Pamela MacNaughtan

I’ve heard a lot about Florence Nightingale Syndrome, but never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I would have to deal with it.

My last day in Mongolia was quiet. Most of my clothing was being laundered, so I sat around in my pajamas until almost 3 in the afternoon and tried to catch up on some writing, emails etc. As it was my last night in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia, it was also party night. Which meant everyone in the hostel would be buying beers or vodka and we would be hanging out until the wee hours of the morning.

The festivities had barely begun when the doorbell to the hostel rang. As I walked up from the basement I saw a Mongolian man clutching his face and bleeding. The girls led him into the staff bathroom and I followed to see if they needed some help.  When I saw the porcelain sink splattered by red blood, I knew the gash was a little more serious than a minor cut. I went looking for a first aid kit.

The girls at the hostel told me that some pickpockets had jumped the man -one of their tour drivers- outside and attacked him. They asked me if I thought it was a rock or a knife wound. With the jagged cut and the way the skin was folding, I told her it was probably a large rock. I spent the next 20 minutes or so holding my travel towel (Which I left behind) to his head and having him sit down and lean back so I could stop the bleeding enough to try and bandage him up.

I explained that he would probably need stitches. He refused. As I started to clean his forehead Alka kept telling me he was okay.

Alka: I’m Okay. It’s Okay.

Me: Yea, yea. Big tough Mongolian man, I know. Now sit down!

This conversation was repeated constantly as I applied some steri-strips to try and hold the wound shut and then some gauze and tape. I explained he may have a concussion, what to look for and that he would need to see an actual doctor.

Alka: I’m Okay. It’s Okay.

When I was finished (well I thought I was finished), Alka slid off the bed he was sitting on and got on his knees. I felt more than a little awkward as he clasped his hands in front of him, bowed to me and repeated “Thank-you, thank-you”. When he took my hand to kiss it, I just told him to sit and pointed to the bed. He sat.  After 20 minutes of him saying he was okay and me smacking his hand when he tried to get up, I had had him pretty well trained.

As he sat on a bed in a dorm room the staff uses in the off-season, I went to walk back into the common room and join the party. Alka wanted me to stay and sit with him. I believe this was mistake number one. He said a whole lot of things in Mongolian and all I understood was Parent, Thank-you and I’m Okay, it’s okay. When I got up to join the party in the other room, he stood up and grabbed my hand. Alka motioned to sit back down, but I smiled, shook my head and pointed to the common room. He decided to join me, which is where things went a little downhill.

You know that saying; revenge is a dish best-served cold? Well, I’m not sure how cold it was, but one of the backpackers decided this was an appropriate time to get back at me for video-taping him doing a sexy dance the night before. As I sat down with the guys, Alka sat on a chair close by.

I’m Okay, It’s Okay. He said this over and over to everyone in the room. I gave him orange juice and pointed for him to sit down. He sat. When one of his buddies showed up with a bottle of vodka, I told him No. I had given him some IB Profren earlier and mixing that with vodka was not a smart idea. In hindsight, I probably should have kept my mouth shut. Alka took this to mean that I had feelings for him. I had totally forgotten the whole strong Mongolian woman thing. He was still bleeding. I just didn’t want him blacking out in the middle of the hostel.

What ensued was awkward, funny and torture.

Me: I go to Beijing tomorrow.

Alka: No! No Beijing! -followed by a lot of Mongolian. Hand gestures to indicate the size of Mongolia. Mongolia good country. You stay.

Me: I can’t stay. I go to China tomorrow.

Alka: No!

At this point, he was sitting beside me, a bottle of vodka in front of him and holding my right hand in an affectionate death grip. The French guys in the room were having a fabulous time. They couldn’t stop laughing, as Alka would pour a glass of vodka and walk across the room to give it to someone while maintaining his grip on my hand.

Me: You guys are enjoying this, huh.

Guy A: Oh yes. You should stay in Mongolia. You like it here.

Guy B: You’ll have your own Ger! You’ll love it there.

Me: You guys are soooo not helping right now.

