Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Work in Mongolia is a roller coaster

Our team is made up of two young women and me. Jen, an American, is taking videos to add to our latest movie and Mongolian Anuka is translating. We have a horse guide and three wranglers. Now we are coming back from the East Taiga where we took vitamins and hygiene kits to the Dukha reindeer herders and shot some footage for our documentary.
There are no roads, so we have been riding horses for some hours. Now we are traveling the last hour in a Land Cruiser. As we approach the town of Tsagaannuur, I shoot some videos out the front window. I am pleased to discover that my new camera has an effective stabilizer. The shot of the land is smooth unlike the ride, with the dashboard only appearing every so often. I put the clip up on Instagram.
Among the clip’s comments is one from my sister Joan. “I get motion sickness looking at this,” she says. At first I think, why just the dashboard appears a couple times. It’s not even jumping up and down as it really was. And then I remember my sister always did get motion sickness. She threw up riding the cups and saucers at Disneyland. My parents had motion issues. My father had his inner ear removed, causing vertigo with heights and movement. My mother was born with one blind eye, so her distance and depth perception were difficult. This made them both—I thought at the time—unduly restrictive about things like rides at amusement parks.
I was the oldest kid, a daredevil, and I loved motion. I loved the rides at nearby Lake Quassapaug. For the most dizzying ride, you got strapped into a seat with sides. This was attached by spokes to a center, the arms spinning as the axis shifted. For a most extreme effect, you could have a spinner seat, so that the seat and the whole ride were turning at different rates. Sort of like the planets around the sun while the sun had its own orbit, but faster. My parents forbade me from using a spinner. Being the person I was, I took every opportunity to choose one.
Then there were the forbidden roller coasters. We spent six weeks camping around the country as a family. If we stayed near a park, my insurance agent father would say, “That roller coaster is just not safe. Look at that wooden structure. It was built fifty years ago. The wood is rotting. It’s going to collapse sometime. No. You’re not going to ride on it.” And I would look longingly at the curves and bumps…at a distance.
But, really, you never know when your quirky nature might come in handy. I am a perfect fit for the roller coaster roads in Mongolia. Sometimes we drive for ten hours on them. Some people don’t like it or knock themselves out with Dramamine, but for me? I feel like I am making up for the restrictions of my childhood. For twenty-five years I have been riding on these bumpy, mud ruts and I still don’t have my fill. Ten hours? No problem. I sleep or watch the scenery or even read a book.
Up until now, I could never figure out why I was cosmically matched to do work in Mongolia. Some have mentioned compassion or curiosity, but I secretly think it has to do with the roller coaster roads. Riding on them still gives me a thrill.
Sas Carey is writing her new memoir and showing movies of her work in Mongolia this summer.

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