Jessica's Letter 8/6/00

Sunday, August 6th

Hello to all:

Itís my lazy Sunday. Giving me time to share my week with you. We started the week with our medical officer, Glee, giving us a happy little talk on how to preserve, or shove teeth back in their sockets if they come out. Far too detailed a description to have right before lunch. We allÖ Iím assuming, but shouldnít speak for everyone, trust and like Glee. She has had a lot of experience and an educational life and Iím very confident/reassured she will help us all through these 2 years. So even though we went to the cafeteria a lit funky, we were happy to be served the rare "greens". It seems we donít care too much what kind of veggy it is. Itís just so wonderful to have them, beyond the ever present potatoes, turnips and cabbage.

Little tangent thoughtÖ I was reading Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I miss Integral discussions, (St. Maryís College Education) this story has so many facets Iíd like to hear other views on. But I had the thought I shouldnít bury my nose in a book with so much going on around me, but I do the same back at home. It is something I enjoy and one needs a break from reality Ė especially here where everything I do still requires conscious thought. Not that I want to live a zombie life, but it is just a bit draining sometimes.

On Tuesday we had another one of our TEFL sessions. Leaving how to teach. Very different from America sometimes. A quote of the instructor, Batbayer, "students" like to have good marks so you need to encourage them." True I should encourage my students, but maybe Iím too harsh in my thinking, but it seems like the family way of spoiling children is also in the classroom. I donít know if this is clear. Or maybe Iím just confused as to why a studentís desire of good marks is affecting my encouragement. I think Iím not making sense and sounding like a bitch, so Iíll stop.

This evening I had horse meat for the first time. They have never, so far, served me a chunk of meat. Itís always cut up very small. I think the idea of what I was eating was the only odd part. The flavor wasnít much different than beef, maybe a lil bit more like goat.

On Wednesday in class we did "ifÖ then" statements. I got a bit of culture by saying.. "If I look at the sky, I will be happy". (The second part of that statement supplied by teacher). It turns out this is a saying for killing sheep. Since they live with their heads down they "see the sky" only when you flip them over to kill them. Side thoughts: Some words here are cool to say. Just as I always liked "giggle" in English because it was so fitting. Some words in Mongolia are:

tinger = light blue sky; bomgog= ball and boojeeglay = dance.

Back to something more like reality. On Wednesday evening I went to Billgaís. He is an amazing wood sculptor. Billga always talks to English speakers because he wants to speak English better. So I was joined in his house by a guy from England who was wandering around. This guy, Joe, had taught in Japan for 3 years and was on his way home by way of the trans-Siberian railway. We wrote out the words for "Heal the World" by Jackson for Billga. Then I took him over to a host father who is a painter and Joe bought 3 of his small prices. The dad was very grateful. Him and Joe chatted in limited Russian then I completed the mini tour by going to the Black Pearl, a little bar next to the gym. It was neat to hear a fresh view of my little world. PCVís and teachers hang out a the Black Pearl, so Joe chatted with the Mongolian language teachers. I was just a guide.

Thursday morning was busy. First my dear Mongolian friend, Agi, called from the states. She was helping my mom call, who called directly after. Then I had to hurry and make preparations for about 15 people coming to my ger to cook hoshur, soyvuhn, chop wood and light a fire as part of our cross cultural / survival training. I can see why so many are buff here. Sawing wood (which also requires a lot of coordination with a partner) and making dough is a lot of work. It was fun and relaxing to all hang out, listening to Mongolian music and eating good food. We treated ourselves by mixing some sugar into extra dough and frying up a tortilla type thing, "beed", then spreading a German chocolate similar to Vanilla on it.

