Letter to all, 10-18-00



To All:

I sit listening to children's ESL songs to possibly use in my class. They are so warm and fuzzy sounding - it's enough to drive me out of here more than the winter and yet I analyze how and what vocab they are using. How I can incorporate it in a lesson and possibly use it in a test of listening comprehension. So then "To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, jiggitty jig" takes an absurdly serious tone as I wonder how to explain "jiggitty" and why there are such "timeless classics" that are still used though often having outdated vocab and so little modern material? Where is my Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss? Much better and useful nonsense to teach. Wow... way too long a tangent.

So onto "stuff". On Tuesday, 9/14, I started a compost pile. It felt so good to do something that I could tangibly see. A girl in my hashaa helped me. We picked up all the trash from a corner. Mongolians usually just toss stuff on the ground or throw it out the ger door. It also could have blown into our yard from outside, or out of the trash bin in the opposite corner. Then I dug up the dirt about 5" deep in a square. Peace Corp suggests 30cm in a handy English/Mongolian gardening pamphlet, but the ground is surprisingly easy to dig, only up to about 5". I don't know if this will work. The ground is about 1/2 gravel and 1/2 dry, slightly sandy soil. I should be able to gather lots of organic material since all veggies and fruits are peeled, then again, Mongolians don't eat much of those.

9/15: As I whacked chunks of meat of a vertebrae and fried it, I wondered why we have to so completely cook meat. Even in the States. There is a need to kill everything in it. Yet we don't do this with plants. Why do "bad" things not live in both? Is it because my chunks of meat are actually dead things that I eat as a scavenger? In class today my students in 6th grade reviewed "I can" "I can't" sentence structures. I had them write 5 examples of each. One girl wrote, "I can't cause pain." Later that night I tried to make chocolate chip cookies. A comfort food that my mom sent me the makings for. I know, I'm not roughing it like I should be. But one can't make cookies in a frying pan, nor make the batter into very good pancakes. So I made a cake type steaming it with a Bunsen burner cooker. Very good. I suggest you try it. I shall be such a versatile cook when I get home. (Though my old Townie Joan always thought me odd for making quiche in our college dorm.) Once again, the PC experience teaches me such unexpected things.

So, onto a PC reflection: People are here for all sorts of selfish reasons (not that the word should be heard with such negative feelings, but still very strong). Some are interested in photography (not just me by far); a chance to expand their medical experience (here they let you do stuff one needs years of school for in the States); to work with a unique environment and wildlife; to just get away; etc.etc. I need to find mine. I can't look for my constant question of "Why am I here? In Mongolia. They want me else I wouldn't live in a paid for ger, but I think in a lonely, 22 F winter, sitting as close to the fire as I dare with a dinner of fatty sheep tail and fifth graders wanting to learn how to say "I like apples" is not going to hold me here. But here I will say a Mongolian "later, maybe". I will deal with this. Not that I am saying "no" or "never"; but that's usually what's meant and not said. For I feel that Mongolians prefer not to say bad, disappointing things and prefer to just say what you want to hear. Just different. Who's to say blunt, painful honesty is better?

On Saturday, I went for a long walk with another new teacher, Oyumbiley, (not my counterpart), who barely speaks English. So I felt really good, since I was able to communicate in Mongolian and learn new words through the wonderful method of point and pantomime. We had to search around, but found a gandan (general term for temple). It wasn't really a temple. Just a rectangular building where monks read prayers. It is simply decorated inside with Buddhist pictures, colored cloths, with a statue and prayer wheels outside. I walked in with her and sat on a low bench against the wall. Many monks (10?) sat reading, seemingly to themselves. 3 people (a family?) sat together, listening on another bench. All kept stealing glances at me. I wanted to explain that I wasn't a tourist, that I lived here and that I came out of curiosity, but not in a gawking manner, but wanting to learn. I felt the place. I visited a concentration camp in Germany, but couldn't get very reflective. The emotions were dulled, muted, by modern buildings and massive tourists. But this little hidden building was filled with tangible energy. It was the "OM" resounding. But we left, all too soon, and continued our walk / lesson.

When I got home, taking me to a completely foreign world, I read the Newsweek the Peace Corp sends us. I wonder am I "missing out" on technology? So many new things are happening in the world out there as I do one more round of the sun salutation in yoga, because the power is not on yet to cook breakfast. And through all this possible lofty thought, I realize I have a true hateful passion for flies, even if they are my great grandparents reincarnated. Why are the most annoying creatures universal?

