Thursday, November 3, 2011

October Happenings

As October has left, so have the leaves on the few trees lining the streets of Baganuur. Now, ice covers the sidewalks where children slide to school. I have been busy this month. For a week, I went to daily acupuncture sessions at the hospital in hopes of quelling the migraines that plague me. After following the smell of tea, I arrived in the alternative medicine wing where my doctor manipulated ten small needles in various pressure points. Then, small cups were suctioned to my back with a hand pump and moved around to increase circulation in a practice fittingly called cupping. I was also told to not touch cold things. Good to know. No word on the effectiveness yet, but the sessions let me get some relaxation, at least.

A poster my 9th grader drew: Alcohol as a Magnet
October was also the proud parent of Alcohol Awareness Week—a nation-wide outreach project to educate the population on the risks that can accompany the country’s dangerous affair with overconsumption. The theme of this year’s campaign was “peer pressure,” aptly chosen, considering the cultural customs that surround drinking here make it very difficult to turn down alcohol when it’s offered, as doing so can be viewed as offensive. I’m also highly suspicious that there is an old wives’ tale that Mongolian vodka has a one-hour shelf life—that it will go bad if you do not finish the bottle once you open it. Or so people seem to believe. For this year’s activities, my sitemates and I involved our police department, our children’s center, and even our governor’s office. We held a competition between the two main school complexes in my town.
The Man Who
Wanted to be
as Strong as a Wolf
Fetal Alcohol

Each school selected winning posters from 9th grade that fit the theme, a winning AXA (ah ha) team from 10th grade, and two winning ACK (ask) teams from 11th grade to compete against the winners from the other school complex. Enter note on Mongolian competitive nature: Mongolians are competitive. A few weeks ago, my teachers drafted me to play in a volleyball tournament that started at 7 pm on a Tuesday night. Our team took first place and the 100,000,000 Tugrik prize around 12:30 in the morning. However, the tournament victory was not enough, because it was at this point when we started playing side games for funsies. On a school night. After over 5 hours. C’mon. Anyway, we knew the kids would be all for the competition. We held the event at our town’s culture center, and it started only an hour after it was supposed to. Not too bad. AXA is a game show-type activity where students have to answer questions on stage and if they get one wrong, they have to remove one of three sticky stars they have placed on their chests (humiliating for a Mongolian who prides awards and recognition of success, trust me, but they adore AXA). 
All of the ACK teams
An ACK skit

ACK is a performance competition. Students create skits on the theme, and have to make a team name and introduction, and also have to answer questions from a panel. It is quite the production, and it was really neat to watch. Though I couldn’t understand all of the skits, they were quite dramatic and really portrayed how much alcohol has affected the lives of some of these kids. After all was said and done, winners were picked and prizes were awarded. More importantly, certificates were bestowed that will be filed away in students’ book o’ certificates that they undoubtedly have at home and that documents every success they have ever achieved. Certificates are no joke here.

After we wrapped up Alcohol Awareness Week, we threw a Halloween party for our friends here who are other volunteers from Japan and Korea, as well as a few co-workers. Our party was their first interaction with Halloween, so we did our best to make it authentic. We told them to come in costume, and they did a great job. I fashioned a robot get-up from old care packages that was stellar at masking my lack of creativity when it came to dance moves. We made pizza and our Japanese friends brought an assortment of their own delicacies. We had candy and drinks and even a pie. We made good use of the spigot half of one of our water filters to make a punch bowl for “pink drink” (too reminiscent of Pepto-Bismol for comfort) and kept everything else cold in our bathing tumpins using snow we gathered outside (genius). We had a very successful night indeed.

Now as October has wrapped up, I realize that I have been in Mongolia for 5 months. Moreover, I have almost been at my permanent site longer than I was at my training site, a new milestone in itself. Each day, the time I spent in Orkhon learning Mongolian, growing to love my host family, herding cows, making friends, climbing mountains, swimming in the river, and soaking up the sun feel more distant, especially as a permanent cloud of grey swallows the impending winter sky. Still, I have fond memories of the days in the heat, and after each phone call with my host mom, I daydream of returning to visit.

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