On a tourist trip into the Gobi Desert, I found myself among several nationalities crammed onto one bus.
We would get close, all of us during those two weeks living in crammed quarters with limited supplies and not much running water.
On our last night, we gathered around a warm stove in the center of a yurt while a blizzard ensued outside. The final rations of liquor came out and the bottles were passed around. I was the only missionary in the group of mostly international teachers and businessmen, so the pressure was on to get me drunk. I disappointed them for reasons they were unaware of.
My husband managed the travel company we were touring with, something I kept from the group to get an insiders feel on how well we were pleasing our guests. It was a memorable night; one I hold dear as I recall the beautiful faces and fun conversations from so many different perspectives. As the evening progressed and the alcohol warmed even the shiest personalities, words were shared that otherwise may have stayed in the soul. I don’t regret staying sober to hear them.
“You Americans are so loud and obnoxious,” one woman from the Netherlands said, causing the group to erupt in laughter because I was the only American there and by far the least obnoxious that night.
Realizing the absurdity of her comment, she giggled and covered it up nicely with, “I mean usually.” They went on to talk about my nation in a way that made me both laugh and cringe. Yes, we have our opinions and yes, we are loud, something I never realized until I had moved to a post-communist nation where everyone whispered their words as if the KGB were still lurking near the half torn down statue of Stalin.
Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I noticed how awkwardly loud we Americans were. That night in the yurt, I could understand the perspective held of my nationality and patiently endured being the brunt of many jokes. But later, when the humor was exhausted, one man said, “Ahh, don’t worry dear, we are all just flat-out jealous.”
This resonated within me like an echo that has carried all the way to 2021 where I sat in a restaurant catching up with friends. The inevitable conversations of COVID-19, vaccines and politics entered our space. When the tone went low and those around me began to speak in the hushed murmurs, I remembered from years gone by, my blood ran cold. No, I thought, not us, has that much changed this soon?
The soft-spoken words of those at my table may be a signal of one of the worst possible outcomes for ourselves and our nation. We blessed Americans who have lived in the lap of luxury when it came to freedom and voice, are faced for the first time with a new threat, fear of one another, and it feels as strange as it should.
• Shari Tvrdik works as Director of Communication for Cup of Cold Water Ministries. She is author of the book, “One Baby For The World.” From the four corners of your living room to the other side of the globe, “The mission to live God’s love is always and everywhere.”