I met Ashoqullah on our first day in Mongolia amongst a crowd of other Mongolia International University Students. He stood out to me because his arm was bandaged, his front left tooth was chipped, and his English was coherent. He commonly went by “Johnny”, but Ashoqullah is from a remote region of Afghanistan north of Kabul. He refined his English by working with the U.S. Military as an interpreter for 3 years.
Ashoqullah was very interested in talking about American life, discussing food, and telling me about his home. He was interested most of all in me and my life. We would talk for hours about college life, our hopes and dreams, relive stories, and even discuss our beliefs. Ashoqullah was always drawn to our group and I later found out that he is in Mongolia because he is currently in exile from his home. He never talked much about it, but suddenly it became clear that we were some of the first people to actually ask him about his life – to care about him as a person.
When we said goodbye, he told me that we would continue to communicate and that maybe he would visit me in California someday. I asked if I could visit him in Afghanistan once he is able to return home. He responded that he would take me in as a brother. I look forward to that day.
As we left the gates of MIU, we entered a whole different world. On the streets were many carts venders selling all different kinds of fruit. Hanging from the fruit carts were delicious, mouth-watering candy bags for 500 togrog. There were cars and buses driving by using their horns like no tomorrow. Children were walking the streets alongside the many stray dogs from all over the city of Ulaanbaatar. After a 20-minute walk taking in the scenery, we finally made it to the big, iron gate of the Ulaanbaatar Orthodox Church. We followed one another inside to the courtyard of this massive, beautiful church.
We scoped out the structure of the building, took pictures, and sat on the steps near the front door of the church. We talked about the beauty of this exact location and all the great things the trip has showed us so far. To our surprise a tall, skinny man appeared and seemed to shoo us away from the church. Laughing at our embarrassment we scurried towards the gate. Instead, the man opened the doors to the church for us to go see inside. Looking around at one another, we all decided to take his offer and sneak a peek.
Walking into the church was breathtaking! Gorgeous, colorful artwork covered all the walls. A spiral staircase led us up to the balcony that gave us an up-close view of the huge, golden chandelier and of all the paintings on the ceiling. The man shared all kinds of information about the church with us and even allowed us into the office building of the church.
Saying our many thanks to this generous man, we headed back to MIU, delighted to learn more about the beautiful gold and white church that we all see each day from our windows.
Not 3 hours ago we were all sleeping in the Beijing Airport after a night of adventuring. We had just walked off our 14th-and-a-half hour of flying into the Ulanaan Baatar airport. Our group of 37 Rounders had a healthy blend of jetlag, lack of sleep, and unfiltered excitement for a journey that we had just scratched the surface of. We had just finished signing paperwork to enter Mongolia and were anxiously waiting by the conveyer belt for luggage.
Then all the luggage from the plane started falling from the chute: metal luggage, duffle-bags, weird luggage wrapped in saran wrap, and various other types of luggage. Large backpack after large backpack quickly followed. Professor Lee, myself and a few other Rounders just start grabbing backpacks. We toss them to the rest of the team to start walking outside.
After a few minutes, 36 big backpacks, and plenty of manly luggage-throwing later, the magical chute that so graciously provided 36 Rounders with fresh underwear neglected to provide the 37th tired, sleep-deprived, and unfiltered-ly excited Rounder with his bag. That Rounder was me. I, who so stupidly jinxed everything by even bringing up the idea of losing luggage, lost my bag.
God puts us in community to grow us. He puts us there to remind us that we can’t do anything alone. We need Him, and we also need other believers. We can’t live this life alone. We need help. Sometimes it isn’t easy to notice that. Sometimes we get too into our own process, our way of doing things, that we forget we sometimes need a little help. I realized this when I was stuck for a day without my bag. It was only a day, but in that day I felt the love this team has for each other. I felt the love that God has so graciously given these Rounders to share with each other.
On our first Saturday in Mongolia, our group visited the palace of the Bogd Khan. All of the museums and tourist spots in Mongolia have a strange rule: No cameras except for those which have been paid for. Our team decided that we wanted one camera, and since mine is the best on the trip, I was deemed camera man. And this was no small business. I was equipped with a press badge and a separate ticket for my camera. I felt very official. Every time one of the museum workers saw me operating my camera I would show them my badge and that was enough to keep them from telling me no. Of course, as the group photographer, I spent most of the trip in the back of the group taking pictures of everything from tapestries to ceiling tiles, from statues to grand architecture. Though I was not able to investigate the palace as thoroughly as I would have liked, I was presented with the chance to practice my photography in an amazing location.
As we passed through the gate, the architecture was astounding—lofty roofs held up by tall pillars; graceful walls complimented by curving ceilings; small stone critters graced some of the edges along the roofs of buildings. Almost every wall was painted with scenes and diagrams from the mythical history of Mongolia. Inside of the buildings was as impressive as the outside. Some of the first exhibits we saw were large wooden statues of what appeared to be mythical creatures. There were also large tapestries containing images which I associated with the history of Buddhism. Several rooms even contained large metal statues of Buddha and other images. As I rushed through the museum at the breakneck plod of a photographer, I did not take the time to fully comprehend any of the art. But I was able to enjoy the environment and the culture as I took notice of it between adjusting settings and setting up the right angle. Catching a glimpse into the world of a people who seem so distant from us was quite an opportunity, even if it was only through the lens of a camera.