Sunday, May 31, 2009

One year past

We M-19's will have been in Mongolia one year as of June 2, 2009 (I believe that's the day we got in, perhaps it was the first). Because so many things about being in Mongolia seem so normal now, it feels like I've been here much longer than a year. I feel like I've forgotten a lot about life in the States (though I'm sure it will come back to me quickly upon arrival).

My recent travels to Kharkhorin, Khinti, and now, UB have reminded me that I have acclimated more to Bayankhongor than to Mongolia. In Bayankhongor I know where most things can be found, I have friends and family there, and my ger really feels like home. Being away from that feels like starting all over again. Or, at the very least, always feels so temporary and destroys my routines and patterns that I enjoy so much.

This really hit me the other day when I was walking home from the Peace Corps office here in UB. I had just discovered that a concert had been postponed, that our BACC grant will require further revision, and that I will have to come back to this city on the 27th of this month for another concert. Brooding over these things as I crossed a plaza someone decided that they should try to steal my water bottle out of my backpack. They succeeded in knocking it out of my backpack but didn't manage to grab it. It rolled across the plaza with a mumbling American following it. As if that weren't enough, a group of people decided that they would yell out, "Hey, that's mine." Clearly an untruth that I did not really want to deal with.

Made me miss home.

Discussing this feeling of temporality with some other volunteers the comment was made that while at times it certainly does feel as though we have been here forever, we are also always thinking about our close of service. So sometimes we end up in this strange place in between the knowledge that this will most certainly end and the feeling that it has been going on forever.

Second year goes faster say some, slower say others. I can understand where work may feel slower. You know the drill, and perhaps start the countdown school calender. On the other hand since everyday life will certainly feel more routine, time may move faster.

Bayankhongor will get three more volunteers this year, and that should help spice up our lives a bit. May keep us from cynicism or push us over its edge.

My sister Nikki will be here soon and the schedule of events looks something like this:
1) Hang out in UB for a few days and rest.
2) Go to Javkhlant and ride some camels, visit and swim in the beautiful river there.
3) Back to UB and then on to Bayankhongor.
4) Back to UB to greet the new volunteers and do some shopping before Nikki heads home again.

Summer will go by even faster than I thought, I think... Lots of practicing to do before I make grad school recordings sometime in October. Still have some pieces to memorize and Mongolian music to learn for another concert in October (again in UB, please please please let these two events coincide lest I go to that city twice in one month).

Fourteen months to go. My bets are on a fast second year. Will keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The second concert

So you may have read Nathan's most recent posting concerning the glorious Bayankhongor Classical music concert. A wild success, wild I tell you.

Rather than rehash what Nathan's dumbfounding writing skills have already entered into the historical record I will write a small review of the concert that recently occurred in Xarxurin (XX) on May 18, 2009.

We (Leslie and I with another volunteer who desired to watch what was about to go down) rolled into town in our van-thingy the day before our concert. Two days were spent in the near-by aimag center trying desperately to get to XX. One day we were thwarted by a closed market, another day by a drunk man who likes to throw glass and call women rather indecent names in Russian.

Putting that all behind us we were off to the theater to rehearse as soon as we arrived in the green and mountainy beauty that is XX. The school brought in their lovely casio with 61 keys (key number 61 unfortunately was out of commission) and no pedal. Once into the theater the school director asks me to take a look at the piano they have. I now know better than to get excited about these offers, alas. Wearing an excited face we go off to the piano room and discover that the piano has ringing keys, keys that don't work, and no functioning pedal. Last predicted tuning: 1980's.

"Sadly, no."

What do I see when I turn to leave the piano? A 71 key Yamaha! Aha!

"Can we use THIS?"
"Yes you can."

Grand! We drag it onto the stage and begin rehearsal. There are two dilemmas before us.
1) What pieces can we still play from the BH concert now that we have only 71 keys and still no pedal?
2) What......setting....yes, setting... will we use? There are options like dual, strings, drum kits, choirs, and about 200 more.

The first question is easy for my solo works: Baroque or nothing. Turns out that all the vocal pieces are doable. Great. The second question is the really traumatizing one. One is forced to deal with the fact that you are about to claim to be doing a performance of western classical music on an electronic instrument...(At this point if there are any music professors of mine, former or future, reading this, I pray that you turn away, forgive, and forget what was done here).

We settle on the settings and decide that it would be nice to practice a little more but it is far too cold in the theater and it is getting late. So we borrowed the keyboard and planned to take it to the local volunteer's ger. Got it to the school before I decided that I was too ill to continue the preparation festivities and needed a good rest. Knocked myself out with Benedril and drank 3 liters of water.

The Day of the Concert
French toast. coffee. Off to school to practice a bit. Sleep. And it's go time!

We knew that we would be sharing this concert with some performances by the local school kids. Midafternoon we hear that there is a hip-hop-dancing, accordian-playing, energy-healing monk in town who just walked here from the Gobi. What a cool addition to the program! At 5 o'clock about 300 first and second graders flood the theater. Turns out they will be our audience. That changes things just a wee bit. We had 30+ minutes of music which we quickly wittled down to a no-repeats 15 minute set broken into two for attention span reasons. The show begins with singing and dancing, then comes: THE FASHION SHOW. That's correct. Then us. More singing and dancing. MORE FASHION SHOW! Us again. And...FASHION SHOW one more time. No monk. Not sure what happened to him. Perhaps he realized that this was not exactly his venue.

Trauma: childhood arts competition at the county fair. Little Tysen with his adapted version of Grieg's piano concerto crushed by the pink costumed dancing 3rd grader. This time I was able to deal with the situation much better.

Post concert. Everyone in shock. A "I don't think we'll ever see anything like that again" kind of shock.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Concert Tour of sorts

The concert in Bayankhongor with countless frustrations along the way ended up going well. Yeah. Then began the grand plan to take the concert on tour: three cities, one week. We are down to one this week and another sometime this summer. The culprit? Upcoming presidential elections. Which leaves certain people feeling a little frustrated.

Took the bus half way to UB and it killed me. Yanaa (oh dear). Not looking forward to the rest of the busing activity this summer...I knew there was a reason I stayed in BH (Bayankhongor) so much. Can't wait to be back home: building a greenhouse outside my ger with another volunteer, teacher English, German, and piano privately, and getting the BACC ready for the grand opening in September.