Letter to all, 05-04-02


May 2002

April to all,

Monday was April 1st. Starting a new month after getting back from the Life Skills seminar. I showed up early to school because I'd been told the English teacher's Olympics would be on this day. No one was around. Later I asked teachers and no one was quite sure. Then I find it will be Wed. So I spent the day hanging out with a very chatty sister of Monkhlei's. I was delivering a letter from him. She invited me, and I pondered going, to the April fool's day ("with laughter" holiday) concert, but ended up not going feeling I wouldn't understand much anyways. I spent a large portion of Tues trying to lesson plan with my Life Skills counterpart. Our motivations are different, but he seems to be really into teaching this curriculum. Then wed. the 3rd I spent from 8:30-4:00 working on the Olympics. I showed up with copies ready and felt a bit rushed trying to staple them. Then waiting. Waiting for teachers to show. Some were called at home and on their way, so we waited. Then teachers were called out to do reading for the 8th and 10th graders listening portion of their tests, so we waited. Copies of the students' tests hadn't been made so we waited more, no copier at this school, another wasn't working, and another was in a locked room. Finally I started my test. Very proud of my test. Listening, speaking, reading, and a writing section. With each skill being tested not requiring the others. For ex: the listening was all recorded and answers were not written, but you circled a, b, or c. And the speaking was looking at a picture and describing it for 1 minute, taped. This was a problem as, even though I explained it 5 times with translation-we had a long time to wait-and checked if there were questions, teachers were still technically inept with the radio. The essays and the tape I later graded with Pat and averaged our scores to avoid any biasing I might have. This added over an hour to my day's commitment. After testing, some teachers from each department were shuffled into a room for grading. I was given the task of grading the students' essays. Then all students are ranked and their scores, with names, displayed. So I posted the teachers also. The other subjects didn't. Suvdaa and Nergui tied for 1st, but the education Director said there couldn't be a tie. And without telling me he made Nergui 1st. I was pissed. If it's such a big deal how could be so flippant? Later I regraded the test and 1 point hadn't been counted for Nergui, so she did become the rightful first place, but the director hadn't known this. And he has no divine senses that he could have foreseen this. As first she got to go on to the nationwide competition being held in Sukhbataar aimag. Out of 24 teachers she got 9th place! We are all very happy and proud. We also found out this month that she was accepted to work as a Mongolian language teacher for the incoming new PCVs this summer in Darkhan. About 40 teachers applied, 19 had interviews (in English), and about 8 were chosen for positions. I think this will be such a great learning experience for her. I'm sad that she will be leaving before me and thereby shortening our time together. But I'm so glad that because I was a volunteer with her I was able to give her the chance. Anyone can apply, but my being here raised her awareness about it, experience in working with foreigners, and I have noticed her English has improved.

Also, this month I agreed to teach the Gobi Business Initiative office English for one month. They'd asked repeatedly, and the director is Suugee's mom and now a friend of mine. Three times a week, two hours each class. I'd thought we agreed I'd only be teaching the advanced workers, but I ended up with a class of about 8, ranging from only knowing their ABCs to those I could speak fluently with. I tried to aim for the middle, reviewing grammar structures that the advanced ones could help the others with. We did readings on drums, Gandhi, and Salvador Dali. Using songs and games. I loaned them books and CDroms to use on their own. The office is funded by USAID so is very nice. I really enjoyed working with them. They were dedicated and it was lots of fun. Often people were missing as the office workers were taking countryside trips to set up Cashmere Days. A big event for raw cashmere traders to meet directly with buyers. Too often cashmere is sold to China who resells globally and low quality finished products back to Mongolia. Taking jobs and possibilities for economic growth away from Mongolians.

