A Day in the Life

A day in the life… Or maybe I should have titled it a “Year in the Life?” Anyways, I have decided to take a different spin on my current method of updating you. Let’s try more often? {insert embarrassed smile here} Sorry grandma!

While I have kept a personal journal and updated on other outlets this has fallen behind. However, as I reached my 6-month mark last month at site my thoughts have turned to the incoming cohort. Where I was a year ago- a person with a flood of questions and in the waiting game. I think about all those questions and how so much makes sense now, only 6 months at site. This may be a tad late but I want to focus in on my daily life as a PCV in Northern Mongolia. Yes, maybe this would have been useful 6 months ago, but if you asked me then things would have been much different. It has been a whirlwind of moving parts, a lot like me as I reflect on how my perceptions have changed about this vast, yet beautiful country. During these past few months I have tried a few thins here and there and am finding what works, what stick and sometimes what doesn’t. The important thing about development work is having the patience and diligence to try again tomorrow. Something fell through? Try again tomorrow or maybe throw it out completely and approach it in a different way. Sounds easy, that’s why I have to remind myself almost daily.

Everyday is different. Sometimes busy. Often relaxed. Spring is in the air and winter is hopefully behind us. Everyone is itching for summer to begin and testing days are coming for students. I specifically work at a school nearby where I mainly work with four strong women. All English teachers. Each has their own strengths and has set specific goals for themselves. We take 2 hours each week and work on those goals. Many of these goals are personal and some are professional. Ranging from grammar to casual chitchat or group development time, we spend many hours together a week.

Right now I am reading a novel with them. To Kill a Mockingbird. If you haven’t read it you should! A lot of the work I do here is to bridge a gap of understanding between my culture and the culture of Mongolia. During these one-on-one sessions we also focus on current events and social issues, even finding confidence in their opinions through their writing. I try to bring many faucets and resources to them so they can then use them in their own classrooms.

The rest of my time is spent in my community. I work alongside our province’s English Language Methodologist; a part-time assignment at the Department of Education. We plan and implement community based seminars and activities to promote the improvement of English skills among our teachers and the community. We are good team helping each other wherever we can. My favorite part about this is working with individual teachers in their schools throughout my community. My goal next year is to try to implement trainings and professional development for those schools who do not have a PCV.

 

Between this and other community English classes, most of my week is planned out. Currently the community involvement I enjoy the most is meeting with local business and other professional women weekly to improve their individual english skills. Many of them are hoping to go on to receive Master’s degrees while others are hoping to gain more fluency to speak with their traveling customers. {My city is a large tourist hub.}

As a Peace Corps volunteer everyday is different. This was something that I had to get used to at first. If something doesn’t work our or falls through there’s always tomorrow. And I don’t have to only stick with one group or even one subject. The Peace Corps allows me to branch out work with life skills topics and health. A project is in the works for a health initiative in my school. More on that to come!

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Tradition! Tradition.

Traditions! Traditions! [Are you thinking about Tevye?]

Well he said it best and Mongolia follows suit. This country is rich with traditions and cultural celebrations. I had the privilege this past weekend to attend a “hair cutting ceremony” or a Daah’ Urgeeh for the son of one of my friends here in Khuvsgul.

Mongolians know how to throw great gatherings. And this one was no exception. Upon our arrival we were welcomed by about 20 or so relatives belonging to our “boy of the hour.” We were rushed into the living room and I took a seat next to a smiling emee [grandmother] who was dressed in her own Mongolian deel. I greeted her with the common phrase “Did you rest well?” and she was then insistent on telling everyone in the room how great my Mongolian was. Usually at this point they go on talking, thinking you understand. But at this moment she just continued to smile at me and I to her. Mongolians have this way of making you feel so welcomed. Even though my language skills are still low, I have never once felt uncomfortable or out of place at one of these gatherings. I know I stand out like a sore thumb but they have this way of making you feel a part of it all. It’s refreshing.

As per tradition those who come to celebrate with the family are treated with an array of soups, fruits, vegetables, sausage and a roasted sheep. In this picture the sheep is still intact with its fat and below it are its legs. The family barely cut into it during our visit but Mongolians don’t allow you to leave their home without a stomach full of delicious food. We were not exempt.

As everyone was gathered around the roasted sheep, the father prepared the tray for the haircutting ceremony. The scissors were wrapped in a traditional blue khadag or silk cloth. They were placed next to a small bag to collect the strands of hair after cutting. The hair is usually collected and tied to a khadag and saved for a later time. Traditionally, the immediate family then takes turns to first cut a small clump of hair. After doing so, money and well wishes are given. The person giving the haircut is then offered fermented mare’s milk or airag.

