Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mongolian Sky

For most of the morning and most of the evening I can see both the sun and the moon at the same time. When one's at 11 o'clock, the other is at 2 o'clock. It's pretty neat. Sometimes one side of the sky is completely dark like it's night time while the other still looks like day. Maybe it's this way on America's side of the world too, but I guess there were always too many buildings or trees or distractions for me to notice.

Also, at night I can see all the stars. Every one of them. I've never seen the Way look Milkier.

The big dipper has a different name here. "7 burkhan od", or "7 god stars." Here in Mongolia people actually use dippers all the time. My hashaa dad said sometimes they call them "7 god stars." We call our constellation after an everyday item we never use. They call their everyday item after a constellation. Reverse world.

In other reversities, 7 is an unlucky number, while 13 is lucky. Shooting stars are bad news and a broken cup means good things.

Thanks Anonymous commenter for the Mongolian language info!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Closing in on Two Months at Site

Hehe. I'm no blogger. This is a fact. I always feel so ancie when I'm on the internet. There are so many things to do and i'm paying for the time and i don't really have enough free time to be here anyway!

So. I'm committing to this now. At least two paragraphs about where I'm at and how I've been. maybe more if my attention span hold out!c·

Life is underway. I know how to get around my city, I know the people at my job, I (kind of) know what's expected of me. I'm on the verge of having routines!

I spend the early parts of the work week waking up early, teaching classes, scheduling and re-scheduling and re-re-scheduling meetings with my counterparts, trying to keep my ger's supply of toilet paper, rice, potatoes and water at a level of constant availability, and just generally trying to keep up with all the millions of things that are going on at my school.

Every week there is a competition or a new class that needs a curriculum, or someone in a uniform is coming to visit. Lots of things to prepare for...not that i generally get the opportunity to prepare for much. Usually I don't know anything is going on until I'm in the middle of it and it's happening. Sometimes this is stressful but mostly it's just getting me really good at thinking on my feet and winging it. Now I can give a little speech about myself in Mongolian at the drop of a hat.

Later in the week, things slow down some and I have time to work on my secondary job activities like tutoring my counterparts andn; working on video projects!

Right now I am working on a Public Service Announcement about the new trash cans in our city. It's almost done and hopefully it will be playing on TV soon. Then hopefully maybe possibly this will lead to a longer string of community service type TV spots that ideally I would work with local TV stations to produce. We'll see. I'm trying to take things slowly.

I also went to the countryside with World Vision last week to shoot some video for them. The were hosting a whole day of activities in a nearby soum and wanted someone to video it for their records and for the news. So I got to go and act like a news photographer. Yay! It was so nice and peaceful out there. We spent the evening singing karaoke and dancing the mongolian waltz. I love these types of social events. They are so much fun and everyone is smiling and it's not centered on the consumption of alcohol which makes everything less complicated in general. good clean fun. ha! they love it when i want to participate. i am so much less shy here about performing.

On the way to/from the countryside i got the worst car sickness i have ever experienced. I am feeling a little intimidated by travel in mongolia at the moment.

On the weekends, I've been trying to visit at least one new mongolian friend at their homes. Mongolians are big on visits and it's a great way for me to get to know more people in my community. We usually make food and I usually learn a ton of new words. Last last¶: week I learned how to make Bortsik!

besides that, the PCVs in my town are getting organized. Yesterday we went and met a bunch of NGOs in our town and we're holding monthly meetings to keep in touch about work-related things. Also, we started a weekly English Speaking Corner meeting where interested people can come practice their English with us in a low key setting. So far it's been a great success!

We are also starting a pretty mean Sunday brunch club. Watch out NYC, you've got competition.

Tumpin (my dog) is doing well. She's house trained herself somehow and I am so grateful for this. Now that she's big, she accompanies me to school or the store or wherever I go everyday, then returns home on her own. I think she is so cool. She's pretty much my hero. I am so happy to have such a great dog-friend to accompany me through these two years and beyond. She seriously needs to get fixed though. i'm currently looking for a vet that can do that but so far no luck. its time to get serious on this search. I do not want to be a baby's momma's momma!

That's all I can muster for now. My life is nice overall. Of course there are a million ups-and-downs in pretty much every single day and I've had my sessions with negativity, but this is all to be expected and overall I've got a good life forming here.

SoonC¡ I hope to be able to quit thinking about myself and my life here and start thinking more about the people around me and their lives. This is something that also takes time though.