On Sunday I spent all day washing clothes. Fetching more water and kicking back when my arms got tired and my hands raw. My CP Oyumbiley, says I spent my weekend like a real Mongolian since all I did was housework. On Monday, 9/18, a huge dump truck arrived with the coal for winter. One man, dressed in baggy pants, jacket and stocking cap and I told him he looked like an American; which he did. Odd, since he was dressed for a very filthy task of shoveling out the coal. Once again, on the following day, I was frustrated wondering if I'm actually teaching these kids anything. Then 2 of my 5th graders called out to me, said hello, did the greeting of "how are you?" and said goodbye's. But it all sounded so natural, unlike the "Hell-oo" chanting I hear. It made me happy. And in my 6th grade class I felt I taught them something and that they understood, so I felt good again. It amazes and bothers me how much my emotional state depends on kids who are just going to class and trying to get to 10th grade so they can be done with school. My 5th grade classes are divided into 5A, 5B, 5C, etc (in Mongolian of course). But they are grouped purposefully. 5A are students that tested well in math. And they are amazingly quick in picking up the language. 5B is a class that is "smart for sports". The others may not be "special" for anything. But each group has it's own personality as a group. One group is full of my whisperers. To get them to speak is impossible. But they are all fun. While on the subject of school, let me mention cheating. That is what I call it, but it is not viewed so. My CP announced a quiz on the classroom objects we've taught. They got out their special notebooks and wrote "pen" for example when Oyumbiley said it. But some students turn around to look at other's papers, or look at their neighbors. Though I tell them not to and Oyumbiley tells them not to and some hide their papers with their hands. Yet on some words, Oyumbiley will spell the word verbally or even write with her finger in the air. So it's a lax test. I wonder if this is a casual quiz or if they're all like this.

And then there is classroom corrections. If a child is dong something wrong they are flicked on the top of their head like sometimes is done to friends ears in the States. Sometimes my CP smiles at the silliness and do does the student. But sometimes they look distressed. It doesn't hurt so much as embarrass them. Once I'd been told students were being told they didn't work as hard as country students at cleaning the classroom, I said this wasn't very nice, but was gently told maybe they liked being compared. Maybe these two acts are rough, but "ok". The students accept them and they are the truth, and no one is really being hurt. I have the "do unto others" rule in my mind, but even older Mongolians still submit to elders chastising.

On Wednesday, 9/20, I sat in my ger looking out at a sheep quietly standing. It was standing, tied closely to the fence, the same place a goat, who's shagaii (ankle bones) now sit under my desk (they are used in games). I was amazed at how placidly it stood. Did it know in an accepting way? Neither of them cried and I didn't hear either of them being slaughtered. Shortly after the goat was gone, I borrowed milk from my director for sutai tsai budha ( rice with milk) and they had some goat milk. I wondered if it was from the recently departed, and whether it had been taken post mortem. And did it matter? Maybe it eased her mind to think she was tied for a routing milking. Or maybe it belittled the creature by milking it first for ease and less mess. Or maybe it was the best way, not wasting anything that was once filled with life and later to give substance to more life. So I ate my rice.

I was waiting to meet Pat and may have seen street people of Dalangadyad for the first time. A young girl dressed in dirty man's clothing dashed at a pile of some seeds, racing to beat another. They threw the handful down when they found they were empty and walked away. But I have not seen any homeless looking people here before. Later that night, my house a bit of a mess because it was late, and I was tired - so of course the water woman comes over, gives me airag and has one of my students with her. I clean my house everyday, but guests are always unannounced and usually unexpected.

Thursday, 9/21, I taught a class all by myself because the teacher had to go to Ulaan Bataar. I am so glad; I co-teach usually. Discipline is an issue. They're just giggly. And we played "Go Fish" to practice numbers and that is a hard game to explain with no common language to fidgety 12 year olds. But I was glad for the experience. My school day was short, so I walked over to school #1 to meet the English teachers. I asked, "Where is the English Teacher?" and they asked "Which one?" and I said "I don't know". I said that I was the teacher at school #3 and was led to a class in progress. Naraa came out and we sat outside and talked. I was concerned she left her class, but she said it was ok. I sat in on her next class and sang "You are my sunshine" with the class and the second verse by myself. Throughout the lesson, the students would randomly ask "What is your name?" "What do you like?", etc. Naraa had a student teacher friend at my school, so she suggested we walk over. First we stopped by another of her classes to tell them she wouldn't be in class. I told her I found it very strange that she left her class with no teacher, but she was unconcerned and I have seen it at my school too. That night as I sat at home eating my motley soup, it's like a casserole where whatever is in the fridge goes in (vegetables with rice don't go with chocolate though). Pat called and said there was a music concert going on at that moment - plans more than a day in advance just don't happen here. It was in a beautiful old theatre, very small crowd. There is a type of long poems that are said very quickly as the caller holds a haddock. Then a few women sang what sounds like the female version of throat singing to me. I like it. I find it very haunting. Sounding a bit Native American at times. The moirn khuir often accompanies, because it is meant to replicate the voice - I think. There was also a group of traditional instruments (moirn khuir, flute, banjo, xylophone type thing with strings, a horn (an actual animal horn played like a French horn) plus a Russian cello. They also had dancers. The dance involves a lot of fluid hand; arm movements that seem like the person must be double jointed. Which makes me wonder if such ability is more common here or just not used so much in performance in the States. This is also brought on because a young girl was in my ger with her sisters the other day, and started randomly showing off her ability to do contortion. Cultural note: the audience usually clapped in a beat of unison and not as much as an American audience probably would. There was also a lot more talking in the crowd. But it could have just been this group.

