Letter to all, 12-31-00



To All:

There is a dust storm raging, so I figured I'd chill in my ger for a bit and write. And usually I write in the past as a journal of what's been going on, but this storm is so enclosing and involving, I can think only of it for the moment. And this in not a big storm - those will come in the spring. M

My stove pipe bangs about, but the constant chatter is durable because I figure its knocking down all the coal dust so I won't have to take it off to clean it. I had to return a borrowed dress to Solongo (Mikhel's woman) so I made myself a Kenny (South Parks, not Pope Valley) costume and set off. The winds come from all directions and seem to ebb. Sometimes a blow would stop me in my tracks; or I would gain a step being pushed forward. It's not cold and not too bad to walk around in, except when pelted with sand that found space between my hat, glasses, scarf, jacket and I worried I'd get little cuts all over my face from the sharp attackers. My face doesn't look any different, but there is a burning sensation. At times the dust was so thick I couldn't see very far (I'm terrible at distance judging and now I've hot the bloody metric system bumbling around my head).

It's strangely entertaining to walk about. The walk itself is now something to do and thing about and experience, but I worried my Ger would blow away. The only witches in Mongolia are shamans - and they are helpful, so I could see nothing productive in having my home blowing around. It would be inconvenient and cause a lot of work. I look around and wonder how emotionally devastating it would be. I just bought a new Mongolian style mirror that was a bit pricey and I wouldn't want to have broken; same with my moirn khuur. But no big loss in the grand scheme of things. And my camera... that would be very upsetting to lose, but I think I'd mostly be hurt by all my letters and journal being blown away and my grandfather's alarm clock being busted - those can't be replaces. But my house seems content to stay where it is. The storm has been going for about 4 hours now. I saw it coming, looked almost like a second mountain range in the distance. Everything is covered in a fine layer of dust. I even feel the need to brush my teeth again. So I've written a whole page about dust. I guess that's why it's better to write in the past tense, because the moment can always seem so all consuming. But this is my life. Up North they have cold and down here dust is a constant.

So now, days later, the dust has settled and I can talk about life before the storm. The storm was on New Years' Eve and the whole week was leading up to it - the celebration, not the storm. One of my students was very tired because of practicing for the student's concert, and though she was excused she managed to come to class for the day and each student had to pay .50 to go. The gym was full blown decorations with balloons and lights. The tree was in typical style - being drowned in tinsel. There was even an old winter father (Santa Clausish) who gave out awards to a few students. There was the usual traditional dancing and singing, with a few rap groups. All hosted by two girls, representing the old and new year. And of course one of the dance numbers was done to the Titanic music. This was on Thursday and Friday was the teachers party. Being a new teacher, I, and the other newbies, had to dance. At first, on Thursday only, we practiced a traditional Mongolian dance. I had to ask my friends if they had a blue dress I could borrow. I would be " blue" and another teacher "red", another "green", etc. I went to several different stores, suddenly aided by 2 students, to find blue tinsel. All the stores were crazy packed - I didn't know so many even lived here. But on Friday I got a call early to come to school - and now ere were to wear all black and do a "modern dance." And now until 10 minutes before we performed, did we put music to it. I supplied Jingle Bells. I went all out on the blue idea and bought blue nail polish and makeup. I figured no matter what I do, I stand out and this his how I used to do it in the states (it was comfortingly nostalgic to think of Chris, Scotty, Josh and Eddie). The teachers were a bit shocked, but seemed to like it, saying I looked like an Indian so I tried to teach the word "Goth". So the "old" teachers danced, then we... danced... ahem... and then it was very structured. Big speech; all dance the Mongolian waltz; sing; speech; dance, etc. Then we moved to the food tables where that even seemed structured. But the champagne and vodka were going around and I shocked many when a modern dance beat was played off the Casio and it was fun.

Next day I was walking to school to do some work and my students and their friends ambushed me. I was a little confused but they followed me to school and busted out full meal. The typical New Years' fair; Sausage with pickles, apple candy and tea. With a New Years cake last. They stayed there for hours playing games. That night Pat and I were invited to do something of America's New Year celebration for kids at the youth center. We figured we'd teach Jingle Bells. Turns out I wasn't kids, but a high class affair wand were expected to talk without a translator. In my drunken state the night before some other teacher had picked up my music tape so it was just Pat and I, unrehearsed doing Jingle Bells in front of all these people. Ah, the joys of the communication in Mongolia. It was the same sort of dance, speech, sing format and I eventually got the guts to dance with the brother of a teacher and my friend Menday.

