Tsagaan Sar with my host family

Сайхан шинэлээрэй!

For Mongolia’s New Year, Tsagaan Sar, I traveled back to Yeruu in northern Mongolia to visit and celebrate with my host family. I hadn’t seen them since we last hugged goodbye in August 2016 when Peace Corps training was finished.

Summer 2016

Now flash forward two years and it’s a long trip back. I took a seven-hour bus ride to Ulaanbaatar. Followed by a four-hour bus ride to Darkhan and ending with a one-hour car ride to Yeruu. There are now paved roads that shoot straight to Yeruu. During Peace Corps training, there had been a lot of cross-country driving over bumpy terrain.

IMG_8515

I was so happy to see my host family. My host siblings immediately wanted to play and my grandmother was tottering about making sure plenty of food was on the table. This family has been there with me since the very beginning. They were there during all the highs and lows I experienced during that summer. They were witnesses to when I first began learning Mongolian as I tried to (very poorly) make the KUUUHH and x sounds. Despite this, I have the most success understanding and communicating with them. They know we need to speak slowly with each other and we all patiently make huge efforts to make ourselves understood. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Two years later, Winter 2018 with my host family.

During my first night, everyone came to the house – all of my host mom’s brothers and sisters and their children. The kids thankfully haven’t changed much and are still chubby and adorable. Together, we drove to a hill and went sledding. 

I felt pathetic as I fell asleep dressed head to toe in under armor underneath three blankets while my host family fell asleep in t-shirts with only one blanket. This was my first visit to the countryside during winter and from now on I will only be visiting in the summer. I was like a cockatiel sitting perched on a stool by the stove where the only source of warmth was coming from. 

IMG_8511

Friday was the first day of Tsagaan Sar. We were all dressed in our Mongolian deels. Every house we visited had salads and buuz on the table with milk tea and vodka. We stayed at each house for at least an hour. There was a lot of: “Back in the car, Anna!” “ZAAAAA!”

I had to leave Yeruu at 5 AM on Saturday morning. Not a lot of transportation leaving during the New Year and having to leave at that ungodly hour was my only option. However, my trip out of Yeruu felt surreal. It was pitch black and snowing. I was stuffed in the back of a small car between luggage and another girl. ABBA was playing on the radio. We encountered no other cars. These small moments of my time in Mongolia are what I will oddly remember the most. 

I hope to visit again in the summer! 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Advertisements

Баяртай 2017

December was a whirlpool of events. 

December in UB is also cold.

I took my GRE in the city. I had been studying since September. I was the only person staying in the guesthouse for two nights. It was eerily cool. The bell to the door was never ringing and I had an entire room to myself. The GRE was at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology. An easy walk from the guesthouse but once I was there I realized I didn’t actually know which building I had to go in. I ended up having to call someone who had taken the test earlier in the month and found the place within minutes. I had at least been in the right building but wrong floor. Then someone thought I was a guest speaker and tried to drag me off somewhere else.

It was just me, a Russian woman, and two Mongolians. Other than a 10-minute power outage that occurred in the middle, I finished the test in just under four hours and was relieved to be done. I rushed over to Granville Restaurant where I devoured a cheeseburger and fries. 

IMG_6921
The Christmas tree in the square.
IMG_6924
The night before I watched The Last Jedi.

It has made me so jovial on Sundays when a solid amount of kids come for Sunday’s English club. Usually clubs in Mongolia see a decline from 70 to 12 to 4 students. When I arrive at the Children’s Center I wonder, “Is this the day when kids stop showing up?” But I think I’m doing something right.

This month, kids have been learning Christmas songs. Jingle Bells is popular but I also taught them lesser known songs such as Frosty the Snowman. In addition, they created Christmas word trees and watched the cartoon “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We wish you a Happy New Year!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christmas was celebrated for the second time away from home. On Saturday prior to Christmas, we had a PCV Christmas dinner with friends from nearby aimags and soums. We finally ate the turkey Peace Corps gives us every year. I was fortuitously not in charge of the bird. I still remember the turkey blood and the breaking of my fridge from last year. On Christmas morning, I opened up the presents I kept hidden away under my bed and then went to school for a few hours. There were Christmas performances at school. All teachers participated in secret Santa. For two-weeks, we had to buy 5 presents for our chosen ones and secretly deliver them. It was arduous work having to sneak into the director’s office when he wasn’t around. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Christmas tree in my aimag’s government square.
IMG_7038
Christmas evening at school.

