The Jijuur

Jijuur is Mongolian for “doorman,” but the job description holds a little more weight. They can also be security guards, builders, and handymen. My favorite jijuur, Od, greets me with the toothiest smile every time he sees me, but also bailed me out in a flash when I got locked out of my apartment. In the first few months of being at site, he’s always the most excited to see me and has enthusiastically referred to me as his best friend at one point.

When I first moved into my apartment, it was way more of a dump than it is now along with a broken lock on the front door. We’re supposed to have two locks, and one worked, so I didn’t stress too hard about it until I called our safety and security officer, who told me that I probably should. Fast-forward three weeks later, one of our school’s jijuurs installs a new lock, handing me nine spare keys, so I’ll never have an excuse to get locked out. It was like an omen. After he finished and left, I left to grab a gift for a friend and her baby who I was going to meet later. When I came back, the key wouldn’t budge. And Od was at my front door within ten minutes with a screwdriver, and in twenty minutes got me back inside my apartment.

I’ve been having a handful of housing issues that I won’t get into, and truthfully, I don’t care all that much about anymore because the security-related ones were solved, but upon my site-visit in October, not everything was up to Peace Corps standards. I was adamant about them at first for a few weeks, but I eventually decided to stop pestering everyone, because in this sensitive “relationship-building” period of time, I was probably doing more harm than good for something that wasn’t affecting me all that negatively.

Od is one among maybe a dozen people in Zavkhan that influence my sense of positiveness. He came and bailed me out when I had a problem that as a foreigner, I’d have no idea where to begin. A lot of people in my community count on him, and I’m genuinely always happy to see people like him when most of my time is spent in a time of guardedness.

My work can’t be categorized as fulfilling yet, and I’m struggling to forge out structure and meaning. Half my battle is finding those who are motivated to utilize the resources I can offer. The other half is getting those people to be motivated enough to mobilize development, or even care to do something. Honestly, I don’t work that much. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, and other times I just see it as an opportunity to finish a book I’m reading. Life is not easy in Mongolia, and I’d say that people are more interested in taking care of their wellbeing, which exudes a tremendous amount of energy, rather than teaching life skills to a group of 12th graders. I have to admit; building up my own motivation to build up others’ motivation can be incredibly exhausting. I don’t have built-in coworkers ready to tackle any task that comes to mind, which is a benefit but also a drawback.

In the last few weeks, my cohort of volunteers had our in-service training in Ulaanbaatar. The information drawn out of the seminar was beneficial for the counterparts we brought from site, but each session personally extracted my built-up stress from the last three months, which manifesting itself with venting sessions with the seminar’s resource volunteers and friends I hadn’t seen in months. I felt guilty for dumping so much negative energy and sadness onto the shoulders of others that I was inspired to mindfully just leave all the bullshit in Ulaanbaatar. Maybe I did. It’s not always that easy. They say that the first three months at site are the most difficult, but I say that the harshest winter Mongolia will see is coming up. I’ll get back to you on that.

And winter seems to bring on a period of season-induced pensiveness that has kept me quiet. I don’t mind it all that much, though, because while at first I identified that pensiveness with loneliness, I can pin it down as a sort of accepted solitude.

I hate sugar coating. I was trained in journalism. But Peace Corps told us to not depict Mongolia in a negative light, and maybe that statement alone is a little too transparent for the US Government. All I’m going to say is that I’ve seen some shit I wish I hadn’t, and maybe I’ve become a little more hardened. I cry a lot. Unfortunately, I’m also not an overly optimistic person. But at least I can acknowledge that there can be other perspectives to view these types of things.

It’s been way too easy to feel dumpy about the state of a situation, or a sense of longing for things to be different. Its lonely, its hard—but at the same time, I feel so grateful. I’m grateful I’ve become semi-communicable in a language I couldn’t conceptualize a year ago. I’m grateful I’ve met people during my service that I consider dear friends. I have a kinship with some wonderful people who I can go weeks without speaking to, but on the drop of a dime talk as if we do everyday. We have hardship, but I’d say it’s a good kind. I came into the Peace Corps to become a better and more compassionate human amidst very dark memories from my past. I can see a blurry path of daunting tasks, failures, and hundreds of strange moments spurred by language barriers. I also see success, strength, and a lot of possibility amongst a feat that can seem so incredibly bleak.


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