Letter to all, 03-01


March 2001

To All:

What's up with the weather? It will be all nice and sunny, then the wind kicks in and my blood turns to ice. This teasing of the end of cold is harder on my spirits than the cold. I had gotten used to "dealing".

Now it's March 11th. I was leaving the house of an Internet worker I'm helping with English. Breathing in the warmth of the sun whose intensity is mellowed by a cool soft breeze. Feeling light in step as I stroll along. I was crossing a square, ghostly vacant in Sunday fashion, as the loud speaker's voice floated to me. The FM station plays out their window in the main market square. I slightly failed holding back my surprised giggles as I heard the catch tune of "Fat Boy Slim is X#@#@ in heaven, and X#@#@ and X#@#@" etc. The DJ borrowed some of the other volunteers tapes. Oh, how we will make our American mark in this culture.

Life has been rolling by with its little adventures. I figured out how to make an oven using bricks on my stove covered by my thick metal bowl (togoo). It opens up a whole new world of variety and gave me a sense that I could do anything I set my mind to. Yeah, given time to think, things get a little blown out of proportion.

Teaching is my life. I've started teaching English to 2 photographers in town, Menday and Nacanbat. It's interesting, but only if they could understand my vague Mongolian to get the concept of "aperture" and "bulb" across. Probably some Americans don't understand. And I'm just amazed how differently adult and children brains work. All week after break we did review exercises. But still some students can't ask "What is your name?" While others are able to create their own sentences from taught vocabulary. Some students knew "green" because I'd hung it on the wall with the other colors, but never taught it. Yet some forget "fish" though for some strange reason it comes up often in units.

A really fun and helpful exercise I want to share was "Pin the foot on the camel". I had a student draw the animal (he as able to even though he lives with 10 other people in one ger! No wonder some kids can never do their homework). I blindfolded a student with my scarf and sent them off with a decapitated foot. Where is the foot? On the throat? What illness do you have if you have a foot in your throat? A sore throat? Yoi, yoi, yoi (the Mongolian equivalent of OW). How many points for the Monster group (they chose their group names)? Three. Three plus the seven? Ten! So we reviewed body parts, illnesses, question forms and numbers with body movement, visualization and group work. Maybe only teachers can appreciate the beauty! The others hopefully will be amused by the image. It even got my rowdy class relatively all focused on the same task.

Further on teaching... my 8th graders. Great kids, difficult students. We were on the food section, so I taught the recipe of pizza, (though 2 boys weren't going to come to class complaining of headaches that were forgotten with the interest in the lesson) and then I had them come over Saturday to make pizza hashuur. They were very eager to have a task, and for some reason Odwho (star boy) delegated himself as the fire tender even though he is one of the few who doesn't live in a ger and I teased I could do better. But he was defensive of this position. Another student was able to make small pieces of art in his braided pinching of hashuur. It is a sort of point of pride amongst Mongolians. They didn't like the German cheese, but liked the hoshuur. We played hootzer (cards) of course and then watched Cara: Dirty Faced Woman. This is a soap opera from Venezuela that the whole town seems to shut down to watch. Reminds me of the telenovella from Mexico I'd watch with Rebecca. I had fun hanging out with them. I don't know them as well as my 6th graders, who have become a bit too friendly, making being a teach difficult. Being a teacher to the 8th graders is always a challenge.

Spring is the season where the other three seasons fight for a place it seems. One day, March 12th, it went from T-shirt wearing sunshine, to a sky blotting out sandstorm, to be replaced with t swirling snowstorm the next day (the snow being blown across the flat ground reminds me of how the shadows came up when the bad guys died in the movie Ghost). My difficulty arose when the day after was bright and warm. My boys were outside having a snowball fight. I regretted feeling Mongolian as I yelled and pushed them (most are taller than I) to class. I don't, won't, and can't stand teachers that hit them. It was hard not to laugh because they were covered in snow, but causing them a bit of public embarrassment is a form of discipline. I then took their coats to force detention attendance.

