Намайг Анхмаа гэдэг

On Independence Day, I was given my Mongolian name:

Анхмаа

It means #1 or winner.

Now, whoever said, “Don’t pack shorts! You’ll never wear them!” should be strung up by their toes. The summers here are sweltering. I’m thankful that I brought a pair of running shorts that I always pull on once I’m back from school. At least the sun has given me an incredible tan that is offsetting my blonde hair.

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Shopping in the markets in Sukhbaatar. The farther north you travel, the more you see Russian objects and merchandize.

Currently, my host mother’s university friend and her 8-year-old son are visiting from UB to avoid the Nadaam crowds in the city. She told me that she works for “Монгол Сайхан” – “Beautiful Mongolia” – a 30-minute show illuminating Mongolia’s nature and beautiful scenery.

In search for more information on this show, I found a CNN article, “18 jaw-droppingly beautiful Mongolia moments,” that you should check out.

Nadaamconsisting of the “Three Manliest Sports” that are archery, wrestling, and horse riding, began on 11 July. Only recently have women been allowed to participate in only archery and horse racing. However, very few do. Nadaam in my soum will  start on the 20th. I will be wearing my brand new deel.

On 9 July, with my host mother and two other PCTs, we took the minibus into Darkhan to go deel shopping. There were a plethora of stores that you could enter filled from top to bottom with lively and vibrant colors. Being almost 6 ft. tall and slim, I was the last one to finally find a deel that fit without any major adjustments made to it. It felt like I was shopping for a prom dress. You can just ask my parents how long that took. There were no changing rooms so we were changing in any empty corner we could find. Now that I have my first summer deel, I can’t wait to buy my winter deel. We wandered some more around the markets. I kept my backpack pulled tight to my stomach to avoid any fingers that could squirm into any pockets.

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My host mother was kind to take me shopping for my first summer deel.
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Mongolian children are like monkeys. They don’t sit in their seats but are either hanging out the windows, sitting between their parents in the front seat, or lying in the trunk.

I have also recovered from my first bout of food poisoning.

The cause of it?…  ICE CREAM.

On 16 July at 1:30pm, my host mother came home from the supermarket with popsicles. Within 10 minutes after eating mine, it felt like little mice feet were skittering about in my stomach. For the entire day, I felt nauseous and was knocked out cold. To make it even worse, we drove out to the countryside to the grandmother’s house to swim and eat dinner. After swimming, I fell asleep for three hours as everyone was tiptoeing around me. The following day, I was attacked by diarrhea. Every 10 minutes, I had to trek out to the outhouse. At one point, it felt like I was squatting in there long enough for me to carve my name into the wood. But my host mother whipped me up some rice water.

Rice water

  1. 1/4 cup of rice
  2. 3 cups of water
  3. Salt

Boil 1/4 cup of rice in 3 cups of water for 30 minutes. Leave to cool for another 30 minutes and then sprinkle in some salt.

This really helped in my recovery but I had to force it down. In the end, I emerged from my little house to live another day. But enough of this.

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Finally, it is strawberry picking season and the berries are so itty bitty tiny. I helped to make 8 jars of the most delicious strawberry jam. First, I had to pluck off all the stems and leaves. Then my host mother placed a large pot over the fire and poured in a small ladle of water followed by 4 kg of sugar. Then we poured in 4.5 kg of strawberries. The whole process only took 20 minutes as we took turns stirring the sugar and jam until it liquefied into a delightful aroma of fresh home-made jam.

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Plucking off all the leaves and discarding all the bad berries.
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The fire was built in my house because the chimney in the main house was blocked up. Went to sleep that night with the faint aroma of sweet strawberry jam lingering in the air.

Here are some more succinct highlights:

  1. We had a mock language test to prepare ourselves for the real test at the end of training. I wasn’t awful but I wasn’t good.
  2. We began practice teaching at the beginning of July. It’s very similar to our micro lessons except we teach for 40 minutes with more thorough planning. Currently, we’ve been on a two-week break from teaching because of Nadaam.
  3. The river is our only reprieve from the heat. Like a Viking, I go jumping into the cold water.
  4. I finally finished watching Game of Thrones season 6. That finale!
  5. All of our host families came together and had a volleyball tournament. It was also a sneaky way to get us all together and remind both host families and PCTs of the 8pm curfew.
  6. I have replaced my Illinois license with my new Mongolian ID, a Certificate of Alien Registration.
  7. After two weeks of the same breakfast, two sausages and bread dipped in egg batter, my mouth was salivating at the thought of oatmeal with lingonberry, Swedish pancakes, and toast topped with my favorite cheese. Luckily, my host mother has become attuned to my thoughts and bought me Choco Chip cereal. Now, I haven’t eaten cereal in over a year, but I rejoiced in the change. She also gave me two jars of peanut butter. I’ve never been a fan of peanut butter but I’ve got to eat what is available.
  8. I taught my host siblings and their cousins, “Round a round a circle like a teddy bear…” It’s what my Granny always use to do to me when I was little and now I’m constantly having all the small children running towards me with their palms stretched out yelling, “TEDDY BEAR, TEDDY BEAR!”
  9. Now what do I do in my free time when I’m not bogged down by PCT work? I’m reading the 8th Outlander book, “Written in My Own Heart’s Blood,” off of my Kindle.

I hope all is well back home!

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My host sister helping to water the garden.

 

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Unleash your singing voice

Mongolians love to sing!

We’ve been told by our language teachers and our cross-cultural team that we should learn a couple of Mongolian songs for when we are asked to sing. Fortunately, if we learn just the first few lines of a song, Mongolians will quickly jump in and sing along thus saving us from embarrassment. With my croaky voice, I will need saving.

