Today was a busy day, actually a busy week. I am starting from scratch creating maps and learning a lot about Mongolians as a people. My first understanding of what was happening around me was wrong, as was my second, and perhaps now my third and fourth.
I want to start by explaining that I love Mongolians. I love that they lock arms on the street and do not shirk back when touched. One-on-one interactions are intense. I often feel listened to in ways that I really crave. I have heard many foreigners comment that Mongolians never smile…but I have found that they are more willing to laugh then the average American. If you are smiling and not telling them what is funny they are insulted; they want to have a laugh too.
One of my roles working here is to network with other GIS users working on related issues. Sure, there is a language barrier, but there is a much larger barrier. As it was explained to me by a Mongolian, “Mongolian people are fiercely independent. It is in their blood and bone.” Their independence has nothing to do with pride, showing of weakness, perceived competition, or other negative concepts. It just is. It is a state of being, not a state of being otherwise.
At work when I mention working with other NGO’s to problem solve or support each other (NGO’s working on the same issue from different angles), Mongolians look away or suggest keeping to ourselves. At first I thought that they just wanted to privatize our data, then I thought they understood it as a weak move, then I thought they might not get along with the people who I wanted to work with…..all wrong. I just have to market the idea of collaboration. They must clearly see the give and take, and I must market this every step of the way (more strongly than you may be thinking). Even Mongolians, who express excitement about collaboration, tread lightly once in the water. Honestly, many make faces like they are drowning.
I work in a technological field where collaboration is often necessary. Working on a project with limited resources promises to be a fair stage for entry-level collaboration. This week I have been introducing myself to heads of NGOs and talking casually about my project and personal goals of integration. I also attended a GIS conference and met a few other GIS specialists and professors. There are many highly skilled Mongolians in UB.
Anyway, as I see it, billions of dollars can be poured into Mongolia, all for naught, if NGOs and businesses are not learning from each other and building on past experience. Fierce independence does seem to mean that everything is viewed as completely independent…more to come….