Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shopping in the Big City

This past weekend I went into Ulaanbaatar to celebrate Thanksgiving. The Peace Corps staff members made turkey, and everyone brought food to share. It was a lot of fun! I thought you might be interested to know what I bought in this land of plenty (a quarter of the population of Mongolia lives in the capital, so it really is a pretty sizable city) after having been living the small-town life for three months.

Things Meghan bought in UB:

A weird-shaped eggplant
Gouda cheese
Peanut butter
A ger-shaped keychain
A camel-shaped magnet

A tin of sardines for my cat
A bright orange cat carrier

A copy of Harry Potter translated into Mongolian
A book of English idioms with Mongolian explanations

A hat with little fur pompoms on it
Lots of delicious restaurant food (including Indian, pizza, and Japanese), fancy cocktails, and a latte from a cafe every day I was there!

I also got to see the Peace Corps office, get hopelessly lost with friends, and spend a whole day trying and failing to buy an Internet modem. All in all, it was a great trip to the big city - but I'm definitely glad I live in my cozy small town!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Halloween Party

I promised to write about how my Halloween party went. I know, I know, it's almost Thanksgiving. But after Halloween there was the end of the semester, followed by a school break (which for me means an internet break). So better late than never, right?

The weeks leading up to Halloween were filled with, for me, Halloween-themed lesson plans, making decorations, stocking up on candy, planning games for the party, and supervising dance and skit rehearsals. The party was on Halloween itself, and was supposed to start at 6 o'clock. Of course, since we are in Mongolia, it actually started at 7:30. (The bigger the event, the greater the time discrepancy, in my experience.) The students' party was first, followed by the teachers' party.

As the students filed into the gym, my club members were stationed in the Hallway to jump out from behind doors and yell "Boo!" I, in my zombie get-up, got to join in on the scaring. We blasted really loud haunted house sounds from the speakers, and turned off all the lights. After the students stumbled into the gym, our announcers (two of my club students) explained the evenings program and introduced the performances.

First up were the dancers, who did an amazing "ghost dance" in black capes to a techno remix of the theme from Halloween. Then came the skit, which suffered from some technical difficulties. The students were a little bummed, because of the problems with the microphone and a few forgotten lines, but I think they did fine. Both groups performed at the second party (for teachers) as well, and those went off without a hitch.

The performances were followed by games. We saw which class could wrap a friend into a mummy with toilet paper the fastest, which class could win a silly spider relay race, and awarded prizes for best costume, fake pumpkin, and scary poster. Also, there was a scary story contest. I learned from the winning story that a surefire way to get rid of a ghost is to urinate. (No joke.) This was a story "from real life." (And very well written too!) Other highlights included a girl dressed as some sort of blood-covered sheep (winner!), Jack-o-Lanterns made out of peeled turnips, and a poster decorated with real human hair.

After much candy had been given away, the teachers came in (the club students really enjoyed hiding in the hallway and scaring the principal!) and we did the whole thing over again. This time we gave wine for prizes along with candy and danced in an awkward circle. (I've heard this is a feature at teachers parties, which I hope is true. It was hilarious.) My coworkers seemed to have a good time and I didn't get home until after midnight!

My Club Students
It was as good a Halloween as could be had anywhere, and I couldn't stop smiling all night. I think everyone had fun and learned a little something about American culture. Now I'll just have to figure out how to top it next year.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

The English teachers are throwing a party for the high school students this evening, with skits, a "ghost dance," games, costumes, and candy, candy, candy. This will be followed by an afterparty for all teachers and staff, with even more candy.

It will be awesome. I will take photos, and post an update about how it goes soon.

For now, here is a Halloween story I wrote for my students to turn into a skit. They made a car out of cardboard and scotch tape, and are working on their costumes now.


