Trash heaps, mangy dogs, and other unreliabilities


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the last class session of the day and the children gather around the 12-inch TV to watch Shrek in English.  I’m sitting in the back, making a note card of questions to quiz them over the movie, when I hear some movement and look up.  One of my students has finished his candy, walks over to the window and drops the candy wrapper outside.  He then promptly wriggles his way between the boys to get his seat back.

I sat there dumbfounded for a second with no reaction.  My mind was still registering what just happened.  After a minute I pulled him aside and asked him to go retrieve his candy wrapper and throw it away in the trashcan.  This anecdote started me thinking about the pollution/littering problem in UB.  Trash heaps lay exposed underneath the scorching sun on the sidewalks.  There are a handful of trashcans sporadically spread throughout the city, but most don’t even have trash bags to collect the trash so they soon become a trash heap as well.  This disorganization of trash collecting can be applied to other areas of Mongolia.

Examining the bigger picture, trash heaps will eventually equal health problems.  One of my Mongolian friends has asthma, which I think can be attributed to the high level of dust particles and pollution in the air.  Continual living in dirty environments will affect a population.  One of my stories for MNB was covering a local NGO started by a Mongolian man whose mission was to save his daughter’s life from cancer.  She was diagnosed with neuroblastomia before the age of one and has fought to survive for three years.  Her cancer is finally in remission, but because it had advanced to stage four, she still has a little bit of a tumor left in her body that will always be potentially dangerous.  I was awed by the warmth and love that this father had for his daughter and the lengths he went to, to ensure her survival.  From this obstacle in his life, he created a children’s cancer NGO to help fundraise money for other Mongolian families seeking cancer treatment for their children.

One thing this man said to me was that the high level of certain toxins in the environment probably correlates with the increasing cases of cancer in the population.  Part of the problem with the young Mongolian country is that it has the new shiny toys of Western countries and none of the knowledge to keep the balance between technology and advancement with conservation and environmental awareness.  The trash heaps is just one of the environmental issues in UB, but it is probably the first problem that should be fixed.  Living in a cleaner environment will mean less disease due to exposure from toxins in the trash heaps.

When I lived at my old apartment, I was on the first floor, which meant that I could hear the noises from the street easily.  Most mornings I would hear a melody like an ice cream truck.  It puzzled me why someone would be selling ice cream at 8 a.m., but then I found out that it was the music of the garbage collector.  The garbage truck plays that music to alert people to bring out their trash for collecting.  This innocent sounding music underlines the naiveté of a country ignoring their trash problem.

When I was having lunch one day with some friends, we started talking about the political climate in Mongolia and on some of the major issues in UB – one obviously being pollution and littering.  Then Moogie shared a story about how she wanted to clean the part of the river by her family’s home.  One day, she filled up a huge bag with the litter strewn around the river by her place and brought it home.  She was going to use some of the trash to fuel the fire to make dinner, but her family started laughing at her.  They said she shouldn’t have done that because now they have to pay for a garbage truck to come out and collect the trash.  This sad story is an example of the way most Mongolians think.  They do not realize the value of the environment.  Chimgee says things changed after the fall of the Soviets.  When people were given more freedom, littering and pollution became a greater problem.

One of my Mongolian friends, Billy, wants to go into the dirty business of politics here in Mongolia.  I hope he will because I think he could improve the country, from trash heaps to more transparency in the government.

Another observation I’ve made is that most Mongolians do not like cats and dogs.  I haven’t seen a single cat while I’ve been here.  The dogs I’ve seen are mostly strays and mangy mutts that would bite your hand off just as quickly as it would eat your leftovers.  They are unkept, mangy beasts that reinforce the dislike of dogs that most Mongolians share.

As the typical American, I love animals, but it is a bit hazardous to my health to pet any of the animals in Mongolia.  I think the cultural view of animals in Mongolia is centered more on livestock – what can the animals do for the Mongolian family.  However, having seen the animals in the countryside, animal care, although a high priority, is not always on the same par as animal care in America.  The camels that on TV show well groomed beasts with huge humps of water, but the camel I rode on in the desert had vampire flies sucking the lifeblood of the camel.  It also clearly had been deprived of water for some time, as its humps were small sagging lumps.  It also emitted a wailing cry that I never knew a camel made.  They always seemed silent, enduring creatures that somehow used evolution to conquer the obstacles of life in the desert, but this is not always the case.

The water supply and electricity are amenities that I have seriously taken for granted.  In Mongolia, hot water and electricity outages are common, especially during the summer.  Water can be cut off for hours or days, but somehow this system hasn’t changed.  The citizens of Mongolia are ready for change, but the government is slow to react, like most bureaucracies.

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