The Shine In Us

Siti Nabihah

© Copyright 2021 by Siti Nibihah

Photo by Phil Desforges on Unsplash
                       Photo by Phil Desforges on Unsplash

It has been a pretty good day. So a little dirt on me is fine. Itís fine. Not that it matters much anyway, with four days passed since my last bath. I grimaced slightly without looking down on my feet. They felt damp and cold. Tufts of muddy grass must have taken a grip in between the spaces of my toes. I wriggled them discomfortingly and hoped they hadn't touched anything more unpleasant. Clearly, tracing the vast fields of Altanbulag Sum in Ulaanbaatar at ten degrees celsius in flip-flops was not a very good idea. That extra time to tie the pair of shoelaces on my red Everlast sneakers now seems worth all the while. Still, I trudged on ahead in search of the water. The flat green landscape continued to stretch before me, tinted by a hue of orange across the horizon as it joined effortlessly with the sky. My mind slowly settled to clarity and eventually it recollected how my Mongolian hosts never put on any other footwear except boots. Including their baby.

Ida had invited me for a walk that afternoon. There is a nearby stream she was told where we could get some water. But being her roommate for nearly a month, her mischief is palpable and I knew this is more than just a simple chore. Water has been an extremely precious commodity for the past week. Each of us was given five 500ml bottles of pure clean water for drinking and personal use. Just a few steps outside our ger camp stood a large barrel as another water source. It takes cooperation and conscientiousness on everyoneís part to carefully ration their own store of water for different uses. Once the water in the barrel had been used up, the men would travel by bike or van to fill it up again. Having tasted the nomadic life, we gradually became more accustomed to living beyond comfort. But our roots as city girls are as deep as the sound of hoomii, the throat singing Mongolians are famous for. I looked at Ida approvingly and we both grabbed our towels and set forth.

Sloshing through the mud and grass, the air above was also perturbed by our presence as our foreign voice emanated from the tÍte-ŗ-tÍte we had about life. Perhaps itís the glow of the setting sun that begins to wash the sky deep apricot, or the great plains of the Tuv Province that spreads and widens in nothingness, but at times we both sound like aged, contemplative elders. Sometimes we stumbled during our conversation, not just of tripping on the uneven ground and stones lying, but due to searching for words we both understand, or if failed, trying to act out the gestures. Back in Macau, Ida speaks mainly Cantonese, Mandarin and Portuguese. She grew better in English at university and strives to improve and reach fluency, which she believes could open her to more opportunities after graduation. Pondering together about the many different languages and cultures that exist in the world, we wonder if we will ever get to know and explore most of them. But the flow of conversation is always mysterious and we ended up having a humorous discussion about the entertaining German sitcom we watched back at the dorm.

Things may look closer than they actually appear to be. That message engraved on the passenger-side mirrors of every motor vehicle seems rather haunting now. Neither of us wore our watches so we could not be sure how many minutes had passed. Glancing to our backs, our gers looked miniscule. Lonely, like tiny, curved, white lego blocks left by a child on a grassy playground. I turned around and then gazed far north, wondering about the things we desire and seek for. Many times in life we see our dreams moving closer to us when moments later, they seem to be drifting away. As if a buoy bobbing in the middle of the sea, playfully pulled by the currents towards and away from the shore. Meanwhile, that line of water is still within our sight but out of reach.

The stream must have pinched off the Tuul river, which flows across the heart of the Tuv province. It appears more vividly now and I could feel my pained legs regaining a surge of energy. My head rebounded from the edge of gloom and cooperated with every part of my body to push me forward and quicker. My heart beats faster, my hands start sweating, my legs form bigger strides and I start walking rapidly.

The water feels gentle. I swayed my hands inside back and forth, trying to make out my reflection on the surface, and failed to do so, attempting to peer inside into the darkness of the water for anything interesting and moving. We have finally arrived at the stream. Our towels took a dip and became soggy. In preserving our decency and the sacredness of the place, we ran the wet towels across our body with our clothes on. Itís a special skill for open-air baths in the wild. Having wiped ourselves clean, we rest on the ground with our feet left in the water.

The sky, now burned in terracotta, reminded me of the unforgettable sight this morning. For the past three days, all of us have struggled to wake up early so we vouched for one another that today will be different. Even if it means dragging each other out of our sleeping bags. Me, Tracy and Ida succeeded. For the first time since our stay in Mongolia, we watched the sun rising from the east. The sky beamed as the sun coloured it in bright yellow and orange, and never has anything been so beautiful and blinding. We huddled together amidst the herd of sleepy goats, shivering in the morning cold as the sunshine fell softly on our jaw dropped faces. There in the middle of the fields in Eastern Mongolia stood me in my varsity jacket, Tracy in her black hoodie, and Ida in her blue sleeping bag. If you canít drag yourself out of bed, bring it along.

Snapped back into the present by Idaís call, I took my last splash of water on the face and we soon made haste to return to the camp. I hung my towel on my shoulder, water dripping down the back of my already damp shirt. We have found what we seek for. We have achieved what we aim for. We have struggled and persevered along the journey. Yes, we have walked for miles to find water and wash up. The road is bumpy, tiring and exhausting. But now the journey felt different than the first half of it. Just as the sunshine in the morning brings a renewed sense of the day, the water in the stream reinvigorates and brings a renewed sense in us. We returned, not truly the same person we were when we set off. We discovered something about ourselves, about each other and a little bit more about the world. Intriguingly, the Mongolian word for new is шинэ, pronounced as shine. Water is ys, the y reads as u. I spent the walk back reflecting, and thinking about dinner. 
A sweet, wonderful smell wafted in the air. We were greeted by bowls of hot milk porridge at the door of our ger. Blowing impatiently at the food, I succumbed instantly and sipped a spoonful, slightly scalding my tongue in return. The liquid streamed down my throat and glided into the gut, to release comforting warmth throughout my body. I felt warm and fuzzy. Maybe itís the feeling of home away from home. Like many travels and journeys, after much soul searching and discoveries, we all seek that place to retire, to feel protected and loved. Just before we inevitably head back out to see again the sunlight that shines the day and the water that makes us whole once more.

I am an aspiring writer who writes poems and short-format articles on the blogging platform, Medium. My writings usually contemplate on everyday life and seek to explore what makes us human, with a creative twist. When not writing, I would usually illustrate or think of a new DIY project to work on.

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