Letter to all, 01-01-01


January 2001

To All:

This letter is written on the box of chocolates my host family gave me when I visited them. Such boxes are the most common gift given, and it is also an example of how many of the products here are world market products having many different languages on the label. And almost all the chocolate comes from Germany; the pickles from Poland and the flour from Russia...

About every two months there is some Peach Corps function that gives us all an excuse to collect in the capital. This time it was a business seminar. The week before had its' little memories. A bank is in the same room as the Post Office and one of the tellers speaks a little English so she invited me over for lunch. I had to ask about 5 people along the way where her building was. And of course before my visit was over we had a shot of vodka to celebrate the New Year. Then on Sunday, one of Pat's students invited us over. It was great because we spoke Mongolism while practicing my Mongolian. The week of January 8th - 12th, didn't go so well. I introduced the concept of detention. Usually students are punished by being written up in the class grade journal. One of my classes is full of cutters. One kid I saw and told to go to class and he ran and hid from me! Then I got locked out of school with students and another teacher, who got fed up and left, for being a little late. So instead of 1 minute late, we were all 15 minutes late - great idea.

Then I learned that I needed to clean my stove chimney once a week. No one had told me. So when smoke started coming into my house, I banged the pipe to clear it... Yes, I lost my logic facilities for a moment forgetting about gravity and that banging the pipe only caused all the soot to collect at the bottom and completely block the hole. So as I was freaking out, my phone rings. It's my neighbor Lxa. "Hello! Good Evening". The little English he knows. "Hi" I said annoyingly; I didn't have time for this. Then he asked, very calmly, why smoke was coming out my window (he knows window in English, all else was in Mongolian). I started laughing and yelling "Toe-sill!; Toe-sill!; Nashaa! Nashaa!" (Help! Help! Come here! Come here!) So he came over, opened up my Ger and had me sit in his house for a bit; it was very cold outside. He apologized for not having told me. They often forget that I don't have the common sense of a Mongolian. Common sense is culturally determined. The week finished off as we feared we wouldn't get tickets for the plane. We got ours but didn't know if our business counter parts were going to be able to get on. The plane was delayed by 1 hour, then 3 hours, so we went to get food and were fetched by a jeep who yelled to us as we walked around that the plane was now leaving. We didn't' know the man and he was probably sent off by one of our Mongolian friends with the instruction to look for the 5 foreigners.

We finally arrived, but suffered a miscommunication with Bataa, so had to look for a room in a guest house (hostel like) at 10 PM. Ulaanbatar was filled with the usual hanging out and feasting. The whole city seemed to be covered in a thick sheet of ice. Walking required skill. Steam from restaurant windows created beautiful ice curtains. Sukhbaaatar Square was filled with huge ice sculptures with castles, slides, a 2001, the Statue of Liberty, a sphinx, a Santa, etc... With a vague map I was able to find a black and white photographer tucked away who sells enlargers; tempting.

So the reason I went to UB was for the Business Seminar that was set up by the Women in Development / Gender and Development (WID/GAD) Committee, and though that was addressed, it wasn't the focus. The group was diverse. From teachers with no idea what they wanted to do yet, to people like my counter part Mendaz, who already run a successful business. Business wise we learned about how leaders are chosen and successful through an apple throwing game (our group leader was chosen because he was outspoken and full one energy; another was just kept from being the example leader, and another took it upon himself because the others seemed timid and this reason was given after the first of "he was the only guy" was sent with protest in the "share/discussion group".) We practiced brainstorming new ideas with a small toothpaste tube (not everyone said to use it as toothpaste, some ideas: jewelry, game pieces, medicine, polish for metal, to use in displays of stuffed squirrels, or the cap as a mandatory shot glass to cub alcoholism.

We played the "Best Game" (a business simulation where our group was a hat making company that had to sell our products, decide how much material to buy and how much to save). During the Best Game, at one level, 1 group acted as the buyer while the other 2 groups were manufacturers. It became clear that if all worked together to find the maximum production ability then all benefited. This would be pure socialism - why can't such things work in real life? Why does there have to be greed? We talked of Mongolians business situation (investment is seen as good, but I personally see to much dependence on foreign aid); how to make a business plan, credit options (one for poverty alleviation has one 1% interest), marketing (we practices by making a product out of newspaper - the ladies in my group busted out a full size dell; others made school supplies, body-builder insert pads; a model of a collapsible bed, etc). And we finished with giving out certificates of completion. As with all get together lots happened during breaks. The power of networking and just hearing others ideas is wonderful I learned from Theo that the chicken farm he helped start is running seminars, so I'm going to send Lxa up to the next one. He's currently "on vacation" (AKA unemployed). I also was able to find out what all my photo guy does. And at first many counter parts didn't see the value of the games we were playing, but by the end I think all really enjoyed themselves. It was an interactive seminar, so different from the lectures they are used to.

I was late to the talent show because I was learning the 5 rows of trees with 4 trees in each row is only 10, not 20. And that you can suspend a beer bottle off a table with 3 knives and three cups (turned upside down) with the cups being over 1 knife length apart. And some other riddles. Through this all we occasionally heard Limp Biscuit at meal times. The seminar was 5 days.

On Saturday I ventured out to Quum Mod to visit my host family for the first time. My minibus was pulling out of the driveway as I saw Melody waving us down - I feared the worst, but got out to find that Gilee was heading my way and they came to find me to give a lift. I had reservations about seeing my family. Would it be awkward? Would we be able to communicate? Would they even be there? So I thought if good Gilee had a time limit. But I need not have worried. Even my little sister who I'd feared would have forgotten me called out my name with a big smile when she saw me. My mom has such easy Mongolian and Vie learned a bit more vocabulary and just how to communicate, and she was a host mom before. I look forward to seeing them again. My host mom said I could stay for 5 days when I asked if I might spend the night. Unfortunately my aunt wasn't there. My mom, pantonined the frustrated screams she'd give having missed me. it is so nice to feel at home somewhere. In Dalanzadgad I haven't gotten that close to anyone yet.

When we got back to Ulaanbatar I saw Gilee's place. I want to collect art as she does. She's traveled all over, but I just don't have the means as a volunteer - though I have been able to gather many small things. My last night in Ulaanbatar I was walking back to Nassan's guest house with Tally when we saw a boy standing next to a manhole. Then there was a light and another boy climber out. I turned back after we'd walked a bit and saw maybe 6 boys. I knew children lived in there, but it was just very unsettling to see. They looked to be in their early teens. I was afraid of them. I felt weird too because I had 3 months living allowance, about $400. More money than they'd probable seen their whole lives. I'm here as a Peace Corp volunteer, but I do nothing for these lives and yet I could if I wanted to. I can do anything, yet must deal with not being able to do everything.

So back to Dalanzadgad and what I've chosen to do for now. Only to find the schedule had changed and would change again as I wondered why my class wasn't showing up at the "new" time. My 6th grade students were upset that English had been cut to 3 times a week and 3 of the 5 P.O. workers showed to have an English lesson. So I felt my work was good. We even got the carpenters to finally make a shelf for our classroom. Though teachers must buy the wood, nails, hinges and handles. My counter part is such a pleasant woman to work with. Normally I'd be cursing the heavens, but she got me laughing as we tried to carry the pressboard that only acted as a sail and knocked us around. We had to hail a van to drive it for us to school from the "material" shop (the only one I know of in town and you buy nails individually).



Mon Apr 16 17:39:25 PDT 2001