“Justin We, love you.”
I read the engraving through teary eyes. The words, misplaced comma and all was too much to handle. Lowering the silver bowl from my face I looked around me. A gigantic carpet spread out on the green grass. The sun beat down over the steppe. The peaks of the Khentii mountains on the horizon at all sides of me. Crowded around the blanket adorned with a vat of meat, bowls of candy, and arranged bottles of vodka sat Omnodelger. My co-workers, my friends, my neighbors.
They were all there.
As my goodbye present, my last hurrah and final send off my school had put together a special countryside barbeque just for me. Complete with all the games, gusto and cooked goat that can be expected from any Mongolian occasion. I stood at the front of the blanket with my school’s director as I was presented with my gifts. One by one people took turns at the microphone thanking me and recounting specific memories we shared together. Finally when it was my turn to speak I was so overcome with gratitude and emotion I found myself at a loss for words, much less Mongolian ones. I beckoned to Saruul, standing by my side gently rocking her newborn baby in her arms. She translated as best she could. I blubbered and thanked them from the bottom of my heart. For opening up their homes, their school and their whole town to me. For teaching me more about myself and the world than they realized. For giving me the opportunity to share my story, my knowledge, myself with them. The day ended in revelry. The goat consumed. The vodka flowed. The people I’ve come to know and love for two years gathered around me. I’ve never felt so special.
Two days later
I sat in my ger. Gutted, for all but the bed and table. The same solitary pieces that had existed in it when I first entered it two years ago. Unable to transport every aspect of my Mongolian life with me back home I had donated much of my things to my Mongolian friends and neighbors. They eagerly took everything offered. Even the lightbulb was stripped from its socket. As the sun set, shadows danced across the lattice of my home. My backpack and guitar at my feet, any minute my ride would arrive and whisk me away from Omnodelger. It was hard imagining that I wouldn’t be coming back, that there was the possibility it would only remain in memory. As insurance to myself that I”d return I buried a time capsule. Secretly digging a hole in the corner of Dawkraa and Tuya’s hashaa and burying away a tiny container full of small keepsakes of my time here.
Four paces from post.
I won’t forget.
Headlights danced on the street. Tires skidding on dirt. Two quick horn blasts. I picked up my bag and guitar with a sigh. The moment I never really prepared myself for had finally arrived. No words can describe the mix of emotion that stirred in me. Looking past the reality and sadness of goodbye I focused on the excitement ahead. I was leaving Mongolia, a place that had become familiar, a place I had grown to love. But I was embarking on a new adventure, a new chapter of excitement, experience and growth. My journey back to the States would be no easy hop, skip, and jump across the globe. No time warped plane ride. It would be the trip of a lifetime. To get back west I opted to travel overland from Beijing, China to Moscow, Russia, a journey of over 6,000 miles. I would board and ride one of the longest railways in the world, from end to end.
The Trans-Siberian Railroad awaited.