A Halloween Story

On Halloween a man was driving home late at night. It was very dark, and the man was all alone. He wanted to get home soon to eat his dinner, but on the way he saw a young woman. She was wearing only a white dress even though it was very cold outside.
"I should stop and give her a ride in my car," the man said. He stopped the car and opened the door. The young woman sat down. "Where are you going?" he asked her. She said nothing. Some time passed. "Are you lost?" the man said. Again, the young woman said nothing. She just looked at the man sadly. Suddenly, the woman disappeared!

"The man was so surprised he drove the car off the road. "A ghost!" he shouted. As he drove across the grass, he almost hit a man standing nearby. He stopped the car quickly and rolled down the window. "I'm sorry," the driver said. "I didn't see you!" The strange man came closer. The driver saw that his body was covered in bandages. He was not a man; he was a mummy!
The mummy reached for the driver and groaned. He was reaching for the driver's neck! Fortunately, a car is faster than a mummy. The driver drove away, steering the car back onto the road.

"I'm almost home now," he said, and drove as fast as the car could go. A bat swooped past his window, but he did not stop. A black cat jumped on top of the car, scratching with its claws and howling. Still the driver did not stop. He heard the mummy following him. He heard its horrible groan! He drove faster and faster.

Finally, the man came to his home. His wife had made dinner, and he sat down to eat. "You'll never believe what happened to me tonight!" he said to her. He took a big bite of his food.

But outside his home, all the monsters were coming. Here comes the bat; here comes the cat. Here comes the ghost girl in her white dress. And, finally, here comes the mummy, his bandaged hands outstretched!

Here come all the monsters, right up to the man's front door!

The End


(I know, the height of literary achievement. Speaking of literature, don't forget that National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow!)

Monday, October 17, 2011


My Ger with the Top Covering Taken Off
 A couple of weekends ago my counterparts and hashaa family came together to get my ger ready for winter. The Mongolian translates to "warming up" one's ger. I hovered around trying to be helpful, more or less like the four-year-old that wants to help in the kitchen, is given a pot to bang a wooden spoon on, and told it's a very important job. Eventually they just laughed every time I asked what I could do to help, and sent me to make milk tea.

Winterization takes an afternoon of work. First, the top layer of fabric covering my ger was removed. Thick pieces of felt were brought out of storage, and my counterparts stitched them up (while I hovered nearby saying "I can sew! Honestly! We do that in America, too!") and they were piled on top of my ger. A new, heavier flap was attached to the top for covering my skylight when it rains and snows. One of the children who lives in my hashaa climbed up on top of my ger to tie it on. Finally, a little fence is built and filled with dirt, so the base of my ger is now packed in nice and snug.

Quentin Enjoying the New Dirt Around My Ger
It's amazing how much of a difference these few things make! My ger is noticeably warmer, heats up faster when I start a fire, and I no longer have to break through ice on top of my water jug in the morning like I was doing the week before we winterized. (Although in a month or two everything will be freezing, no matter how well winterized I am! Good thing my sleeping bag is nice and warm!) Also, the whole ger smells rather pleasantly like a sheep thanks to my extra felt. Very cozy!

While I may not have been able to help much with winterizing, I did succeed in making milk tea. No one drank it except my hashaa "grandmother," maybe because they knew I'd never made it before and didn't want to risk it, haha. But hashaa-grandma said it had "a nice taste," which is high praise, and she is undoubtedly a milk tea expert.

So, in apology for not having blogged in a while, here is a milk tea recipe for you:

Mongolian Milk Tea Recipe

First, take some plain black tea in tea bags. Boil water with a tea bag or two (depending on how much you're making) until it becomes tea-colored. Add salt. Add milk, stirring, until the tea is white. Bring back to a boil. Taste. It should taste salty; if not, add more salt. Take the tea bags out. Remove from heat and enjoy!

Monday, October 03, 2011

My Classes

In case you've forgotten, I am actually working here, and not just having fun drinking fermented mare's milk and hanging out in my snazzy ger. I actually teach 25 hours of class a week. (Not counting grading and lesson planning, of course!) Four of those hours are team teaching together with my counterparts (my school's English teachers), and some are devoted to English clubs (three of them!) and loosely defined "extracurricular activities."

