The dark side of Mongolia

This is an ugly post. This is a post that hurt to write. This is a post that made me cry. I wished it had had no reason to be written. But it does. One reason is that I want others to be warned, in particular other women travelling solo. The other reason is that I won’t shut up in the face of perpetrators. I know that it won’t be read by those, rather by the friendly Mongolians who helped me. That is unfortunate. But this should not keep me from being honest. So, in all honesty, here are three aspects of Mongolia, that I am glad to have left behind.

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Sometimes, the sun sets and all is forgotten. Sometimes, the pain stays with you long after…

 

(1) Forget about private sphere

‘I haven’t seen her in a while.’
– ‘What do you mean?’
‘I haven’t seen her in at least an hour! She hasn’t left her room since then.’
– ‘Well, she’s probably fine.’
‘Ha, didn’t you know that humans die without the attention of other humans? She is probably in severe danger! It’s called Sudden Death Phenomenon.’
– ‘Who, I didn’t think of that!’
‘Nobody can survive without constant social control. We should check if she’s alive.’
– ‘In fact, it’s our duty! Let’s go instantly.’

Knocking on the door of the cyclist. Nobody answers. Knocking harder. No answer. Kicking on the door with boots. A tired woman opens the door. ‘Yes? Sorry, I took a nap…’
(The two men just look around the room. Look at the woman. Leave without a word.)

‘So she WAS alive. Did we really have to threaten to break in the door? Her hearing seemed to be fine the last time we saw here…’
– ‘You never know. There is also a Sudden Deaf Phenomenon. People go deaf from one instant to another.’
‘Well, at least we know she is doing fine.’

30 minutes later.
‘Listen, I haven’t seen her in a while…’

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Doors and locks – not very typical for Mongolia

This conversation probably never happened. But I imagine that conversations like it MUST have happened, over and over again. Otherwise, I cannot explain why on earth people would come and check my hotel room constantly. Nor have I found any explanation why people almost kick in the door in the process. If there is a door to kick in in the first place – many of the rooms cannot be locked, as they don’t have keys. Some don’t even have doors. Which, admittedly, makes checking a LOT easier. One night, the owner of one guesthouse checked my room at midnight, at 3am and then again at 6:30am. For no apparent reason. Lesson learned: When in Mongolia, forget about private sphere.

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Many nomads camp in stunning locations- one of the most beautiful campsites on my Mongolian journey

I guess this is linked to the nomadic past (and present) of the people: the whole family shares one ger, the door is oftentimes open. Add to this a strong sense of family and the fact that Mongolians do not seem to exist in singular. During the Nadaam festival (mid July), whole groups of families go on a one-week vacation together. Meaning, they travel in convoys of, no, not two or three cars – we are talking about seven to eight cars! The idea of travelling ‘ganzara’ (alone – one of the first Mongolian words I learned), is deeply foreign to Mongolians. And a little strange, it seems.

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Nomads on the move (with the traditional ger on top), but never alone

When I met Mongolians in a guanz (simple canteen), the conversation on the other tables immediately revolved around the word ganzara. I did get thumbs up for crossing Mongolia by bike. But, ganzara, really? Heads were shaken in disbelieve. How does a human surive? I have to admit that there is a point to this, indeed. There is an inherent danger in being away from civilization alone. If I get injured or just fall sick, there is nobody around to help me. I am aware of that and the risks I take. Even though I prepare as well as I can (by taking a Personal Locator Beacon with me to be able sending an SOS signal, e.g.), there are things out of my control (see this post). In the end, it is up to luck. However, it seemed that for Mongolians, the social dimension of being out there alone was considered to be a lot more severe than the physical challenges I might face.

‘Your family must be really tolerant, to let you go on a journey like this.’
– ‘Well, I am a grown-up adult. I am financing this journey with my own savings from having worked hard. I don’t need the permission of my parents.’
– ‘… they must be REALLY tolerant…’
(Said a highly educated middle-aged Mongolia woman, who was travelling in one of said convoys.)

