Letter to all, 10-22-01


October 2001

To All,

Where to begin. It's almost a month since my homeland was irreversibly altered greatly and yet it seems so distant for me in time as my current home is so very physically distant. It still comes up often in conversations. My limited Mongolian allows a not so elequent way of saying "My county is sick, you know?", but it is a rhetorical question and no more is needed to explain my sudden mood swing, or other events. So, While everything suddenly seems so unimportant, I choose to live without letting a cloud of despair envelope all. I made quite an impression at the 9th and 10th graders "introduction dance" on IX.18. I was pressed to dance. I tried to explain to one of my co-teachers that It wasn't modesty, but that I can't dance witout it being a scene. But I relented and of course it was a scene. Some feel uncomfy dancing because it exposes them, but it's nothing like having every eye on you-except maybe someone caught in a sneeze. And it's not because I belong at The World Famous Jack Rabbit Slim's Twist Contest(sorry mom, it's a movie reference), but because I'm the only foreigner most of them have even seen, and now I'm kickin it to the Casio with my own personal gothy style-sorry if the non-acid dancers are bummed I'm the representation of American dance. Not even being allowed to be shy, makes me not very. Next days at school I heard my performance being reviewed in a positive light everytime I passed students in the hall of the upper grades. I impressed my fellow teachers also, and a couple were bummed they missed the event (and people wonder why I don't wanna leave!) So, we gathered at the Devshil(the main hotel) for more dancing a few days later. We had them open the bar just for us. Turns out one of my teachers is a proffessional dancer, Batbileg, and another is just good, Oyungaa, which is not usual for Mongolians to break out of the norm of dancing in a circle barely moving their feet or hips. I even got to boogey with the ever entertaining Pat at Mazalai bar a few days later. We'd stopped to visit Oko, his girlfriend, who is a new bar maid, but of course Huygaa(the owner and our friend) filled us with drinks.

I got a package from home – sent before the change – allowing further suspension of reality. There was a silent fight over the one alphabet chart enclosed, with slight "suggestions" on whose room it should go in. I love the indiret, never say bad things, way of Mongolian culture sometimes. But it got me in trouble as I off handedly observed one woman was upset-or I suppose that's how it started. I don't remember, but a chain of high school reminescent comments got back to me that I'd called this woman an angry woman and she was hurt. So, I had to sit down with her and apologize and this is after a year of living here when I feel I'm culturally aware, and yet still my actions can be so rude or missunderstood by Mongolians, it's even worse and more confusing for me because Mongolians assume I know and understand life here (and yet they still don't believe I can make a fire). But I am crazily adapted to life here. I realize just how Mongolized I am with a recent site visit from our supervisor Shawn Burke. He now seems like a khotnee khuun (city person) as his way of wanting to deal with certain work issues seems too rushed and pushy for me. I really feel the importance of face value now, though I still offend occasionally (damn the ta/chee formal/informal "you").

I'm mellowing, but still learn my lessons. I had gotten self righteously upset with a teacher for what I thought was shirking her responsibilites. I'd taken over her classes (eeek!) while she went to a seminar. There are no substitutes, the kids would have simply gone without class for two weeks without me. But I enjoyed it, however started getting rather pissy as it wore on me. And I called her and she said she wouldn't teach that day because she was tired. I felt snippy that she shouldn't have detoured on her way back. But Mongolians avoid saying bad things and go so far as to white lie to say what they think you want to hear. So, each day I thought she'd show and was upset I wasn't informed she woudn't. Turns out she was extremely sick and not 'just tired' but couldn't get out of bed. One shouldn't jump to angry conclusions (ahem! Bush!-but more on that later). So I was teaching 8th grade alone, trying to make peer tutoring work, holding classes for my English teachers (who want to learn English, but are always too busy for class, and worse that my students to get them to speak out, participate, or do their homework-this is a mutual jokeable topic. One time we discussed disipline. Big complaints are "students who don't understand so don't want to do anything" and not doing homework. While my dear Holly taught ina school in Chico that recieved bomb threats.), and a class for the parents of my 5th grade students (meant to be a sort of push to get parents and students talking about class and help each other study while raising money to buy books[Peace Corps can not charge for teaching, but direct money->classroom materials is ok, and I feel Mongolians should help themselves rather than me soliciting outside sources] I have parents stop me on the street to ask if they can come, but we only invited a few and they don't come! frustrating! 'Teach me! Teach me!' 'OK'-then they don't show), I also had the seasonal task of the Soros scholarship to study in the states. I felt horrible after offerring and working on it with one student, who had a good chance, only to learn I'd missread the rules and only 8th graders are elligible. So again, people stop me on the street for applications and I try to tell as many as I think can try for it. After the cost of the plane it doesn't seem hard to sponsor a kid, giving them a gift from tinger (heaven). We'll see…