Before Alka would let go of my hand, he wanted me to say I wouldn’t go to Beijing and that I would stay in Mongolia with him. I was laughing, in a panic and completely on my own. It took me a few minutes to say, Okay -hoping he’d let it go. Oh, how wrong I was. Once he let go of my hand, he slid off his stool, knelt in front of me, clasped his hands, bowed and said thank-you three times.

Oh crap. I hope this doesn’t mean we’re married or something.

The guys kept laughing.

Guy B: Who thinks she should stay in Mongolia and live in a Ger? He raised his hand. Then the remainder of them did the same. Alka was very happy. I was ready to kill them. That’s when Alka put two hands over his heart, and then pointed them at me.

Oh crap, I think he just said he is giving his heart to me. Man, these Mongolian men are intense when they’ve been drinking!

I just said thank-you and yelled for one of the girls from the hostel. I then begged her to stay with me. Once she knew what was happening, she couldn’t stop laughing.

I’m coming with you to the train tomorrow. You better not leave me here in the morning!

Alka heard the train and the debate about me staying with him in Mongolia started all over again. This time he said he would take me to his home the next afternoon and that in the morning he would kill an animal.

Oh crap. I am screwed if he remembers any of this later and wakes up early tomorrow.

After almost 90 minutes of awkward debates, I was allowed to leave his side. I was beyond grateful for the break and went to my room for a few minutes. That was another mistake. My bunkmates were inside (2 girls from Finland, and 2 French guys), and Guy B followed shortly afterward. Once he explained what was happening, more laughter ensued.

Guy B: I think we should ask him for 3 camel.

French Guy 1: But there are 5 of us. We would need 5 camels.

Me: You guys are NOT bargaining for my dowry!

Guy B: But you stay to live in a Ger. You said okay in the other room.

Me: This better make up for the video.

Guy B: Oh, it does.

The conversation continued and when I decided to go back to the common room they were debating about asking for 5 camels and 2 horses or 1 really good joint. Yes, apparently I am worth 1 really good joint.

Thankfully Alka wasn’t alone. Two other drivers had shown up at the hostel to look at him. He was now distracted and I was free. I changed the bandage on his head once more before I left to go join the others.

When I crawled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, Alka was nowhere in sight. He was stilled sleeping in the dorm room the staff uses and Mama had this 45-year-old man pretty much grounded. Have I mentioned before how much I adore Mama? I do!

As I left the hostel to catch my train to Beijing I couldn’t help but wonder if Alka would remember anything from the night before. I’m hoping he doesn’t. My farewell party didn’t turn out the way I had expected it to, but I’ve provided plenty of entertainment and stories for the others.

I shall never, EVER, forget Mongolia.


  • November 26, 2010

    The man was going to kill an animal for you & you refused him? You’re COLD.

  • November 26, 2010

    You have just no idea how hard I’m laughing right now. I can SO picture this in my head, just wish you had posted a video of the dancing. I went through this in a couple of countries myself hahaha. XOXO

  • November 26, 2010

    I’m with Sally – he offers to kill you an animal and you refuse? Back home girls think they’re onto a winner if they open the car door for you … but slaughtering livestock and taking you home on the first date (does wound dressing and vodka counts as a first date?) WOW. You’d be meeting his mum before the end of the day.

    Glad you got out of the situation! I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time but you’ll be laughing about it for years to come.

  • November 27, 2010

    Awesome story, I wish I was there to see it all! What a shame you were leaving the next day – a follow up story would have been interesting (for us to read anyway – maybe not so much fun for you haha)

  • November 27, 2010

    Friggin hilarious!

  • November 27, 2010

    Too funny! I’m impressed with your skills…I would have just passed out when I saw the blood!

  • November 28, 2010

    What, were you holding out for 2 Gers? 6 camels? What? 🙂 That’s definitely the kind of story that makes a trip unforgettable.

  • December 3, 2010

    I swear, it’s going to be really hard for me to not stay over there permanently, I think.

  • Jen

    December 3, 2010

    LOL. Guess providing first aid = accepting engagement…duly noted.

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