The big day. For some reason the storm made me agitated and everyone else got low spirits. I waited around confused as the how to celebrate. Finally a teach invited us over. So Aruna and I went. Lots of buutz and the other standard fair, with wine, champagne, vodka and camel airag to wash it all down. As the little girl stared at me endlessly, I had a broken conversation with the Grandfather, with a little Mongolian and Aruna translating. He was very interested in the international relations of Mongolia and my role in being here Surprising view for a Mongolian, especially of the older generation.

Then Santa came. He came from the USA and said my family was doing well. The little girl was a bit frightened of him at first. He was a bit scary looking. The father had gone outside and completely covered himself in furs - you couldn't even see his eyes. I was laughing so hard with the others, and so thrilled to get candy with the others, my usual instinct failed me and I didn't get a picture. I guess his visits are a new tradition that is not common. Then back to my hashaa for more bruutz and champagne. Lxa read from some Tibetan writings. It was only 10pm and the family was settling down - our hashaa had no electricity.

So I'd celebrated Mongolian style and was going to try for a little American style. Pat, Solongo and I were to meet at Batao's bar. Mikhal was in the whodoe and Aruna's husband wanted her to stay home. Pat got caught up with his counterparts and the storm kept Solongo indoors. So I got to the bar and found it locked. I felt I needed to give a secret password as a little view door was opened. I was a bit offended; the guy didn't know who I was, he's new, but Bataa soon came to let me in. It was Mongolian style with all the table put together. We went into a separate back room where I got to meet his wife for the first time. Great first impression - I'm a little tipsy, blue makeup and wearing leather looking pants I'd bought off a lady in a guanze (cafÚ). But his sister liked me at least. And I had a lengthy pantomime / broken Mongolian with one of the other guys in the room. It was entertaining to sit talking and drinking more champagne (which all Mongolians feel the need to shake before opening.) I tried to speak Mongolian for the sister, but Bataa wanted me to speak English to his wife. There was no Countdown; no dancing. But I'm here to experience Mongolia. At least I'll probably remember this one more than some others.

We continued the holidays by going up to Mikhel's Ger on the 1st. He is set up next to Bataa's parents. I got to meet on of Bataa's daughters who knows beginning English very well and she's only 7. It was Pat, his counterpart Solango, Mikhal, Bataa, his wife, his daughter, his parents and nephew and me. And I found out my counterpart is their cousin. So it was day of feasting on pizza, turkey and a roast. Mikhal had his stove made with a compartment in the back to act as a stove. It was beautiful as always. And I stood up on a rise and let the immense stillness of the silence drown me. Inside the Ger was good also; full of warmth, conversation and because Michal has a solar powered system we had light and music. I have an issue with being told what to do and because I am a young woman, I was assumed to do all the tasks, such as pouring the wine and cleaning up the dishes - which all the women helped wash. While the men sat around. I got teased for my defiance. I suppose it would be hectic in a Ger for everyone to be walking about, bit I objected for the reasons I was being asked to do things. But then again I am here to learn of the culture and one learns by doing. I may just come off as a bitch and not get across the idea that women and the young have minds of their own and men deserve no supremacy. But I know I am too stubborn and overly eccentric on some of my feminist views (shut up boys! I can just hear the jibes of my dear male friends back home).

Bataa may be the sweetest man in Mongolia, but he is still Mongolian, so was always in charge and had us up at some early hour to drive back. So I missed the sunrise. I spent 3 hours lowering the dust content of my Ger when I got home. Sometime during all the party preps, I got a chance to sit and talk with Solango for a very long time. She too is new to town. It is so amazing to me that others can speak a second language so fluently. And I'm glad that we are able to chat.

Some random things of the past week: Mongolian has two words for "old". Hoechin is applied to old things and Hogshin is applied to old people. Also for noisy people its Orilokh and things is shoegiahtay. I don't know if these are three isolated occurrences or if there is some view of the world between the two cultures. It is a known complaint form some that women are treated as objects ... I may be grasping. I also, total random point, got a visit from Stella. Ms. Guray's sixth grade class, at Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos read "Flat Stanley" by Jeff Brown. They made their own flat friend who can travel by mail and share her adventures with the students. As her hosts, me being one, help her write in her journal. It's a slow mode, but cheap, for travel. It think it's a great idea to make reading and geography come alive.

Speaking of classrooms, I did "shapes" in my class. Just triangles, squares, rectangles and circles. But I was so proud of my multi-learning style lesson. And my kids are quick. I put a visual puzzle up to ask "How many triangles are there?" I had only seen 10, but my 5th grade class (who tested well in math) correctly found 12 and I'd been wrong all day. I had them use their hands to form the shapes as they said them and played a song of Sesame Street about circles with Cookie Monster singing for an exercise. Maybe only teachers and those who appreciate - or at least know now of my obsession with circles, will read this lesson description with any interest. My kids stayed very interested though and that's most important.



Mon Apr 16 17:39:25 PDT 2001