I teach two speaking electives, for 7th and 9th grade respectively. These have no set curriculum, no textbooks, and essentially consist of me trying to come up with ways to trick my students into speaking English. Fortunately, they are an enthusiastic bunch and seem to like me despite my often being reduced to flailing my arms around to try to get them to understand directions in English.

I also teach a Concourse Preparation class for 11th grade students. The concourse is an important Mongolia-wide English subject test. This class consists of even more flailing as I try to explain test taking strategies in English and am usually met with (justifiably) blank stares. However, we are marching our way through practice tests and hopefully by the summer exam they will all get A's. (Or else.)

I teach three mixed-level adult classes, two for my school's teachers and one for local government workers. These classes are harder because the adults won't spend half an hour playing games like the twelve-year-old kids will, haha. Also in the adult category is my class with my fellow English teachers, where I am working with them to prepare them for the teacher's Olympics exam, a competitive Mongolia-wide English test complete with essays and grammar questions.

As for extra-curricular activities, so far I've organized a Spelling Bee. (In which two of my ninth-graders placed!) This month, we're working on planning and celebrating a Halloween Party, hopefully complete with a scary poster contest, carved watermelons (no pumpkins in Mongolia!), a haunted house, and a dance. So you can look forward to a blog post about that!

That leaves the English clubs! There are three of them, divided by age level. So far we've baked an apple pie (no cinnamon but still delicious), learned the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" (student's request), and played a lot of relay-style games.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I actually really like my students. When I found out my job was "Secondary English Teacher" and that "Secondary" in Mongolia includes middle schoolers, I began wishing with all my might that I would only have older students. I was a little apprehensive when I found out that in addition to a couple of classes with the older students and adults, I would also be teaching 7th and 9th graders by myself. I mean, I remember what I was like in 7th grade. (Poor, poor Mr. Monforte.) I also remember what some of you were like in 7th grade. I imagined horrible scenarios of rioting students, yelling in English and being ignored, fights breaking out, things being set on fire, and paper airplanes being thrown.

While I can't say my students are quiet when I want them to be (or ever), or never throw things or hit each other, I can say they're a lot of fun and enthusiastic about learning English. They are also incredibly nice to me, and patient with my inability to understand them when they speak Mongolian at warp speed. This sort of linguistic weakness in a teacher is the sort of thing I totally would have exploited at their age, and I am always surprised when they don't band together against me. They're a good bunch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Ger

Now that I have secured my very own ger, allow me to give you a tour.

The view from my front door shows the back half of my hashaa, or fenced-in family complex. I live next to my school principal's house, and her mother and brother also live in gers in the same fence. There are two guard dogs that are always tied up outside to scare off trespassers. After washing my laundry by hand in my tumpen, I hang it to dry on those fence posts you see. All ger doors face south.

This is my kitchen. I am super lucky to have a refrigerator and a rice cooker, not requirements by any means! As evidenced by the refrigerator, I have 24/7 electricity, another perk. All Peace Corps Volunteers are required to have electricity, but some only have it for a few hours a day.

This is my kitchen table. The chair without the TV on it is the one I sit in to eat and drink my coffee. (Thank goodness for coffee singles!) All of my cooking utensils were gifts from the teachers at my school, including the electric kettle, by which I am able to make coffee and tea, and which is therefore one of my prized possessions. The TV gets four or five Mongolian channels, and although I never turn it on, I probably should because it might be good language practice.

My wood stove is my means of keeping my ger warm and cooking meat and veggies. My current diet consists of vegetable soup with meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, and salt, or a stir fry of the same ingredients over rice cooked in my rice cooker. Yum. Once I've had a chance to scope out the stores in town I might be able to get more creative! As for heat, it's still pretty warm here, but I usually make a fire in the morning since it's starting to get cold at night. A wood fire lasts less than an hour unattended, and that's the only source of fuel here, so I'm glad I have my hardcore Peace Corps-issued sleeping bag for those long winter nights!

