Letter to all, 12-03-00


December 2001

The return of the workers.... My coal had finally-suddenly arrived. We randomly grabbed two boys unlucky enough to be hanging around outside the dorm. They go to shovel the, mostly dust, coal. Students have no say, and simply do what they're told. When I question if they want to help I'm told not tow worry about it. My "pishin" was also to be made. This is a "winter stove". It's lined with bricks and "cement" on the inside of the metal box to hold the heat. First dirt is sifted through mesh. The dust is mixed with water to make a paste. I hurriedly folded back the carpets and moved stuff as they began tossing it in. The Workers are great people, but a bit disorderly. They argued over how to do it and scrounged my hashaa for chunks of metal for the inner grating. I had dirt all over my ger. They hung out while they got a strong fire going to dry out my stove. It works great! A good fire stays warm at least till the morning.

I accompany the teachers on a "community service" night. We are supposed to shadow police 8-11pm to observe the nightlife of our community. But we get a late start and all the police have left with others. So we wander around 'looking for drunks.' Where better to find them than the Mazalai bar? We watch them there and the teachers are to write a report later.

While our wandering my "husband" had come by the school looking for me. This is my friend Batbuyan that everyone refers to as a lam-and he continually denies. Not clarifying that he's a gelen (monk). I found this out later. But I recently had been spending a lot of time with him, which was noted by all. I kicked it at his house to watch Cider House Rules-in Mongolian-with his mom and sister and him. She is recently returned from studying Chinese in China for 4 years, so we can relate on some stuff of being separated from the family. Her name is Tsolmon, which means Venus. Batbuyan means strong/reliable-charity/moral merit. I was saddenned to have him summoned back to UB to finish the last 3 years of his 9 year studies at the Gandan monastery in UB

Halloween. I'd saved a pumpkin I'd been given from harvest in September. I'd invited my English teacher's kids to carve, but only 1 did, then I spotted a student I'd had last year and pulled her in too, since I had no pictures and she had an idea what it's supposed to look like. Next day, I made the mistake of teaching 2 lessons together so all students would have the Halloween lesson on Halloween and I figured I'd be teaching the same thing so it'd save me time. I'd had an art teacher make a beautiful poster with a graveyard scene. We dropped devil as there's' no Mongolian equivalent. And he speaks no English, so one fellow is R.I.R. One student saw all the gravestones with RIP and thought that meant they were all for one person. For some the word holoon (pumpkin) was a new word in Mongolian. Most had never seen one before. And having cut a face into it was a source of amusement. We used the poster for work with prepositions. The witch is in front of the moon. The owl is in the tree (though Mongolians say "on") Another linguistic note, Mongolian has only one word, dair, for "on" and "above"; and one word, door, for "under" and "below". It's an interesting lesson for the kids. Culturally they hear of our traditions, and they never forget the word pumpkin. Pat's kids will probably never forget the word scare, as he leapt at them in class to illustrate the meaning. I got a jumbled excited retelling from my hashaa boy, Amga, who is one of Pat's students. The lessons were crazy though in part due to Mongolians having no sense of planning ahead. Crazily looking for a big classroom after the bell and gathering all the students. One teacher's solution was to just double up with the Russian class. So I taught 1/2 the period after the Russian lesson. They liked it though.

Whew! October-------swoosh! ---------November-------

Thursday XI.1 was the last peer tutoring all together after school because it's dark by 6. A 14-year-old boy escorted me home. My biggest fear was large rocks, but it was not ok for me to go alone. I find he's the oldest, no mother, and 2 younger siblings. His mother's age finished (she passed away).

I give a test to my 5th grade parent's class. They cheat worse than their students!

So...I'm also doing an English radio lesson. If nothing else it's nice to do to slough off the daily requests I have to teach people. I just say, "listen to the radio", but they're too busy. Well then you'd be too busy for a class I teach too. But it's a stress. Getting computer time to type the English then the Mongolian. The translating, and having to be present during typing to help use the computer. Making sure the DJ is there and knows where the tape with music is AND where the old lesson's tape is. And constructive criticism is not Mongolian style. So I get "OK" as a response to how it is, but this is not good, but I can get no suggestions. But it's not bad so we keep doing it. It can be frustrating as hell (once recording in the dark using flashlights as the light had broken). But Pat is always a source of lighthearted amusement.