It was also a lax day because there was an English talent show instead of teaching this day. My class wasnít together enough to do something, but it was a lot of fun to watch. Mostly songs with acting out. The Titanic song; Old McDonald; You canít always get what you want, etc. The winner was a high level English class. Teachers Joe and Kate, who did a TV skit with a nature channel, cooking show (where the student had a paper sheep and another pulled a heart paper, kidneys out of it). A weather channel ("Öwith cold across the nation and a forecast of freezing cold. What do you expect? Itís Mongolia!). We also had a performance by a host sister who is a contortionist. Thatís so weird to watch. Jonathan sang a Mongolian song that the whole group ended up singing along. Later I hung out with my host family and my host aunt Tunga. She wants me to come back and visit for Naadam and stay after my two years. She joked about going to the Govi and the United States. I really enjoy these casual kick back times where we can actually have some sort of conversation. I showed them the handmade chess set I paid about $18.00 for and got stunned disbelief. It is a lot of money to them. Later Iíll earn about $100 a month and thatís a lot more than most locals. I tried to explain that such a set would be over $50 in the states, but I felt bad and wished I hadnít told them, but I canít lie when asked. Itís not like I have a lot of money, but I want meaningful memories from here. And this is another example of how, because I live here, I donít go to the tourist shops to buy stuff, but to peoples homes to buy handmade things. And I get to know about the craftsperson, become a friend and have a few cups of milk tea.

Since Thursday was so lax, we were kinda useless in 4 hours of Mongolian language on Friday morning. The afternoon sessions were cool with our peers doing an example of team teaching for all of us to watch. They did a lesson on teaching slang to the Mongolian staff. Such as: "you go girl" and "talk to the hand", in which body gesture importance was emphasized. Then the Environmental volunteer gave presentations. It was very well presented, but very depressing to hear the state of some situations. Only 80 Taikhi, 30 Govi bears remain. The desire to dam rivers and lost herding techniques (thanks to Russia) threaten the many remaining species. Our presenters, like all PCVís, have such strong personalities. Bob getting very passionate about his love of nature and how we have to experience it. (Bob is obsessed with large mammals. And Mongolia is special in that it still has so many. Especially the Snow Leopard, which we gave Bob the nickname in Mongolian; along with his other title of Ranger Bob.) James being very knowledgeable on birds, but not knowing why the Black Stork is endangered, he attributed it to racial issues?


Monday, August 7th

Saturday, August 5th was our Host Family picnic. We crammed into a jeep with Mike and Arielís family and went off roading to a beautiful valley. It was on a steep hill bordered by birch trees. We left at about 10am. We sat in groups. Some family groups quickly set up tents. The candy, bread, tea, airag (fermented horse milk) and vodka were immediately prevalent. Sitting around talking, playing cards, visiting others Ė it was always "sit, sit; eat, eat; drink, drink". It was such a beautiful place and so nice to socialize with Mongolians who were all "culturally sensitive" to what it was like to interact with Americans. Then the goat roasting began. They put chopped up goat, potatoes, turnips and rocks into a steel box type thing and set it right into the fire. It was very good. I even ate some fat. Later some bones and bits were thrown up into the air to the ever present, low flying kites (birds). It was awesome to watch them dive and grab midair or swoop to pick up a piece that had fallen to the ground. We also had a wrestling competition that everyone was very in to, especially when an American beat a Mongolian. I also tried chasing some yaks to get a picture for my dad, but they were too far away and walk surprisingly fast.

Before leaving we started picking up the trash. I know the Mongolians wouldnít have. But once they saw us doing so, everyone else pitched in. But I wonder what became of those bags we filled. They donít have trash service and I havenít seen a dump in the American sense of the word. But still it was, to me, an example of what we are doing here. Showing new ideas and leading by example with no pressure or saying the Mongolian way is bad.

