Monday, August 29, 2011

Today (Sunday, July 17th) I went to “the countryside” with my sitemate, Bonnie, and her family. I would phonetically type “the countryside,” except that I am not sure how, which kind of works the countryside is a mysterious place. Let me elaborate. Seemingly one-by-one, PCT’s from my site have been being taken by their families to “the countryside.” When they get back to class, the stories from the countryside are strange and always surprising. Basically, we have learned from the retelling of these storites that if you are told that you are going to the countryside (which can be difficult to understand in the first place since “the countryside” is only one sound different than our closest pseudo-city, Khutul, where some other trainees are) expect that there might be a possibility of any of the following: you might spend the day weeding potatoes in the hot sun, your family or you might be about to butcher an unexpecting animal for lunch, you might be offered candy while going to the bathroom in a field, and best of all, you could possibly be staying the night. Bonnie and I had a less tumultuous experience.

We splashed around in a creek for a while, laid in the sun, rode a horse, ate some soup, had some vodka and “Mongolian vodka” which is made from yogurt, laid around in the sun some more, and then finally headed home. Among my favorite moments of the day was when we asked what we were going to eat, and Bonnie’s mom replied, “Countryside food.” After a great day of relaxation, we got in the car to head home. In the back seat: a live goat.

The trip to Khiid

The cold weather stayed through the weekend. Friday, though the day of our first Peace Corps evaluation and Language Proficiency Interview, was warmed by the multitude of mail I received at school. I got a letter from my brother and two packages from my mom, one which contained letters from a friend. I was overwhelmed with the amount of American goods I had in my reach. Then, on Saturday, we went to Amarbayasgalant Monastery with our families and language teachers. We left in the cold at around 5:30 in the morning and arrived a few hours later after driving through the countryside and mountains on dirt roads and through small creeks.
When we arrived, the men, including the American gents, went into the forest to find wood for a fire. When they returned, several were missing shoes that they had sacrificed to rivers that they had to cross, but they came back with trees on their backs. Once a fire was started, a metal bowl of tea was brewed. A breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes, ham, and bread was prepared by the mothers and we feasted. Around this time, or 9:30, the first of the vodka shots were poured and toasts were given. I remember the phrase, “Maybe you are cold,” being uttered in justification. 3 rounds later, we visited the Monastery and conjoining school while several fathers stayed and prepared for lunch.
When we returned, we played games in the rain and tried to keep warm by the fire. The men were busy tending to lunch. A khorkhuk was being prepared. A goat had been killed and was put into a metal can of sorts with hot stones from the fire, possibly a bottle of vodka or beer, carrots, potatoes, onions, and salt, and then a lid was attached and the stew pressure-cooked for nearly an hour. After we had finished wrestling, playing a duck-duck-goose type game, and playing limbo, we were called to lunch. We were given the hot stoned from the mixture to pass between our hands to warm us up. Metal plates were filled with heaping portions of meat and root vegetables. I took my plate to a tired tree limb that was resting on the ground and began to feast on possibly the best meal I have ever had. My friends agreed that this peculiar delicacy could not be described in words.
As we finished eating, our language teacher, Tumee, brought us a beer, explaining that after eating this meal, we shouldn’t drink cold liquid or water because we would get very, very sick. Beer, however, was perfectly fine. So it goes.

We continued to enjoy our day in the beautiful countryside as the rain fell. We sang songs with our families and danced between cars playing music from their windows. I attempted the Mongolian Waltz with my Mongol dad. Soon after the dancing, we headed back to Orkhon. It wasn’t much later than 3 PM, but we were all exhausted. We stopped at a natural spring and drank water that was said to be holy because it was so pure. We also ate tiny strawberries we picked off the nearby mountain. Full, blessed, and happy, I fell asleep on the ride home.