I found out Thursday that Friday classes would be shortened and only because I dropped by school. I wonder if my CP would have called. I was actually a bit bummed because the only class I had was my 6th graders, but because school got out early, the students were going to watch a movie. Many of the teachers were going to the who-doe. Some of us went shopping together, meat would be provided. I saw them slaughtering the goats in the schools garden right before we left. Accidentally because it is bad for women to watch. I was told there would be about four of us, but later found there were only to be 3 at our gal (fire) but about 18 teachers total. I was very happy because in our shopping wanderings we found 2 new rolling pins. I actually cook lots here and needed one, but everyone makes their own so I hadn't been able to find one to buy.

Side thought: the word for rolling pin is ganj, very much like a word for marijuana ganja. So I found this out while having a language exchange during a game of chess with some girls about 16 - 18. I asked them if they had marijuana in Mongolia, which is also called "black cigarette", which is the word for drugs. They said no. Not that I am looking for any, I was just interested. I have heard that there isn't much use in Mongolia, but there are things coming from Russia into Ulaan Bataar. The one girl, who is 16, has never been outside the Govi.

So back to my journey with the teachers. The machine (car/bus) was two hours late, but this is common. We all piled into the bed of a huge truck and set off into the night. We drove for a long time. As the conversation floated around me I examined the sky. I thought of how the stars might be memories or thoughts. And what they difference would be. Or maybe they are souls. And they burn out when ones' reincarnations come to an end. And how the dense band of the Milky Way figured into all this. All the science can't take away the fantasies one conjures when you look up letting your soul touch the heavens through your eyes in the immense expanse that goes in all directions forever, unless we are in a finite sphere as Aristotle put forth. Once we arrived at the mountains, we drove as deep into a canyon as a dry wash bed would allow. We set up our tent and went to sleep. It being too dark to cook! The next morning I wanted to climb, but was prevented by a Mongolian who feared for my safety. Finally, I convinced him that what appeared to be a short gentle slope, would be ok. Juniper and stinging nettle bushes prevented us from reaching the top, but it was still a wonderful view. And something about the hard cold support of the rocks was comforting. It was very jagged and dug into my flesh as I pulled myself along, but it reminded me that this is all real. Too often I float with the occasional shocking realization that I'm on the other side of the world. All day we just relaxed. We ate, drank, sang, slept... We played the finger competition and I received cheers when I finally beat someone, I only did that 3 times. It is played in teams, people going down the line. When everyone of a team has been beat, everyone in that team must drink, a cup of airag each. At the same time shots of vodka are being passed out. With the occasional call tossing. I still don't know any Mongolian songs, so I sang "You are my sunshine" at one point, which most Mongolians at least know the tune to. I met one teacher who is full of energy and smiles. Her name is Tuya, which means light. She showed off her English by singing "One little, two little, three little Indians", but just up to number 6. And busting out with "I love you Richard Gere" at one point. And later after saying "I love you" she also referred to one teacher, age 25, as Gentleman. Which became his name, and whom would be a good Mongolian husband for me. I don't have the same increase of Mongolian language that some PC's experience with drunkenness.

