While in Mongolia, Alexandra Castellanos had her 20th birthday. The whole team went out to eat a fantastic meal at a restaurant named City Nomads. A few of us stayed afterward in order to hear a Mongolian concert complete with traditional instruments and throat singing. The whistling sound that you hear is actually coming from the same singers that are making the deep chanting sounds. It was truly amazing! Here is a glimpse of what we saw.
Well, there is no turning back now. I have finally come to the realization that I will not be in America for the next 3 months. It took me a good few weeks to accept the fact that I will wake up in a different country every single day until December 18. I have a feeling of contentment when I think about this now, because I truly see all of the benefits emerging in this trip. It was so easy, while preparing for the trip, to avoid my emotions and not deal with them until I was actually here and had to face them. I was in shock during the first week and was truly just going through the motions, and I think many others were doing the same. Our body clocks were altered, our diets were changed, our communication to family and friends was hardly existent, and our environment was definitely a new one. After getting familiar with all of these things, then I could really dig in and encapsulate what I was experiencing.
Adapting has been key. When things that were normal for so long are all of a sudden taken away, then the only choice I have is to acclimate. After our 2-hour horse trek in the steppes of Mongolia, I found myself burning and scraping the hair off of a freshly killed goat, which we then ate for dinner. The instant gratification of meals, and everything for that matter, was not present in the countryside. So, I took the opportunity to embrace Mongolian culture and do something that I never imagined doing. I feel so very blessed to have experienced the Mongolian life first hand and will forever remember what it means to truly “step outside of my comfort zone.” It is an ongoing process of self-discovery and getting used to the unfamiliar. I am happy to say that I am learning more and more ways every day to enhance my travel experience to the fullest.
I was sitting on a river’s edge after riding a horse for an hour and a half through the green hills of the Mongolian countryside. I spent my time thinking, praying and admiring God’s beautiful creation. River rocks were under my toes, submerged in the brisk water, and just as I noticed a little heart shaped rock, our horse-trek guide, Azza, sat down next to me. I can’t quite remember how the conversation started, but it led to Azza asking me questions about Jesus and his love. This wasn’t the first time Azza had asked questions on our four day trek, but it was an intimate, purposeful meeting for the two of us.
Azza’s parents are Buddhist, but she attends a Christian university and has been exposed to the Bible, or the “Holy Bible” as she always refers to it. Azza described to me how it amazed her the love and kindness she saw from our whole group. She expressed, “I see you guys hugging and smiling and laughing all day starting in the morning.” She then went on to say, “I see this light around your group that I cannot completely explain.” What a perfect lead-in to sharing my testimony. This was the first time I had shared my testimony. Before the Around-the-World Semester began, I was nervous and felt unqualified to share my testimony. When the focus was taken off me and put on God, He worked in an incredible way. The moment was natural and beautiful.
Azza and I enjoyed the rest of the trek talking, laughing, and singing together. When it came time to say good-bye we exchanged emails and hugs. It took us a long time to part from each other and for the first time on the trip I got teary-eyed while saying farewell to someone. We have already begun emailing and staying in contact. I will always be grateful for the opportunity God gave me to get to know and share his love with such an incredible girl. She left me with a hug saying, “Ellie you are so kind and special and I will always remember you.” It is my hope that she remembers God’s love she felt through me and continues to seek and ask questions. As we left each other, I left with her the little heart shaped rock that I found underneath my toes the first time we talked.
I met this little boy at the Don Bosco Orphanage Center. I was captivated by his charisma and his drive to learn more. His name is Ganchlmaer Menhzharyaal. He is the youngest boy, at age 8, in the orphanage. Prior to living at the orphanage, he was living on the streets of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia with his grandmother. Although he was in the hands of a loved one, his grandmother was and is still unable to provide for him. She could not get him to school, properly feed him, clothe him, or give him sustainable shelter.
Since his grandmother is still around, she is able to come and visit him. He loves her very much. He used to run away to go see her before she came to visit him. If I could, I would provide the means for him to live with his grandmother if he was willing to continue his education in Mongolian and English. Interacting with him as well as the other boys has been a blessing. Seeing his huge smile and excitement when he saw me was truly heart-warming. For all that this young boy has been through so far, he remains cheerful and eager to play with the other boys or a stranger like me. Teaching him different ways to hit a soccer ball while playing volleyball brought far more joy then I could have imagined. He is also quite a little beast on the soccer field!