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Solitude in Mongolia? Well, sometimes it rather feels crowded…

I came to Mongolia searching for solitude. In my mind this should have been easy in a country such vast (roughly 1,500,000 km2), inhabited by only 3 million people (half of them in the capital). I knew that those 1.5 million people are spread all over the enormous land mass that is Mongolia – there is a ger in sight almost anywhere you go. You might not always spot it, but rest assured that the nomads spotted you already. And rest assured also that you’ll have a few interested visitors at your tent in the evening and morning. Actually, I camped most of the time – hotel rooms were an exception. Tents do not have doors to knock on. Mongolians find a way around that. If they arrive on a motorbike, they could count on me hearing the engine. If arriving by horse, they would start singing or whistling once they get closer to my tent, making sure I knew that they were coming.

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A lovely morning greeting from my nomadic neighbors: milk tea and a delicious dairy speciality made mostly from butter and sugar (yes, it tastes as fantastic as it sounds!)

Meeting nomads was usually a nicer experience than having visitors at your hotel room all the time (and having to fight for the right to lock the room I paid for). Many nomads seemed concerned that I was doing well and if I camped close to a ger, the family often brought tea to my tent or something to eat. I was moved by their concern and grateful for the food or tea. There was one thing I could not get over, however…

 

(2) Sexism and Chauvinism

‘Sex?’

I cannot remember how often I was asked this question in those two months I cycled through Mongolia. Usually, I was asked without any prior introduction, without any ‘hello’ or ‘sain bainuu’ (hello in Mongolian). At first, I believed that there must be a Mongolian word that SOUNDS like ‘sex’, but actually means something different. My doubts were unnecessary, as the question was oftentimes followed by very obvious gestures. And a facial expression that seemed to say: ‘Hell, this stupid foreign woman does not even understand the simplest question of human mankind! What else could I possibly want from her?’

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My tent seemed very inviting…

The first times, I was simply speechless. These were nomads coming to my tent, sometimes late at night, to ask me for sex? Seriously? I did not and still do not understand. Beggars beg because they have experienced success with that, they begged and got money. These men? I cannot imagine a woman in this entire world who would say ‘Sure, come on in!’. I really cannot (but maybe I am just lacking imagination). I saw real disappointment in the faces of some of the men when I sent them away. They sometimes even brought a second horse for me, motioning that I didn’t have to ride my bike to get to their ger for getting laid – how considerate.

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Bringing a spare horse to my tent… really? (not this Mongolian, though)

And it was not only the nomads. This phenomenon seemed to encompass Mongolian men of all ages and all living conditions. I was asked for sex by boys barely 12 years old up to men of about 60, out in the steppe as well as in villages. It doesn’t make it any better to be asked for sex in the street when you buy water from a shop. But at least, the guy then didn’t know where I was sleeping – and I didn’t have to worry about him coming back later that night to get what he wanted by force. Fortunately, that never happened, but it still made for some very uncomfortable nights. I am sure they did not understand my swearing at them in English, but I am also sure that they got the tone.

Why all the sexism? I don’t actually know. Usually, I feel safe in that regard in Asia – tall and athletic women usually don’t fit the bill for being considered attractive here. My guidebook explicitly states that women ‘have no trouble travelling the country alone.’ Well, yes, I haven’t been raped. But I find the question deeply insulting. I guess it is caused by a mixture of chauvinism and probably Russian pornography (or pornography featuring Caucasian looking women, at least). In any case, something, somewhere must have instilled the thought in the heads of Mongolian men that Caucasian women are just waiting to be laid by them. Anywhere, anytime.

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Central Mongolia. Nice landscapes. But…

The sex question seemed to be related to Central Mongolia. At least, that is where I encountered the question most often, sometimes more than once per day. Then, I spent five days cycling through no-man’s land – terrain so hostile and arid that not even nomads live there. No men, no sex question. My daily routine was grueling (see this post), with scarce water and armies of mosquitos, but at least, I was left alone. Somehow, I was starting to hope that this topic was over. That it was related to a particular region of Mongolia. That the upcoming 1000km of Mongolian roads would see no horny man.