Nation-wide all schools began winter break earlier then expected. Aimags and soums have different reasons. Some say it’s because it’s too cold. Other places because of sickness. The governor issued his statement and students and teachers were told to stay at home. This included the cancellation of other extra curricular activities. So as a result, winter break extended from two-weeks to one month. Despite early closure, my school still had its New Year’s party. I donned a dress I bought in UB. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
5 shots of vodka later and my lipstick is still on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

26169804_2073241609575755_8244919580634994267_n

25660181_1531769306937763_3741925810774031392_n
My wonderful supervisor.

Happy New Year! 

 

Mongolia in December

Smiles are the best. With Christmas and New Years swiftly approaching, I miss my home. But seeing students smile at school – (and not immediately bursting into giggles which usually happens after just saying hi) – is a small thing I greatly appreciate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A 9th grade classroom.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A 12th grade student smiles for the camera.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
6th graders were taught how to talk about what makes them happy.

I will continue my service in Mongolia during my favorite holidays. While family and friends in Chicago are visiting Christkindlmarkt, decorating Christmas trees, and walking along streets illuminated by Christmas lights…I’m on the prowl for bags of frozen strawberries, wearing my mask every evening to ward off air pollution, and googling how to make cinnamon rolls from scratch.

IMG_6723
The brick building is my home.

I have done my best to make my home festive. My Christmas stocking is hanging on the door; I have snowflakes and a reindeer dangling from the ceiling; the small doors in my advent calendar are faithfully opened up every morning; lights have been hung over my window; my tiny Swedish tomte sits upon my dresser. It’s the best I can do. A large number of restaurants and stores have also been decorated for Christmas and New Years. When I was in UB earlier for a Peace Corps PAC meeting, I saw the giant Christmas tree in the Shangri La Mall.

IMG_6726

What has December been like?

As my bus pulled into my town’s bus station at 2 in the morning, someone had taken one of my bags from above the seats. I was very frustrated as I walked home. Later, I told a friend about my missing bag and she made a post on Facebook about it. That post was shared and read by so many people! Three-hours later, my bag was returned with everything in tact. Then for the next week, I had people asking me at school or sending me text messages: “I’m sorry about your bag.” “Did you get your bag?” and my favorite, “I can’t sleep until your bag is back with you!”

Blistering cold weather but only a little bit of snow.

I finished reading The Mistress of the Art of Death series and have begun reading Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” I couldn’t finish “Anna Karenina” so lets see how long I can last with the “masterpiece of world literature.”

I traveled to UB for a Peace Corps PAC meeting. A few volunteers were asked to discuss about the TEFL (Teach English as a foreign language) program and offered suggestions on how to improve the future of the program. Buses are extremely hot. UB’s temperatures can plummet down to -20 Fahrenheit so you’ve got to dress warmly. However, after just two hours on a bus, I’ve stripped down to my t-shirt.

My friend returned from study abroad in Europe. She had a wistful and dreamy gaze as she recalled her stories about her stay in Luxembourg and her trips to Spain, France, Germany, and Switzerland. She has taken a piece of the cake and now she wants the whole cake. What’s her next plan? To go to Australia!

Me and another PCV had lunch with someone who served with Peace Corps in Paraguay during the ’90s. It’s fascinating to hear how different Peace Corps was prior to laptops, kindles, and hard drives that we use now.

My door had been receiving a lot of attention from the children in my building. Knocking once a day turned into knocking five-times a day. They always want help with English homework or want to play. I actually began to flinch every time I heard the pounding of tiny fists on my door accompanied by the yells of “Anna teacher! Anna teacher!”  Unfortunately, it became a problem and they were told by their grandmother and my counterpart to stop.

