Travel Tip: Be Assertive

One of my favorite things about Gany is that she asks for what she wants.  She even asks for what I want, which is exactly what I like in a friend.

When we were driving into the Mongolian countryside, we passed a small strip of desert.  Some young boys were standing by the road with camel halters in hand.  “We’re going to stop to go to the bathroom,” Gany explained, pointing to the hole in the ground surrounded on three sides by bright orange tarp.  “Do you want to ride a camel?  It’s three dollars.”

I stared greedily out the window.  How fun!  But…this was just a bathroom break.  Gany and our driver wouldn’t want to wait while I rode a camel.  My friend watched my face, opened the car door, and said, “I will hire a camel for you.”  Continue reading

My 4-Year Mongolia Anniversary

Timehop reminded me that four years ago today, I was flying from Chicago to Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  I spent three weeks in the Asian country (south of Russia, north of China), and that trip remains one of my absolute favorite traveling memories, in large part because of how it came to be.

In the fall of 2010, Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project sent 14-year-old Sarangoo and her mother, Byamba, to Peoria, IL for heart surgery.  They stayed with a couple from my church, and the rest of our congregation poured food, entertainment, and love into their lives.  Except me.  I was recently returned home after college and five months in Senegal.  Bored with the familiar and feeling very single amongst married or dating friends, I was depressed.  And in my depression I couldn’t be bothered to help someone else.

Luckily for me, there was another depressed person in the mix.  Gany was Sarangoo’s translator, and their host family sent out an email that essentially read: “Gany is bored!  Will someone take her out for something fun?”  That sounded exactly like me, so I volunteered.  We went out to eat at Culver’s, took pictures of the Holocaust Memorial at the mall, and played the piano at my parent’s house.  Almost immediately, I knew I had found a kindred spirit.  Continue reading

Tricia Accepts the Inevitability of Peeing in Public

When I went to the bathroom in my Mongolian apartment for the first time, I allowed myself a moment to smirk pridefully at the wastebasket within arm’s reach.  I used the kickstand to open the top and affirm my suspicions.  Yup – Mongolia was a No Flushing Toilet Paper country.  Totally fine; I was a world traveler.  Greece and Turkey had similar policies, and I had mastered the art of not breathing while throwing away used TP.  Going to the bathroom in Mongolia was going to be a breeze. 

A week later, I left the city for an hours-long road trip with Gany and a driver from Samaritan’s Purse.  We were going to visit three families in order to check up on their health after recently going to the United States for heart surgeries.  We had gotten a mid-morning start, and after a couple hours we stopped at a seemingly random hill that housed four pavilion tents and at least a hundred people.  I found out that this would be the finish line of a horse race that was taking place in celebration of Naadam.  We bought some khuushuur and let the oil drip down our fingers as we leaned out of the open truck doors.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Gany asked.

Having been raised under the adage, “If there’s a toilet, you go whether you have to or not,” I had already scoped out the location and determined that there were no restrooms.  “I’m good,” I told my friend.  We wiped off our greasy hands on a roll of toilet paper Gany had packed, and our driver continued to bounce down and up the grassy Mongolian hills.

We continued to bounce despite my ever-expanding bladder.  The countryside is a stunningly simplistic dichotomy of blue skies and green hills, but there is not much in the way of houses or even trees.  I stopped drinking water.  Another hour passed.

“I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” Gany said.  “What about you?

“Yes!” I admitted.  I scanned the horizon eagerly, but…there was no change.  Maybe that was the magic of these hills in the middle of nowhere.  You could crest the top of one and suddenly overlook a whole city of bathrooms.  Shockingly, that didn’t happen.  Instead, the truck pulled to a stop.  “Are we stuck?” I asked.

Gany looked at me in confusion.  “No…this is our bathroom break.”

She noticed my panicked glance at our male driver.  “Don’t worry, he will use the other side of the truck.”

“Oh,” I said.  “….Good.”

Gany grabbed the roll of toilet paper, and I paused in sad understanding.  I should have known something like this was coming since we had packed our own TP.  I followed Gany slowly away from the truck as she unwound a handful and passed it to me.  I ignored the sound of our driver peeing.  “I’ll take the left!” Gany said, like I was supposed to know what that meant.  The left…tree?  Bush?  There were neither.  Dutifully, I veered to the right, then course-corrected as I realized the truck was no longer blocking me from our driver.  Where was I supposed to go to the bathroom?  The ground stretched in an unbroken plane in every direction.

Breaking an unspoken friendship code, I snuck a glance to my left when I heard the sounds of peeing once again.  Yup, Gany was squatting in the middle of a field.  I guess that meant…I would too.  Quick tip:  trying to pull your pants down as quickly as possible guarantees that something will get caught and the whole process will take longer than necessary.  In my case, it also meant I peed a little on my shoe.  It pays to take your time.

As soon as I was once more fully clothed and had kicked a smattering of dirt over the used TP, I felt triumphant.  I had used the bathroom outdoors!  I was a modern woman who could occasionally sacrifice personal dignity without complaint.  I was the best traveler ever.  I’d conquered my (previously unknown) fear of peeing in plain sight, so that meant I would never have to do it again!  …Right?