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Finally off to where nobody would assault me. Or so I hoped…

After those five days, I finally arrived at a ger cum guanz (canteen) in Uvs province which, according to my route notes, sold water. Finally! I had made it through this hostile terrain! I was safe! I got water bottles and started refilling my dromedary bag. After you have just spent such an enormous distance where you ration your water, counting every milliliter, handling water becomes a task of utter concentration. Don’t spill precious water, don’t spill… And then, I felt a hand from behind, grabbing me hard between the legs. This is a moment I will never forget. It was not the first time this happened to me. But even though all of those incidents have left their mark, this one shattered me to the bone. All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed by a tiredness deeper than anything. I had just survived the no man’s land. I had made it through a physical and mental challenge that was unsurpassed by anything I had encountered on this journey before. I had been so much looking forward to making it to civilization, to get somewhere safe where humans can live. And the second human I meet is assaulting me. Is using, no ABusing my mental and physical exhaustion for his perverted idea of sexuality. It felt as if he had trampled out my inner fire that had kept me going through all this. Suddenly, I was all ashen inside. I had nothing left. No air for shouting, no power for slapping. I just turned my bike around and cycled over the next hill, out of sight. Once I felt a little safer, I just broke down over my handlebar and cried. Cried for the first time after the last truly horrible thing that happened to me, an attempted gang rape in Iran.

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At the shore of Khyargas Nuur. I only realized how beautiful it was after I stopped crying.

As I learned, Mongolian men in Uvs province don’t waste their time asking. They just do. And the sexual assaults continued, with men touching me against my will – thighs, breasts, .. you name it. These were no accidents. They usually waited until I was busy trying to steady my bike, filling my water, talk to a child. They waited until they knew that I could not react or at least: not react fast.
I got mad, as I did when asked for sex. I shouted. But I also realized that I was getting tired. Tired of having to fend for my private sphere and my dignity all the time. Tired of being considered an easy prey. In most cases, I was very certain that I was stronger than these guys, physically, mentally. But I was tired to the bone, tired of this bullshit.

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There were times when I so much wished to be alone in this country, just me and the herds of animals

So far, I have lived in six different countries and travelled in more than 50. I have experienced sexual assaults in many of them (and many of them actually in my home country, Germany). But frankly, never have I experienced anything like I did in Mongolia. Never this frequency. People speak about Muslim countries and how tough it supposedly is for women to travel there. They have no idea. In the seven Muslim countries through which I cycled so far (all of the countries of this trip before Mongolia), I was treated with respect, mostly. I had some really bad experience in Iran (among them the mentioned rape attempt). Yet, 99% of Iranian people I met were friendly and hospitable to me beyond belief. I knew that the truly bad experiences I had were exceptions, the few bad apples. But the wonderful majority of the people made up for it. Don’t get me wrong, women are not treated equally there, by far not. But even though I was treated as worth less than a man, I seemed still be to considered to have some worth, some dignity.

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Erdene Zuu monastery, Kharkhorin

Mongolia is predominantly Buddhist. And chauvinism and sexism are prevalent beyond belief. I don’t want to suggest that to be the cause, but it seems not to  reign in sexism either. I find it hard to endure sexism in my own culture, but mostly, I know that it is a minority. And I am optimistic enough to believe that those sexists mostly know that their behavior is condemned by the majority of society. This creates at least some mental barriers that might hinder some to act. Bad enough that some men think this way. But while women have to endure sexist actions way too often, at least this does not happen ALL the time.
In Mongolia, there seems to be no such barrier. Sexism is absolutely common and open. If I met a man in the steppe or in the street, I could almost flip a coin to find out if he was going to be okay. If he was going to ask me for sex, whistle, call me ‘sexy baby’ or assault me.

