Thursday, August 14, 2008


When I step outside of my apartment, this is the view on my left. The building with the red roof is a 24 hour convenience store. While some of the signs are in English for the benefit of tourists, the vast majority are in Mongol (such as the green sign on the bottom center of the picture). I believe you can click on these pictures for a closer look.

This is the view on my right. I live in a similar building. When evening rolls around, the tiny, fenced-off "yard" in the middle fills with playing children and watchful, doting parents.

Ulaabataarites live in three kinds of homes: apartments, small houses, and gers. The apartments are Soviet-style concrete towerblocks that have 20 or more floors. A one bedroom apartment costs $30,000. Apartments are regarded as the best and nicest living arrangement that one could ever hope to own; small houses and gers are not as nice as apartments.

I live in such an apartment and find it comfortable. Even though the apartment complex is cramped, smells like urine, and is in dire need of repair, we keep our apartment clean and there is always hot water and a working stove.

I never realized how much I take some things for granted. When I flip on a light switch, I expect the light to turn on. When I turn the faucet, water splashes out. Last Tuesday after work, I arrived home and expected an elevator to take me up 9 flights of stairs. It turns out that there was a power outage and no electricity was working. I started to climb the stairs and stepped into... darkness.

I'm not afraid of the dark, but this darkness felt impenetrable. I could not see my flaying limbs. I could not see anything around me. This was something straight out of a horror movie. Who knew what kind of Mongolian dangers hid behind every corner? I could only move along, inch by inch, by touch alone. Unfortunately, the stairs were winding in a haphazard fashion and I couldn't be sure if the next step would be broken.

This was going to take a long, long time.

I considered crawling up on my hands and knees but didn't know what kind of insects or rodents scurried around. I was also afraid of cutting myself on a stray nail or shard of glass. My cell phone's illumination was too small and dim to see anything.

My imagination was working in overdrive. What if I finally made it up 4 flights, only to come tumbling back down? What if I tripped and knocked myself unconscious? The minutes were dripping by painfully. Slowly, I turned around and crept back.

Once back in the blessed sunlight, I considered alternative light sources. I walked to a nearby drug store and purchased a lighter, the only light source available. It was pathetic but worth a try.

With the cell phone in one shaking hand and the lighter in the other, I carried my groceries up and tried to tread carefully. I still couldn't see a darn thing.

Was it time to give up? Had I been defeated by my reliance on electricity? I felt frustrated and helpless. I felt like a stupid American. Why hadn't I remembered to carry a flashlight? For centuries, people have been living in darkness and have been getting along just fine. It's a minor, daily inconvenience that I just had to get used to.

Finally, I called Saikhnaa and she walked down 9 flights of stairs with a large light. My tiny hero, an elfin Mongolian arriving to save the Jolly Green American Giant.

Happy ending!


Nasus said...

Sharon! I just read your blog posts and my positive thoughts are with you. Your experiences so far (especially the culinary ones) are very interesting - you are so brave!

Susan M.

the other s.lee said...

Mongolia slight resemblance to Costa Rica? Haha, perhaps the blue skies are creating that illusion... sounds like a trip full of eclectic experiences. Color me envious.