I am still lesson planning and team teaching when opportunity presents itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
6th, 7th, and 8th graders waiting outside to enter the building for afternoon classes.

I attended a dance performance at the theater with my counterpart’s family. Her daughter was dancing. The theater was packed with people. Children were sitting on top of each other. People were standing in the aisles against the walls. I’m amazed I was saved a seat. The ride home was the best part. 10 people were smushed into a small car. I sat on an 80-year-old woman’s lap with a small child on my lap as my head was crushed against the roof thinking, “This would be an awful time to hit potholes.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My counterpart’s daughter dancing a solo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Those kids sitting in the corner upon the stage is how close they can get without being shooed or ushered away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nevertheless, good things are happening. I will soon take the GRE. My birthday is approaching and I’m going on an exciting vacation in three-weeks.

Celebrating Tsagaan Sar

Ready…Set…Tsagaan Sar!

Tsagaan Sar felt like a race that began weeks in advance. Stores were being emptied out, I had to wait 30 minutes in a line at the ATM as a dead goat was being shoved into my back, and many folk from the countryside came in for weekend shopping trips. I heard the word “Opoc” (Russia) being whispered as I stealthy weaved through the crowds.   

What is Tsagaan Sar?

Tsagaan Sar is Mongolia’s Lunar New Year.

Because this is a brand new holiday for all of us, Peace Corps prepared us with what to expect and taught us the proper greetings. Below are just three examples:

Сар шинийн мэнд хүргэе! – Happy Tsagaan Sar!

Сайхан шинэлээрэй! – Have a good Tsagaan Sar!

Сар шиндээ сайхан шинж байна уу?  – Are you having a good Tsagaan Sar?

In my new winter deel, I visited five homes where I stuffed myself like a glutton. It was the epitome of being fat and happy.

IMG_3689

Every Mongolian household puts together a display of food on the eve of Tsagaan Sar. The layers of all the bread represent happiness and sadness. Always beginning and ending the year in happiness. On top are white food items such as sugar cubes, aaruul, and white mints. The color white represents the moon. Then there is a massive chunk of beef guests can carve from, fruit, and a bowl of sweets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What does Tsagaan Sar entail?

  • Food – So much food! The main entre is buuz. Every family makes over a thousand buuz. There are also more plates of meat with slices of pickles plus chocolate. You can drink milk tea, airag, vodka, beer, and juice.

Two weeks before the holiday, I went to the supermarket. The atmosphere of the supermarket was much like a gladiatorial fight. People were fighting over boxes; straight, organized lines at the cashier no longer existed. People were trying to step in front of each other while old women showed no mercy as they shoved themselves to the very front; the last couple of eggs, bags of bread and apples, and packages of chocolate chip cookies were swiftly scooped up. But before I got caught up in all of it, I promptly made a u-turn and bee- lined it to another less raucous supermarket. Thus, I had to stock my kitchen with food as if the apocalypse was approaching. Later, on 6 March, stores still didn’t have dairy products or bread.

  • Family – Tsagaan Sar is all about visiting family. Depending on how large a family is… and Mongolian families are large…you can spend two-weeks or more visiting each others gers and apartments. Visits can be short or long depending on how busy your day is.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My counterpart Nymdavaa and her husband in their home.

 

  • Winter deels – Tsagaan Sar is a blast to the past honoring Mongolian tradition by wearing a deel. Seamstresses are busy months in advance creating new winter deels for men and women, boys and girls.
P3041516.jpg
On top of a hill with an ovoo, a sacred stone heap.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My counterpart’s daughter also wearing a blue deel.
  • Presents – After every visit, Mongolians give presents to every visitor before they leave. It can be a variety of items such as candy, cookies, money, soap, and makeup.

17103582_1902450390042185_6154737059611820594_n

Some Peace Corps Volunteers have described the holiday as being a lot like Halloween (going out and visiting houses), Thanksgiving (eating a lot of food), and Christmas (giving and receiving presents) all rolled up into one big holiday.

