Here is the first informational email I sent from Bayankhongor. These were the days when Yak Hunter wasn't yet a blog...So long ago. Today marks the two year anniversary of my arrival in Mongolia! So: here is the aforementioned email with annotations (in parenthesis) by a soon to be "returned" Peace Corps Volunteer.
I am getting settled here in lovely Bayanhongor. And, as you may have guessed from the conspicuous lack of emailing, I have been busy as...a bee. I am teaching about 35 hours a week, on top of figuring out how to live in a ger, and implement/continue some secondary projects... (I have forgotten what it felt like to adjust to being in a ger - now life therein feels comfy).
First: the ger! There was a small scare when my director expressed her concern for my well-being during the winter if I stay in a ger. At first I was a little (ok a lot) insulted. Living in a ger was going to be one of my "I can do anything I want to" kind of projects...But after thinking about it a few days and calling some friends and consulting current ger-dwellers (Mongolian and otherwise) I told my director that I thought she was right, let's look for an apartment... (I am SO glad that I didn't move to an apartment: my host family has helped me through all the tough times these last two years, I wouldn't have them had I moved to an apartment).
Well, my hasha mom (who I had said nothing to, not wanting to ruffle feathers prematurely) had meanwhile ordered her son-in-law to chop down half of the lumber supply in our aimag (province). And she gathered coal...And started starting fires in my ger just about every night...showing me all the little "tricks" that a silly American attempting to live in a ger should know... (Oh Dogoo! My host mom is the best, she still checked in on my fire making this last winter. Our last chat centered around how "skilled" I have become at living in a ger: thanks to her, and school difficulties - she is one of the world's most sympathetic listeners/speakers).
My director calls me into her office one day and tells me that she just paid for a huge amount of lumber and coal at the urgent request of my hasha mom, and therefore I would be living in a ger this winter...Which, in my usual indecisive way, was what I wanted to hear at that point (the wonderful coal fire the night before was so hot I didn't sleep under blankets or in a sleeping bag meanwhile my apartment dwelling friends were freezing their...back ends off). (I had spelling problems, not that they have gone away: hasha should be haashaa).
In other news I now enjoy wearing business casual and even have the obligatory argyle teacher's sweater (which I wear with a huge smile on my face because it is made of camel hair, hilarious!). (Ha! I have totally gone the opposite direction. I wore jeans and a button down the other day only to discover that the director and teachers from UB were coming...Camel hair no longer provokes laughter).
I promise that pictures will come eventually...of the ger, and school, and Bayanhongor in general...
Days are already blurring together here and I have to remind myself once in a while that I am in freakin' Mongolia! What!? Surprising how quickly things get to be just daily life... (I said this SO quickly!? I feel that way times 100 these days. It seems like my life in America was a former incarnation of my current self).
After the first week of school, all the teachers went out to the hodoo (countryside). We were to leave at 1PM and left, in good Mongolian time, around 5PM. Hodoo visits involve driving hours on end into the vast, largely uninhabited countryside in order to cook a giant sheep and get really drunk for at least 2 days in a row...Oh, and eat lots of candy. Needless to say I did a lot of...sleeping. And candy eating. And tried desperately to convince people that I was having a good time (which I wasn't particularly). Lesson learned: avoid hodoo visits or bring lots of reading material...Also, never eat "hiam". Hiam is a strange, sausage like substance which is never fresh. I usually decline invitations to dine on this dish but thought it might be ok for some reason...It wasn't. And a six hour jeep ride (which is packed with 18 people) with a frequently moving bowel and a predisposition to vomiting is something less than pleasant... (Ah, the countryside: doable with family and lots of secret food stashes. The hiam comment makes me wonder why I waited till last September to eat a vegetarian diet...I have convinced my family and day visits to the countryside are fun and promise them delicious deserts upon return to "civilization" where ovens and ice cream abound).
Anyway, plenty of things to keep me busy (in fact, right now I should probably be doing some of them) but I hope that things will calm down a bit as I get used to teaching and my schedule becomes routine. We shall see... (This certainly never ended: always plenty to do these last two years. I wonder how different things would have been if I had lived in a village instead of a province capital, many more books would have been read I think...).
Let me know what you want to hear about (if anything...) and I will address it in the next update... (The time to request is now!).
I hope you are taking care and enjoying yourselves!