09. Just smile and wave

Look out! LOOK OUT!!! While the driver was messing about on his phone, we drove straight towards a steep hill. The slumped man didn’t realize anything, that’s how deep he was sucked into the screen. That in itself was bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that he was also blind drunk. My shouting fell on deaf ears. Eh, shit. I braced myself. He tried to steer away from it at the very last moment, but it was too little too late. We barely tipped over, more due to luck than skill. I stared deeply into the drunkards’ eyes with utter disapproval and dismay. It didn’t bother him. Instead, he laughed it off indifferently. He clearly didn’t care about his moronic act. His colleague kicked up a notch by joining in and cracking jokes. I sat in the passenger seat with a loss of words. What a bunch of retards, this is completely out of mind. Drinking unprocessed horse-milk, skipping showers for days or getting totally owned with wrestling was all fine to me. And hey, a bit of excitement and sensation makes a journey more worthwhile. But this wasn’t funny anymore. I would’ve retreated on the spot if we weren’t in the middle of the Gobi desert. No road to hitchhike on, no camel to jump on. Damn. Sometimes there’s not much choice. Sometimes you’re very dependent on others.

This event is part of a recurring pattern. As a chronic travel addict, I have experienced quite some antics and road hogs by now. There are a lot of places where traffic is less strictly regulated. Or, to put it another way, it all goes more bluntly. On the spot I recalled some prior experiences. Sitting on the roof of a Filipino Jeepney. Holding on to Colombian bikers who slither over steep mud trails. Standing in the back of a pickup while thundering over the (narrow) mountain roads of Nepal. Hanging out the doorway of an overcrowded Sri Lankan bus nervously. Multiple cardiac arrests endured by bus drivers who regard their job as a videogame, are suicidal, or both. Doing little prayers in the back of wildly slaloming taxis or tuk-tuks. Foolish ghost drivers, stubborn tailgaters, dubious madman rides and countless other madness that didn’t withstand the test of time. It’s a miracle that I’ve had just one accident abroad. Apart from that, I always arrived (sooner or later) at my destination without chunks, rips or fuss. Every time I thought I had experienced ‘it’. And every time I was wrong. Some things I never get used to, even when something keeps happening time after time.

I discussed the near-accident with my mate in a Mongolian Ger. Their apathetic reaction was quite concerning. They genuinely didn’t see the severity of the situation, which was hard to grasp for us. We were close to being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Or worse: eight people getting injured. This is total bonkers, we don’t have to take this. Still, it remained an awkward matter. Do we really have to explain why drunk-driving is dangerous? Are we really going to behave like moralists? Condemning, lecturing, public disapproval, forcing my perceptions onto others and alike… Ugh, I’d rather not. I don’t feel entitled to take that position. Not at home, and certainly not when skating on the thin ice of other cultures. That’s why I usually take an empathetic, modest and reserved posture in the unfamiliar. Especially since it’s my choice to go somewhere with (very) different manners, norms and values. Nobody is eager for constant finger-pointing. And that, ironically enough, is also a recurring pattern. I’ve seen it all too often: the all-knowing, meddling and above all morally-supreme Westerner who – always and everywhere – has a (strong) opinion about truly everything. It often goes unconsciously and without bad intentions. They simply can’t pass by manners, attitudes, behaviors, use of language and the like that differs (to theirs). Especially the so-called highly-educated, rational and understanding ‘world citizens’ often turn out to have the biggest egos and most delicate souls. It has to be made public as soon as something doesn’t fit in their world – preferably as simplistic, rigid and invulnerable as possible. Something like; ‘I’m right, I’m more right, and I’m always right’. What about anyone with a different opinion?  This person obviously doesn’t understand it at all. Travelling doesn’t automatically make someone (more) open-minded, I dare to draw this conclusion by now.

No! Damn it, just no. Fuck the velvet gloves. No more over-sensitive fuss around cultures or forcing an (artificial) peace. Let’s call a spade a spade. This isn’t about cultural differences – this is just stupid and irresponsible. Yes. Yes! If that stance makes me an illiterate, xenophobic, short-sighted, selfish, and above all anxious racist/voter of political party X, then so be it. In the end, my more outspoken mate said what was on the tip of the tongue. Yet our concern about everyone’s safety was another waste of effort. Oh well. We’ve had our say, and later we’ll repeat it with the big boss (which by the way was just as pointless). That’s all we can do. We got the strong impression that drunk-driving is relatively common in Mongolia. Especially after we saw countless swaying vehicles, heard other people’s stories and read some news articles about the matter. Yet it is – and remains – just a limited, non-solid impression. Not much you can do with it. That’s why the act didn’t affect my positive image of Mongols and Mongolia. On the contrary. Living as semi-nomads in a desolate land with an extreme continental climate, it’s not for the fainthearted. It’s a brutal existence that I cannot comprehend, no matter how hard I try. One thing I know for sure: I don’t imitate them as a spoiled Dutchman. So I took my hat off and bowed deeply. It’s true: respect for somebody fits everybody. But how nice would it be if it’s mutual. We all want to come home in one piece. So road hogs, please, think twice and show some respect.

Laughing it all off mindlessly and carrying on business as usual, that really brings us anywhere.

> Click here for an overview if you’re eager for more stories <

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