Орчлонг хаирлаарай

Нандин цэнхэр тэнгэрийг хайрлаарай

Намрын будан бүрхчихнэ ай хөөрхий

Насан өндөр аав ээжээ хайрлаарай

Нартын жам нь булаачихна ай  хөөрхий

 

Гунигтай сэтгэлийг аргадаж хайрлаарай

Нулимстаи нүдийг арчиж хайрлаарай

Чи бидний орчлон ганцхан шүү

Амбдралыг зүрхэндээ тэврэн хайрлаарай

 

Гэгээн дорны сарыг хайрлаарай

Гэрэлт туяагаа хумьчихна ай хөөрхий

Зоргоор олдохгүй амьдралаа хайрлаарай

Зовлон жаргал хуваачихна ай хөөрхий

 

Here is also an example of throat singing:

Too Late to Apologize Throat Singing

Сайханы Хөтлийг

On 23 June, after our usual weekly trip to Suhbataar, we drove 20 minutes farther North to Сайханы Хөтлийг and the Mongolian-Russian border. To drive to this spot, we had to drive through a security checkpoint.

Through my awestruck blue eyes, I gazed upon the most beautiful sight.

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We hopped off the bus and immediately hustled ourselves up to the top of the hill to look out at the magnificent vista of clear, blue sky and lush green hills. A crisp breeze kept me from getting to hot from the hike to the top.

All along the Mongolian border you can find more oovos. These are made up of large pile of rocks with blue scarfs weaved through. This particular one had a ram’s skull perched on top.

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It’s these type of moments that remind me why I chose to serve with the Peace Corps in Mongolia.

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On our way back, we saved a car that got stuck in the mud and by “we,” I mean, just the men.

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One month wih the Peace Corps

July is here!

I have conquered my first month with the Peace Corps.

So much has happened since the last time I posted.

I was sick for 2-weeks with a sore throat and awful congestion. It made something as simple as getting out of my sleeping bag an unpleasant ordeal. By the 8th day when I realized that I wasn’t getting any better and it became painful to swallow food and drink, I had to call the Peace Corps Medical Office (PCMO). Dr. Maya saved me and I can now walk to school without feeling exhausted. In addition, I was feeling homesick but now I feel more comfortable with where I am…although I could live with less spiders invading my house.

Twice has my soum been hit by rainstorms. And both times we lost electricity. My little house even suffered from some flooding but my host parents were amazing and took quick care of it. The first storm came after a hike I took with 4 PC friends.

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An afternoon Sunday hike with my fellow PCTs. 

As we were coming down from the mountains and were re-entering our soum, little raindrops escalated into a fierce thunderstorm. I knew I would get drenched as I was still a 30-minute walk away from my house when suddenly, there was a honk. A white car was waiting up ahead – my host parents! I don’t know how they found me or if it was purely by accident, but they saved me from turning into a drowned rat. Mongolian parents have a sixth sense about their children or they just called around the town asking, “Have you seen the Americans?!”

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After the rain storms. Small lakes pop up everywhere.

My host family also took me out in the country to visit “my” grandparents. We all sat outside for dinner. What was for dinner? Well, let me tell you. Someone slaughtered a goat – (glad I was not there for that part) – and wrapped the bones and meat into a dough-like blanket. Potatoes and carrots were also added into the mix. Then the blanket was put in a pan and set upon an outdoor fire and left there for a couple of hours. When the meat was ready, the dough was pulled away to reveal all the meat.

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Mongolians are meticulous when eating their meat. Like eating ribs, they eat everything off the bone – (yes, even the fat) – until there is nothing left except for glistening white bones that get thrown to the dogs. Some even crack the bone in half to drink the marrow inside. I refuse to eat the fat. I also had my first taste of Mongolian made vodka. Not a fan. It tasted buttery but even if you don’t like it, you must take at least one sip to show respect.

The vodka was poured into a copper bowl which is then passed around to everyone at the table. I followed the example of putting my ring finger into the bowl and then flicking Vodka drops into the air. One flick for the past, a second flick to the present, and a third flick for the future. After our dinner, we played basketball – (with a soccer ball, I might add) – and went swimming in the river. It was a perfect day.   

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The summer nights are long with the sun not setting until after 11pm.

29 June was Mongolia’s Election Day. Peace Corps is forbidden to talk about politics or be in or around polling houses, so I’ve kept a tight lip since my arrival. The day was considered to be a holiday so there was no language class or afternoon classes. I saw many people dressed in their finest with older folk wearing traditional garb.

Micro teaching is now over. In July, we will now be practice teaching. In new groups of 3’s, we will teach 8 times throughout the month, to a variety of grade levels. The stakes are higher with more intensive lesson planning and more thorough evaluations. For our first two lesson plans, Peace Corps officials came to watch. We have also begun our community outreach program. After interviewing our host parents and after translating their Cyrillic script with the aid of our language teacher, we unearthed what the problems are in our town: poor dental hygiene, too much trash being thrown on the ground, not enough space in Kindergarten rooms for more children. They want a fitness center, indoor toilets at the school, better roads, drinking water in the school and more. Obviously, we can’t do anything about a fitness center, indoor toilets, or the roads. But we have come up with an excellent, long-lasting idea that we hope gets approved by Peace Corps. 

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On the road to Sükhbaatar. There is never a dull moment or a more beautiful sight then when driving through Mongolia.

 July will definitely be a busy month. I only have a month left until my swearing-in ceremony. It will be exciting to transition from a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) to Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I’ve received packages from my parents. My spirits soar every time I see someone walk into the room announcing, “Package for Anna!” Except one package was accidently sent to Singapore. Oops. Next time I update, I hope I will be wearing my own deel and telling you all about the Naadam festival that is in July. 

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My fellow Peace Corps trainees after a long day of language class and practice teaching.