We get a visit from Melody, Becky, and Mindy, as they head out to our Govi countryside. We pick up a driver from the airport. A fellow teacher at my school pointed him out. It's about a 500km loop. We talked him down from an original T300,000 to T20,000 a day for the driver for 3 days plus money for gas. Ended up being about T150,000 plus food and lodging. He had to first drop off the 9 wolf pelts he'd recently shot and had tied to his roof. Each to be sold for less than $5! Then to run in and tell his wife he was off. Turns out she's a teacher at my school. They returned full of chase stories as he diverted occasionally to hunt, or just go after things to see them hunt style. He even gave us a hunk of wolf meat. We made hoshuur (tortilla filed with meat, folded in half, deep fried). It was good, but odd to mentally be thinking: "I'm eating wolf. Wolf. It's like a dog. It's a predator that fills legends." We crowded into my ger and talked late into the night. I was happy to spend time with them, but very bummed not to go to UB and visit other friends too.

I spent the week, a break from school, doing random stuff and writing a letter, in Mongolian, to Batbuyan. I got some help from my teachers, but was very pleased with myself that I was able to write. I was playing with words and wrote, "the ice teachers fell from the sky" to describe snow. Bit my teachers couldn't understand why I just didn't say "snow". Similes don't seem to be used much in Mongolian. Their sense of creativity is very different. To look at paintings for the last 1,000 years one might think the same person painted them all.

I hung out with Tsolomon at her house. One large area (I'd say whole wall, but it's a round ger) is a Buddhist shrine. Which consists of a long chest with many pictures, statues, and other religious pieces. It's beautiful. In their hashaa is a ger where young boys live who are studying at the local monastery. They came into the ger and had to prostrate themselves. They must do a total of 108 but not all at once. They didn't want to at first because I was there.

I heard of another plane crash in the States. XI.13. My spirits sank so low as it felt like all hope was to be crushed and it'd never end. But it was said to be non-terrorist related. Was this just said to keep people from freaking out?

I met some Polish tourists. Tourist season is over, so we finally see foreigners in town. Usually they ride a tourist plane that stops outside DZ at a tourist ger camp, and never come to our lil city. It was a man and a woman my age. Married. 3 months pregnant. Recently spent 13 months traveling around Africa after selling/giving away everything. Leaving good jobs. I liked them very much. I met them at Internet and took them around to find a place to stay, where to buy food, and a possible car to go to the countryside. Very lax and in no hurry. They seemed to have good kharma. Late at night, it was bitter cold, inky black, and a long ways from my ger to theirs-a jeep appeared out of the night and offered a lift for no money. They couldn't have recognized me in the dark, and I didn't know them. Then a forecasted storm held off while they traveled to the countryside wanting to see sand dunes, not snow dunes. They made me potato cakes before they left for UB and we talked of philosophies. As with everyone here I know meetings are brief and possibly never to be repeated, but this only makes me value them all the more and never want to take those in the States, which I have/will have more chance to be with for granted. The following week I met 2 Americans at the Internet. A rare Monday I had time, so I helped them find a jeep to UB and cancel their plane tickets. It was wired to talk to foreigners fluent in English with no accent.

