Part one: write a real story.
Part two: take that story, change the gender POV, change a bunch of details, change the underlying moral or message.
This is what I came up with on Sunday night:
Hollywood has become enamored of travel-as-self-discovery storylines lately, but before Julia Roberts started traipsing through whatever third world country she needed to travel through to find herself, my younger and stupider self flew to Mongolia to mend a Broken Heart.
For a month, I lived on the steppes like a nomad. I galloped across the valleys on a tiny horse while worrying about my insurance coverage. I swigged homemade vodka from an ancient, plastic crystal geyser water bottle. I chewed on preserved curls of yak cheese. I drank frothy, fermented yak milk. I laid awake, nervously, in my little ger, while wild animals pawed outside in the dark. I chopped firewood with a machete. I stopped showering. I put a pause on my worries.
I made friends through generous use of gesticulations. One of these new friends, who spoke halting English, took me to her home for a visit. The home was a one room shack that housed three generations of family members and an army of flies. My friend called her mother ahead of time to let her know we were coming. Like all mothers everywhere, in anticipation of her arrival, her mother had prepared her daughter’s favorite meal. It was waiting for us, hot and steaming, when we walked through the tin door.
Her mother was all smiles and eager, sturdy hands. She pulled out stained, chipped plates while the rest of the family surrounded us, curiously, and watched me eat. Her mother served us horshu, which is a pocket of fried dough that is usually filled with meat. This particular horshu was filled with chopped organs. I took one bite and almost choked.
The taste was pungent and earthy. It tasted like animal. The organs traveled down my esophagus and tickled my stomach. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep the food down and that I’d be forever branded as an Awful, Ungrateful, and Ugly American.
Her mother nodded and pointed to the wall on my right. There was an empty, fresh goat carcass tacked to the wall, devoid of its kidneys and stomach and heart. The goat looked surprised. Its organs had been chopped up and wrapped with dough and lovingly fried and now I was eating it in a shack filled with flies and grinning strangers and wishing, suddenly, that I had never come to Mongolia at all.
PART TWO to be posted later.