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Some chance encounters were a lot nicer than others

I cannot change this society. I cannot and will not. The only thing I have a handle on is my own reaction, how I cope with the events. I was trying to learn. To be loud, to react physically. And also, to forgive myself. To forgive myself if, after an exhausting day of cycling on challenging tracks in the summer heat, I was too tired for a notable reaction at all. On this bike journey, I have traveled through countries were women have a hard lot. However, my status as ‘foreigner’ saved me from quite a bit of the discrimination. In a way, I was oftentimes treated as ‘honorary man’ – worth less than an actual man, but more than a local woman. Now, I experienced the very bottom of the pecking order. It did not feel very comfortable there. To be more precise: I got to the absolute limit of what I could possibly bear. I might have gotten out of this stronger than before. At the same time, I kept asking myself how much more shit I would need to go through. And why.

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This is not about me – any woman could be sitting here.

One thing I really did learn: It is not about me. It is not my fault. It never is, in no country. Yet, in other places, sexual assaults occur less often, making you wonder whether you made a mistake (if only that you went to the wrong place). Rest assured: you did not. Mongolia was really pounding that into my head. It is not me. It is a fucked up society (excuse me) that teaches even young boys that it’s fine to assault women. Or, at least, a society that does nothing to KEEP them from assaulting women. Sexism in the culture I come from is surely prevalent, but it is, in many cases, comparable to a sickness that only breaks out occasionally. Bad enough, but somehow bearable. Mongolia is a chronic patient in comparison. In a way, this may be linked to the following…

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Mongolia has some ugly sides – and this is not only about industrial ruins

(3) Alcoholism

A simple zhooshid buudal (hostel). I am sitting in the common room, eating the usual staple of Tsuivan, fried noodles with fatty meat in it. The task needs some concentrating, as I am trying to find the bits of vegetable in there and to avoid the lumps of pure fat. From the corner of my eyes, I see a man walking up to me. He seems drunk. Nothing unusual here – alcoholism is prevalent and when you cycle through a village, it is not uncommon to see one or a few passed out men lying in the street. What I don’t expect, though, is the blow I get, a blow that almost fires the fork out of my hand. Surprised, I look up, into blod-shoot eyes. A fist rammed into my arm is not quite the introduction I am used to. The guy makes a pedalling motion with his hands and then points to my bike. Sure, I’ll hand over my most beloved and precious possession to a drunk idiot who just hit me! I firmly shake my head. ‘No!’ I am about to turn around to my dish again, when the fist hits me a second time, this time on the collarbone. In pain, I jump up. If we are getting into a fist fight, I prefer to be on my feet. The drunken Mongolian seems agitated as well. He repeats the pedalling motion and the pointing at my bike, just more fervently than before. Of course! I only needed to be hit a SECOND time to allow him to ride my bike. That’s how the world works. Hitting someone TWICE work better than ONCE. How could I forget! ‘NO. AND FUCK OFF.’ I am sure he doesn’t understand a word, but the tone is hard to miss. He seems to consider hitting me a third time. Then, his face goes blank. Seconds later, he seems to have forgotten what he had wanted so badly just a moment ago. Disoriented, he looks around. I point the way to the door and he stumbles out.

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Nomrog, the village where I had this unpleasant encounter with a drunk bike fan

My encounters with drunk Mongolians were far less frequent, fortunately, than the above-mentioned incidents with sexists (and just for the record, the sexists mostly seemed sober). Still, I have been hit by a fist three times in my two months I spent in Mongolia. Once, the blow was aimed directly at my head and I was just lucky that my instincts were fast enough to have me raise my underarms to take the blow. Apparently, getting up to my full height was always a bad idea – that was usually the very moment when drunks got aggressive. Even though I realized that, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep sitting when I was about to be attacked. The instinct of being able to flee or fight back was just too strong. So I will keep jumping up. And I will keep getting hit.