Many of my 5th graders were late in my next class which made me grumpy too. Only to be compounded the next day by Lxa's sister coming and taking all my wood, but 2 logs. I asked her why and her drunk friend got in my face saying "Lxasureer dooo!" Which translates as " This is Lxa's sisterrrrr". I hate drunks. She said next month would not be cold. She had a bag to take coal too, but left. These two episodes followed the Tuesday I was supposed to meet with all the English teaches. I rushed to type out a test and some notes I'd prepared only to have the printer be locked in an absent teacher's room. I was told I could come in after class by the computer teacher. But when I returned, neither teacher was there. So I had to rush to the only school with a copier, school #1, to make illegible copies. Then rush, to school #2 for the meeting which no one came to possible due to the snowstorm.

Little things happen that frustrates me. Often the culture and language differences compound with the smallest event to push me to anger, which I then get mad at myself for feeling. Sometimes things are just F##@## up. I know America is far from perfect, band in many ways worse, than here. But it is my country. F##@## ups that I can understand and know how to deal with. Peace Corp Volunteers sometimes joke in our quoting of Mongolian that "life is very difficult here." They refer to making a fire and such which isn't so bad, but neglect the slow etching burden of at least 5 kids yelling "hello" during the 5 minute walk to the Post Office.

But then good, refreshing things keep me going. Dumbo was played on TV (though a little difficult to handle the story of a mother and child being separated). I got to see school #2's beautiful English classroom. Aruna taught me to make my favorite dish soyvhun. I got called in to watch girls sing and dance to an English song. Pat and I made a recording of dialogues for my English class with "feeling" and my mom called on Saturday (Happy Patty's Day!) with good news from home. I realize I disillusioned myself thinking this Peach Corp was an elite grassroots group that was making big changes. Often I feel I'm just passing the time. I have no sense of fulfillment nor accomplishment. Then I think of Mongonchimey, one of my students. Her self esteem and interest in English has blossomed and I like to take responsibility. My counter part also often says how much I help her. People back home now know Mongolia exists.

My whole 5th grade class somehow feels dearest to me. Souls shift slowly. I know I am defiantly changing and my presence has a ripple effect, just as gentle and softly perceived, but still there. So I am determined to stay and occasionally twiddle my thumbs questioning my existence. As I would do back home, trying to get a translator to go with me to organize a seminar on gardening; trying to get the Post Office workers to come to class thought they say they want to; trying to figure out a way to purge the town of the vodka that poisons familiesą and so I wait.

The letters from home and other Peace Corp Volunteers, along with the chances I get to see them, deliver me for precious moments from the uncomfortable chaos of unfamiliarity. So thank you to those that write and others I realize it's just not in some characters to do so. Obviously I love rambling. And Jeff, our M11, gets an honorable mention for the perfect timing of a letter coming that Friday that had me tears from laughing.

It was tiring week, but the weekend brought respite and a change. We got a visit from Tom, though with a sad undertone, as he headed to Ulaanbatar for the Close of Service (COS) conference. Then on Sunday, March 18th, I went to a Hip Hope concert of all the best singers from the 3 schools. I don't know why they use Hip Hop. It is harmony groups, rap and ballads. Some were extremely good. One group of second graders had a girl and 2 boys. They sang well, had some choreographed moves and the girl really got into it with dancing and passionately belting out the lyrics. One of my 8th graders, Ewelay, performed with obviously support. It was entertaining to watch and had me in high spirits. Then Youg Oyumbiley and another teacher invited me to the bar. We danced and had a few Baltikas (a strong type of beer). I attracted gawkers at the door (though I do no matter what I do) and Oyuna worried her students would see her, but we had a lot of fun, getting by on Monglish and inviting the bootless (Mongolian equivalent of wallflowers) in the bar to dance too.

The week of March 19th slipped by unnoticed. Break is next week. I was kept busy with helping my kids study for the big city wide, later country, English competition, while I watched others bomb semester ending tests. The cheating is still blatant. Asking a friend as I sit in an adjacent seat. They know it's wrong. But like goes on. I give an F, but am still liked and a friend as I also give the lyrics to a Smokey song (a cultishily liked group).



Mon Apr 16 17:39:25 PDT 2001