I'm on my way.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ger Guts

Yes I am alive. No I won't be keeping up with this blog very well. Work is super busy! I'm teaching classes and making movies. Life is as it should be.

This weekend they winterized my ger! Teachers from my school came to help me do it. And by 'help me' i really mean...they did it. Like i knew what i was doing!

First they took off all the layers of cotton, plastic and felt. Re-adjusted the inner skeleton for maximum wind blockage, then added an extra layer of super thick felt. That was covered in plastic, then the cotton cover was put back on. Finally they poured sand all around the edges to seal out the wind and the rain. And then, Wa-la! New blankets on th bed. I'm ready for Mongolian winter. Check out the pictures below!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Site Placement


after 2 months of e-isolation and intellectual boot camp, i am back in the Peace Corps training center and somehow i've managed to get freetime AND internet access...simultaneously! Already this is an accomplishment.

Peace Corps Training is over as of tomorrow at which point I will take an oath, walk across a stage, and become an official Peace Corps volunteer with Uncle Sam as my boss. Training was great and terrible and fun and difficult and painful and inspiring and I'm gearing up for two more years of these kinds of complicated experiences. Really, I couldn't be more excited.

I got my site assignment and I am extremely pumped about what it says. I will be living in Muron City (alternate spelling: Moron City!) in the Hovsgol (Khovsgol/Khuvsgul/Huvsgul) province in the northernmost part of west central Mongolia (Siberia!). All the Mongolians and all the PCVs are extremely jealous because this is considered to be the most beautiful area of the country! There are trees and mountains and a great beautiful lake, and REINDEER!!

The school I will be working at is the Mathematics Oriented Secondary School in Muron. It's a big school (2000 students-more students than my college!) and I will be working with 6 counterparts, 3 of whom are my age! The teach extra classes in math and, from what I understand, students are selected to go there (though this info may be misunderstood). Regardless, it's definitely a school with smart students and i'm excited about that. Besides being an english teacher and teacher capacity builder, my job description is vague and ill let you all know more about that as it unfolds.

Muron is a largish city, which is something that i expected to be disappointed about; but, now that it's a reality, this kind of things doesnt seem to matter. I will have reliable internet access, which will allow me to do all kinds of fun things like staying in touch with you, helping design Midnight Madness 2009, doing grant research, looking into grad schools, doing filmmaking projects with students, and the list goes on. Maybe it would be cool to live rustic like its not the 21st century, but doing good work and being productive is neat too.

I am really excited to be living in a ger (mongolian yurt)! I will have a family nextdoor that i will be looslely connected with and who will help me with emerngency/i-dont-know-how-to-be-an-adult-in-mongolia situations. I'll tell you more about them when i meet them!

also, i got a puppy but i dont know if shell be able to come because i am flying to my site. she will stay with another volunteer who lives closer if i cant take her.

this is the basic information i want to communicate. there is so much more i want to tell all of you about my life but there is just no time. things are very busy and it will take weeks for them to settle down, but know that i am happy and safe and all those good things.

stay tuned for a new address!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rainstorm Floods Village!

We had a huge rainstorm yesterday! I’ve never seen a flash flood before, but I feel quite sure that’s what happened. After 10-15 minutes of super heavy downpour, the entire center of the village was a river. Many gers were flooded (including some of the other Peace Corps Trainees’) and tons of fences were downed. I’ve never been more happy to live on top of a hill. Apparently storms like that only happen once every five years or so. Shinezul and I tried to go meet up with the other Trainees for a party, but we were stuck on our side of the river. Here are some pictures:

It continued raining, thundering, and lightning for the whole night. My host grandma made us turn off all our lights and cell phones because she was afraid that having them on would make lightning strike us. I had to turn mine on at one point to call my language teacher and I made the unavoidable joke that I had been electrocuted via my phone: “bZZBZbzbZ!!!” They all laughed and I was glad that the joke went over well.

After that, the electricity went out and it’s been out pretty much all day. Today’s lesson: chopping and igniting wet logs. Brrrrrr!

Tomorrow I’m going to a nearby town to stock up on internet usage, fruit, school supplies, and Peace Corps friendliness (most of the friends I made at orientation live in other training sites).

The other day, a puppy snuck in through a hole in my ger. If he comes back, I will feed him and then make him mine (and then regret in a couple of weeks later when he destroys something valuable of mine).

