Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.


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One of the most frustrating things about living in a country where I don’t speak the language is my level of dependence on others. My day-to-day life is manageable, mainly because it’s so routine. I go to the same stores each week and buy more or less the same things; I frequent the same restaurants and favor the same dishes. I’ve had to pick up enough packages that I know who to ask, what documents to bring, and when the customs lady works (these things aren’t publicly announced, of course; you have to figure them out through trial and error). 

But for any task that strays beyond the everyday, I require some level of assistance. Buying a domestic plane ticket to visit a friend in a different part of the country? Ask the director where the airline office is. Buying a ticket for someone else? Have the director call to ask whether this is possible and what paperwork is required to do so. Want to study Mongolian music? Get your school to arrange lessons for you at the children’s palace. None of these are things I am capable of arranging on my own; I don’t know where to go or who to ask for things, and I don’t have the language skills to request and acquire that information.

Nothing has brought that point home to me so much as my recent loss of my residence permit. The process for replacing one of these, I have learned, is complicated, involving extensive wading through deep paperwork and incomprehensible bureaucracy. I’ll need to make a trip to the capital and pay an obscene amount of money to attain a new one. If that wasn’t enough, the paperwork I’ll need to bring with me is extensive: statements from my employer and apartment manager verifying where I work and live, a newspaper clipping announcing the loss of my permit, and, of course, my passport. 

The passport’s easy, but the other requirements – not so much. Where does one go to put an announcement in the newspaper? How does one request such an announcement? How much does it cost? Where is the paper distributed? What is a “residence permit” even called in Mongolian? Мэддэггүй.

My coworkers do, thank goodness, and several have agreed to help me. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be in any great hurry to do so. You’re supposed to obtain a new residence permit within fourteen days of losing your old one, and I’m down to eight now. Seven, if the immigration/registration office isn’t open on Saturdays, which I’m guessing it isn’t. Apparently, there are a few days of lag time between sending the announcement to the newspaper and seeing it printed, which means that I am running out of time fast.

I feel bad for burdening my fellow teachers with this; I know their workloads are at least twice mine, and that doesn’t give them much time to run to various offices around the city in order to deal with the necessary paperwork. But visa and registration paperwork is serious business, and I wish someone besides me seemed to have a sense of urgency about it. I would much prefer not to be kicked unceremoniously out of the country and then fined for the inconvenience to those who kicked me out.

Time to double down on my language study, I think. My communicative incompetence is the main reason I find myself needing so much help from others, and I’m growing sick of feeling trapped and helpless. I’m an adult, now, after all; we’re supposed to be able to take care of ourselves.


Author: everywherebuthome

Linguist. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Expat in Mongolia. Writer. Scout, dancer, gymnast, equestrienne.

One thought on “Dependence

  1. Yes. YesYesYes. Learn Mongolian, however you can. You’re a linguist after all and know how to pick apart a systematic grammar (which alas may be available only in Russian? I’ll do a quick search.) That’s my two cents. Thinking of you with fondness in your adventures and tribulations both!

    I haven’t been commenting, but I read and enjoy all of your posts, Kaitlin. You’re a good writer.

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