Wednesday, July 2, 2008

First Mongolian Update

Hello All!

It has been a while since my last post. I apologize for the lack of updates, but living in a small town of 2,000 makes it impossible to get access to the internet.


We left Darkhan for the countryside today. 64 newly minted PCTs on our first real individual experience with the Mongolian life. Driving out of the city, there was a sense of melancholy, but what waits for us was an exciting opportunity to live with our respective host communities and families.

As we passed miles upon miles of grazed land, my excitement was ever growing with each passing herds of cattle, sheep, and goat. And then we were there, a small soum (town) of 2,000 or so that is 60 km from Darkhan. Known for its beautiful river and green pasture, the 11 of us that will call this community our home for the next 3 months is the envy of all other PCTs.

The two vans of 11 PCTs were dropped off one by one. And as we enter each host family’s home, we were offered anything from tea, juice, and cold water along with the accompaniment of bread and jam and other Mongolian goodies. The Mongolians, to say the least are very hospitable people.

I was second to last to be dropped off, so by this time my stomach was quite full. Upon entering the haasha (compound), we were greeted by my host mother along with my host father and sister. As it is customary, more tea and food was to be eaten. When the van drove off, I was left alone with the family. You might think that the occasion was awkward since I knew very little Mongolian and the family had almost no knowledge of the English language, but surprisingly it went very well.

The Family:

The family unit consists of my father, a 45 year old government worker. My mother is a 40 something home maker who also works part time at the local weather observatory. I am the oldest brother, which is a refreshing change as I’ve always been the youngest of 7 siblings. In my host family (HF), I am followed by 2 sisters and a brother, all of whom are university students in Ulan Bator. The oldest sister (Saikhna) is 22 and knows a little English but will go to UB for work very soon. The middle child is a 20 year old son (Olgi). And the youngest of the bunch is an 18 year old daughter (Sambukhuu) that is still studying in UB but will be home in the next couple of days.


First Week:

Today is my first full week in my host community with my HF. Everything is splendid! My host family is amazingly gracious. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is always prepared ahead of time, so when I enter the house, I am ready to eat. The oldest sister in the family has left for work in UB with her boyfriend, but the younger one from UB is now here to help out with the family chores and cooking. My father is at work most of the time, but my mother is always around to cook and clean. As for my 20 year old brother (Olgi), he has been showing me around town. Olgi has your basic elementary English, so it is a treat to have him around as I am able to learn Mongolian through him and he is able to learn some English vocabulary through me. Most of the time, we are pointing at things and asking what it is in the language that we are trying to learn, which I come to realize has helped me tremendously in picking up new words.

Our time together mostly involves sports, either “basketball” or volleyball. The basketball court is of course on a dirt field with wild grass and vegetation sprouting from one spot to the next. And the hoop is fashioned from steel into a ring that is attached to a wooden post. It was fun playing with them, but they have no concept of clearing the ball after a missed basket by the other team. I tried to set the example by clearing the ball every time I got the rebound, but it was to no avail. So when in Mongolia, do what Mongolians do. As for volleyball, that’s a whole different story. The kids here are Obsessed with a capital O with the sport. You can walk 5 minutes through town in the evening and see 3 or 4 different groups of people from 4 year olds to adults in their 20s spiking and digging for the ball. I can honestly say that everyone in this town of 2,000 knows how to play the game, and play it well too.

More interesting topics to come…


Did Hillary Drop Out of the Race Yet?

It must be an exciting time to be in the States for this election year; the campaigning, the conventions, the debates, and of course the omnipresent political ads. I love everything about the process, but oh my… the 30 seconds of sound bite can get very annoying after the 700th time that it has been played.

So you must think that I have it pretty lucky to be in Mongolia, so far away from all those irritating commercials, but you my friend would be quite surprised. Though far removed from indecision ‘08 of America, Mongolia is having Parliamentary elections of its own on the 29th of June. And to get the voters out in droves, the Mongolian Communist Party and the Mongolian Democrats (the two largest parties in the country) must have spent an exorbitant amount of money on just airing commercials. This is not an over-exaggeration, but the more than 50% of the commercials on-air are of politicians bidding for votes. One spot had a politician with a horde of followers all dressed in business attire, playing to the urban dwellers. Another ad had a politician in the countryside with the herders and horsemen, pandering to the masses with images of traditional Mongolian culture. If you can think of it, they have a commercial for it.

But what is surprising is the near non-existence of negative attacks of political opponents. Though my Mongolian language skill is basic @ best right now, but it seems that almost all commercials are about the actual candidates and his or her credentials rather than what is hidden in the closet of the other party members. And that is a breath of fresh air.


On the topic of bathing once a week:

In America I was used to showering once a day, and if it was particularly muggy that day, twice in one. If I didn’t have the mandatory once a day shower, I would feel disgusted my body.

In Mongolia, tough it out! The water supply is limited; so once or twice a week, depending on the tractor driver with the tank of fresh underground water supply, my family buys two “oil barrel sized” containers filled with water (we have to fill the containers ourselves). That is our water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, laundry, washing, and whatever it is that one does with water.

With so little water to go around, bathing naturally becomes one of the last priorities in the minds of the Mongolians. From my 3 weeks or so experience living with my family, I have yet to see a single person take a bath or shower. What they do is wash themselves with soap & shampoo all over, and not surprisingly in this dry climate, it is more than sufficient. As for me, I hate washing in the tiny water basin (tumpin) that the PC provides for us. But by the grace of PC gods, I was placed in town that has a river running through it. So once a week, I go swimming in the river (this is another topic for discussion). I clean my entire body, and boy does it feel good!

7 days, that’s the longest streak of non-bathing/showering thus far. The weather is nice and dry, so I rarely sweat and that keeps me from feeling the need to shower. But come winter, when the lakes and rivers freeze, I’m sure the number will climb to a new peak.

p.s. I don’t smell that bad.


Michelle, Tufts '05 (aka tennis buddy in case you forgot) said...

Well written! I like how I can live vicariously though your journal (although I don't envy you on the lack of showers).

Just one thing, more pictures!!

I read about the riots and I hope things settle down. Take care!

Anonymous said...

peace corp sounds like part of the plan to take over the world. Brainwashed third world country to trust AMerica then fuck them in the ass after (rogbbing natural resource, built military bases, control the government....) you're not doing anything wrong, though! just being used!

don't mind me I'm just ranting! :)

Alex said...

Hey, is it everything you thought it would be? I guess frisbee aren't that popular. Surprising to see volleyball diseminating to the pastures of mongolia.