I walked two Americans out to the airport since it was on the way to my ger. I had no money to call home and had gotten some dashed emails of hospital bound excitement. On Monday XI.19 I called home, about 1am for poor ole dad, and I heard of my new brother having entered the world XI.17. I'm a sister!!! Trey Martin Dold

I was crying from joy? Longing to be home? Relief that everyone was ok? ... It's still rather unreal for me. I did my Thanksgiving lesson for the next 3 days. Ending with having the kids write what they are thankful for, giving the example that I am thankful for my new baby brother. Trey. Trey. I got to see his picture on the Internet. Yes. Again crying in public. I have so little privacy, and such passionate emotive ways anyways, the intensity of living here just adds to it and I find it hard to hold back. Thanksgiving was interesting to teach. The photo from home of a cooked turkey was discussed. The size of the bird was shocking. And no it wasn't fried, but cooked in an oven-this required explanation. And that I like bread cooked inside the bird was also amusing. There's no word for pie, and dessert is a concept that had to be explained since there's no dessert after meals here. The word "amtat zoosh", for dessert, is literally sweet snack. The drawing of a turkey was guessed as a peacock, chicken, and camel bird (ostrich). They also laughed in amazement that we sit down for hours to eat, I retaliated jesting they eat for 3 days, which is the length of their similar holiday Tsagaan Sar. The writing of "I say thank for..." took at least 5 minutes for them to even think of something. Some responses were.... (5th graders wrote in Mongolian, Other's in English, but needed help translating) I have repeated things only if they were written in different groupings (sometimes multiple family was mentioned, but not all, and I thought the choice interesting for example)...mother and father; teacher, grandmother and younger sister; mother; friends; my grandmother who returned from Ulaanbaatar; Jessica teacher's younger brother, good teachers, it is good for teachers to have many students in the future; Mongolia; this day; I can make gifts myself; life; holidays' Mother and Children's' Happy Holiday; my sister; grandmother; speaking English; my brother; my teacher; my grandfather; my teacher Jesika; having a bike; my new friend; life and I am happy; good life, going to school, and a good brother; no street children who live in the street and don't go to school; getting A grades; being born a woman because women are better than men because they don't drink vodka and don't smoke; studying English; speaking English; being a student at school; a happy life; my friend's birthday; small sister; your holiday and New Year's; live a Happy New Year....

The lesson was a listening exercise about Thanksgiving traditions. I mentioned watching football on TV. My teacher questioned if we really do this every year. And I said, yes. Last year with Pat and Tom we jokingly talked about watching football, as we didn't even have a TV.

As I looked to the mountains for the usual soothing show of the sun's dying colors as it drags its feather thru the clouds, I was a bit disappointed to see a clear glow. But looking to the opposite horizon, a steppe horizon is unbeatable in its uncluttered presence; I saw faint brush strokes weaving amongst awing colors. A rainbow, soggy from the tears of too many robbed leprechaun's, had tattered soft edges, though the softness only gave more intensity to the saturation of color. Smudged into the boundary of heaven as far as the eye could see. The air let one feel the clarity of the sky. I passed puddles from the snow that was beaten by the sun, now fractalled with sparks of ice, that I'm sure Damon could explain away my visions of skating fairies with an explanation that would still hold beauty in his passion for science. The mood was set and the actors ready. I was kindly greeted by a passing grandmother with her two bundles of grandchildren. I stopped to greet teacher and students (removing my glove for a friendly communion in grasping hands) and even saw my old hashaa neighbor. A walk to school. I love it here.

I had all the English teacher's to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Having to borrow lots from my grandma. I made mashed potatoes, pizza, and pumpkin pie as I'd been able to buy a man's only 3. Some poked questioningly at the moistness. Uncooked food is not eaten here. We had canned peaches, peas, nuts, plum compote, candy, mantos (a steamed Mongolian bread) in place of rolls, pickles, apples, Pepsi (an "American" drink), wine, juice, Kool-Aid (can you get any more American?), I lacked even canned turkey, but it was well made up for in the true spirit of the holiday. They are good women, and at least half I'd consider close friends. We shared thanks: for health, children, mothers, good life, the help of Peace Corps...I felt so warmed. I put off cleaning up dishes in true holiday fashion. But I was finishing off some food in my refrigeratorless ger after they left. Drinking the peach juice from the can. Then a last bite of mashed potatoes and a slice of pumpkin pie, and I was awash in the flavor of home Thanksgiving. Such high spirits.

Ah.... but twas the calm before the storm....


Fri Dec 28 20:38:56 2001