Here are a few excerpts from e-mails I sent my parents with a few added details in parenthesizes. I think the emotional turmoil that went down in training for me are pretty adequately expressed and gives a bit more detail about what exactly I was doing. It's a lot to read and perhaps repeats some of the last post so feel free to skim or whatever. The earliest emails are at the bottom and they work chronologically up to the top. Here goes...
One of my PC friends here is a recent graudate from Sarah Lawerence-same time as me- and when we get down thinking about all the freedom and ease offeres-see: whole foods, flushing toilets, the same language, etc.- we talk about how difficult the job hunt would be and where we could afford to live in the States- a box really. Not that I'm doing this because there's nothing else to do, but (it's good to keep in mind what I've got instead of dwell on what I wish I had). I just finished reading Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia, which was great. I'm trying to minimize the reading right now, which is hard because there are so many great things on my Kindle, but I really need to buckle down and learn Mongolian. I have my big language test tomorrow then we leave on Saturday morning and find out our site placement at 3:30 on Saturday!! I can't wait. To be honest, I am scared of being put out in the country side. But I talked to the site placement people about that during my site placement interview and they seemed to understand. So we'll see what happens and really it might be a good experience to be out in the country for two years. I also don't know what it will be like so it's silly to be scared of something I don't know about. So I just gotta wait and find out. It'll be an adventure for sure wherever I go. I'll certainly keep you posted. If anything I am excited to live on my own and try to hack it here. Mongolian food isn't bad but I miss Ameircan food and want to cook for myself and it would be great to have my own space. So itll be good wherever they send me...As far as friends goes, Ive found lots of cool people. Im anxious to see who I'll be stationed near because those people will really be my network. Ive been able to meet a wide vierity of people since being here, it's really incredible. Just in my wee group of 12, there's a 73 year old retired college professor, a 30 year old gay Texan whose worked at Denny's for 12 years before joining the peace corps, a 26 year old girl who got her masters in Chaucer from St Andrews in Scotland-and the list goes on. The peace corps certainly attracts a motley bunch and if anything it is wonderful to meet people with such different life views and experiences. I've made some good friends within our group here. Some of them arent people I might not necessarily be chose to or even have occasion to meet so this has been such a great experience on being with different people, being thrown together like this.
Things in Mongolia are trucking right along. As of tomorrow, my first day of school is in one month- a terrifying prospect. It's all going to happen so fast after what's felt like forever waiting to see the other kids again and get our site placements. Went into UB yesterday for an orentation day. We went to a monistary I'd love to take you to- it was a very old one that survived the communists becuase it was turned into a museaum. We also went to a cafe with chi tea lattes and i just about died of happiness. UB is really a facinating city- there are lots of markets that remind me of the dekalb farmers market, the smells are so intense and amazing. You really can get whatever you want in UB, from curry powder to bottled frappachinos, for a price though...Tomorrow night we have our community project and I really hope it doesn't tank. We are going to show a very profound anti-trafficking video, have a community discussion and then a dance. I don't know how that segway will go to dance from human trafficking discussion or if many people will show up but a project is something peace corps requires us to do so they're just looking for us to try something. I'll let you know how it goes. But it has definitely gotten me jazzed to work on human trafficking prevention when I get to site. That seems like a good project, seeing as my host family doesn't believe it happens in Mongolia but the statics are pretty scary.
I had my first solo teaching and it went so so well! They really loved it. My friend traced my silhouette on a big sheet of paper and they labeled the parts, in addition to Simon Says and 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' which they loved. Also, my Mongolian teacher is great. I haven't told you about her yet. Shes really smart and sweet, a young woman who spent lots of time in Germany and teaches Mongolian at the school. She's a great part of the support system that the Peace Corps has for us. It's good to get to know a Mongolian on a teacher level but she is also getting to be a friend of everyone in the class-for example, she took in one of the trainees whose host uncle died and had no where to go.
I got hit with a wave of homesickness yesterday but went to my Mongolian house, did some laundry-what a process that is!-, ate some strange goat meat from a barbecue by the river and realized that this life is very normal to many people. It was hard not to wish I was back home today when I was looking at the photos but there have been lots of great things happening here, too. Over the weekend, I went to UB with my host sister. We spent all day going to Naadam, seeing the biggest monistary in UB- so beautiful!, climbing up to this crazy soviet monument overlooking the whole city, checking out the state department store-think Harrods of Mongolia- and of course Suukbater square. It was so great to finally see the city. And while they say that UB is not the real Mongolia, it's good to know what's out there and makes me realize I don't want to the in the capital because that's not really how Mongolian people live-even though a half of their population is there. It's Mongolia but urbanized which causes the lifestyle to lose so much of it's uniqueness.