The goat had been whacked up into chunks and cooked over a fire of gathered wood and water from the small stream. Only potatoes and salt were added, but it was very good. I now eat the fat and all, but my CP's son was with us and he didn't understand why I didn't eat the marrow too - next time. Candle wax was used to start the fire, but you can't put in paper you've wiped your hands on, but the paper wrapper from the noodles was ok (because it's new and clean, I think). The departure was not announced. People just stared cleaning up and eventually some sat in the truck. When all was loaded, we took off. It was beautiful country. There were lots of laughs. I was not drunk, but we stopped at a ger. It was the relative of someone. They loaded a bundle of Govi wood into the truck. He had a windmill for power and I was told he had a TV. No other ger could be seen and Dalangadyad sat as an island far off. Curiosity took me into the ger as most waited in the truck. This man and his son were wrestlers. I was sat in a place of honor and played with the kitten they had. Then the vodka was poured. I should have just touched it to my lips, but I didn't want to offend, so I drank. Then the snuff bottle was passed. He played the moirn khuir for us and I was asked to take their picture. We were summoned back to the truck, we'd made the others wait too long; over 1/2 hour. But the men were very nice and I was so curious that he had power. I tried to ask him about it, but couldn't understand his replies. I later found out it cost $1,000.00 (a teachers salary is about $60.00 per month - I don't know what wrestlers get).

All day and every day, I am the oddity. The new and unusual. My actions are watched and everyone wants to talk to me. This is the fishbowl lifestyle I've been told about. For now I enjoy feeling special. I'm sure my poor Mongolian will get frustrating to others and the constant attention will get draining, but for now I don't mind it so much. I am, however, uncomfortable at the way people peer through my hasha fence at me. I don't always know when they are there, so now I feel constantly watched. I fell into bed after getting home at about 9 from the teachers trip.

So slept in till 10 the next morning. Usually not getting up till 8:30am is sleeping in around here. As I was chilling in bed, my parents called. Technology is just the strangest thing. And it fools one into thinking I have conveniences, so let me explain. Yes, I have a phone, but it doesn't always work and the connection is like an old phonograph record. Though I know I'm lucky and spoiled to have it and electricity. It is on almost all of the time. I have a hot plate that sits on my floor. I have one light bulb that hangs from my ceiling. A neighbor has piped water (from the city or a well I don't know) that I go to fill two jugs. They last me about 4 days (washing dishes, face, hands, having boiled drinking water, and one bucket bath). I have access to stores that have everything I need, plus a few luxury items like jam and chocolate spread. I have to go to several to make a meal, but my town is small. (For example: one day I had to go to three stores to find sugar because the first two were out).

I get mail. It usually comes 2 times a week and delivery takes 3 weeks. Sometimes the plane doesn't come and sometimes a letter takes over a month, but so far things have eventually gotten here. And yes, there is Internet. There are 4 computers for this part of the Govi and they don't always have power and always have long lines. I was able to get the Mongolian instead of the foreigner rate. I have plenty of money, but buying too many luxury things (expensive food, showers, internet, etc) and getting big expensive packages is seen by most in my town and I don't want to give a negative image. Though I will buy a horse which is $50 and thought to be very expensive. So... my live is not as hard as I thought it would be nor as hard as some in Mongolia, but I don't want people to think I have all the conveniences of home because I've mentioned some appliances. But I also must admit I am not suffering in any way, besides a little loneliness. I even like the outhouse. So hopefully I give you a clear picture of Dalangadyad.

On Monday, 9/25 I gave a test to my 6th graders. I'd never done this before. Giving and grading were very difficult. Though the scores were weird because I gave extra points for good sentences, it was really helpful to see their strengths and I hope I explained that to them. But they mostly just wanted to know the %. On Tuesday, I started my moirn khuir lessons. One hour a day, 4 times a week. And he didn't want any money, but I am going to have my counterpart talk to him because I asked and she said "I think you know how to deal with this." But I said no. I am not Mongolian. Here if someone gives you food, you return the dish with food, even if it's only some candy. In the States you're only required to wash the dish. So I don't know if it's rude to offer money for his gift of teaching. He said if I play well then he is a good man. This sort of teacher pride is common. And I also thought how I often tutored in the States after school for free. And now, a little later, I found he will only come 2 times a week because I talked to my CP. It's amazing how many sounds come out of just two strings.

On Wednesday, 9/27 I went over to Al and Janet's house. They are a married couple here for the ELI program. Another younger man is also here with ELI doing the community course, which is charged for to pay for all 3 of their housing. The couple teaches the teachers at a very small fee just to cover class supplies. The couple was very nice. I had dinner with them and we shared goals and experiences for several hours. They are here to be open and share their religious beliefs, but are very adamant that it be kept out of the classroom and be initiated by questions from people that want to learn more. ELI has a website at ELIC. I have yet to check it out. Oh, earlier on Wednesday I got my first visit from my area coordinator to check on me and my site to make sure everything was going well. Once again I'm happy with my choice to join the Peace Corp out of the possible organizations for the continued support they provide. I look forward to our in-service training in early November. But I am having trouble finding a business run by a woman to participate in the WID (Women in Development) seminar later.