Monday, July 18, 2011


On July 6th and 7th, my soum celebrated Naadam, the national holiday recognizing Mongolia’s indepence from China that was gained in 1921. The holiday revolves around a sports festival honoring the three manly sports: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. We celebrated by going out to our town’s “stadium” (a ring of cinderblocks, more or less, in the open countryside). During the Naadam opening ceremony, there was a lot of singing and dancing. In fact, my host brother sang the “Orkhon song” and danced with some of his friends.

Then the wrestling commenced. Soon after, herds of children jockeys on horses came stampeding towards the area, and we all had to run to watch and cheer their arrival. This festival is supposed to take place during the hottest time of the year. However, our Naadam was unusually cold. Cold as in, I was wearing leggings, pants, two pairs of socks, a shirt, and two jackets one day—inside. I do not know where the cold came from, but it came fast. A friend’s mom told me that a cold summer meant a less harsh winter, so let’s hope that’s true. Despite the weather, the festivities were fun. I would liken the holiday to a rodeo—lot’s of people wandering around a campground of sorts, animals abounding, plenty of drinking, and even more fried food. The unofficially official Naadam food is hoshuur, a mixture of some variety of meat and onions fried in a portable dough pouch. It’s like a meat hot-pocket. But fried. And best with ketchup (which in Mongolia is spicy, thank God) or soy sauce. There is no clean way to eat hoshuur, and asking to eat only one or explaining that you are full is pointless because I think it is some (again unofficial) tradition that whenever hoshuur are made, they are made in large, large quantities. All in all, Naadam was fun. We even had a dance at the Culture Center one night, and who doesn’t love a dance? The other wonderful thing about Naadam is that since it is a national holiday, we got three days off from school. Even better: our three days were capital’s Naadam days, so we had our celebration Wednesday and Thursday, and then were off from school Monday-Wednesday the following week. I’ve enjoyed my holiday and have spent it reading a lot (I’m reading Life of Pi, the second Harry Potter, and Just Kids), and I’ve also been watching a lot of movies and Arrested Development thanks to my fellow sitemates allowing me to rip them from their external harddrives.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One month down...

            A month has passed since I left the States for Mongolia, and so much has happened. Since moving to Orkhon, I’ve had an interesting mix of relaxed Mongolian life and intense work schedules. Everyday, I go to the school for four hours of Mongolian language classes. Afterwards, I walk back to my house (about 20 minutes away) and eat whatever lunch my younger sister has prepared. After lunch, I return to school for afternoon technical sessions directed by Peace Corps Volunteers and training staff. These sessions range in topic from cultural adjustment and acclimation, to job-specific TEFL training. We also have culture classes held in Mongolian on Monday afternoons. Our language teachers direct these and we study a variety of topics including Mongolian history, customs and traditions, holidays, music and art, and, of course, how to make toasts during celebrations.
            Though my days are busy, I still somehow find time to read and hang out with new friends. My fellow sitemates and I have become fond of climbing a mountain in our town where an oboo rests at the top. Our entire town can be seen from the top, and it is a relaxing place to be. We also spend a lot of time at the park playing volleyball, basketball, and Frisbee with locals. We have found favorite spots around town to meet up and have lovingly nicknamed each. Among my favorites are the ger-zebo and the Soviet wall. Besides playing sports and “American Hang Out,” I play a variety of Mongolian games. The most popular are khuzur, a card game which seems to be a variant of hearts, and shagai, a marbles-type game played with sheep ankle bones.
            My soum is currently preparing for Naadam, a national sports festival with contests in wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Though the official holiday isn’t until next week, my soum is celebrating early, small-town style. My brother will be singing and dancing in the festivities. Meanwhile, my fellow Americans and I are trying to decide how we will spend the 4th of July (tomorrow). We have school all day and, ironically, a culture session about Mongolian holidays in the afternoon, but we all agree that we want to have a celebration. Today while we are in Darkhan for our vaccinations, we all have the task of finding “something American” to bring to the party. Still no word yet on the firework situation.
            Before I left, many of my friends and family members were curious about what my diet would consist of while I’m abroad. Last week, I documented with a fool-proof tally system each food type that I ate. Over the whole week, the variety of my food ingredients did not stray from the following (listed by frequency): meat, noodles, onion, potato, bread, cabbage, red pepper, rice, egg, “fried something,” kash (cream-of-wheat style sweet porridge), pickles, and carrots. Every meal I ate consisted of some re-working of those ingredients. To drink, I was served coffee most frequently, followed by milk tea. I enjoy the food here, but nearly all of the Americans at my site and I fantasize pretty frequently about more variety. I’ve even started to dream of awful fast food from America, which I rarely ate but would gladly revisit. Sometimes I just get plain rice, which is one of my favorite dishes, and I add butter and salt and pepper and pretend that it is something from home. Another note about Mongolian cuisine: it is usually scalding hot. On my hot walks home from school, I usually can be heard wishing for anything but soup, because that is the hottest dish. Also, all liquids served with meals (coffee, milk tea, milk) are served hot. My family laughs at my inability to drink them as fast as they do, but it really is impossible.
            I really enjoy my time with my family. I have learned enough language to converse casually (usually about the same thing, but I’m having conversation nonetheless). We even make jokes together that I (usually) understand. I’ve sent some mail back home to my family, though. Sending mail is tricky here because my town doesn’t have a post office that is currently operating, so I have to hand off letters to a volunteer who is going to the city and pay that person to cover my postage. Receiving mail is slightly easier, but I still have to rely on the current volunteers/trainers to bring whatever mail I receive from the capital of UB to my site when they come for our afternoon sessions. I haven’t gotten any letters yet, though I’m sure some have been sent. It is a long process, but well worth it. Mail days are so exciting here. We even send intersite mail from soum to soum to fellow trainees. Since I have no internet and very limited phone access, mail is really special (enter shameless plug for you all to send me mail).
            I will not be back in Darkhan until mid-June, but now that I’ve realized that I can use my external hard drive as a USB, hopefully I can post more the next time I am able. Until then.