At the end of April, my mother and I went to Beijing.
I went to a rock show.
A few nights later, I went to a punk rock show.
In the few days that we were in Beijing we did many things. We spent 2-days hiking and one night camping on unrestored parts of the Great Wall. We rode bikes at night and ate Peking Duck. Of course we went to the Forbidden City. We also spent some time in the National Art Gallery and National Museum.
Now, I am back in Choir and the weather is much better for doing art outside. While I was doing this piece two boys walked up to look at what I was working on. We talked for a few moments before they left. I watched them turn around and walk back to say, “Can you teach us how to do art?”
I’ll be teaching an outdoor art lesson on Monday.
Yesterday, we got our first rain of the year. Let me back up. A week ago I was in the capital helping to update the Peace Corps Mongolia Language Manual for the incoming class of M25 volunteers. Between work I would spend time relaxing at the hostel where other international travelers would wander in from their vagabond adventures. I met an Australian man who was on the precipice of returning home after spending 18 months as a volunteer in Mongolia. A friend and I asked him, What are you looking forward to in Australia? And he replied, Well, the Australian environment is very much like Mongolia especially with the light. It isn’t yellowed like in the Mediterranean. It is piercing.
He continued, But the big difference is the lack of rain. I’m looking forward to spending a whole day sitting inside while it is raining. Ya know, where you can smell it before it hits and then the temperature drops and the whole environment just feels wet while you hear it pour down on the roof. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that.
Yesterday, it rained.
My site is a desolate, desert environment that never quite accepted being a rocky martian landscape or a sandpit. I suppose it was the burr-filled shrubs that played the peace maker and tried to appease everybody and suggested something in between. The only altitude is found from going between upper Choir and lower Choir. I live and work in lower Choir.
I live in an apartment, which at first I was devastated by. Within the half-hour of arriving I became acquainted with the toilet by sharing my bile and other “giddiss” goods. It was just very surreal arriving I suppose. Furthermore, that Darkhan food is really something else. I live next to the meat market and my entryway smells like grease, kerosine, and melted plastic until the 2nd landing. My flat is in the mix of Soviet-bloc blueprint housing amongst 13 similar structures, but they are in the middle of an overhaul and painting some of the buildings. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten to appreciate and even love the apartment. I decided that exactly two-weeks ago when the hot water turned on and I took a shower. Also, it is very clean and I have three cushy couches. My free time is spent listening to podcasts and books on tape while illustrating. I suggest picking up a copy of, “Lonesome Dove” or get it off audible.com
(free trial…) it was one of the best American books that I’ve read. Sits in with, “Grapes of Wrath” without a doubt.
As far as the work goes it was very fast at first, but then I pulled on the handbrake and going much slower. I found that my counterpart is young and enthusiastic. We were throwing out ideas left and right and we wanted to do everything yesterday! It was great, but then I thought, “this really isn’t going to work in Mongolia” and I didn’t want to have people look at me and say, “ish-t-fe.” So, I’ve been sitting in on the English classes and then on the art class and sometimes the music class. I avoid the hardcore topics. There are a few teachers who are really open to me being around and we joke around and chat, but then there are teachers who put off a vibe that is between indifference and discomfort. But maybe that is my perceived discomfort of their discomfort do you know what I mean? I think they are under the impression that I am there to assess them, which I reiterate over and over that I just want to learn the students’ names. I’ve even filled out my little notebook with students’ names.
Clubs are going to start on the first of October and I am leaning for art, English, and a guitar club. Right now I am working on building some rapport with the other teachers who might help me out with those clubs.
I’ve ridden a camel and drank the milk. There is one white guy around here, but he seems to be Russian and it is very awkward being in the store at the same time with him. The sky is very blue.
We’ve been going through our Mongolian language and Community Youth Development training for two-weeks. The Mongolian language is pretty tough, but we’ve all been reassured by our 2nd and 3rd year Peace Corps mentors that we will get it eventually. Right now, it seems like there are daily ups and downs within the group, but we’ve all become pretty good friends sharing the highlights and frustrations.
The food is largely based on flour and meat. I’ve eaten noodle and mutton meat soup or pasta almost every day. There aren’t many spices are sauces that go on the foods so it can sometimes be tough to get excited about the cuisine. I was able to help out in a butchering of a sheep and it reminded me of doing the same in the Patagonia a few years with a gaucho. In Mongolia, they do this neat trick where they cut a hole below the sternum and put their hand in and cut the aorta so the blood isn’t wasted and there isn’t much of a bloody mess. I didn’t do a whole lot, but I held the legs as it passed, which was a bit surreal.
I’ve been playing a lot of basketball with my younger brother Purbaater which means “Thursday’s Hero”, but his nickname is Odus, which means “Small”. He has got a great jump shot, which is probably from his Judo training. My parents are very kind and laugh a lot. They are both involved in raising bees, which is a big occupation in my area along with growing vegetables.
This is my first post since I’ve arrived in Mongolia so I am going to try and summarize my experience for the past two weeks.
I left from Washington, D.C. at the tail end of May and landed in Ulaanbatar (UB), Mongolia after a short layover in Seoul, South Korea. I am serving with ~46 individuals and joining larger group of second and third-year Peace Corps volunteers in fields of Community and Youth Development (CYD), English Instruction, and Health. After a short orientation outside of UB we traveled north to Darkhan for a week-long, intensive orientation where we recieved basic language instruction, culture lessons, and descriptions of our assignments. Last Friday (8th of June) we split up into our respective service groups (I am a CYD volunteer) to go to our training sites.
I am in a small town or soum called Shaamer and will be here for about three-months for intensive language training and assignment training. I am living with a lovely family of four who are taking great care of me by feeding me, showing me what’s up in the community and how to get around, and are putting me up in my own ger (yurt)!