Usually, I have an easy time passing as a man if need be (pulling up a hood usually helps), as most people don’t expect a woman to be as tall. There have been many times when I feigned confidence and used my body for that. Straighten your shoulders, stand with legs wide apart. I know the game and it has worked well many times. In Mongolia, however, seeing a potentially stronger opponent seems to incite a lemming-like desire to get into a fight (among drunks, at least). I don’t understand that instinct, but I also have a hard time supressing MY instinct to do what almost always worked (outside of Mongolia): to play strong, not weak.

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Would you hit someone stronger than you?

In combination with the sexism, I felt doubly punished. My physical strength usually gets me through most things alright. Now, this previous advantage turned against me. My body drew a LOT of (sexual) attention. And it also seemed to invite quite a bit of physical aggression.

Weirdly enough, pure physical violence does not hurt me as much as sexism.

 

What to make out of this?

I cannot offer bulletproof recipes to any woman venturing out into Mongolia alone. I have been trying to pass as a man here, to no avail in contrast to Iran. Not even shaving my head seemed to have helped in any way – Mongolian men recognized me as a woman even from behind when I was on my bike (wearing unisex clothes). The countless ‘hey sexy baby’s’ bear testament of this – and they were shouted at me before those guys had even passed me in their vehicles.

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Find yourself some good neighbors- camping next to lovely French people and their dogs made for the most relaxing night I had in Mongolia

The one advice I can offer: spend as little time as possible in villages and stay away from drunks (as far as you can – once I was assaulted by a drunk in a hostel at night. There is not much I could have done to avoid that.). When camping, don’t try to hide – they will find you anyways and I found that the sex question is almost guaranteed if nobody else is around. Instead, after asking permission, camp close to assemblies of gers where families live (the sex question does not come as often in front of others). I should add, though, that I was once asked for sex by a man in front of his daughter. So try to be somewhere, where there are other MEN around (women don’t seem to count that much, no matter whether they are German or Mongolian).

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Stay where there are people around- do NOT try to hide. But be aware of the drunks at the same time

Another piece of advice: be vigilant all the time. Literally try to have your back (or rather: your behind) covered. If possible, have a wall behind you when you bend over your bike or fill water. Never allow anyone into your hotel room, no matter what they claim, not even the hotel manager (who grabbed my breasts once he was in). If possible, try to get a room that can be locked and use that lock when you are in there yourself. Rooms shield you from view of others and some Mongolian men thought this was a perfect situation (for them, not me, obviously).

To safe (a bit of) the honor of Mongolian men: at the end of my journey, in the far Southwestern corner of Mongolia (Khovd province), I finally got away from it all. Nothing happened to me there at all. It is considered the most ethnically diverse province and the busy trade with Kazakhstan, Russia and China draws a lot of business people in. It is also predominantly Muslim, not Buddhist. I am guessing that part of this might offer an explanation, though other aspects might factor in. But then, after I had already left Mongolia, I heard from one of my dear female cyclist friends, that she was sexually assaulted in extactly this province…

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Yes, the landscapes are wonderful. But…

Sadly, despite the inspiring landscape, I cannot honestly recommend travelling through Mongolia solo as a woman. If you do, chose the province carefully and come mentally prepared for rarely having any private sphere, for encountereing a lot of sexism and also some alcohol-fuelled violence. I have been in shitty situations before and managed to find solutions. Maybe the solution was somewhere out there. Maybe there was at least a lesson behind all that. But to be honest, I have not found it yet.

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I will forever be grateful for the good people I met in Mongolia- without them, I would have despaired

You can survive for quite a while without food. You can survive without water for a much briefer period. I realized that I, personally, cannot survive a day without believing in the good of people. Having the opposite slapped into my face over and over again was draining. Despite formidable physical challenges, I found this to be the hardest part of crossing Mongolia. I did meet Mongolians who were nice and gentle to me, some of them. When this did happen, when I was offered help, I was grateful beyond belief. Even a smile did me a world of good. It very much felt like getting to a source of water after having cycled through the desert. After all the verbal and physical assaults, I longed for human kindness as I did for a drip of water. When I found it – a source of water, human kindness – I stayed for as long as I possibly could (and as my visa allowed). My rest days were as much about resting physically, as they were about refuelling emotionally. I will forever be thankful for those Mongolians who helped me in that. Hopefully, I will learn to forgive the many others.