Then there's my bed, which is comfortable and has a nice stack of blankets and sheets and a rug on top. No pillow, though! Next to it is my water filter, which provides water I can actually drink.

This is my desk, where I write letters and type things like blog posts and study Mongolian. Above it is hanging a map of Mongolia, where I've marked the new sites of my friends from training, with a big star on my own new site! I also keep my photo album with pictures of family and friends from home right there. My closet has all of my clothes in it, predictably. It also has hooks for my coats and scarves and a shelf where I keep my books, Mongolian language resources, and teaching materials. 

Next to that is my dry sink. As you've probably worked out, I have no running water. The dry sink works by pouring water in the metal basin above the faucet, which then will run out in a stream due to gravity. The drain flows into a bucket under the sink, which I then empty out into a pit next to the outhouse as it gets full. Water comes from the well in the middle of town, but I haven't had to go fetch it myself yet; there are a few children who live in my hashaa who have that responsibility. Another stroke of luck!

Finally, there is the center of the ger. There are two beautifully painted posts holding the roof up, and a round window from which protrudes my stovepipe. When it rains, you have to take the stovepipe down, go outside, and pull the felt cover on top of the ger to cover the window.

And that's my ger!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Swearing In

Swearing In

 It's been awhile since I've updated, and a lot has happened!

First things first, I left my training site on August 15 to head into the city for the end of training conference days. That Monday was an eventful day! We got the results of our language test back in the morning (I passed!), then were on pins and needles until the afternoon when site announcements were scheduled.

After a few sessions on community development and staying healthy that were really hard to pay attention to, all sixty-something of us walked through the city to the giant map in the park where site announcements were set to occur. We all stood around, nervous and excited, as each person was called one-by-one and told where they were going to be living and working for the next two years.

I was called in the middle, and led onto the map to stand in Uvurkhangai, an aimag (province) that is southwest of Ulaanbaatar. It is not in the Gobi, but it does border the Gobi, so camels aren't too far away even if none live in my town! Once I knew my aimag, I was given a packet with all the information about my town, job, and housing.

I am living in a ger! In fact, I am typing this blog post in my ger right now. :)

My Town
As for the rest of the information (yes, I flipped right to the housing section to see if "ger" was checked off before I read anything else!), my town is fairly small. The population is around 6,500 people and 30,000 yaks. I am the first Peace Corps Volunteer to be assigned here, and as far as I can tell, the only foreigner in town. As for the work information, I'll save that for another post about the first few days of school.

Back to site announcements: After I had skimmed the information in my packet, I started looking around to see where other people were placed. None of my training sitemates are in my aimag; in fact, there is a Volunteer from my training site in each of the farthest western, eastern, and southern aimags. Almost everyone was happy with their assignment and excited. And we all went out to celebrate, along with some current Volunteers who came into the city to welcome us to their aimags, at a dance club that night. The current Volunteers from Uvurkhangai even brought us candy!
Our Dance Costumes

The rest of the week went by really fast, with lots of sessions and meetings, including meeting our new supervisors (mine is very nice). In between all of this, there were four of us from my training site rehearsing our traditional Mongolian dance, set to be performed on Friday.

Friday morning, August 19, was Swearing In. We all got dressed up in our dels (traditional Mongolian clothes) that our host families had made us, took an oath, and walked across the stage to receive certificates. It was a little like a graduation ceremony, complete with slideshow! And we all had our pictures taken with the ambassador.

Me and My New Waterfall
Some trainees gave speeches in Mongolian, and then it was time for performances! There were several dances and songs performed by representatives from all of the training sites. I wore neon orange pants and remembered all the moves, and the audience clapped and cheered, so I'll call our performance a success!

After the ceremony, there was a reception with lots of tasty food, and then it was time to leave for site. Many tearful goodbyes later, I piled my suitcases, tumpen, and water filter into the back of my supervisor's jeep for our roadtrip to my new home.