So, into the bus to go home. Very crammed and doing the same off road work as the jeep. I sat fearing weíd flip as the Mongolians entertained with singing songs. We were dropped off at the PC office and my family was waiting for the machine (jeep) to come pick us up, even though we were a 10 minute walk from home. When the driver arrived, we took a vodka break in the PC hotel lobby. When we got home everyone came into my ger. There were my host parents, Arielís host parents, Cindyís host Dad, the driver and myself. Two bottles of vodka appeared and we played cards (cards and all other games played are called Hootzer). It was a little odd for me at first because I was surprised for them to come in, but it was a lot of fun. Then Billga showed up. I was supposed to have gone to Beckyís birthday party. So we took off after everyone left, but ran into Becky on her way to Evaís, where a ger party was planned. Stopping to buy some refreshments, off we went. Eva somehow acquired a disco ball for her ger. So with a headlamp and maglight the appropriate lighting was acquired. I never realized how soul soothing "Tribe Called Quest" could sound, but these days I so rarely hear any music, especially American, that anything is extra sweet. So there was dancing, chatting and relaxing. After a few calls from neighbors, we wound the party down. Melody, Bob, Billga and I linked arms and headed into the dark streets singing "lions and tigers and bears, oh my!". Arm linking is social, but mostly to help with balance and not getting separated Ė the dark uneven streets cause enough problems even when sober.

I ended crashing at Melodyís cuz my host mom was crashing in my ger. Sleepovers and couch surfing where there are no couches. So with all of this I wonder about the comments I heard of this being a 2 year party. But life is meant to be fun. And I work hard so Ė I play hard. And I was so much a part of the daily natural culture this way, making so many new "host country national" friends. Saturday was so full of adventure, Sunday happens. I woke up in a start at Melodyís at 8am because I was supposed to be waiting at my house for my dad to call at 8 am. Bad daughter. Missing the first chance to talk to my dad cuz I drank too much. But he called 2 times and I caught the 2nd one. Such a trip to be contacted by what seems another world. Most of the rest of the day was chill. I gave some photos Iíd taken of my host family to them and there were only 3 or 4, but they looked at them for about Ĺ hour! It was so wonderful to see their joy and amusement at how people were caught.

Then at 7pm I went to my teachers for dinner. There is a cat in the apartment and my teacher acts like itís a snake, as my classmate Jonathan adores and plays with the little guy. We ate patooty (noodles made from potato starch) and made pizza! So wonderful! Melody had to go to a special market in Ulaanbataar for the veggies, pesto and oh so divine cheese! Then someone was sent for vodka and two other staff members had a timely arrival, so we drank vodka after weíd finished off the sangria. It was fun. And always getting into linguistically discussions. Mongolian cows say "ooh boo" and "and so and so" or "like this then this". When demonstrating something is "ing-gad, ing-gad" very quickly a lot of times. Everything is so educational!


Sunday, August 13th

Wow. A whole week has flown by and I have written nothing. I hope my words are interesting and give all my friends at least a glimpse into my like. So onto stuffÖ Monday the 7th I met my counter part. Her name is Oyounbeeleg. It was supposed to be another English teach but I think the director changed his mind because the original woman has a young baby. Oyounbeeleg is 34; married; has two boys (5 and 7) and one girl (9). She speaks pretty good English. The first day we had a lot of time to just talk. Our relationship was so-so, but now, a week later, we are warming up to each other more and more. It was a bit odd for our practice teaching with 3 PCV;s and 3 counterparts in the room with only a few students. Tuesday we divided the class time so that during the second 40 minute block my counterpart and I team-taught. Iím going to the Govi so we did the song "Horse with No Name". The CD players batteries died after 1 play, so I had to sing. Iím getting more and more comfortable with this. Then my counterpart did a grammar section on an aspect of the song. It was very difficult to work the lesson planning with a stranger and limited time, but Iím glad I got to see how she interacts with a class before we start school. But I wonder if the teacher rotation distracts our students. It was interesting how the whole feel and reaction of the class changed when she got up there.

That night a bunch of us went over to Lindaís house for a knitting lesson. Her mother is part of a Swiss-Mongolian co-op. They provided training, a spinning wheel and maybe even supplies. Her mom whips out beautiful soft scarves, sweaters, etc and natural yarn. Her sister teaches at the same school I will be working at, so once at site I hope to knit a camel hair blanket (itís softer than wool). Then, that same night, there was a CP/PCV mixer. Not nearly as fun as usual. Lots of wall-flowers at this one. There seemed to be Mongolian songs and American songs and the dance floor, when occupied, went through complete rotations.

