Notice that the dead zombie is wearing an "Anthrax" shirt. Is it the same guy from earlier? He seems to have lost a bit of weight but hey, he's been sick. Plus he's just had all his flesh burnt off him in the car blaze.
Meanwhile that tank in the background remains far too big to be considered realistic. Plus the Hebrew in the first panel is probably grotesquely incorrect.
Never mind. Back to my attempt to write an essay that will be accepted by the "lives" section in the "New York Times Magazine."
"No, no, don't worry man... I'm all right."
It was an unimportant phrase, uttered by a male voice with an American accent. The voice was quite ordinary, fluent and Midwestern with maybe a hint of Georgia. Nevertheless, when I heard the voice, I could not believe my ears.
I was in a rusty Russian-made van, a "meeker," in the middle of the snowy Gobi desert. I was wedged in a seat, tightly sandwiched between the frigid glass of the window and a middle-aged Mongolian herder traveling with a bag full of phlegmatic, live goat. Though I was miserable and freezing I had the best seat in the van compared to where others were sitting. People sat on the floors. People sat on each other's laps. People even sat on the goat. The goat was phlegmatic about it.
Inside the van were silent Mongolians packed tighter than sardines and grimly enduring the bumpy ride from the tiny town of Dundgovi to the capital city of Ulaan Baatar. Occasionally someone vomited. Or smoked. Or passed around a bottle of bleach-flavored "Haraa" vodka and vomited again. There was little chatter. Mongolians aren't talkative. And yet, among the occasional discontented mutterings in Mongolian I had just heard a young man say a phrase in perfect American English. "No, no don't worry man... I'm all right."
The only problem was that I didn't know who had spoken. Poking my head up over the seats I saw only Mongolian faces. No telltale stubbly American head was sticking up out of the crowd. No pasty, large, Western visages were grinning among the throng of Central-Asian stoicism. I was at a loss as to who had just spoken.
My mind, stupidly, decided to recall an article I had read a few years earlier. The article was written by a woman describing her first symptoms of schizophrenia. "Have you ever had the feeling that someone has just shouted your name and you turn around to find no one there? It's rather like that." Oh Lord, this was it for me. I was becoming a schizophrenic. Forget any future in foreign relations. I was now doomed to wander homeless around city streets, smelling of beer and piss and screaming for the voices to stop. There was no other explanation.
"Hey. You Peace Corps?"
I turned around. Again, I saw no one who could possibly be speaking to me. People were wandering towards the dumpling tents as cafe owners hallooed "Buuz baina! Buuz baine! Banshtai tseh baina!" ("I have dumplings! I have dumplings! I have dumpling tea!") As I turned back one sullen young man nearby broke into a smile and said "Hey, you gotta be Peace Corps! They only have two people here and I've already met the other guy."
"Oh hi," I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you... uh, well, I was..."
"Yeah, I know," the young man said. He smiled wryly, a very American gesture that clashed strangely with his strongly Mongolian features. "I've got a 'local face.' Just got here last week." He held out his hand for a fist bump. "I'm Dan."
"Phoebe," I bumped his fist, "Man, I don't think I've spoken to another American for months now. What brings you out here?"
"Research, sort of." Dan shrugged, "I'm thinking about riding a camel from Russia to China and then selling the article to 'National Geographic.'" He looked around a bit. "Hey, do you think I'd have enough time to buy some cigarettes? I haven't had one in three days and I'm kind of dying."
"Sure," I said, "Go to any one of the yurts and ask for 'Tamhi.'"
"Thanks, you're awesome." And with that the savior of my sanity turned and sauntered off into the snowy whiteness.
Thank you for reading my essay. Here is an extra cartoon as a reward. It's based on something that actually happened during ride time.