Which is also the home of a waterfall; see the photographic evidence! I'm definitely one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

Monday, August 08, 2011


 I think I've mentioned before that one of my sitemates, Ben, has a host father who is a shaman. Last weekend, Ben's family invited us over to watch him do his shaman thing.  About five of us, plus a handful of Mongolians, were there for the evening. His mom fed us fruit, eggs, and cookies while we waited for his dad to get home from work. (He's a carpenter.)

Mongolian shamanism predates Buddhism, but has now incorporated a lot of Buddhist symbols/deities, as well as other gods from around the world. Ben is a Christian, and when he discussed religion with is family they explained that they honor Jesus as well. The shrine in their house looks similar to the Buddhist shrine in my apartment, but with some extra stuff added on.

Neither of Ben's host parents speak English, so we could really ask questions or understand a lot of what was said. So I'm going to write about what I observed without too much effort to explain what was going on.

First, Ben's host dad got home, chatted with us briefly while he got his shaman outfit on, and then went out to the yard to throw shots of vodka to the sky. He did this three times, and then came back in the house. He went into a small room with a shrine, blowtorched his leather drum, and then beat it while chanting for a long time. His wife attended him throughout.

After the chanting was over, we all headed back out into the yard. The shaman was walking like an old man, stooped over, and sat down on the ground slowly. When he spoke, his voice also sounded like that of an old man, and was difficult to understand even for the Mongolians. His wife gave him airag, vodka, cigarettes, and dried cheese curd whenever he asked. She addressed him as "Grandfather." One of the Mongolians in attendance did know a little English, and said he was a 300-year-old ancestor. He  asked Ben to sing. All of these hospitality things (food, drink, entertainment) seemed to be part of showing respect to the spirit of the ancestor that was hanging out with us for a bit. Ben did an excellent job of singing a Mongolian song his family had taught him.

After a while, Ben's host mom called him over. She handed him some sage rolled up in toilet paper that she lit the end of, and showed him how to wave it around his body in the proper direction and blow on it so it wouldn't go out. Then we all passed the sage around. The shaman put his hands on Ben's head, said some things we couldn't understand, and slapped him on the back three times. Then we all went down the line, approaching the shaman, letting him put his hands on our heads, and accepting the dried cheese curd he gave us afterward.

When it was my turn, the shaman didn't say anything at all and didn't slap me on the back. He did give me dried cheese curd, though.

Two of my friends were asked to sing. Koty was the first one put on the spot, and there was a cute Mongolian language moment. The word for "finished" and the word for  "sing" sound similar, and even though she knew they were asking her to sing, she hopefully asked "Do you mean I'm finished?" in Mongolian, to which the shaman's wife replied, "No, no: SING." And she did. Chris sang "You Are My Sunshine" while we all tried really, really hard not to laugh. (Laughing was okay. His wife laughed a lot of the time, too.) Leo wasn't asked to sing, but the shaman spontaneously beat his huge drum right next to Leo's head.
He had a lot to say about some people, but nothing we could understand. I don't know what sorts of things are usually said by shamans in trances channeling ancestors. But the Mongolians were smiling, so it must have been good.

After this, the Grandfather drank some more vodka, smoked some more, beat on his drum, and hit himself (not hard) with whips that his wife poured water on. This went on for a while. Some people left. Ben explained to us that the shaman usually came out of the trance by beating on the drum, same as he went in. So as he'd beat the drum, then slump over for a bit, his wife would ask him questions to see if it was still the Grandfather or if we were done. It got to be pretty funny after the fifth or so time, because she'd ask a question and then get an answer in the old-man voice, usually a request for more vodka or another cigarette, and she'd laugh and give it to him.

Eventually, he beat the drum for quite a long time, then pulled his headdress off and stood up, old man body language gone. His wife asked if he was okay, and he walked a ways off, jumped up and down a few times, and threw up. Then we all went back into the house, Ben's dad ate some fried eggs, and joked with us in Mongolian about who was dating who in our training group.