On Wednesday we got a lecture on all our future money stuff. I was surprised with some of the picky language play question asked. Weíre in a 3rd world country. Not everything is going to run like clockwork. Banks may close or not even exist. The definition of "vacation day" was also beat to death. I try to just go with the flow and as Mike said "be mellow". Later Dean and Sean split the teaching class into 40 minute blocks. Dean used his future home of Huvsgul as a base and Sean linked his past work with the Apache to their ancestry in the Mongolian area. After school my counterpart came over to my house. Iím very proud of my family, ger and lifestyle, so I wanted by CP to see this all. I guess in a lil way I hoped by host ma and her would talk so I would have more of an introduction. Then I went to my teachers house to copy a friends techno CD onto a tape. Sheíd never heard such music before. I just thought it would be so wonderful to kick it out in the steppes and listen to a lil Phototeck trance music.

On Thursday we had a few sessions on how to do a lot with a little. Such as making a white board using glass and white paint, or when my group was given a small liquid detergent bottle , cheesecloth and aluminum foil, we made up a lesson on space. Creating a rocket out of the bottle and some foil; using the cloth as the Milky Way and hanging balls of foil on it for planets. We also made a little astronaut, x-wing fighter and Galactic Enterprise out of foil. A real rock was found as an asteroid. When presenting we stressed the importance of the sound effects to be made! This also being the last day of practice teaching, a few classes got together and watched Austin Powers with our students. They didnít get it all, but still found it funny. We had snacks and soda and our students gave us gifts. After school I visited Billge and saw the beginning of my moir khur and a box he is working on. He is so talented and makes the chiseling look so easy. The wood is the tree we get the pinecones from. The bark is an odd purplish red (like the rubine color I used to die my hair), but the wood is a soft light color.

When I got home I was given my dell (handmade silk jacket). It is beautiful. My host mom called it dark blue, but it is a purple, which Mongolian doesnít have a word for. I will definitely wear this to functions back in the states. It was sort of a shock to get it. I knew they were making it. An aunt had been at my house the past few days to work on it with my host mother. Itís just that it was tangible. My dell. Made for me. I would have it in the states and remember the moments of receiving it in the distant past. I will miss this family. Maybe I will visit during my service, but after two years I will probably never see them again. Will Doegee even remember me when she looks at pictures of me later? Everyone is so generous to me here. I think many Mongolians are more shocked that I left my family for two years than that I am volunteering. And what does volunteering mean anyways? I am not really in any discomfort. I have money to buy food, beyond substance and to get "mementos". I have a bed and a roof. Anyways, this question keeps coming up and shall again in the next 2 years, but for nowÖ

Friday; normal day. After school I went over to Arielís, whoís host parents had invited me. We ate dinner and drank while looking through some of their prized books which were kind of like encyclopedias on Mongolia. When I got home I found my host dad had come back from Ulaanbataar, where he works, just so we could all put on our dells and take pictures. The other man in the photoís is Tungaís friend. I thought it was her husband, but I guess sheís not married. Nienbeaur took some of the pictures, that and the self-timer provided for much discussion.

Saturday, August 12th I left. I put on my dell, after finishing packing. I came here hoping to live simply, but I keep acquiring more stuff Ė good stuff, but stuff all the same. My host grandma tried to explain to my host sisters that I was leaving, so they started chanting "goodbye", which Iíd taught them. This pierced my heart so painfully. My host mom and sister, Tsegee, helped me drag my stuff to the Peach Corp office. There was a lot of waiting and even once on the bus, we sat there for a long time. It was so painful. It was hard on many of us to say goodbye. We drove off with all our friend and families waving.

SoÖ now Iím starting my life on a new track. I go to visit my new site on Tuesday, return to Ulaanbataar on Friday for one more week of training and a chance to buy supplies. Then off to the Govi for 2 years probably on August 27th. Mail can always be sent to the PC box, but I get an extra charge for packages to be forwarded. I should know my new address next week.