And of course with all this 'important stuff' that consumes me, lil extras of life add spice. As I sat at the recent 10 year anniversary concert of school #3, I was a sort of face show attendee at my ex-school. I was struck by my odd outside standpoint. Big hoopla and ceremony for the giving of gifts and awards. And it's so unimportant, or is it?, in the grand scheme – if there is one. It's truly each to their own and if we don't exist in our lil worlds and give them importance than all life loses meaning. I'm torn in my existence. My parents were finally able to call me and talk of being reminded of pain every moment, and here I sit feeling daily teacher duties are of utmost importance enough so to get upset about. What's important in life is a confusing, and possibly dangerous idea, to dwell on.

But back to just living… ~A competition between the class basketball teams was held. I sat crowded with students on a single bench around the gym, which was the border for the court. No bleachers or even walking space. But because I co-teach every English class I know about ˝ the students. It was fun. ~Cruising around town I ran into a girl that was somehow related to my old hashaa family, she was wearing my PC shirt I'd thought had been stolen off the dry line. She said it was under the shed, so the puppies must have dragged it there. But it's the third thing that I lost and found again because it's such a frickin small town. ~I got a visit from the electric man finally while I was home. Very friendly guy, but I was confused as hell. He randomly wrote me in the 10-20 watt useage block without reading my meter. I hadn't paid since I moved in, 4 months ago, but he wasn't phased. I know him by name now too, Batbyer. ~Even for health starved cooking ideas, turnips don't go well in making bread. ~Mongolian students are TERRIBLE cheaters. I ended up standing at the front of the room as a dictator occasionally ticking off –1 on students tests as a deterant. Pat says in his class students stopped paying attention to the test as they were more absorbed in watching his strictness. My students nod in agreement of the obvious that cheating is not allowed but I've walked in while Mongolians are testing and students flat out talk and sometimes the teacher isn't even there! Maybe Americanrs just have an overblown idea of individualism.

~And since I'm on a spree of non sequitars: my mother is now kindly sending me National Geographic. First, I read it, then give it to Pat to supplement our constant Newsweek filled ideas of life out there, then give it to my school's resource library. Usually on this route I sit with fellow teachers who look through it. Communism seclusion caused odd effects. Most don't know what the Leaning Tower of Pisa is, nor the Sphinx. And even after much description, no one knew Van Gogh. I admit I know very lil on these topics, but any American school kid could ID all three of these pictures(I hope). Which is why, even if all my attempts at projects fail, I've still made a big difference just by exposure. Wether it's + or – I don't know. And what do I gain by being able to ID the Leaning Tower? But I can. And experience is education and education is….important? As usual I find myself back to the "why live" question which I'll save for staring into my coal fire.

So, yeah-cold-weather. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt on Sept 30th (Sun), then it snowed 3" Oct 2nd (Tues) only to again be hot on the 10th (the following Wed).

We also had "open lessons" the first week of October. Where teachers sit in on each others classes and have some sort of rating competion. I object to the lengths they go to as it shows the students that the teacher cares more for what other teachers think than their daily education. I wouldn't mind if some of the work was daily implemented instead of a one time show off. But it's still good for the dialogue it opens. And on that weak tangent: dialogue-my parents were finally able to call, and I got a chance to instant message live chat shortly after. That was a trip. I didn't realize how hung up I was on missing American food. My brother offerred to cook me Mac and Cheese when I return and my stomach grumbled, and I defended the quality of Taco Bell cuisine. yoi yoi!