During this time there were many visitors to our lil town. Josh, Steph, and Megan came down for a countryside trip. As they boarded the plane to leave Peter, Matt, My, and her American friend arrived for a trip of their own. Then as I was walking home from a friend's I was stopped by a group of 1 Spaniard, 2 French, and 1 French-American. They'd all met on the train and decided to rent a jeep together with some preliminary help from Kim at the UB guesthouse. They didn't speak Mongolian, and the driver didn't speak English. Though the one F-A guy was picking up words amazingly fast. But only verbally, so had assumed 'za' (which means 'ok') was 'yes' instead of 'tiim', and 'bish' (which means 'the thing you just said is not true') was 'no' instead of 'ugui'. But that works out just fine. I helped them find a place to stay and worked as a translator as we went out to diner together. The driver didn't know the road and was very friendly and flirtatious having met a foreigner who spoke Mongolian. They were all very interesting to talk with, and I like feeling as though I can help, since I know how much the language barrier can cut out. I'm always interested why the hell people choose to tour in Mongolia, which I'd never even heard of pre-service. The 2 women said they'd thought of going to Australia, but 10 years from now that country would still be relatively the same whereas Mongolia is drastically changing year to year. They want to see it now. I agree. The old ways, many, are regrettably dying fast. I liked the care and interest they deeply held and expressed for this land I have come to love as a home. Later I met a German who had driven all the way here. He said he came now, in his mid 30's, because such a rough destination couldn't be done when he was older. And he could always deal in the comforts of other countries such as Australia. I agree slightly, my 47 year old dad did it, but I think his bones will remember the jeep rides for a long time. And my dad's not the typical old guy. Then a group came in to work at the local Christian? Church. 10 people from N. Ireland, Switzerland, America, France, and other countries, who had all been studying together in France. They came while I was at the COS conference, were in Mongolia for 9 weeks, but only Dalandzagad for 3, so I only really met them a few days before they left. They came to my school and met with two classes of 4th graders. They introduced themselves and answered questions. It was interesting for me to be able to see both cultural points of view. One lady was a flower arranger, now in a town with no flowers. They used the thumbs down gesture for bad, which means nothing in Mongolian. The kids sang songs in Japanese, English, Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian-very impressively diverse to me. And many words the foreigners used (my teachers and I joked that I was not like them, I'm not a foreigner!): impressive, awing, grand- were all one word, 'gaikhad', in Mongolian. Three joined me to converse with my Govi Business people and then two joined me after they'd had their final dinner meeting, to go to the bar. I think the Govi is so beautiful, the life and culture so rich, and the people so genuinely friendly, that all these chances to help visitors see more of it more clearly is important and rewarding for me. At the bar one of my young teachers sat with us. The rest of her family is Buddhist, but she chose Christianity in the 10th grade. I find this very surprising and odd. Each to their own, but it is not common to go so outside the family ways here.

I've been hitting slumps of depression recently, the visitors helped. It's so hard for me to be in the here and now with my end of service approaching. April 30th left me with 46 days. Spring is crazy weather. The day going from sweat hot to numbing cold. We had a spattering of snow one day and rain another. I stepped out of my ger one morning and asked the tightly curled ball of black fur that was frosted in white 'ene you we?' (what is this). Snow? It's April! The sun was headed for the blue space high above. It too had probably come over the horizon and asked the same question. It had been making our Govi summer time hot the past few days. It'd left us that way the day before. But a cold wind snuck in during the night. The sun looked like a full moon through the white hazy wall that enclosed my town. It's April! And the end of my coal and cloves was still keeping my hacking cough going with the help of dust and sand storms. Without having time to settle from my return from the Life Skills seminar I set off once again to the capital for the COS (Close of Service) conference. The travel between these two worlds, countryside-city, always upsets my rhythm.

COS was filled with gripping, drunken stumbling, laughing, seeing old friends, good conversations, useless sessions, burdening of responsibilities, and too much to think about. My mind feels like it reflects the ebbs of Spring weather. Will anyone who hasn't served as a PCV ever understand me truly? And those friends I hope to reconnect with have had two years of living that I was not a part of. Can anyone truly understand another? It's difficult enough for me to understand myself. And I'm getting many emails from incoming PCVs asking for advice. All I can hope to do is calm their fears during the ride here, but feel incapable to impart any sort of knowledge of what their life will be like here. Hence I keep writing these general letters to try and keep the generations of PCVs from starting at nothing. Maybe they read these words and can learn something to prepare them for a similar situation. But I also need these reminders too. It's all a blur at times, and I want to hold on as much as possible. My mind is so filled with America now. My little brother- people ask the painful questions of how and what he's like now that I sadly can only guess at. One M3 (Mongolian volunteer from the 3rd group) at the conference remarked on how difficult it is to return to a life that is so simple in America. Another early volunteer said a quote "partly at home everywhere, never wholly at home anywhere." But I was given a hopeful peek onto a continuation path of applying for a teaching fellowship with a University that works with PC. But thinking of moving again before I've even returned is unsettling. I look forward eagerly to a visit from a friend who recently finished his service in Africa. It will be wonderful to bond and have distraction from this goodbye process.