The whole thing took a little over two hours, but sometimes it takes as long as four. We were very lucky to be invited to witness it; a lot of Mongolians have never seen a shaman before. Ben's host family was great and very excited to have us there.


I only have one week left at my training site. On August 15, I will find out where I will be living for the next two years!

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Summer Vacation


During national Nadaam, I was lucky enough to be invited along on my host family's summer trip. We traveled for six days, through 4 aimags (provinces), to a monastery that was 500 km away on dirt roads. Ten of us went in two cars. We drove through streams, got stuck in the mud in the pouring rain and had to push the car, and other such adventures.

We left on Friday, but only drove about half an hour away to spend the night. This was because its more auspicious to begin a journey on a Friday than a Saturday. My host sister and I went down to the river. She showed me how Mongolians put some river water on their head when they come to a river, which is supposed to make it so you don't get sick from drinking the water. (Neither of us tested that theory, given the number of livestock milling around who probably use it is as their outhouse.)

The next day, we were out in the countryside and driving through pouring rain on dirt roads. We drove through roaring streams, splashed through mud, and the other car got stuck trying to go up a steep incline. Then another car passed by (first one we'd seen in an hour) and stopped to help us push. Then their car got stuck and we helped them push. Eventually, the rain slowed up and the roads got less treacherous.


Somewhere in the middle of this we stopped at an ovoo (spelling questionable) - one of the roadside piles of rocks that you're supposed to circle three times. We all got out, the women grabbing candy and the two men grabbing bottles of vodka, and scurried to the ovoo quickly because of the rain. The men poured three shots and threw them in the air, then poured a drink for each of us before we ran around the stones, throwing the candy on as we passed, in the hopes that sugar rush on the part of the nature spirits would make them cut it out with the rain already. These ovoos are really cool - they have candy, money, scarves, empty vodka bottles, animal skulls, you name it, tucked in among the rocks.

We stopped at some old ruins, called Tsogtin Balgas, which was a castle of one of the last relatives of the Khan that got burned down in some major and probably epic story that I only caught 10% of. The rain had finally stopped, so we decided to make dinner and find somewhere to camp nearby.  The ruins had a museum associated with them, and we ended up going back to the museum curator's ger to cook our dinner. This was example number one of Mongolian hospitality, in which a total stranger let us cook and eat in his home. This was totally normal to all of the Mongolians involved; in fact, we packed food that we would need a stove to cook despite not knowing anyone on the way. They just planned on people letting them cook in their gers, which is perfectly acceptable on both sides of the arrangement here.

After a night sleeping in tents, we awoke to a beautiful, sunny day with no lingering threat of rain, so we took out time, stopping frequently along the dirt roads to check out cool rocks, interesting views, or roadside shrines. We took lots of pictures, ate snacks, and generally had road trip fun without seeing another soul for miles. We blasted Mongolian folk music out of the car speakers and bumped along with the windows down. We saw the landscape change from grasslands with low hills to rocky mountains with a smattering of trees  to increasingly sandy soil and finally to desert. I perfected the skill of peeing discreetly in a field with no trees or bushes to go behind (traditional Mongolian dels are the best clothing option for this process, but a sweatshirt around your waist works too). We were in the Ovorhangay aimag (I think), which isn't technically the Gobi desert but includes a Gobi-like desert. (This is made more confusing when explained in Mongolian by the fact that the word "gobi" is the word for desert.)
Here, there were CAMELS! Just hanging out, being ridden around, and I even spotted a herd of at least twenty out in a field. As we rounded a corner, we saw a sign advertising camel rides (in English, in case you weren't sure who this was intended for, haha). My host family knows how I feel about camels, so we stopped, and all paid our 2000 tugriks to ride a camel. It was essentially a pony ride, with the guy leading me around in a circle, but it was still awesome.