Friends are precious. Oct 11th (the Best Day of the Year in Buddhism fell on this day this year) I met up with my German friends Karen and Vroni that have been working as scientists in the countryside. It may have been the last time I see them in the Gobi as they head back to Germany. It was so great to hang with them once again and get those treasured handoffs of unused tea and cinnamon. And to trip me out further I get a call from my college Townie Holly announcing her marriage (set for a date after my return home – I am deeply touched) to my dear classmate Leaf! Not really a surprise. I planned to buy them a cool wedding gift from Mongolia even before a for sure question had been asked. I also got a visit from my lam friend, who's not a lam, who I'd thought had left for UB. He dropped by while Burke was here, and the all english conversation might have driven him off, but I learned he had work to do in preperation for a hair cutting ceremony as I stumbled in on it the next day. I was let into the apartment and pulled against the girl's leading hold as I tried to retreat and escape from the singing I could hear. But as I sat with the endless food and airag offerred to me, hearing familiar songs I still can't sing, I realized I missed this. I live in a very American ger, and even though my stomach can't handle too much tradition – I really like it.

This warm event was soon followed by the death of an old lam I don't know. Buddhists don't weep. It is only a body housing this life, a life which will continue elsewhere. And I was fascinated, but felt so wrong to be asking, about how he will be burned on a pyre and put into a small stupa(a small shrine to later go in a ger) The lams had been called to his side as he left this world, and the after process is done over a week's time. So, as I am torn between two physical worlds/lives, the more I learn of Buddhism pulls at my Westerm beliefs. I look at the stars thru my ger skylight. I see my blue haddock (spiritual silk scarf) tied at the highest point of my ger with the orangish spokes radiating from the central wheel of my ger, that is said to be a representation of the dharma wheel. A sturdy, comfortable, and unique home that I may never see again in a mere 8 months time. I will leave the simple 'big important' things of my life here,to return to what I have an odd sense of being my 'real life' in a country of chaos. Why do the two have to feel so far away? (though I appreciate that at times)

let there be



So, I signed off the letter-feeling done with it for the moment, without bringing it into the present. Then I started to re read it, it may not show, but I do try to put in side bar comments to clarify my…abstract writing style, and I realize I sluffed an idea about Bush to deal with later and didn't (just a further example of how it is so not a part of my every moment as with my country) I realize I am very far removed from the events and my access to information scant, but some news I here seems so reminiscent of the old war propaganda from school history books where we vow to learn from our mistakes and never do such things again. And where the true motivations seem suddenly so obvious and contrary to what the people felt. So often the public is emotionally moved while the government has other motives it chooses to keep secret. I read about "evil people" and the "war against terrorism" as rallying statements with the odd contradiction of dropping bombs with food. I was moved to tears as I read these things as I dropped by the internet for other reasons. I called my friend Chad's parents as soon as I could as he's in the army. My mind was moved to my school work as I walked across town to school, but I noticed a young boy run by me in a brown camoflauge T shirt and wondered what were my friends and fellow Americans to wear in this fight (Pat reminds me we can't call it a war yet) what can hide them and protect them from harm? Again my mind was pulled from such ramblings as I stood in class preparing for my teacher lesson and copying tapes for textbooks. As I was amused by the fast dubbing Chipmunk voices of fellow PCV's the little boy with the T shirt passed by the school window like a little haunt to tie my thoughts. It was the 9th a couple days short of a month after the attacks and our country is killing people. Sometimes it takes a month just for a letter to reach me from the States. I feel my country is running blinded by tears. We are lashing out and only causing more pain. I don't believe we should be idle and let our country be attacked. I just worry that it's impossible to know what the "right" thing to do is. ---stop---


Thu Oct 25 15:58:37 PDT 2001