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The young boy or girl is then kissed and they continue on to each guest.

Chaz and I were asked to participate in this special ceremony. At first, my instinct was hesitation to cutting this cute child’s beautiful hair. He seemed a little confused as to what was happening and I felt bad at first. But of course it is a positive ceremony and seen as a right of passage from “babyhood” to “childhood,” as it is usually done between ages 3 and 7 during the lunar calendar year of the child. After my friend’s son’s hair was cut by each of the guests, a traditional “horse fiddle” was passed around and played by each of the guests. This is a sign of good luck and well wishes. The time we were there was rich with small talk and friendly chatter. Everyone seemed so happy for us to be there and I felt so privileged to participate along my friend’s family.

Horse Fiddle

It was a very special day. More on traditions in my next post.

 

Village Life and First Encounters

With anxious excitement my group of 8 Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) boarded a bus and headed north; only a few hours from the Russian border.

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Training the previous week highlighted life with a host family. But nothing can prepare you for the immediate culture shock and that uncomfortable twinge of not being understood. Again I found myself in a situation where all I could do was grin and smile. And that’s exactly what I did. Why do I always desire to be in these situations? It’s a funny thing. For the 4th time I had signed up to live in a country where I didn’t know the language. But I felt ready for the challenge.

As we turned off the main road leading us farther away from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, I felt like I was back in Georgia again. The dry plains turned into a pine forest. As we crept further into the woods and then to our small school I saw a dozen or so grins from ear to ear. Our host families were waiting for us.

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My host dad and sister.

 

We were welcomed with a traditional Hadak, a similar look to a scarf but not worn in the same way. Then one by one we all drank from the same bowl of milk. All as a way of welcoming us to Mongolia. It was at this moment it felt real.

 

So. Mutton. What can I say about it other than a meat I eat 2 and even 3 times a day?  It was the dish that welcomed me upon arrival to my host family’s хаша (hasha, a.k.a compound on which a home or yurt is built)

My host mother or ээж (pronounced ej) held out her hand and gestured “manay ger” or “Our house” and we pulled up to the place I would call home for 9 weeks.

She had prepared a delicious spread of traditional Mongolian foods and treats. Some were familiar- adopted from Russia. Mongolians love their food, and even more, their company. We smiled at each other. That’s all I could do aside from the occasional “thank you.”

Up until now mutton is what has brought us together. A staple meat among Mongolians and is used as a stuffing, in pasta, in soup and along any carb. Meal time has been those hours set aside for communication, however menial, but ever so important. Depending on the mood of the day or how tired we are we may just smile while I listen to their small chatter. Other days I practice what I am learning while my host dad encourages me on while also picking on my accent. We have an agreeable back and forth. If he doesn’t understand me he speaks to me in Russian. I answer back with the occasional “da” just for fun. Will I ever learn how to tell him I don’t know Russian all that well?

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My host mom making mutton dumplings

But what I’ve learned is this: Mongolians love their food and will share it with anyone. They are hospitable and would never let you leave without a full stomach and a pleasant conversation. I feel like I’m already part of the family.

 

 

 

We’ve Touched Down… Hello Mongolia

If you talk to me and half of my cohort you’ll probably hear. ” I can’t believe I am in Mongolia.”

Yes. Yes. We are. Here is proof.

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For some of us it has been nearly a year since we put in our applications and the waiting game began. We are finally here M28s!
There are A LOT of acronyms in PC (there’s one) but my group of M28s are now trainees, soon to be the 28th generation of volunteers to serve in Mongolia since 1991.
This is all exciting stuff. I am trying to wrap my head around all of it if you can imagine.

Something about being a representative of the United States has both intimidated me and excited me since training began.

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It’s been a long time coming M28s. 61 of us from all over the U.S.

The last few days has been a whirlwind of assimilation into what is “Peace Corps” and our role here in Mongolia. Beginning May 29th we became Peace Corps Trainees. Soon to begin a rigorous 3 month training known as PST (Pre-Service Training)
This is when it gets. real.
Also known as the boot camp of Peace Corps. Or that’s what they call it. Not to make it sound intimidating but it really is the time for language and technical training to prepare for 2 years of service. A lot to learn in very little time.

Four days in. It has been an emotional experience. Feelings of excitement. joy. intimidation. fear.
But mostly pure appreciation for this experience ahead. I’m in Mongolia. Surrounded by my best friend and an incredible group of 60 passionate people.

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We are ready. Fitting in with our Mongolian smolder.

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Journeay; Annie Sherman