The next day, we made it to Erdene Zyy monastery, the oldest monastery in Mongolia at 800 years old. It was really interesting, and you should look it up - it's a major tourist attraction, and really cool.

After the monastery, when we stopped to collect more spring water, I heard a baaaa coming from the other car. Sure enough, the kids had a live sheep laying in their laps - bought from the last ger we spent the night at. I fed it some grass and patted it on the head, knowing it was fated to be lunch, no matter how cute it was.

I wasn't allowed to watch them kill the sheep, because only men are allowed to. (You can imagine how well I took that! But my complaining was of no avail.) They borrowed my knife to kill/carve it up, though. I got to watch them clean and prepare the sheep, which was really interesting. Nothing was wasted - although I didn't eat the innards myself! I wiped the blood off my knife on my jeans and used it to carve and eat meat off the bone, because I am hardcore.

On the way home we stopped to pick strawberries, lounge by a stream, and generally enjoy our vacation. It was a wonderful five-day weekend before diving back into class on Thursday!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

One Month

I left home one month ago today... wow.

I got to milk something!

My Host Mom Explaining the Cow-Milking Process
Last weekend, my host family and I went out to the countryside again.  My host mom was determined to check off all the "countryside jobs" that are on my list of things she needs to teach me how to do before training is over and I have to be able to feed, wash, and shelter myself somewhere in Mongolia.

First, I got to milk a cow! There was much laughter at my attempts, but I think I made a decent showing. I got milk out of the cow at any rate - I don't think speed should count. ;)

Next on the list was sawing and chopping wood. I didn't lose any limbs, and there were smaller pieces of wood after I was done. So, success. (And, again, much laughter!)

Then I helped make a fire in the ger stove using dung and the wood I'd chopped. We boiled the milk in a huge basin that slotted into the top of the stove. We made hoshur (fried dumplings), of which I am becoming an excellent pincher. They even made me special meat ones - they were eating intestine-stomach-kidney-etc. ones.  We drank yogurt.  A good time was had by all.

This week at school was insanely busy. We had two micro-teaching sessions, took trips to the cultural center, and I had the first meeting of what will hopefully work out to be a Spoken English table at the local cafe.

Also, I'm learning a Mongolian dance, to be performed at the end of training. It's a lot of fun, but definitely not easy - we had two two-hour practices this week and I think we've gone through about a quarter of it! There are six of us doing it: three girls, three boys. We're being taught by teenage Mongolian girls who are endlessly patient with us. ("Like a bird. Small, fast. No. No. Um. No. ... Still no... No. Again.")

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bi ochingder... (Yesterday I...)

I have an embarrassing language-learning story for your amusement:

Yesterday, the topic of our lesson was learning how to buy things in a store - asking how much something cost, etc.  So after we practiced amongst ourselves, the teacher sent us out to actual stores to ask the prices of things.

Horses Hanging Out in Front of the Hospital
(This is the second time we've bothered the people of our awesome little town with our attempts at speaking Mongolian. The first time went something like "HI HOW ARE YOU I AM FROM AMERICA WHAT IS YOUR NAME HOW OLD ARE YOU WHAT KIND OF FOOD DO YOU LIKE?" I got to talk to an old man who took my notebook, wrote the word "Ulaanbaatar" in really nice cursive, and pointed at it good-naturedly in response to every question I asked. I still have no idea what we were talking about.)

I was assigned flour and meat. Koty, Jill, and I teamed up and hit the store across the street from the school. They had bags of flour, which I successfully ascertained the price of and wrote in my notebook, and they had everything the other girls were looking for. But they didn't have any meat.

So Koty and I proceeded to a second store, further away from the school. Still no meat.  At least that made it less awkward then the first store, where we asked the price of six items and didn't buy anything.

We headed for a store a little further on, outside of which two men were standing, smoking. They worked at the store, and I asked in my stilted Mongolian if they had any meat. They did! Now, I decided to stretch my language skills to the max by asking about specific kinds of meat and how much they cost. I started with mutton.