17 comments

  1. Josef says:

    Hi Anne,
    welch krasse Eindrücke du in der Mongolei sammeln musstest, schockt mich sehr und ich wünsche dir, dass du sie auch irgendwie verarbeiten kannst. Alles Gute wünsche ich dir

    • annewestwards says:

      Hallo Josef,
      danke fuer die lieben Worte. Ja, das Verarbeiten wird seine Zeit dauern. Ich hatte mir in Kashgar deswegen fast zwei Wochen Auszeit genommen- das tat gut und war wichtig dafuer. Alles Gute auch an dich! Anne

  2. Julien says:

    Deeply sorry to read all these strong, heavy disrespects that you and other women, have to face in Mongolia and too many other countries. Simply Disgusting. So many men should be castrated.
    unfortunately, India won’t be easy too in that topic.
    Safe journey Anne.

  3. Jene, Sonja says:

    Liebe Anne,
    Du bist durch die Hölle gegangen. Ich bin erschüttert. Es zeigt wie krank Männer sein können, die jegliche Achtung vor der Frau verloren haben. ich fühle mich tief verbunden mit Dir als Frau, die auch die Freiheit liebt und das Leben. Wir müssen uns schützen, um von dieser Form der Gewalttätigkeit und des Sexismus nicht kleingemacht zu werden. Was Muss in einer Gesellschaft geschehen sein, dass soviel “frauenverachtendes” geschieht. Du warst für sie Freiwild und Du warst in großer Gefahr. Ich bin froh, dass Du überlebt hast und uns teilhaben lässt an Deinem Schicksal. Ich bin froh, dass Du aus diesem Land raus bist und wünsche Dir von Herzen, dass Dein Körper und Dein Geist heilt von diesen schrecklichen Begegnungen. Deine Seele konnten diese Männer nicht erreichen, da bin ich sicher. Sei behütet auf Deiner weiteren Reise. Fühl Dich umarmt von Sonja

  4. Callie says:

    Hey there, this caught my eye on the Bicycle traveling women web page. I had similar experiences cycling in India, and an especially bad experience in Mongolia. I’ll leave a link to my blog story about it. Just know that we’re in this together- and we ARE paving the way for future women! I know how mentally exhausting it can be to hang in there through the constant sexist hassle, but I’ll be cheering for you from afar!!

    • annewestwards says:

      Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, Callie! My apologies for getting back so late, I was out of internet connection for a while (in the Indian Himalayas, ironically). I’m very sorry to hear that your experiences were similarly bad, and that this happened to you in both India and Mongolia. I will definitely have a look at your blog to read about it. Yes, I fully agree: let’s support each other after those difficult experiences and stand together. As you say, it is important to view it in a bigger picture, where this is not only about you or me, but about women’s rights and about paving ways for others. Thanks so much for your warm words!

      • Karolina says:

        Hi Anne, Hi Callie

        OH MY GOD Anne, I basically cried when I read your post on sexism. Especially the part describing “surviving the no-man’s land” to be assaluted by the second human you encounter – I CAN SO RELATE.
        I guess for me, it has mostly been about anger and the feeling of powerlessness. I can be a freaking superwoman, but this patriarchal world is constructed in a way, where any man can potentially assault me and there’s NOTHING I can do about it…
        I’m leaving a link to my blog entry if u interested.

        Callie, I agree, we ARE ALL TOGETHER paving the way for future women. Sometimes we pay a hard price for it, but we ARE CHANGING this world.

