telling me that now I can burn both wood and coal. The others begin wrapping the tarp around the roof of my ger waterproofing it from the still bitter weather. The wind whipping and blowing they mill about laughing and joking with me, “Mongolia is beautiful, right?” “You like the snow, don’t you?” One man reaches down and pelts another with a snowball. “See, its nice” he exclaims. After they finish I stand with them as they share a cigarette, I thank them over and over again, and as they go to leave one man explains to me that I will thank him again when it gets cold out. I shudder at the thought instead of the already frigid temperature.

Later on that very same day, the sun returned to the sky, the weather let up and the temperature rose. Within an hour the snow had melted away, it was as if the storm had never happened. As I strolled back to my new and improved ger from the store I gazed out over the roofs, fences, and gers. The distant mountains had been painted white, giving them a different depth and scope I hadn’t noticed before. The coming of winter had left its mark after all.

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