Naadam!

            What a day!

Naadam was celebrated on 20-21 July in my soum.

What is Naadam?

It is Mongolia’s celebration of the “Three Manliest Sports:” wrestling, archery, and horse racing. This is Mongolia’s largest celebration in the summer and it is to honor Mongolia’s ancient history and customs going all the way back to Chinggis Khan’s (Чингис хаан) time.

I wasn’t told the night before what time we were leaving or even when Naadam was starting. At 10am, I walked into the house in my pajamas.

“So, when are we leaving?” “IN 20 MINUTES!”

That got me sprinting back to my little house to throw on my deel, brush my teeth, and grab my camera. However, I should have known about Mongolian time because when I walked back into the house all ready-to-go, my little brother and sister were still running around naked and my host mom was getting her hair straightened.

I was excited to finally wear my deel that my mom bought me in Darkhan. People were staring at me as soon as I got out of the car. In fact, we all wore our colorful deels causing many eyes to be drawn to our group.  

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The deel I’m wearing is a 2-piece that can be warn separately from each other. The next time you’ll see me wearing this deel will be at my swearing-in ceremony in August.

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All nine of us with our PC Trainer, our TEFL trainer, and our language teachers.

 

We were incredibly lucky with the weather. There was cloud cover so we weren’t sweltering from the heat but we also managed to avoid a potential rainstorm. We sat in small bleachers underneath an awning with our host families. All the children sported Mongolian flag tattoos on their faces and were waving sticks of cotton candy. Little girls flounced about in their dresses and the boys sported clean pants and shirts.

 

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Before the competitions began, there were performances. There was dancing and singing. My host dad has an incredible singing voice and dedicated one of his songs in my honor. Regrettably, I couldn’t understand what the man and woman were saying over the microphone throughout the prelude. I just heard my name being announced before my host dad’s performance. It was a wonderful performance.

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Children in colorful dress performed dances before Naadam competitions began.

 

 

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Finally the games were underway! All three were happening simultaneously. Mongolian men were wrestling on the field inside the stadium while arrows were being fired nearby in a separate field.  Young children and teenagers raced their horses for 30 km outside of the soum. Women and girls can participate only in archery and horse racing. Gers were erected all around the stadium where we could sit and eat kebabs. There were also carnival-like games that children and even adults could play for prizes. Women had set up their own refreshment tables with large Coke Cola bottles which they poured into cups and sold at a small prize. All in all, it wasn’t a crowded event. My soum is a large soum with 6,000 people but the stadium wasn’t jam-packed and swarming with people like it is in UB.

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A woman competing in archery. To win in archery, an arrow has to be fired at a great distance and has to knock down the red block that sits in the middle of many gray blocks.

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My fellow PCT, Andrew, got permission from our country director to wrestle. He had been training for weeks before Naadam and managed to stand his ground for a couple of minutes before he was taken down. An astounding feat and surely a very cool story to tell everyone back home about.

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A 10-minute drive took me out to the finishing line to watch the horse riders come to a galloping finish. The winner was a young boy who looked to be only 8 years old. It felt like I was in the movie “Hidalgo.” We were all dressed in our finest, waiting in the dusty warm weather for the horses to make an appearance. All that was missing was a horn being blown.

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I have now made it over the hill into the final two weeks of Peace Corps Training. Our community project was a success. We gave our school’s Director and the English teachers flash drives with various recorded scenarios – how to order food in a restaurant, formal and informal conversations, how to ask for a taxi, and when talking about travel. We also recorded children books for beginners, intermediates, and advanced English learners. We hope that our project will be fun and can help Mongolian children to learn English and that the English teachers will distribute the surplus flash drives to other English teachers around Mongolia.

Here are some more PCT highlights:

My house is getting invaded by animals. My host dad has already killed four mice. I had a bird get stuck in my chimney and a long rat-like rodent scurried into my room and then back out. My host mom asked me if I wanted a cat to which I swiftly said, “NO!” Just what I need, another animal prowling about.

There was a planned three-day electricity black out in our soum. So we had to build a fire to cook our meals over. I always have to make sure that my filter is full with water when incidences like this occurs because the machine that pulls up the water runs on electricity. Chika and I watched “Easy A” on my computer to pass the time.

Practice Teaching is over. The number of students had dropped since teaching resumed after the Naadam break. For example, we went from 30 5th graders to three. We were still able to teach the limited number of students but the atmosphere was way less formal. My host brother and his cousin came and were excited to learn their ABC’s. My host sister is too young and was crying when I told her that she was too little.

We had a Karaoke night. One of the host mother’s organized the whole event and we had our own private room supplied with bowls of chips and peanuts and lots of beer. Our host parents came and were sitting outside like our chaperones, laughing at how horrible we were. But they all came in when we sang, “Аяны Шувуу.”

For a week, the hills surrounding my soum disappeared under a blanket of fog and smoke. I found out that Russia had raging forest fires and all the smoke was being blown into Mongolia. It at least helped to bring the temperature down.

I went on a hike with all the children. At one point, I was carrying two children up at once when it got too steep or they got too tired. I have grown to enjoy their company. I have never been around so many kids before. At first I was overwhelmed. Now, I look forward to spending every possible minute with them. However, I still have trouble remembering most of their names so I have assigned them with animal names; “Little Bear,” “Little Monkey,” “Little Goat,” “Little Cat,” etc. They love it.

On TV, I’m been watching UK’s CNN in an attempt to keep up with the news. I have to say that I much prefer UK’s news coverage over U.S. coverage. More events and incidences from around the world are being covered and reported.

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My little animals jumping for joy on our hike.

 

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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.