Besides all that, I can’t believe I now live in a world without Michael Jackson. WTF?
One of the first things I did at my training site was go see the local children perform a dance to "Beat It."

May he always remain preserved in the entire world’s cultural memory.

No M D's

There are no McDonald’s in Mongolia. This is a first for me.

Two Weeks in...

Wow, I’ve been here 2 weeks already!

I spent my first five days in Mongolia in Zuunmod with the whole M20 group where we were introduced to the things we will be learning at PST (Pre-Service Training) over this summer. It was a whirlwind of big-group-dynamics and all day classes as the Peace Corps got paperwork and basic knowledge in line for all 68 of us (one person has already left) to move into our training sites and begin the serious PST.

And believe me, PST is going to be serious! Intellectual boot camp, basically. Don’t expect to hear much from me over the next 2.5 months.

I’ve been in my training community for a little over a week now. I live in a ger (Mongolian yurt) in a small village of about 2,500 people. My training group consists of 11 other TEFL trainees and we spend our days taking classes on Mongolian language, culture, history, and community development as well as attending technical training sessions that will help prepare us to teach English in Mongolia.

My host family is great! The host “mom and dad” are very close to my age (25 and 28) and we get along really well. They have a 2 year-old son who is adorable and is finally warming up to me. Communication is going surprisingly well considering my lack of Mongolian language skills. They’re both very smart and good at using the simple words I do know plus a lot of carefully executed miming. It helps that Otgonkhuu (the dad) is an actor. I also like that he’s into film/video, drumming, and doing magic tricks. Shinezul (the mom) also plays guitar so we’ve been discussing starting a band. For jobs, she’s a teacher and he’s a social worker.

Shinezul’s mom lives nearby and we go over to her house often. There are three younger sibilings who live with Shinezul’s mom still. I see the most of her little sister, who is 14. Her name is Hongorzul and she helps me with my Mongolian homework. She’s incredibly patient and also very good at understanding a foreigner trying to speak her language. The grandmother is also very sweet and comes to check on me when she senses I might be feeling sad or homesick (which happens surprisingly often and at many different points in the day without provocation).

Mongolian language is really hard! I’ve tried out quite a few languages, but this one is by far the hardest. It’s really difficult to make the pronunciation happen, which also makes it hard to remember new words. I finally have the Cyrillic alphabet down, which is making everything a little easier.

Besides language, I’ve been learning a ton of great new skills! I’m slowly becoming somewhat capable of building a fire, chopping wood, retrieving my own water from the well, and washing my clothes by hand. I'm not too shabby at bathing in a bucket either! I like living in a ger because it keeps you keenly aware of the resources you are using. This is a really neat experience and I hope to feel less lazy about it all in the future. Maybe when my arms actually have muscles in them.

The food isn’t nearly as bad as everyone had me scared to believe. Most dishes are some combination of meat (mutton or beef), potatoes, carrots, onions, noodles or rice, green onions, and cabbage, which, really, no combination of those things can taste that bad. There are a ton of different milk products too. Everything has a slightly different taste than I’m used to it having in the US. I noticed that the taste is getting less noticeable. Besdies that, most meals are served in portions too large for me to handle. I’ve been an embarrassed outsider to the clean plate club since I’ve been here (no different than most of my life really).

We drink tea like smoking cigarettes. It punctuates every minor daily event. Wake up, have a cup of tea - make breakfast, have a cup of tea – clean up after breakfast, have a cup of tea – take a walk, have a cup of tea – etc. Good thing I like the tea. It isn’t quite what you think of as tea in the states. It’s called suutetsay and it’s a black tea made with milk and salt. It’s relaxing and drinking it 10 times a day feels much better than smoking cigarettes.

As for the Peace Corps, I’m incredibly impressed with the program I’ve got myself involved in here and overall I’m really glad that I came to Mongolia this way, instead of on my own. They are doing a wonderful job of giving us a well-rounded and well-informed introduction to Mongolian culture, history, and language and I feel that, by the end of PST, I’ll know more about this country than any other one I’ve ever been in. They also did a great job of preparing us for what to expect from a Mongolian family while also preparing the family for what to expect from an American guest. Overall I think that preparation has made for a smooth first few weeks and I’m thankful for the effort they put into it.

That’s basically the lay of the land at this point. There’s no internet here at my training site, so I won’t be updating this very often (and when I do, it will come in a burst).

Thanks for reading!

Here's two pictures of my ger - (the white one on the left)