First Weeks Training in Mongolia

Where to start? I live with Boldbaatar and Tungalag. They are herders my age. They have 14 milking cows and 14 calves. Every morning and evening, Tunga milks the cows. She has even made fresh yogurt a few times for us. We're right on the edge of the village so its easy for the cattle to look for some pasture. I've even helped with the calves sometimes herding them over the mountain to the next valley.

Tunga is a retired school teacher. Her husband is a retired electrician. They have five daughters, ages 28 to 36, and 4 grandchildren with another due in August. Most of the daughters live and work in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, but have been staying here at the house for the summer. For example, for the last week, Uranaa has been staying here with her 3-year-old daughter, Malika. Gegii was here on the weekend - she's the only daughter not married and had to return to work. So for the whole time, at least one or two of the girls have been here. I'm not sure if that's just their normal summer routine or if its because I'm here. They are all university educated and still remember a little bit of English so that really has helped with communication.

We all live in a four-room farm house and we share the yard with the animals. Besides the cows, we also have about a dozen chickens who give us fresh eggs every day, and two turkeys who just hatched a bunch of chicks. Not much of a garden but they do have a half-dozen berry bushes.

It has been really hot here (I know, who would have thought that!) but we've only had one rain that left puddles in the last 4 weeks. Because it's so dry, there's hardly any vegetation for the cows and it's very dusty. Sometimes I have to be careful not to hang any handwashed clothes when it's windy or they will be dirtier than before I washed them. The one time it did rain, the family were very grateful as summer is when the rains come to help grow the grass that the cattle need to build up with before the winter returns.

As of most of Mongolia, there is no plumbing (because pipes would freeze). We have an outhouse (just a hole in the floor, no seat to sit on) and we have to take a hand cart about a half a mile every day to fill up three 5-gallon water jugs at a pumphouse that has a well. On weekends I've kind of taken over that job so my host dad can sleep in.

Most of the Mongolian food I've had before so it's not so new for me. But all the daughters (they do most of the cooking) are great cooks. I'm sure their mother taught them how to make these awesome dumplings. Traditionally, just meat and onions are used in dumplings, but my host family add heaps of minced vegetables. They are by far the best "buuz" (steamed dumplings) I think I've ever eaten! We sometimes have rice pudding reminds me of my childhood. Most of the time we have vegetable-noodle soup with some meat. After living on spicy Thai food for so long, it's been an adjustment eating without even salt and pepper.

Because we have very limited access to water, there is no real bathing at the house. I do a wash-cloth wash-up every day and about once a week I walk into town to pay for a hot shower at a bath house which costs me about $2 which also happens to be about how much spending money the Peace Corps gives us per day during training.

The town of Baruun-Khaara is supposed to be about 5000 people. The largest employer is the school, kindergarden up through high school, which has about 900 students including a little over a hundred that live in the dormitories (their families are herders far out in the countryside) and 90 teachers and staff. We get to use the school because they are all on summer break. There is also a fairly new cooking oil factory. There was some gold mining in the area but not sure if that's providing many jobs these days.

For Mongolia, this is a pretty large town. It has several banks, plenty of grocery stores and small restaurants. It has a 12-bed hospital too. I walk about a mile to school and pass the Naadam Stadium on the way. Naadam is a big national festival coming soon. Besides a lot of pomp, everyone will be wearing their best del (a kind of overcoat) and eating a lot. There is also competitions in the "3 manly" sports: archery, horse racing and wrestling. Our towns celebration will be in a few weeks and I'll tell you more after that.

There are 10 Peace Corps trainees at this site and we're a pretty diverse group of folks. We have 4 guys and 6 girls, two of which are part of a married couple (their spouses are at a different site). But despite our many differences, we're already growing into a family of sorts.

We study language in the mornings. I thought Mongolian would be easier than Thai but I still struggle because it has a lot of verb suffixes and a few vowels that sound the same but Mongolians always are quick to tell us when we say them wrong.

Afternoons are spent learning how to teach English in Mongolia for the Peace Corps. For that, we also do practice teaching one or two days every week. It's just random kids who show up at school so we kind of divide them up into three groups: primary, middle and secondary school ages. It's kind of hard because we don't really know what they know and our teaching resources are limited to typing paper and a blackboard.

On Thursdays, we load onto a bus for a one-hour bus ride to Darkhan, Mongolia's 2nd largest city, where we meet some of the other groups for medical training and vaccinations plus sessions on safety and security. We also have some Mongolian culture classes. For example, we had one of the staff members' mother come and describe what it was like to live under communism and what's different now. It's nice to see some of the other trainees and we usually have time to shop next door for a huge variety of fruits, vegetables and other goodies we don't often see at our site.

Just a few days ago, our Baruun-Khaara group got together with the Peace Corps staff and had a big cookout. Originally, we were going to have a cook at the river but decided instead to cook everything at the school dormitory kitchen and eat it before we went to the river. Oh, so much food! We cooked goat and chicken that we used to make gyros on homemade flat bread, thanks to Gurcharan, both lettuce and fruit salads and other assorted foods like fried rice with potatoes, chips, cookies and softdrinks. To work off a few calories, Dre taught us all some dance moves and he also won the limbo contest. Then we took a long hike to check out the river. It only came up to my mid-calf - they really need some rain here!

We're close to the mid-point of our training and that also means Naadam is almost here too. It is a national festival featuring the 3 'manly' sports of archery, horse racing and wrestling, is almost here too. When I was in Mongolia before, I unfortunately never got to experience this festival, so I'm excited to see it this year in my community.

 

Jim

After a week of orientation on the outskirts of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, we loaded our stuff on a bus for the couple hour drive to our training site, Baruun-Khaara. Here Miranda, Dre, Hany and Haley try to get a view of the city as we approach. Those big duffles in the back are our Peace Corps issued rated -40F sleeping bags.
This is Borto, my 9-year-old host granddaughter and my unofficial Mongolian language teacher. Not only that, but she has schooled me on the finer points of playing UNO and now is teaching me to play Mongolian cards. She lives on the other side of the city but spends a lot of time here at her grandparents farm house and she is a great help, especially with the younger grandkids. She is also one of the students who we teach at the school every week. She is a very, very fast learner.
These are two of my other host grandchildren, in front with the big smile is 2-year old Ami, and off on his own adventure is 3-year-old Anka. Here they are outside the fence as we wait for the cows to return. In the far distance on the left, you can kind of see part of the vegetable oil factory.
Anka and Ami would like to show you the kitchen. On the left is the same kind of sink you find in a traditional Mongolian 'ger' or felt tent. The blue container above it holds clean water and there is a bucket underneath for the gray water. The big blue barrel in the middle is what we use for our daily water. I'm guessing it would take 4 or 5 of our big jugs to fill it. On the right is a two-burner hotplate that we use for cooking. They also have a rice cooker and a steamer (for dumplings). A lot of the time we eat here instead of in the dinning room. This is also the entryway for the rest of the house.
Like I said, the yard is multipurpose. Borto plays with her cousin Ami. The chickens look for something to eat, while Tunga is preparing to milk the cows in the back.
Just wanted to show you a picture of one of our turkeys. My host sister, Uranaa, is giving her daughter, Malika, a bath. After both Malika and Ami had their baths, they promptly started playing in the sandbox making me wonder why they took a bath in the first place. ha ha ha
I couldn't believe that we all could fit in the school dormitory kitchen as we were preparing for our big feast. Here front and center are our Mongolian language teachers, Navcha and Orgo. Navcha is actually a Mongolian language teacher at the school and also a very good friend of my host mother, Tunga.
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