        Let’s stay together.
        Karolina

  5. Markus Kunert, Berlin says:

    Liebe Anne,

    unglaublich, was Du berichtest. Mit traurigen, wässrigen Augen lese ich es. Es muss unglaublich … sein. Mir fehlen die Worte, mir fällt nichts ein. Ich kann es nicht wirklich nachfühlen. Trotz unschöner Erlebnisse auf anderen Kontinenten, habe ich nie solch krasse sexuelle Entgleisungen und solch unentschuldbares, ultra aggressives Fehlverhalten selbst erlebt. Ich kann nur hoffen, dass Du dadurch nicht zerlegt wirst, dass Du daraus irgendwie gestärkt hervorgehen kannst – irgendwie, irgendwann.

    Durch Deinen Bericht denke ich natürlich auch an mein eigenes Verhalten. Wo kann ich mich selbst vorsichtiger/ rücksichtsvoller verhalten? Wo kann ich manchmal Frauen helfen? Dafür haben mir Deine Zeilen auch gute Anregungen gegeben. Vielen Dank dafür.

    Viele wunderschöne Erlebnisse und tolle menschliche Begegnungen wünsche ich Dir noch von ganzem Herzen. Sei behütet,

    Markus Kunert

    • annewestwards says:

      Lieber Markus,

      vielen Dank fuer deine nachdenklich Worte. Ich hatte zwischendrin – geographisch wirklich in der Mitte der Mongolei mit 1000km hinter mir und ebensovielen vor mir – wirklich Angst bekommen, dass es mich zerlegt, wie du es sagst. Dass ich zusammenbreche. Und viel schlimmer, dass ich jegliches Vertrauen in Menschen verliere. Aber dann haetten die anderen gewonnen gehabt, die mongolischen Machos und Sexisten – das hat mich aufrecht gehalten. Dennoch war ich unglaublich erleichtert, als ich endlich China erreicht hatte und merkte, dass ich noch an das Gute im Menschen glauben kann.

      Es freut mich, wenn der Bericht zum Nachdenken angeregt hat. Ich kann nur fuer mich sprechen, aber mir haette es unglaublich geholfen, wenn mir ein Augenzeuge beigestanden haette – ob Mann oder Frau. Ich glaube, dass man sich das gar nicht oft genug vor Augen halten kann.

      Danke dir von Herzen fue deine Nachricht.
      Liebe Gruesse
      Anne

  6. Will says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this, it is a thoughtful and supremely well put together post on a difficult topic. Being a man I did not have to deal with the sexism and groping and (having been robbed of the chance to cycle across Mongolia) I did not have to deal with the lack of private space either. It was only the third point, alcoholism, violence and the ridiculously childish macho culture of Mongolian men that I had to endure. I can only imagine how tough it was to spend two months there as a woman having to deal with all three. My respect goes out to you.

    In my case I was invited into the home of a Mongolian family in the first village not thirty kilometres from the Russian border. That night the host shared some drink with me, got horrendously drunk, tried to rob my panniers and when I confronted him, he started beating the shit out of me, hitting me repeatedly. I took seven punches to the head and tried shouting for help but no one came to my aid. In the end I realised that he was not going to stop attacking me until I stopped moving so I had to fight for my life. Luckily I won and managed to escape into the night. Of course when he came to he hopped on his motorbike and tried to chase me down. I had to hide all night in an abandoned oil depot as I could hear his motorbike driving around looking for me. It was without a doubt the most frightening experience of my life and left me with a horrible impression of Mongolia. Being on a long RTW tour, I would usually put such experiences as being down to being unlucky in meeting that 1% of people that are bad but after my incident I heard of countless other reports of robberies and aggression aimed at other cyclists and motorbikers travelling overland in Mongolia. It is a country that is very much different in real life than to what is said in the guidebooks.

    In the end I had to fly to Ulaanbaatar to have surgery on my hand before I could cycle again. Here I encountered yet more of your third point, with the machoism, drunkenness and alcoholism being taken to new levels in the pubs around the city. The machoism even extended to Mongolian men getting incredibly aggressive if they saw you talking to a Mongolian woman. They would take it upon themselves to put you in your place and tell the girl she has no business talking to a foreigner, that she is to hang around with Mongolian men only! As you sum it up best, it really is a fucked up society.

