Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Small Talk

"We are at the Sky Theater," he said louder that the last three times, "We are going to the Big Department Store now."

Obviously they were confused, or we were confused-or, as is nearly always the case-we were both 50% confused.

"Where are they?" I asked

"At my hostel," he said obviously irritated that the problem proved what we both feared: our language ability was less than amazing.

"I told them that I have my stuff with me."

We crossed the street one lane at a time waiting for the land rovers, new compacts, and Russian jalopies to go by. The sounds of honking cars, though directed at us, was a pleasant change of pace after months of only animals noises (goats being my favorite).

"She's calling again," he said digging in his dirty green corduroy pocket for his Peace Corps issued Nokia.

The phone conversation was a repeat.

"No. No. We're coming to the Big Department Store," he said in Mongolian with unintentional measures of silence.

We kept walking. Now along a busy chilly street. Plenty of cars. No talking.

Maybe ten minutes later (at around six PM) we were reaching the Big Department Store. His phone was ringing again.

"Ok. Yes. Tree. Yes. I see."

"We will meet them by the tree."

"The tree" was an attempt (successful to be defined by the viewer) at a Christmas tree: a green cone with blue flashing lights (my interior decorator father's arch enemy). An overly-excited amount of tinsel.

"Is that them?" I asked, already certain it was.

He beat me to them. Necessary greetings were exchanged and we were finally on our way.

I thought we were. You would think that I would know better by now. We had planned to leave at two and it was already after six - of course we weren't going to leave now. Which only disappointed me slightly. I was done with this city: bought the food I can't buy elsewhere, saw the people I might not see again, and now wanted to get home (to one of them anyway). But I said only slightly. It is surprising how quickly a person can lose any sort of will when your situation seems out of your hands. Which happens quickly when you are not fluent in Mongolian.

We loaded our things into the van and discovered that other passengers were still shopping. We would wait for them of course. To a restaurant. Green tea put in front of us.

"No, no. We ate."

"Four beers."

"I don't drink."

"You should study how."

"I studied. Thank you."

"Three beers."

"This tea is good, huh?"

Attempts at chit chat. Lots of calls to his host mom's phone. Now one from the driver.

"Don't get it," his host dad said as they slammed the rest of their beers.

"Should we go?"


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