Back to that process. The COS conference was only 3 days. UB seems to make one incredibly busy. I ran errands, buying presents, extremely cheap CDs, exit interview with our country director, visiting my Mongolian family in Zuun Mod for the last time- I visited my Mongolian family with Monkhlei and missed a get together at Ken's, the country director. It was commented on by many. But I've never been one for big groups where I'm unsure of my place. I'd had enough of together time. I like PCVs but avoided it for many reasons. I wanted to see my family, thought I might be back in time for the dinner, and I don't like the oppressive feeling of goodbyes with false hopes of 'see you later'. I stayed at my friend Monkhlei's house while in UB. I later felt bad about him seeing me spend so much money. I bought him what may have been his only meal each day now that I think about it. He lives in a hashaa house, in his own room. There is a 9 month old baby that I looked fondly upon thinking of my brother. My last night we went out dancing with Becky. Having a fun filled, singing, romping, joking walk to the Berlin Center. There was the usual quick strip dancer, and we noted how many Mongolian women copy this dance style if they break out of the usual in-a-circle-swing-arms style. I thought too much like a city girl and had hoped to catch a cab to the airport the next morning. But Monkhlei lives in a far out ger district. A 20-30 min bus ride. Oh, the busses! So cramped! One is pushed, squeezed, forced from where you enter at the back and are expelled from the front. But this morning was too early. But an empty bus stopped to give me a free lift. Reminding me this is still wonderful Mongolia. When I returned to school I felt like it'd been ages since I saw people. Teachers who are friends inquiring how my trip was. I think I almost avoid classes because I like my students so much and will deeply miss them. One day I was walking home, an all smiles student ran up to me and we chatted briefly. Then went out separate ways. Deep thought and exhaustion left me walking home in tears. I won't get to see them grow up. And it's not the kind of relationship where I can keep in touch by writing. And I fear losing certain friends because they don't speak English and I know my already poor Mongolian writing skills won't hold out for long. I have some friends that can write and speak English well. And one, Suugee, I've been hanging out with a lot lately. He's only a 10th grader, but I prefer hanging out with the younger guys as they're not married with kids an constantly making inappropriate passes, they drink but aren't like the typical drunks of the older guys, and they like to dance and have fun. Guys and girls my age are usually in UB studying anyways. And hopefully Suugee will be able to come to the States in October. Damn visa rules are all that's in the way. His parents, unusually, can afford it, but the visa is so difficult to get. Pat was out of town so Suugee helped me do a radio lesson on Dido's Thank You. Busting out to rapping of it during breaks with at least 10 other kids milling round the studio for the hell of it. Then, a Mongolian speaking only friend Tsolomon, came to my ger one night at 11:00pm because she wanted to go dancing. We had a fun night of dancing at Mazalai, where I knew at least one person at each table, and driving out to the countryside to drink and play guitar in some guy's van. We ended up back at my ger at 6amish, after a drunken switch of keys at the all night store that caused our driver to hotwire his van. The 4 left of our group crashed in my ger after I introduced them to popcorn.

Oh, And I can't forget the cat! Signs are big here. I came home to my hashaa kid saying there was a cat in my ger. At first I wondered what was wrong with my ger (cat = muur, bad = muu) since I wouldn't have expected him to say cat. I've only seen 3 my whole 2 years in this town. Oddly wind had blown off my window and this cat had climbed in, V.4. It was healthy looking and very lovey. Also odd. I wished she'd come earlier this year. She hung out for a few days and then was gone. I was told it was a lucky sign.


Mon May 27 16:23:23 PDT 2002