    On the other hand there was one positive that came out of Mongolia. The majority of the women I interacted with were well educated, open minded and showed no signs of the major problems that so many men in this country have. It was the biggest gender distinction I have ever seen in a country and one I cannot make sense of.

    Anyway, apologies for the rant! I just wanted to get some of my feelings on Mongolia off my chest after reading your thought provoking post. It brought back a lot of memories and reminds me why I won’t be venturing back there again. Well done on making it through despite all those hardships, it shows incredible strength and fortitude.

    All the best and happy cycling,
    Will

    • annewestwards says:

      Will, thank you so much for your openness to share this traumatic experience. I am incredibly glad that you are alive to tell the story- it sounds as if it could have easily gone the other way. What a terrible experience! I hope your hand healed well after surgery and that you can enjoy the pleasures of cycle touring again.

      I very much agree, Mongolia is a lot different from what the guidebooks tell, in particlar for cyclists and motorbikers who are more exposed. I believe it is important to warn others, such that they can make an informed decision if they want to take the risks involved in crossing the country. Just as you, I will surely never venture out there again. There is only so much you can take.
      It means a lot to me that you, as a man, shared your experiences. It makes me, as a woman, feel a lot less alone. I so much wish you would not have had to go through this. Yet, it does remind me that a society which is so fucked up in terms of sexism, is probably fucked up in a lot of other ways as well – for both genders.

      I was not aware that Mongolian men get aggressive when they see a foreign man talking to a Mongolian woman, but I can (unfortunately) very well imagine that. And I completely agree, the differences between the two genders could hardly be bigger – that would have been an important point to also mention in my post. I also found Mongolian woman to be mostly kind and friendly. Whatever causes this distinction to happen…

      Again, thanks a lot for sharing! Let’s hope that neither of us will encounter a country like Mongolia on our journeys anymore.

      Tailwinds and all the best to you on your RTW trip!
      Anne

    • Bat says:

      I am proud Mongolian andI am deeply sorry that u had this experience. I apologize on behalf of my people… These country dickheads are just not educated, not civilized, they do not know how to get laid with foreign women or how to be gentle. I am shocked that u had enough bravery to cycle across my country even i wouldn’t go alone on thia kinda trip on my owm. Just scared to get beat the shit out by them but trust me not all of us are bad. One important thing is we would never rape a women but we could disrespect them, Just the way of messing.

  7. Zafar says:

    I am happy that you survived the awful trip. Lots of respect to you for being such a strong person. In your place, I would probably have folded. Your story is an inspiring one, although I can barely cycle 20 km at my level of fitness 🙂

  8. Mike T says:

    That’s some crazy stuff that you experienced! I’m sorry to have read it, but am heartened by the fact that you have survived the ordeal. Some societies have norms that are different, and when travelling, one discovers the ugly with the good. Is it naive to ask how many police officers you came across during the trip? If there is good in each person, the distribution must have infinite support. It’s disturbing how humans can be capable of such remarkable cruelty.

  9. Emmenreiter says:

    Hello Anne, we haven`t heard from each other for some time. In the meantime we have seen some more places. After Southeast Asia and Nepal our next stopp was Mongolia. We remember very well, what you told us about your trip there and we were pretty sad about your blogpost. Anyway – we wanted to discover Mongolia and this is, what we learned: http://www.emmenreiter.de/reise-blog/mongolei-mit-motorrad/ We hope you are happy, where ever you are at the moment 🙂 Yours, Micha and Suse – now in Moscow and pretty soon at home again in Berlin

  10. Ewan McMillan says:

    Thanks for your blog and lovely photos and well done for writing that, more people should ve aware of the dangers of Mongolia. I have experienced the fury (and fists) of drunk macho Mongolian men and I can only imagine what they’d be like with women.

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