Finally! A post about Peace Corps training. Hopefully to be quickly followed by a low-down on the wonderful Christmas in UB.
It was an early morning on Sunday; early as in about 6am (the you-know-what crack of dawn as far as I'm concerned). However, I managed to snag some extra sleep as the plane was delayed so we didn't leave for the airport until 8. Still bleary-eyed, I found it in myself to drag my backpack down to the car and into the airport dispute these two heaven-sent hours. After locating the other Volunteers (not difficult considering the size of our local airport) we holed up in the local guanz, which is like a Mongolian cafe, sort of. There we got to spend some time chatting with Tuya, the charming and hilarious francophone from the previous entry about our cooking club, nursing tea and instant coffee until it was time to leave. The plane flight was lovely. Mona and I read the Glamour magazine that my parents had sent and gave Jake (another PCV from Hovd) a hard time about being too tall for the bathroom for about 15 minutes. Mona and I cackled so loudly at the magazine that we noticed after 30 minutes that everyone within a 3 seat range had found a new spot on the plane. Oops. I know it was sad that that our remote location had made it impossible for us to have Thanksgiving with our friends in UB and being so far it is difficult to bond with other Volunteers, but the entire air traffic time I was filled with gratitude at being at a fly site. Many people have to sit on a bus, sometimes next to rowdy, vodka saturated men, experiencing frequent break downs and a host of other delays, for up to 20 hours to get to the capitol. For us it was just a quick hour and a half ordeal with fresh coffee accompanied by a soothing "whirr" of the propellers powering the plane. It was so nice to just sit back, close my eyes and feel the vibrations against my back, knowing that we have possibly one of the easiest commutes in Peace Corps Mongolia. The planes flies low to the ground so it's easy to see the sweeping stretches of frozen tundra and the enormous mountains folded like napkins from the little plane window.
After we landed, it was a blur of cramped taxi rides, seeing too many people in not enough time at the Peace Corps office then off to find Mona a coat at the huge Sunday market. We chose the Sunday market and not the normal black market, as the latter is outside and the weather was literally freezing. The market was nothing spectacular- just stores like cubbies in the wall piled high with clothes of all sorts and some atrocious New Years dresses. Then came the really great part of the day. Mona and I took ourselves to a place simply called Charming which we heard had really great at haircuts for relatively cheap. When we got there (after a rather frustrating taxi ride) we found an immaculate spa-salon not fit for the likes of us dirty hoodo travelers. Nevertheless we booked the next available appointments and headed to the Irish pub/Western restaurant and bar downstairs. Sinking onto bar stools, Mona ordered a glass of red wine and I got a ridiculous cocktail (with real fruit!!) in addition to splitting a salad (with cheese and tomatoes!!) and nachos (nachos!?!). The familiar atmosphere of the restaurant acted like a tonic, even though neither of us had ever been there before, and added to the food and drinks, we quickly relaxed after the hectic day. It's amazing how simple things like bottles of Tabasco scattered across the bar, mahogany tables and waiters in uniforms make one feel at home even after being away for so long. Finally it was time to abandon our padded(!) stools and head up for our haircuts. I truly felt like Cinderella. I had a hair wash with warm water and the stylist did an excellent job shaping a bob of sorts. I emerged from behind the partition of mirrors no longer dirty and scraggly-banged but polished and fresh feeling. It was both literally and figuratively a weight off; not only to feel that pretty again but also be shorne after all the months of hair growth. We then raced over to the Peace Corps Office, grabbed our stuff then I dashed to an Indian restaurant where I met lots of other friends I hadn't seen in months. It was wonderful to chat with everyone- we all sat at a table so long that it stretched the length of the entire restaurant. Abuzz with conversation and quips, we dined on exotic things like chickpeas and eggplant for the first time since boarding the plane to Asia. After we had our fill of naan and finished stories of sheep, gers and students, the party dispersed and I grabbed another taxi to my friend Cassandra's apartment. Her apartment is amazing! It's like discovering Mongolia's secret Ikea branch. I suppose that's what you get when you live in UB. It was so wonderful to see her! Wine and conversation flowed freely as we chatted late into the night about absolutely everything. She is definitely one of the people I wish I were better friends with but as she is so far away, it is difficult to maintain a close relationship. It is always wonderful to reconnect though and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
It was another early morning, as I had to board the bus at the Peace Corps office at some ungodly hour like 8. Somehow with 44 PCV's and 44 counterparts, my counterpart was the only one who almost missed the bus. We had to pick her up on her way out of town she was so lost, even though she told me she knew just where the Peace Corps office was the day before. Anyway, we got to the resort just out of town and it was beautiful. Submerged in snowy mountains and surrounded by birch trees, it was warmer than any building I'd ever been in to in Hovd and I resolved not to go outside until either a fire or the end of training forced me. Sadly, the exotic fare from the night before had caught up to me and had evolved into exotic nausea. So unfortunately I had to spend much of my first day of training in bed or hugging the (Western!) toilet due to a mild case of food poisoning. That night I had a bunch of my friends to the room that Mona and I were sharing and we had an all out girls night. We watched the classic "Diary of a Mad Black Woman", collectively laughing and 'ummhmmm'ing at the cute boys and villainous ex-husband. My Glamour magazine must have changed hands at least six times that night, too. I don't think any single issue of that magazine has been so well reused or gushed over. We giggled into the wee hours until every dispersed, thinking of the training that the early morning would bring.
