Letter to all, 02-01


February 2001

It has been a week since I last wrote, but I don't know what I've done. Our classes at school will be looked at by people from the methodology center so I've been going to school at 8am and not leaving till about 8 PM. With lessons, errands and fixing things I've been busy all day. This is a new classroom, so everything is being done from scratch. The carpenter's finally finished our cabinet (though we had to provide all the materials, including nails and have to make and put in the shelves ourselves). Now, 5 months after we asked for it I was told we were expected to give them cookies and such ( I guess some teacher gave them cigarettes for a job). But my class looks and feels like a real classroom now. Well... not physically feels. My hand still gets numb because it's so cold. I enjoy looking around at the student work I finally convinced Oyumbileg (my counter part) to let me hang up; and the nice display boards she has made. I also finally made the map with pictures pointing to different places (Tom's idea) and the students were interested to point out Dalazadgad and bagsheen ger (teachers' home). Unfortunately there's no dot for Pope Valley (it's obviously a bad map!), so I used Sacramento.

On Wednesday (1/31/01) it was student day. All classes were taught by students. Since my 5 (I just got a new student that no one happened to mention to me. I only knew she was coming because I saw one of my other students and she told me) 6th graders are the best in English, they taught the 5th and 8th graders. They said it was difficult, but they enjoyed it. The class was surprisingly very well behaved. But it was difficult for me to try and help them because of language. My counter part was busy fixing the class and we hadn't prepared them very well, but it sill went very well. On Thursday I had to hunt for a couple of my 8th graders. I found them in the hall and had to escort them to class. They only have 2 hours a week, can't speak very well, so the book is much too hard for them, and Aurmtsetseg is not very firm with them so they slack off a lot.

On Sunday 2/4 is Teacher's Day. All the schools celebrated on Friday by going to the town theatre. I got there at 3, but had to wait for ? hours for the power to come on. Then teachers from all the schools sat through an excessively long meeting. There were too many speakers, that were too long winded, often just reading and not "giving a speech"; many awards and with interruptions of the power going out. It didn't help that I couldn't catch a word, and my Mongolian friend wanted to sleep too. Then there was a dance production as a sort of reunion and honoring of a dance teacher from school #1. It was really good. The choreography was very eye pleasing with colorful costumes. One set even involved all the kids with camels sewn into the skirts to make them look like riders. There were all ages, including a teach, Sumiat, from our school and from the honored teachers first class. There was a ballet style number with a story, many dances involved simulations of riding a horse, a Latin number (with very flashy costumes that got interrupted by one of may equipment blips, but the crowd liked it so much they started over) and a dance to an Elvis song. It was so well done. But at the end the teacher gave thanks to each student, awards were given and bunches gave their thanks to the teacher.

I didn't get home till 8:30pm, then it was off to school for dinner - which didn't start till about 10:30. Because we had to hang around, then dance a little and have people sing. Dinner was fun. There were hor'dourves (candy, pickles, sausage and kapote). Then two dinner dishes - spaced far apart. The tables were in groups that competed. I was part of a pie-type (a graham cracker cake thing) eating contest. There was joke telling, singing, trying to sing along with earphones on, poems honoring teachers, etc. And of course the vodka was going around. There was a very funny teacher, ZaZa who I just met since he'd been vacation. He led us in "If you're Happy and You Know It" in Mongolian with improvisations. And I was able to hold Mongolism conversations. This was al held in the biology classroom - then we moved back to the physics / dance room, with Casio in tow. I got teased for my inability to do the Mongolian style waltz (which often turned into a bumper car game) and the men held the buuz (belt) of my dell and force steered me around. And I forget what it's called, but the dance in Pulp Fiction - I did that for one song and the Mongolians think it's interesting to see the "American dancing". It's just "body moving, not perfection" so goes the philosophy of the Beastie Boys.

I had a downer of finding out that my classroom didn't qualify for certification though. Only 37 of our schools' 57 did though - this is bad. But as with many reviews, it's a yes - no answer so neither I nor my counter part know why. I will try to find out though. I didn't get home from all this till 4 am, but had to wake up at 11 to teach the Post Office. but they were agillati (busy) again. So I did a 5 minute lesson of writing out some country names on a paper with translations and pronunciations so they could study on their own. Adults have their own sets of challenges. So, I try to be flexible and use a different style. For a while I did nothing when they were busy, but they have the desire, so I try to find ways to give them at least something. After a nap I went to school to work - avoiding a drunk teacher who appeared to never have left school though he said he'd slept and was trying to get me to drink more. I have luckily been able to be firm in my refusal without ostracizing myself.

On 2/4 the weather was so nice. Like a crisp Autumn day. I was remembering my conversation with Bob in Uluaanbatar about "this ain't so bad" in reference to dealing with the cold we had all dreaded. People can adapt to anything and the climate is so dry here, it really isn't unbearable. Then I ate my words Monday as cold slammed us with snow too. It must have been the Siberian wind they'd said was coming. But the sun was bright on Tuesday again and by the end of the week it was fine. The weather was nice enough to let me enjoy a walk with the full moon - which made to snow look so mystical.

