Letter to all, May 2001


May 2001

To All:

So, love. I had thought it was one of those absolutes that Plato speaks of though few truly experience, it still exists. Ah, then come cross-cultural experiences. Here it seems a good husband is one who doesn't drink, works and helps with the children. Yes, all good qualities. One mustn't push it and ask them to cook or clean nor bring you flowers (they are all plastic anyway). But I close mindedly assume one loves one. Now I know there are cultures where there is an extended spouse group, but it's not considered wrong and is talked of openly. Here is a term "secret honey." Because I am different I am an outsider and experience a lot that maybe I wouldn't otherwise. Sometimes it's nice. I am flattered constantly because I am the image of American. I look just like Rose in Titanic didn't you know? (This is sarcasm, I know - it's been a year, but I haven't changed that much). I've gotten very forward requests from married men (even though most of the community think I married to Tom). I've never felt threatened though. But "it's ok" because "all men do it". "My wife is in UB (the capital city), etc."

Even when I have been given hope that pure devoted love exists between a couple, I may later get a comment that it's ok because she's so far away in the countryside. I'm not one to judge. America is not Cupids heaven, but isn't there something wrong with the lying and dishonesty regardless of how common it is? Or maybe this is another silly universal my philosophers mind is clutter with.

And so, I turn 25, feeling very old and childless in this community and am constantly surrounded by Titanic movie paraphernalia, devotion, yet my mother need not fear me getting married and not coming home.

This is my life here, but I do get "work" done too. I was told I'm a good Mongolian because I went to the Govi Initiative office to try and find information on crafts people. I have the fancy that I can help them to Peace Corp functions. But it's surprisingly difficult to find them. Because, like religion, it is a part of life that many just do. There are no shops. I've heard of one man and found his workroom, but he's rarely there. We even have a craft college I've visited, but projects are not on display in any way. So, then I was off to Coros to drop off English books on tape. Making more brownie points (so important here) at the Internet Center by giving them a clipping from an American newspaper regarding the Internet. I went to a hair salon in town for the first time and felt a rock fill my stomach as my ja-han (little) was interpreted into a whack off of my hair (don't cry Rebecca, it was only about 2"). I surprised the ladies because they were discussing me and I responded. Then again in the open air market the ladies at the boot rack asked many questions and was amazed I could answered - I was kind of too.

I've kept busy with errands not having to go to school. On Tuesday, May 29th, I went to help give the final test of an oral to all my kids. Yoi, yoi, yoi! Yasin? (Oh! What happened!). Some still could not respond to "what is your name". It was very depressing. I felt I was a failure as a teacher to many of the kids, and yet I don't know what we could have done differently. Over 1/2 were F's. Then the resurrecting students existed who I could put varied questions to that were not passive memorization and they could answer. It is very difficult. Even though I handed out zeros I was the preferred teacher, because I didn't berate them for not knowing as my counter part did. I felt there was no use. The poor things already were sweating and fussing their hands in unnatural contortions with the discomfort of a "test" And my language is not versatile enough to lay a guilt trip.

I was surprised to find it was my very last class on Wednesday afternoon. I'd thought I had one on Thursday, but it's Mongolia. I played my 6th graders Tschairsky's Nutcracker Flower Waltz to write an emotion, mental picture, or season or sport. It made them think while I wrote the final grades. (Some comments were: Scary, rain suddenly, skating, spring, summer and water).

Summer definitely has a different feel. Many buildings are being replastered and painted. People are outside painting cabinets and sewing Ger felt. The air is filled with wafts of a sweet fragrances from trees in our "central park" and the sound of whistles made from the leaves of the only prominent wild flower. There's also been a sudden trend for many of the boys to bleach their hair. This may be a reaction the changing point in their lives as all 3 schools had graduations on Thursday. Students gradate from 8th grade, like the end of secondary school, then 10th grade, like the end of high school. 8th graders can go on to a vocational 2-year school, 9th grade, or the countryside. 10th graders can go to a deed sore-glue (higher school - university) in UB or another country. The graduation has speakers, singers and one dance group. Awards were given to select teachers and students. All wore a corsage type pin that was bells instead of flowers. Students had a time where they gave (fake) flowers to their teachers. The ceremony ended with a 10th and 1st grader walking around the platform ringing the school bell. There was singing and a dance in the evening, but I didn't go because my German friends, Vroni and Karen, came in from the countryside.

They stayed at my place and we had wonderful conversations (they are fluent in English) about culture and language. They also shared some first milk from some herder neighbors. A Mongolian was with them and I lost track of all the words for different states of milk and all it's products. We had to boil it first, and then drank it like a meal. I took them out on the town to a little bar (3 tables). They showed me the German way to drink Sprite with the beer. We were coerced to dance once, as Sukhbat and Chinbat were there - teachers from my school. And it was the techno song "I am Blue", so how could I resist? I was bummed to hear that they'd both be leaving. They drink a bit much, but at all school functions they are my dancing, drinking, joke around buddies. They left the bar and we did shortly after. I heard later that they went and fetched Aruntsetseg to bring to the bar because they wanted to talk to me. As detached as I still feel here, I would say they are friends.

