Waiting + Being Happy

When I first started my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was just beginning to learn the Mongolian language while at the same time teaching English to doctors and nurses in our hospital. This, as you can imagine, was a lot of fun.

And by fun of course I mean hilarious and confusing. One particularly confusing verb for me to explain, because I didn't know the word in Mongolian, was "patience." Actually, this is embarrassing... I still don't know the word for patience in Mongolian.

I tried to explain the word to my class and the best thing I could come up with in Mongolian was "Baych bain, givch bayartai bain." Which is a horrible translation, but my students understood what I was trying to say, “It's like waiting, but still being happy."

I thought about it after class that day, and everyday since then I have loved that definition more and more. Mongolians are very patient people, probably the most patient people I have ever met. It's like they are born patient!

Whenever I see a Mongolian baby on an 11-hour bus ride in the countryside, they are like little Buddhas. It doesn't matter how little they are, they just sit calmly, look around, sometimes smile, sometimes laugh, sometimes drink, sometimes eat, but never cry, or whine, or complain, or act up, or get impatient.

Nope, the little Mongolian babies, the big Mongolian kids, the bigger Mongolian women, the really big Mongolian men and the saintly Mongolian grandfathers and grandmothers all sit quietly on the bus from the morning when we leave until night when we arrive. Once we arrive in town the cellphones pop out with “bainuu?” and “bain bain,” which is “Hello, yes I’m here”, but until then being inside the bus is like being inside a Buddhist monastery with everyone meditating.

And of course, it goes beyond the buses - it's in everyday conversation. You can find it in words like zuger, margash, dara, za za which mean, loosely, it’s okay/don’t worry, tomorrow, later, and okay, okay.

If patience were an art form in Mongolia, life would be the canvas, "za" would the paintbrush and "zuger", "margaash" and "dara" would be the paint. Za, za, za. Actually... patience is an art form here.

Mongolians know that if something doesn't happen today, the world isn't going to end. And even if, as Mongolians say, "tomorrow never comes" then that's okay too.


Thank you Jen for the inspiration to share this. This is from my book Enough which you can read free here.