My school also had a ceremony.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Buddhist monk attended the ceremony. We were all given three white food items: a wafer, a peppermint, and a sugar cube. As the monk chanted and incense wafted up into the air, we had to circle our hands, while holding the items, when directed by the monk. I was very close to chomping down on the wafer beforehand but quickly stopped myself when I saw no one else was eating.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Me with my school’s English and Russian teachers.

 

Now its Spring!

Tsagaan Sar also symbolizes the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The weather already feels warmer. It won’t be shorts weather until May or June but the sun is shining bright.

Happy New Year

Шинэ жилийн мэнд хүргэе!

First holidays abroad and I must admit, it was tough on me. There were just too many Buchanan traditions I missed out on that I craved all throughout December such as seeing our Swedish Christmas tomtes decorating our home; decorating the Christmas tree; baking Swedish gingerbread cookies while munching on the dough; walking amongst all the twinkling lights that crown Chicago; eating a smorgasbord for dinner; driving to the airport at midnight with my dad to pick up my brother; and pestering my dad with my incessant chatter that makes him wish my brothers came home more often.

But Peace Corps Volunteers must adapt to new changes in their lives. So I made the most of my new situation. Just like in America, all stores in my aimag were decorated for Christmas and New Year’s. The government square had a large Christmas tree in the center. In the market, small Christmas trees were being sold along with lights, ornaments, little Santa jackets, and ribbons. I played Christmas music in the mornings and plugged my Christmas lights in every night.

img_3128

 My school held a Christmas/New Year concert in the sports hall. Each grade decorated a small Christmas tree that were lined up alongside the stage. Students sang and danced and Santa gave out presents to the best students. The Russian Santa isn’t a jolly, fat, and red suited fella we’re used to but is tall, thin, and dresses all in white.

img_3100

I also attended the Young Teachers Christmas (Shinjil) party with my site mate, Jenni. The hall was decorated with snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, a Christmas tree was flashing away in a corner, banners saying “Merry Christmas” hung on the walls, Santa made an appearance, and women wore glittery dresses. At seeing the dresses, it felt like I had been transported back to high school prom while simultaneously feeling under dressed. Yet, the real Christmas miracle was having fresh pineapple delivered to our table. My first taste of pineapple in 6 months.  

15621794_10154902886932962_5618832305745981878_n

During IST, Peace Corps gave each aimag a turkey. Having never prepared a turkey before, I did extensive research before undertaking the task. What did I come to realize? That a big turkey requires a big pot that requires a large refrigerator. A counterpart supplied me with the pot but the pot barely managed to get into my tiny fridge. I was lying in bed when I heard a thumping sound but I thought it was the children next door to me. The thump came again and then I remembered that a massive pot filled to the rim with salt water in which a turkey was floating in was in my fridge. I caught the pot before the entire shelf came crashing down. My Friday night was spent duct taping my shelf back up and cutting up the turkey into many pieces to be put into a smaller pot. There was turkey blood everywhere.

Nevertheless, our Christmas Eve feast was a success with the turkey, roasted potatoes and carrots, and cinnamon rolls. On Christmas, we prepared a brunch that included blueberry scones and strawberries. I chatted with my family and opened my Christmas packages my parents sent.  It was a Christmas spent with my sitemates who become like family during your service. 

img_3140img_3133img_3135

For New Year’s Eve, my counterpart invited me to her home. She had spent two hours the day before preparing buuz, Mongolian steamed dumplings. I feasted on the most delicious buuz I’ve ever had. At midnight, 2017 swept in as little fireworks popped in the sky.  

What’s my New Year resolution? I don’t really have one except to continue my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

img_3191

.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Happy birthday, Chinggis Khan!!

No school!!!

img_2646img_2649OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There was no school on Halloween which is also Chinggis Khan’s birthday. 12th graders created all the decorations for their spooky Halloween party, baked all the food, and had games to play. They painted their faces, made home-made witch hats, wore creepy masks, and sported cat ears. There was even a live cat meowing constantly behind a curtain.