I’m 31. An ex-banker. Single white female. For years, I’d dreamed of becoming a journalist. This summer, I took my dream to task in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. I’d chosen to temporarily relocate from New York City to Mongolia to jump-start a new career. I never could have imagined that within just weeks, I’d camp in the fabled steppe, eat blow-torched sheep, sleep under the stars in the Gobi desert…and become the national news anchor for the state-owned TV station.
“Patricia, uh, do you have a comb?” said the Mongolian news director. I couldn’t very well see why a comb was going to be necessary to complete my task of writing the English news, so I challenged her. “Well,” she said, “we’d like you to become our anchor. Starting tonight.” I didn’t waste a moment digging through my handbag to produce a comb, and a supply of make-up whose application rivaled that of preparations for my 30th birthday party. That night I broke a corruption story implicating members of Parliament. Just imagine presenting breaking scandalous news that implicates a recently ex-Soviet state, when you work for that state.
Heady with excitement, I returned home to regale this tale to my Mongolian family. Unfortunately, they’d left. With all the food, toilet paper, and bottled water. Even the freezer. Nearly a month later, they dropped by to invite me to their country house. Silently forgiving them, I packed my overnight case on top of a dead sheep which was in the trunk of their car, and off we were to camp in the steppe. We later ate that sheep as part of a traditional dish called “khorkhog”, where an animal is beheaded, stuffed with hot stones, and blow-torched until it’s fur is burned off.
No sooner had my adventure begun than I was making preparations for my final excursion in this exotic land. A group of four of us hired a driver to set out for the Gobi. We spent seven days in the hottest, driest, and most environmentally hostile place I’ve ever been. Without the benefit of air-conditioning, our van sped over potholes and pockmarked roads. On the third day, as the temperature approached 104 degrees, the van screeched to a halt in the middle of a road in the South Gobi. The driver jumped out, angrily examined a window jamb, which had broken during the bumpy ride. Worried the rest of the jambs would suffer the same fate, he sealed all of our windows shut. We drove the remainder of the journey in a greenhouse on wheels. But at night we slept outside, under the stars, which were as plentiful as a handful of Gobi sand thrown into the sky. As I drifted off to sleep, I decided against wishing upon a star, as I’d done every night since I was a kid. After all, my wish had already come true. I’d fulfilled my dream of becoming a journalist.
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