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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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.