Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So Not Cronological...My Week Thus Far Before Jumping Back in Time

I really want to write a big blog entry (or several) about training and Christmas in UB in addition to New Years. But I normally spend lots of time on what I consider 'meaty' blog entries and right now I  don't have a whole lot of time. Also, wanted to let you know about my week thus far. For some reason it's been a rather eventful week and I'd be remiss if I didn't spend just a little time blogging about it right away.

Recently I've felt super accomplished. Sadly my language isn't getting much better but I've been really productive so I hope that makes up for the lack of Mongolian skills. Due to the incident with my student finding Hitler the bees knees, I decied to get some back up. When I went to UB I went with a mission to ask for copies of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl, hopefully an abridged copy. However, my trip was a whirl wind and I didn't manage to figure out who exactly would give me books. The American Embassy? The American Center in UB? Peace Corps? So I decided to take matter in my own hand and when I got back sent a shot in the dark e-mail to the people at the Anne Frank Organization in America explaining my plight and begging for supplies, resources or suggestions. I received in return possibly the most pleasant e-mail I have ever gotten from a woman who works there. She told me about what she's heard from teachers in South Africa and China on this subject, expressed her deep interest in Mongolian education, forwarded some e-resources, explained helpful projects and, wonder of wonders!, shipped out some books to Hovd!!! So that's been pretty exciting and depending on how the package gets here I'm considering putting together a WWII education package for PCV's with problems similar to mine. I have also found American pen pals for my students at my middle school and high school alma matar, Woodward Academy. The teacher there even want's to start a Wiki page for this cultural exchange. Embarrassingly enough I have no idea what that entails so I am drafting an obliging and tech-savvy Swiss gentleman to help me figure that out sometime soon. Also, I'm working on an AIDS project that will hopefully ultimately be a book of stories of both American and Mongolian HIV + individuals. It's in the budding stages now but I've started compiling stories and possible helpful sources so together with my PCV friend Larry we might actually bring it into fruition sometime in the future. So all sorts of productivity...

Also an exciting development is my new community development project that has come into being recently. After Mona and I had the spaghetti afternoon teaching all of her counterparts about the finer points of Italian food, we decided to launch a full scale cooking club together. We decided on making pizza (at the behest of some Mongolian friends) at her apartment on Saturday at 11. We had a cover charge of about 1,500 tugrigs, pittance for a lovely afternoon of pizza and socializing we thought and enough to reimburse the buying of all the necessary ingredients. Ultimately 13 women showed up to the cooking club; we made 5 pizzas, went through 4 huge Thermos's of tea and hung out for about 4 hours. It was lovely. The bunch was comprised of many of our Mongolian and Kazakh friends, women we want to know better and Mona and my counterparts. The women spoke in a mix of Mongolian and English. And even when I didn't understand the conversation they were having, I couldn't help but get tickled and giggle along with them when they all threw their heads back and belly laughed, poking each other and grinning with knowing smiles. Mona and I facilitated the beginning part, I manned the yeast and dough evolution while Mona headed up the topping effort. But soon the pizza making was taken out of our hands by the ladies, as they furiously chopped, stirred and kneaded like it was their job (indeed for some of these ladies cooking is their job...). Saturday had such a wonderful, comfortable feeling. It was a morning that seemed to last all afternoon and it was so nice to just sit on Mona's floor with my back against the wall, listening to Tina Turner as I watched steam rise from bowls of tea and the women talk amongst themselves, meeting new people and chatting with old friends. All the while the pizza baked in the oven, perfuming the room with the smell of garlic, bread and tomatoes. One of the women there, a teacher at the local University with a better English vocabulary than me, really made an impression that day. She turned to me and said "you know, I am really impressed. This is very nice. No other Peace Corps Volunteers have done anything like this and I think you are really fulfilling a community need." I was floored. Those were the words that every Peace Corps Volunteer wants so badly to hear but never dares dream they will, for fear it won't happen in all two years. I made a great new friend, as well. She is the sole worker in the airport cafateria and doesn't really speak any English, although her French sounds flawless. She is so fun and full of life that you can't help but love her company. She is a brilliant artist, as well. She showed me some of her stuff and I was completely amazed. We even talked about having a gallery opening together in the American Center of Hovd artists. That would be great. So now I can't wait for next Saturday. The menu is hamburgers and onion rings, a prospect which many of the women were floored at. I can still hear the resounding 'ooooh's when Mona and I suggested it. Only a week and a half away now...

Cooking club was Saturday and on Sunday I went out to the frozen river with some friends. There we encountered a bevy of Mongolian teenagers who were itching to play soccer with my friends ball. So we started up a game of soccer with about four foreigners and what seemed like millions of children. Unfortunately it was an icy and rocky terrain we had chosen so I am pretty sure I ended up on my face more times than I touched the ball (including one epic jumping kick in the air after which I spun around and found my knees sorely bruised). Despite the fact that we are now so banged up from slide tackles and slipping that we look like we've been down a white water rapids in only floaties, it was lots of fun and so great to run around after a winter inside.

On Monday I gave a test to my older class. I spent plenty time worrying about if it was too hard or if it did the chapter justice. It was my first time writing at test. I knew that the Mongolian educational system encourages cheating. Here if the students do well on a test, the teacher is a good teacher and will get a raise in salary. If the test does not go well, it is the teacher's fault, as he is clearly a bad teacher. I've even heard stories of teachers who put the answers on the table and leave the room for tests here. So fully prepared for my first encounter of kids groomed to cheat, I put them all at separate tables and forbid talking during the test. Even still, trying to quell the whispering and peeking was a little like playing real life whack-a-mole. They had no shame, I caught some students asking everyone about an answer in Mongolian thinking I wouldn't understand and another boy who got up to get a dictionary but instead just gawked over his friends shoulder until I made him sit down. Upon grading, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the students did very well and many of them even had different answers for the questions! I was very proud.

While I was grading tests yesterday I had an encounter which epitomizes the prevailing erratic work schedule. As I was grading tests around 11 o'clock, my counterpart decided to hustle me into another office, despite my cries about the urgency of finishing my work. There, in a wee postage stamp of a room, we crammed onto benches and chairs with about 14 other women while my counterpart dished out bowls of milk tea with meat dumplings in them (or banchtetsea) for everyone. My muscles unwound; it's always freezing in my office and I have to keep my coat on, involuntarily tensing my muscles against the chill. But the little room was warm and the tea was a like a tonic against the Mongolian winter. This had never happened before and I'm not quite sure why it happened yesterday. I noticed that there was absolutely no bogart-ing of forks, three little plastic utensils circulated among the group until everyone had had their fill. We chatted for half an hour and they passed my camera around, laughing about the pictures from the office New Years party. After that everyone returned to work, resuming after the grinding halt that befell the library for milk tea and mutton.

1 comment:

mummer b said...

I love your life! How wonderful to pull together threads from all over the world and tie them in western Mongolia. Ahhh...satisfaction.