Maybe it’s just because I like the sound of her laugh, but I will sit for hours, going back and forth between Garvaa’s desk and mine, saying ridiculous things, doing my best to make her smile.
We were friends within a week of me switching jobs. The language barriers and hierarchy of a typical office here intimidated me. My other jobs were large enough that I could easily find a place to hide away, do my lessons quietly, and leave. But that is impossible here.
Because there is not a lot of give in professions, meaning there isn’t much difference in salaries nor are people within an office supplied much (even teachers have to buy their own printing paper), you are pretty much on your own when it comes to getting things done. Of course there are exceptions with the higher-level jobs, such as directors, but basically everything else is communal and shared amongst everyone in the office. There is one great thing about this culture that intercedes here. The people are extremely welcoming and fantastic hosts/hostesses while you are new and finding your way. However, when you combine that with the sense of community, it turns seniority upsidedown. There isn’t any sort of budget so when new people arrive, there really isn’t any money to supply them with what we would consider basic necessities of an office in America.
I joined my wonderful organization back in late April. They gave me a key to my own room, a desk that locked with its matching key, filled with paperclips, paper, and a stapler to get me started! Basically, it was a bunch of stuff left over in my desk from the previous owner, but I was overjoyed because it was more than I had seen in the last 10 months from my previous agencies. Everyone made me feel comfortable and welcomed in ways I am still overflowing with thankfulness for. I love it here. I worked in a room where the kids meet everyday, giving me lots of interaction time with them, which is crucial and exciting for youth development workers like myself.
But now it’s gone.
I am sitting in Garvaa’s office balancing my computer’s power cord with it’s adaptor on my shoulder holding it into the electric plug, my computer resting on the “plant and water boiling table” (a table that is about 1.5 feet tall), with my knees bent up to my chest, me crunched forward typing this.
You see, some FM radio people moved in and took over my old room. They have become the baby of the family and I have been bumped up to the middle child. Now my desk is sitting in the hallway, I have no where to teach, and the only place to sit is in a tiny corner in G’s 3 sq. feet cubby.
Still, it keeps me humble. When bitterness begins to boil up, I realize that this is their lifestyle, their routine, their culture and no expectations of mine will fix anything in the 2.5 years I will have been here. Everyone in the office has had to do the same thing and I am inheriting the same cycle that they have been in for years. I am beginning to recognize it as a way to become more tightly knit within my role at work and within this culture, and to stop seeing it as a punch to the gut or hinderance in what I am supposed to do.
Besides, it has allowed me more time to invest in one of my favorite relationships I have made here. Her patience with my simple sentence structure and broken Mongolian always makes my heart smile. I love that we have created some sort of sister bond where we now know the other person’s looks and don’t have to say a word to understand what they’re thinking. We speak Monglish and are able to talk about everything from faith to photoshop, feet sizes to life struggles.
About six inches to my left, Garvaa is practicing her “th” sounds from the English worksheet I made for her, making a similar noise to what you hear when you let the air out of bike tires. I look over my shoulder, starring at her with the wided-eyed look I know she hates, long enough to catch her attention and make her realize I am listening. She gets embarrassed, throws down the paper, gives me the cultural sign for “stupid” and we again burst into laugher.
These are the moments I hope will always replay in my mind, years after room and agency changes. They are my reminder that laughter transcends cultures and expectations. So that even with a cramp in my hip from siting this way for three hours, I am able to say, “this is where I am supposed to be.” And that is a lesson only God could teach me through G and a desk in the hallway.