On Friday, Vroni and Karen were set to leave early, but of course the meeting they had set for 9am didn't happen till 5pm. So, I went about my day. Getting stuff lined up (a car, helpers, school accountant) for my move on Monday. Later in the day, I was comforted into looking forward to the previously dreaded move as it would allow me a clearer view of my much needed spirit calming sunsets. Oh, and also the fact that one day another ger sprang up like a weed in my hashaa (the illusion does still work here as some things do grow in this barren gravel). No introductions. It is family of Inkheur who used to live here. So, I thought I had a lazy day, but later had to turn down meeting up with Vroni and Karen as a Jangar issue suddenly took all my attention.

It being my birthday however, I'd forgotten till my students reminded me, Vroni and Karen left me a cake and the people at the Parks Dept. office sang me Happy Birthday over the phone as I caught Vroni and Karen to say goodbye. Then Pat surprised me by bringing over a cake he'd made and his girlfriend had written on. During the day Monklay had played Zaya (fate) one of my favorite Mongolian songs, for me on the radio and joined us for cake. I'd kind of forgotten to plan anything and I got swept away in the day's events, but it still felt like a special day. And I can't leave out Zula, who sang Happy Birthday to me in the holeboe (phone building). She is Monklay's girlfriend and works with Vroni and Karen - small world. I met her last Sunday. She speaks a little English and we hung out for hours on Wednesday, bugging Monklay at the radio station constantly. She is a biologist, educated, funny and just very sweet. As much as I like to just be alone, socializing is a need and stress relieving thing sometimes.

Other notes of the week: all 3 girl puppies have disappeared. The plane is now on a Sunday schedule, coming later in the afternoon, which disrupts my life, as I'm so dependent on the cycle of mail. And it's been raining off and on. Sunday rolled in again... such a nice sound for a day to roll... and I spent the whole day packing so much stuff!! I only came here with 2 bags and now I've got tons of boxes. I've heard Mongolians pack up everything, including the ger (which everyone assumed I was taking when I said I was moving) in a matter of hours. I took 2 days. Monday Inktuya showed up with a van and all my 6th graders helped. They then set to work in my new ger making it homey. My new ger is much older and smaller. I prefer it. It's more Mongolian. And the hashaa is tayvhun (peaceful). The only people who come and go are 2 of the grandma's 5 sons. One of who is a lawyer and speaks a bit of English. He made me feel very happy and welcome by continuously expressing his joy that an American would be living here so he could practice his English. I guess I'd met him last autumn at the Post Office and he wondered why I didn't remember him! But he's very helpful and his wife is a teacher at my new school.

After the move I was very tired and irritable. A man came by and put in one outlet (there was not power) that day, so I had not boiled water and had errands to run. I was awful pissy, so stopped in some shade and drank a whole quart of juice. It's amazing how a moment of peace can settle the spirit. Then the phone. I was surprised at how sad I felt that I would not be able to have a phone. It was my connection to my parents and easy venting to Pat. But as I try to cultivate good karma, a bit came back. The phone "points" are full for my area, so only a few people have phones in my district, but one of them happens to be my grandma. She seems to be a very sweet woman and though she speaks very clearly, she uses many words I don't know. Her grandson of 2ish lives with her. His parents are in UB. My second night I walked out onto the steppes to enjoy the sunset the way it should be. The two of them joined me and we walked even further. I think I will like it here.

I also got a new/old director contrast (I don't know why zahirl is translated as "director" - he's a principal). My old director sent the accountant to my new ger to reclaim some items, even though he'd said I could keep them till the new school replaced them. I refused to give them nor call him till Oyunbileg was here to translate. My new director left a concert he'd been invited to so he could meet me for a meeting. After the usual disbelief I could live in a ger, he said several times that he was happy we would hamt ajill (work together) next year.

While I was waiting for him I saw a cow walk past the window. I still can't get used to such commonalities. A student was sent to shoo her away from the schools plants. Another surprise, because it was the first time I'd seen it, was a small child playing gun (bang bang with the hand in a "gun shape"). And because I have so much time to notice such things (my house is now a 20 minute walk to town and I knit) I also watched a big ant drag a raisin twig (I must sift my raisins for rocks, twigs and rot) that was about 5 times its size. I admired the dedication and strength, but then wondered if it would later get in trouble for its stupidity in working so hard for a sweetly coated piece of wood, passing up the plump fruit of the discarded raisins?

To add to my odd thoughts, I'm reading Buddhist Scriptures. I don't understand why there must be a rejection of the body and all things physical. I search for the doctrine that has the 3 teardrops in a circle symbol representing the balance between body, mind and soul.



Tue Sep 11 09:55:47 PDT 2001