I'm so glad everyone had a great fourth of July. Ours was interesting with all the hijinx expected of a peace corps fourth of July in Mongolia- a little debauchery in a yert and a wild goose chase for a party behind a hotel. But all is well and we were safe...my Kindle is wonderful. I love it and there are several other volunteers who eye it jeliously when I take it out. I've finished Mountains Beyond Mountains thus far and got to read the entirety of Pat Conroy's book The Water is Wide when I was sick- a phenomenal book, what an authorial voice!, with lots of similarities to what I think I'm doing...or at least trying to do, with the right amount of old south to make me long for grits and balmy weather but not too homesick. Now I'm starting Pride and Prejudice...I went to the Naadam-the festival of three manly sports- for my village last weekend and the big Naadam in UB is this coming weekend. Apparently, my family is going for the first part of Saturday for the opening then having a 10 person -whole- goat roast down by the river...Things are going well here these days- I'm getting into the groove of being here over all. I've come to realize that two years is not that long- especially not compared to the American life span-longer than the Mongolian one. I can spend the rest of my life in America leading a normal life with a normal relationship but now is the time to have an unconventional life and be in a relationship developing myself/helping others- if that makes sense. Also, there are so many doors that this will open. I suppose it's obvious I've been spending lots of time thinking about the world lately, especially in context to my role in it and Peace Corps as a whole, which I think is good. Also, I've picked up some instant Nescafe from the store and make a sort of latte with my milk tea in the morning so life here is going fine. It seems like a game or puzzle to figure out how to live my life in such a different place and it's going well so far.
Our teacher asked us to draw our ideal/fave American meal and label it in Mongolian during class. I drew Dad's salmon salad complete with homemade hummus, salmon fillet, roasted red peppers and the words. Sadly, mixed field greens didnt translate very well into Mongolian. :) Sorry it's been a while- I've actually been really sick lately. I feel much better now but I had to miss a day and a half of school due to fever, soar throat, sinus congestion and everything. For some reason, after having been so ill I feel much better about being here. I had a dream about the family being together when my fever was breaking and after that I was able to dream about Mongolia-weirdly, I hadn't yet and somehow when I recovered from my illness I had come much more to terms with being here than earlier. Before, I fought being here and would construct fun Atlanta agendas for my day instead of being here: Pilates, Flying Biscuit, Boarders, Piedmont Park, etc. but now I've really started looking forward into the future in Mongolia. I think it's healthy because I've realized while my favorite Starbucks and shoe stores may come and go, life in Atlanta and to a greater extent America will be going on without me and will welcome me back into it when I get home, wherever I chose to get a place after I'm done with my experiences here. So much more secure thoughts coming from over here in the east these days. My host family is great. I've actually been placed with one of the poorer host family in this town. Literally up to about six adults and a baby sleep in the same room every night on mats on the floor and cots. Earlier, I couldn't conceive of how a family could actually live in a two room house but now I see that people do and while I am sure glad that I don't normally-they have me in a small separate house at the other side of the yard- it's something mind blowing to watch and be a part of, especially coming from the privilege life that I do. The family is in total a mother and six kids. The father died in a car crash when all the kids were all very young and the mother had to raise all those kids by herself-can you imagine!?. But they are all very friendly and come and go regularly, without staying very long- some of the sisters left for work in the countryside yesterday only to be replaced by a brother and cousin a day later. But they cook on a single wood/dung burning stove and seem to get along just fine really. The mother is a cook and at 44 she sleeps on the floor, some days doesn't come home until everyone's asleep from work and is still so sweet-albeit missing several teeth. The kids are great, they're all about my age and are very into teaching me Mongolian. And though I'll miss the cuteness, the fussy baby was whisked away to the countryside with the mother so no poop on the floor-they don't buy diapers- or insessent crying...I think I'll miss him soon, though. Mongolian is coming along at a glacial pace, sadly. It's been very frustrating albeit humbling to have to learn to read all over again- it's really like I am a child. I have a one-on-one with my teacher tomorrow so hopefully that'll help. It's such a guttural language and it's hard to assign what we consider just sounds and noises to things like trees and stars. I also had my third teaching lesson today. The assignment was grammar and we did prepositions. I think they liked jumping onto their benches for 'above' the best. Every time we start class I do a warm up that Laura Cole taught me at the Shakespeare Tavern and it's always a big hit- funny I don't know if she had that in mind when teaching it. We also had a ger visit yesterday and learned how the fire safety worked, how to winterize and de-winterize a ger, chop wood, what the proper way to enter and exit a ger is and all that. I actually don't know if I'll be living in one because I'd like to be stationed in a bigger town and those are mostly apartments but there's always a chance of living in a felt tent for two years!- either way is fine with me really, they both have ups and downs. It really just depends on what the school I am placed with gives me to live in. Alright, I've gotta go take my tumpon bath now- it's a little pink tub I have for washing everything that needs to be washed- from my clothes to myself...quite an adventure.
Things here are over all good but it is hard at times. The way I look at it, I'm in the process of coming to terms with being here and this lifestyle. We had a cross culture class today and talked a lot about culture shock. They said that it would be a lot of ups and downs most of the time very abruptly which seems the be just about right. But I know I can do this and having all of you support makes this whole process so much easier. The process is a little lonely at times but it's more bewildering and scary than anything I think. But I know it will pass and it will be worth it for sure. Sadly, my host family baby is the fussiest baby I've ever come across! It cries all the time (he was in the teething phase, I think, and eventually the baby really grew on me- I find myself wondering now if he's walking or talking and how big he is) but I suppose it just solidifies the need for birth control for me. It's neat though cause they do interesting practices with him like circling it with incense three times every night (and after dark, they rub soot from the stove onto his forehead so he looks like a little Indian prince in all his glorious chubbiness). Also, there's a five year old niece that comes around a bunch and she reminds me so much of Chapman! So funny. Gauuchurt is beautiful! Apparently its one of the most beautiful places in Mongolia and I'd believe it. For the latter half of our Mongolian lesson today we sat in the sun by the river and practiced. (some of my strongest and happiest memories of training are of the river, it really marked my experience there)