November 25, 2010
Warmth, at the moment. Family, friends, and Mongolia, too.
Since I last posted, I’ve become a citizen of Mankhan soum, Khovd aimag. Literally, they conducted the 2010 Mongolian census last week, and since I’m a foreigner living in the country for more than six months, I have been deemed ‘Mongolian’ with a card to prove it. Personally, I’m honored.
I’ve lived in this mountainous, sandy, now snow-smothered semi-desert for three months now, and I feel at home.
To recap, I began teaching with my counterparts (Mongolian English Teachers) in September. I teach 5th-11th grades, and despite the trials that come with teaching in general, I dig it. I dig being a local pseudo-celeb with the ‘Angli khelnii bagshaa‘ alias. I dig standing in front of a classroom of uniformed students. I dig the fact that maybe I’ll teach just one child enough English to enhance their job opportunities and their perception of language and culture.
In Mongolia, the school year consists of four nine-week-long semesters. The second semester began this week, and unfortunately, with the exception of the first two days I taught, I won’t teach for another two weeks because I leave for a Peace Corps seminar in Ulaanbaatar tomorrow. I dislike UB–frigid, polluted, overpopulated UB–but I am ecstatic to see my friends, break my semi-ascetic dietary habits and eat a cheeseburger, and learn new information and resources I can apply to my school. Right now, I want to do so many things that it’s overwhelming.
As far as life in general goes, again, warmth is my top priority. I live in a cozy ger and make a fire or two daily. Since I live in the remote west, coal is my primary fuel source. I know, I know; coal isn’t the most environmentally friendly fuel. Before anyone judges, though, know that coal constitutes survival through the winter, the air in my soum is relatively clean compared to factory-laden provincial capitals, and even Al Gore himself would break down and burn it if he had to thaw out his toiletries in the mornings. Ah, the mornings.
I love the primative aspect of my life–living in a ger, getting my water from an underground well that freezes overnight, bathing and washing clothes out of a plastic basin, using a good old-fashion jorlon (outhouse), and viewing food as sustenance instead of luxury. I’m not doing anything that people here, and many other parts of the world, haven’t done for centuries. Some of y’all should try it sometime. If nothing else, your utility bills will be unprecedently low.
I live in a family’s khashaa (yard), right beside them. Let me tell you, I lucked out. This family–my family–treats me like a son. They feed me sometimes, pine for my company, and keep my morale up. Gongorbaatar (which, incidentally, is a badass name) and his wife, Baltsukh, are both teachers at our school like me, so we have that connection. Their 12-year-old daughter, Narangerel, is one of my brightest English students. Gongor and Balt had a son who was just a year or two younger than me, but he passed away four years ago. What we have is a delicate and special situation. There is a shrine for him in their living room with candleholders and a khadakh (ceremonial scarf), and I often look at his picture just to appreciate. Just to appreciate.
People sometimes ask me if my Mongolian experience is how I pictured it upon being invited to serve there. Yes, very much so. I pictured a life of simplicity, and although I miss the Internet on occasion, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s all, folks. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, especially those of you in Arkansas.
August 25, 2010
I realize it has been almost six months since my last post. Well, it’s been an eventful six months, particularly the last two-three.
I don’t have much time to elaborate, mainly because I won’t have constant Internet access for two years. That’s part of what happened these past two months. Anyhow, here we go:
- We arrived in Mongolia on June 5, 2010 and had five days of orientation in Zuunmod, the capital of Tov aimag. All the M-21s met for the first time, and rapport was immediately established. From there, we split up into six training sites; I, along with ten other PCTs (now PCVs) trained in Bayandelger soum in Tov aimag.
- From June 10-August 15, we lived, studied, worked, played, and became more Mongolian in Bayandelger. My host family was a true gem, and I hope to visit them again next summer. We had semi-rigorous Mongolian language lessons for 20 hours each week as well as Peace Corps training sessions. Also, we did micro-teaching and practice teaching. Overall, they went well; I had a solid group of teachers and students. Most importantly, we immersed ourselves in Mongolian culture–bathing out of a bucket, starting our own fires, going months without indoor plumbing, learning songs and dances, eating the food, appreciating the endless majesty of the steppe. Tov aimag, like any other place in Mongolia, is immaculately beautiful.
- From August 15-August 21, we went back to Zuunmod to learn where our permanent sites were. I learned that I would be living and teaching in Mankhan soum in Khovd aimag, which is in the far west. Khovd aimag is great because it’s the most ethnically diverse aimag (several ethnic Mongol and Kazakh groups), and the landscape reminds me of the southwest U.S. I am the only American in my soum, surrounded by mountains and camels in the middle of nowhere without Internet, but I have a loving new khashaa family, and I am excited to get involved with my school. Plus, I have several PCV friends stationed two hours north of me in Khovd, the capital of Khovd aimag (this is where I am right now).
So, that’s where I’m at. I could spend multiple lifetimes recounting all of my adventures, feats, and tribulations, but instead I will seek out more. The main two things to note are that I have made so, so many new friends, and although we are dispersed like heated electrons all across this vast country, we will keep each other going. Also, I have met someone during training who has in a short amount of time become special to me, but they are now, and for two years will remain, 2,000 km away from me in the east, so I don’t know what will happen. I hope the best possible scenario happens, though.
Here’s to hoping I can update again soon and survive the -40-degree winter temperatures in my cozy ger. Here’s to hoping I do a swell job these next two years with my life.
Peace (Corps is what you make it),
^an aerial view of Khovd
March 28, 2010
For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Andrew. I’m a 22-year-old college grad (23-year-old in May) who graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a B.A. in writing and a minor in linguistics. Right before I graduated, I finished my application to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, thus catalyzing the most rigorous waiting period of my life.
I dig brevity, so I’m just gonna timeline this son of a gun:
- March-April 2009: completed my Peace Corps application
- May 27, 2009: nominated after my interview for a TEFL program in Eastern Europe
- June 2009: obtained legal clearance
- November 2009: obtained dental clearance
- December-January 2010: obtained medical clearance
- February 2010: received an e-mail and a phone call from Placement
- March 3, 2010: received my invitation packet
Upon seeing my process simplified in this manner, you might think it was relatively smooth and standard. Wrong! My quest to obtain medical/dental clearance was nothing short of epic because a) I was uninsured at the time, b) there was a misunderstanding regarding a few minute notations on my medical kit and c) I still have all four of my wisdom teeth, so I had to consult with an oral surgeon.
However, in the end, I was, Praise Jesus, deemed healthy.
Now, about receiving my packet, it came in the mail on my father’s birthday, first of all, so I felt guilty for inadvertently upstaging him. Then, after opening it, I quickly relinquished said guilt and attempted to read my letter with trembling–no, earth-quaking–hands. Seriously, I was borderline convulsing right in my parents’ kitchen; I had waited 8-9 months for a single destination that was smack-dab on the second line of the body of that letter.
That destination, folks: Mongolia.
I couldn’t be more surprised, stoked, nervous, curious, and honored. That’s all I’ll say for now.