Shake It Up Baby!
The hum of a distant motorbike startled me out of my meditative daze. I have not seen another person in over a week, and have become accustomed to the long lulling silence, punctuated only by the sound of my bicycle cutting though the wind. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my shirt sleeve and formulated a plan. I had been pedaling for hours and didn't think I could manage the degree of animation I would need to play the cat and mouse chase game motorcyclists sometime play with me on the road, so I made my way over to the side of the trail where I had noticed an ovum.
I lay my bicycle down and walked a few steps into the desert, to check out the ovum, an oval shaped shrine piled high with rocks, swatches of bright colored silk, hard candy and old Mongolian money. Ovums can be Buddhist or shamanic in nature and they mark sacred spots. They are erected yearly and always added to therefore there are lots of Ovums to be honored throughout Mongolia. I fought the urge to run around the shrine three times. This was a habit I had picked up along the way, another event that marked the days on my spiritual obstacle course, and was generally followed up with a bite of a Snickers bar and the chugging of a half liter of water. I am pretty sure that ovum running is not a registered Olympic sport anywhere but it is practiced throughout Mongolia.
I suspected the Mongols on the motorcycle would be greatly amused and understanding if they caught me at my little game. I imagined tales would be told about me over bowls of vodka—how the crazy foreign girl on a bicycle with the crispy red cheeks and electrocuted hair ran around their shrine like her feet were on fire in her strange imported rubber cycling sandals. I resisted the urge to three-peat the running in circles event. Instead I walked over to my pannier/bikebag and pulled a Snickers bar and pulled out some of the jingly bells I had bought in Laos. I walked back to the ovum and buried the bells in a dark crevice between two rocks. I heard the motorcycle slow behind me, and then stop. Smoothly, I turned, and, with a huge smile plastered on my face, greeted my newest friends.
With an ear to ear grin and a big ole nod a man jumped off his motorbike, then he took my hand and pumped my arm furiously. Hand shaking is not native to Mongolian culture but has been learned from the Russians. Many Mongolians shake hands hello, after a shared laugh and while saying good-bye as well. It is quite the work out. I had tensed my arm a second to late and so I just stared at him, the golden glow of his skin and his weather scarred cheeks. Hesitantly, I looked at his eyes. They were, as I suspected, distinctly Mongolian eyes; brown and raw souled, so unguarded and honest it made it difficult to stare at them for too long. I looked at the dirt streaking his clothes and face, and smiled inside. It was such a relief to be around people as oh natural as I am. The Mongolian sense of practicality and necessity jived with mine; the polar opposite to the ultra clean little Chinese men, just over 1000 km behind who scurried off to wash their hands every time they touched my bicycle.
Posted by Loretta Henderson