Thought shift: I enjoyed small towness this week. Both at the Post Office and the Internet place they didn't mind a bit to let me pay later. I felt I was at the Internet almost everyday! I checked email one day to see when a college friend was planning to visit, then I took my students to see Internet for the first time looking at two American museums (the Paper House and Tattoo Museum) that were talked about in their textbook, then there were "internet Olympics" (I had only heard of them the day before and the questions ere often poor grammatically, but all very fast paced - it was in a chat room with other Mongolians), then I looked up information on Tiger Woods for a reading exercise for my 5th graders (no wonder everyone's in a hoopla, the kid has been playing since he was 2 and winning since his first competition!). And he's tall, thin, handsome and happy and the vocabulary my kids know.

The week was busy, but good, made better by my friend Bathyag returning from Ulaanbatar and apologizing we miscommunicated and didn't meet up in the city. The week ended with the German girls (2 doing research in the steppes) stopping as they drove by during a monthly shopping visit. I helped them puppy hunt a bit as we looked for stray males, but they're all girls. Nobody wants the girls. I still don't understand why our hashaa has one.

But I didn't get to rest on the weekend. Friday I found out I had Saturday class and Saturday morning I learned that included my 6th graders. I was a bit pressed because I needed to get ready for them to come over for pizza. But during class I had to be a teacher and tell one girl to sit at the back of the class because she wouldn't stop pushing - she sat and cried the rest of the time. Her friends were so sweet and doting: drying her eyes, putting on her jacket, kissing her and giving her encouraging words. She was my friend again by the end of the evening. They didn't like the pizza though and thought I ruined the meat when I tossed it in the sauce. I introduced them to my music, which they didn't really like either - it was "OK". We all got deeply involved in a card game that involved dares. One dare resulted in a girl getting her face drawn with my blue eyeshadow pen. Then we all decorated our faces, took a group picture and walked everyone home in a group. What did the parents think of a bagshaa (teacher) who sends kids home as such.

The next day Tom showed up. As usual we got together with Pat to make dinner, but broke tradition and had burritos. I also heard the Eminem CD and realized why people don't like him and also where at least 3 Mongolian songs got their music. I ditched class for the first time having not prepared, nor rested, and felt overburdened with the coming week. But I was productive, going to the Environment Center and paying my phone bill (we don't get bills, they just turn the phone off, and records are just in a handwritten notebook.

Then the 14th came. Valentines Day. I taught all the classic words - they already knew "love" (pronounced love-ay by them). I had them do a crossword puzzle. My ESL life made me unaware of the English speakers corruption of one clue for heart "the body part we love with". Then we played "Wild Thing" as a listening exercise. During which I had to constantly remind the 8th graders to sit down and stop dancing. They like the American music I bring in, but I found it very difficult to translate for my adults who are always full of questions my kids just don't ask. How does one explain Wild Thing? He's calling a woman that. But it's not her name (in this culture names mean thing like Snow Candy, Star, Light, Wise Talent). And it did not mean she ran in the hills, as wild is used for wolves to differentiate between dogs. "Groovy" was easy. Very goooo-ooood with inflection. And the idea of one's "heart sing"ing for happiness wasn't a phrase they use. Oh, and one of my 8th graders was "sick" again, so, I hunted down his apartment (another benefit of a small town - just ask people "Do you know where Otwho lives?" When you get near).

On Thursday I had to help Aruna look for a class for them (her lock is broken, probably for the same reason mine is - there's an idea to force other keys in hoping they'll work) and then hunt down the students to fill the class. My last class of the day was for a boy who's mother has been asking me for months to teach. I'm age-ist and finally said yes because he's 17 and knows a little already. I was to have one more teachers class but they weren't there. So I look forward to having 2(?), although I'm not sure yet, weeks for Tsaagan Sar.

I swept up the trash outside my hashaa, that blows from some unknown origin (probably my neighbor, and my own uncovered bins) and set fire to it. Sort of symbolic to end the recent busyness. So I teach P.O. tonight and one teachers class tomorrow - maybe if people aren't too busy.

But I was backward on my guess. PO had no lesson, but teacher did (very surprising: 6pm, Friday before vacation, with 2 new additions). I missed the mail deadline Thursday for Friday outgoing, so will go tomorrow, Monday. Friday was lax. Lxa and Aruna were both leaving for Ulaanbatar. Lxa was selling airag for Tsagan Sar before he left. I warned him not to drink all of his profits, but he still got in the van at 9 PM rather drunk. Before going, we socialize with some other friends. Enjoying the warmth with ger doors open (Tsaagan Sar is the end of the cold). I resolved to be lazy on the weekend. I took a 2 hour walk south. I hadn't seen that direction yet. There's a good sized frozen pond that the kids play on. And I was surprised to see fences, but I heard vegetable were grown there. Some sort of big hay storage barn. A large field of bricks (I was told a factory used to be there) and an old benzene plant. The main town has a distinct end, but then it dwindles far out with gers and buildings.

Bathuyar was in town so I went to the Matyalla. His bar is temporarily a rug shop. He was very busy, with Tsaagan Sar sales so I cooked dinner for him and his mother in law in the back. It was very difficult for me, because of the facilities (I had to use a wine bottle for a rolling pin) and I know Mongolians usually don't like American style food. She said she liked it of course.

Sunday I succeeded in doing all day, but reading and washing clothes outside.



Mon Apr 16 17:39:25 PDT 2001