Luckily by the next morning, my sickness had passed. It turned out to be a rather enlightening day. I learned that in many schools, the teachers salary gets docked if their students are caught drinking or behaving badly outside of school. The police contact the child's school Director who then lays into the child's Home Room Teacher because they think it is her fault. Also, I discovered that I live in probably the only country where people ask Americans if the term Morning Wood means making a fire when you wake up...That night we had something of a little party which consisted of a handful of PCV's and what seemed like half the of Mongolian and Kazakh counterparts. It was in the room Mona and I shared and within a matter of hours about 2 liters of vodka disappeared, a whole horse worth of horse sausage had been eaten (a Kazakh counterpart had brought it all the way from Bayan Olgii) and an opera's worth of Mongolian songs were sung. I didn't take part in the former two endeavors due to my shaky stomach but it was nice to see my counterpart socializing and host a slew of Mongolian and Kazakh women who just wanted to have a good time. Unfortunately, I made it to the lobby just in time to see my site mate, Tyler, mess his knee up horribly as he wrestled another PCV. He's currently in Thailand getting medical attention, unsure if he and his wife will be able to continue their service in Hovd or will be forced to go home for treatment. So it was a breath of fresh air making new friends for some but a horrible night for others.
Wednesday was also a very productive day of training. My counterpart and I collaborated with Jake and Mona and their respective counterparts in addition to Tyler's lone counterpart on a sort of Hovd Teacher's Club, the purpose being that teachers at different schools could share ideas and resources. There are so many local competitions between teachers that there is really only hording of teaching materials and a huge lack of conversation about teaching methods or anything else. No one is willing to share ideas and supplies because winning a local competition is such a great honor. A teacher at Mona's school is in an upcoming competition and she swears that each of the other English teachers at the school have put in about 25 hours on this one lesson in order to outshine other school's English teachers with a PowerPoint presentation. So our counterparts decided it was past time for the teachers to collaborate between and within the schools. We settled on having a committee of one teacher from each school and to perhaps hold a seminar in March or April for Hovd English teachers. Later on we want to invite teachers from the whole of Hovd aimag to participate. It's still in the works now and I hope that this project sees itself to fruition one day.
That night I got a text message saying that I should go down to the resort's sauna. There I met up with a few of my friends and we spent several hours sweating, chatting and laughing. The latter hour was pretty much dominated by a conversation I got into with the girls about Shakespeare in text and performance and how Geoffry Chaucer figures into literary history including his similarities and differences with Shakespeare. Our group consisted on two boys and three girls. During the conversation about Early Modern Literature, the boys just sat there, literally stunned in shock and awe that we could carry on a heated and well-informed conversation about such a topic. Needless to say, they were rather impressed and even taken aback. From there the night descended into debauchery and fun was had by all.
Friday was the final full day of training. We worked more on the Teacher's Club, arguing logistics and grafting a list of short term tasks in addition to discussing long term goals and objectives. We discovered that having so many people give input, factoring in the cultural differences, in addition to trying to summit such a huge project can be something of a challenge. The project moved steadily albeit slowly for much of the day. That night there was a talent show and dance party. Throughout all of training, I found myself getting to know many PCV's better and Friday night was no exception. It's really nice to build new relationships even after being here for such a long time already.
The next day at noon we all boarded the bus and took the short ride into the city. We were dropped off at the Peace Corps office where I was the lucky recipient of 4 different vaccines at once and met up with my friend Laura. There I will leave you for now, as my Christmas adventures with Laura, Ashley, Deborah, Alana and others I will save for another (forthcoming) blog post.