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These Things Stay

July 9, 2013

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And so it comes to pass that 437 days after I left the green green grass of home I find myself sitting in an Ulaanbaatar guesthouse in Mongolia contemplating my impending return and trying to figure out how on earth I feel about it. It changes fairly often; my conflicting thoughts seem to be caught in a ceaseless battle for supremacy, fantasies of propa’ British chips, a warm bath and a soft bed declaring war against agonising homesickness for Thailand and a wanderlust that doesn’t know where it wants to go but isn’t done yet. I’ve a zillion blogs to write once I have the time and internet connection to dedicate to them but for now the most pressing issue is that in 2 days time I will be out of Asia for the first time since I left and back on European soil (in Berlin for a reunion with my brother). One week from now I will be in England in the warm, safe and cosy embrace of my parents’ home. After that I’ll be back in the old pubs and the same office and soon it will all be just a selection of memories, souvenirs and photos. How strange it will be to be in a country where my face doesn’t immediately betray me as a foreigner, even stranger still to be in a country where everyone speaks my language and ordering food or jumping in a cab is no more complicated than a sneeze, albeit a lot more expensive. We drive on the left. Right? British pounds again, what do they look like? I can’t remember. I’ll be converting them to Thai baht same as I do with Mongolian Tugrik to work out how much things are. Will I slip straight back into straightening my hair and putting on make-up for nights out or will I remain the shabby, dishevelled thing I have become?

That’s a funny one; I seem to have completely changed appearance since I’ve been gone. Here’s me the weekend before I left; dark hair, fair skin – standard Celtic-blood girl.

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Here’s me now – after a month in Mongolia with no mirror I did a double-take when I finally encountered one. Brown as a fresh-baked biscuit and barely space to put a pin between the freckles. Sun-bleached and chap-lipped.

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Mongolia has been every kind of heaven but I shall save it for another day. One thing I will say is thank heaven for the Welsh. A very random statement I know but whenever I felt particularly conflicted about going home during my time here, Mongolia did a very good job of suddenly becoming exceptionally Welsh. Or rather my little network of valleys (a word invariably said in a Welsh accent) did. The Mongolian language sounds pretty similar – they have the same ‘ll’ sound, and the gently rolling hills and rugged meadows of the steppes could be straight out of R. S. Thomas (except for the yaks).

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One day, shortly before I left, it happened to rain pretty hard whilst I was out visiting the neighbours with my ger-mates Uurnaa and another volunteer named Severigne. Thankfully it was only the second time it had done this but I was struck by the beauty of the valley’s thunderous grey skies, shimmering wet grass and pillows of fat cloud tumbling over the hills. “In some ways it’s even more beautiful when it rains,” I mused aloud to Sevi who gave a non-committal smile. “Maybe that’s just the Brit in me,” she laughed and agreed it must be. How much it looks like Wales in the rain though! And how that warms my heart and makes me dream of home. Tonight I share my dorm with 3 Welsh lads on an adventure – only the second Welsh accents I have heard since departing except from my visiting cousin. As soon as I heard them chatting an enormous grin spread from ear to ear, the Welsh accent just makes you feel better; it’s fab’lus. “D’you mind if I put this by there?” One asked, depositing his bag next to mine. “Tidy – cheers luv.” My heart grew three sizes. It’s almost as if they were sent to make me realise how much I love home. I’ve been singing Karl Jenkins’ Grey in my head ever since that day looking at the rainy hills; it sounds like home to me.

I think that all the lasting things are grey;
the clouds above the mountains when it’s late.
When all around you changes, these things stay.

The lichen where the quarry works decay,
the tides that fill the harbours in the strait.
I think that all the lasting things are grey.

The twilight in the coombe at close of day,
the ash the coal fire leaves within the grate.
When all around you changes, these things stay.

The mist that hides the slag-heaps’ scars away,
the winter rain that shines up on the slate.
I think that all the lasting things are grey.

The seagulls wheeling above Cardiff Bay,
the patient sea that bore a nation’s freight.
When all around you changes, these things stay.

The home we build the steel and stone today,
and blend our light and darkness to create.
I think that all the lasting things are grey.
When all around you changes, these things stay.

… from “Grey” by Karl Jenkins, words by Graham Davies

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