The word for sheep in Mongolian sounds like "hon." The word for person sounds like "hoon."

Guess which one I used.
A Rainy Day - Felt Like Being Back in Binghamton!

Yep, I asked the store clerk how much man-meat cost.

This miscommunication was resolved when I figured out the question he kept asking me was "Whose meat?" and he pinched his own arm and repeated my mispronounced phrase. I drew a sheep, made a "Baaa!" sound, and quickly wrote down the price of mutton.

There was much laughter all around.

I also had my first micro-teaching yesterday, in which I taught seven ninth-grade Mongolian girls a lesson that was planned for fifth graders.  It was surprisingly not a complete disaster. They seemed like they might even come to next week's class, for which I will hopefully have a better lesson plan. (Micro-teaching is done in groups, where each group member solo-teaches for 20 minutes out of an hour. I only taught for 8 of my 20 minutes - oops - but my group is awesome and we rounded out the end of the lesson with an extra game so we didn't end early.)

One of the Micro-Teaching Classrooms Had to be Broken Into After the Key Got Lost - We Took Care of It

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some Photos

Cows Hanging Out at the Children's Park


Sunset - From When I Climbed A Mountain

I rode a camel! Okay, okay, not a real one yet. ;)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gers, Tumpens, and Things

Some updates from Mongolia:

I went along to visit my host mother's sister who lives in the countryside (about ten minutes out of town by car). I got to hang out in an authentic ger, eat yogurt out of a jug that was just hanging out on the floor doing its thing (Mongolian yogurt is really really delicious), watch sheep get herded by men on horseback, help take the felt cover off the outside of the ger and re-line the inside plastic sheeting to keep the rain out, and wander around in a field collecting dung to burn.

A cool story: One of my fellow trainees, Ben, has a host father who is a shaman. My language teacher/host sister was over at our apartment when she got a call from Ben's host mom asking her to explain to him in English that his dad was going to be dancing around, hitting a drum, and channeling spirits in the living room so he wouldn't be freaked out. She explained this, and then told him he had to pay attention so he could tell the class about it in the morning - which he did. It was very interesting. Mongolian shamanism predates Buddhism, but dovetails nicely with it now, at least according to Ben.

My Language Teacher Looks on Disapprovingly as Leo Washes His Hair

On Thursdays, we only have a half day of class. (Usually, we have Mongolian language lessons in the morning, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and technical sessions - teacher training - in the afternoons from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.) So after our language class, since our teacher had noticed some of the trainees were looking a little greasy, we scheduled a tumpen-bathing lesson at Patrick's ger. Yep, there were some trainees that had not washed their hair in the week we've been here. (Don't worry, I perfected that skill ASAP.) So they got to bring their tumpens and shampoo in the ger while the rest of us snacked and took pictures. Then we all went to the Nice Bar (Yes, that is actually the name of the bar) to have a beer and enjoy a chance to talk in English for a little while. It was a good afternoon.

Another skill I have perfected is dumpling-pinching. I have now helped my host mother and sister make buuz (small dumplings that you fill with meat and onions and cook by steaming) and hoshur (big dumplings that you can fill with meat, or potatoes, then deep fry). I may not be able to go as fast as they can, but mine look just as good and don't open when you cook them, so I consider myself to have achieved an advanced level of Mongolian food prep.

A skill I have not perfected is doing laundry by hand. I will never, ever, ever, complain about doing laundry with a washing machine again. Ever. (It takes SO LONG.)

The other night, after I finished my homework and went for a walk with my younger host sister's teenage friends (who speak pretty good English, especially with the aid of my snazzy Peace Corps-issued dictionary, quiz me on my Mongolian vocabulary, and are a lot of fun), I came back and chilled with my older host sisters (one of whom is also my language teacher). We watched Mongolian X Factor (yep), munched on dried cheese curd (this fills the role of popcorn and tastes like chunks of Parmesan cheese), and swapped makeup preferences. This is my life in Mongolia.