Posted by: soupysays | June 30, 2006

Welcome to Small Town America

That’s how Peace Corps Volunteer Trainer (PCVT) Jesse described living in a soum. Horollith, also known as Sukhbaatar 5th bagh, is a 200 Turigek ride from SB and has a population around 3,000. Everyone knows everyone. As PCTs, everyone knows us, but we know no one. PCV TEFL volunteer Doug lives next door to PCT Elisa. It seems he has successfully integrated into the community because he knows everything about all the trainees right along with the other soum residents. Puttering down the main drag, you’ll pass a handful of small stores,  a community center, a basketball hoop, a PC game room (no Internet), and two bus stops.  However, I am probably being a bit misleading using the term “bus stops.” You, you silly American, are thinking of a kind of bus with a schedule. (I’ll save more explanation for later because transportation deserves its own entry.) Depending on the time of day, you could see herds of sheep, goats, cattle, or teenagers. The stores basically carry the same items. However, you’ll probably pay a bit more if you go to the store with the cold Cokes. The items are mostly small treats, drinks, alcohol, and a few toiletry items. I discovered two stores that carry raisins. One store carries apples. Another carries bell peppers. If you want any more perishable goods (besides ubiquitous bread, onions, and potatoes), then you’ll need to go to SB. 


My Mongolian language improves slowly, but it improves. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we have only been studying for two weeks, and that we are supposed to still be awful. Wednesday, after our mid-class break, my teacher, Oyuna, brought in four pre-teens to chat with us. Each one sat with each of us for 15 minutes while we struggled to think of all the small talk phrases that we had learned thus far. Towards the end, the conversations usually revolved around “What do you like to eat?” “I like fruit.” It was quite a reminder of how far with have to go. It was also the most physical and mentally exhausting hour I had experienced in quite some time. When the kids left, I wanted to sleep, and the front of my brain hurt. It wasn’t a headache. My brain hurt. We still had an hour of class left. Oy.


However, the other health PCTs and I love spending three hours three days a week in health training. It is a total different experience than language. On your way home, you don’t feel like your ass has been kicked. It’s exciting: yes, this is my job! On Friday’s we drive into SB to have culture sessions with the Community Youth Development group that lives in SB 3rd. They actually live in the city and are walking distance from the Internet, market, etc. The culture sessions are shaping up to very enlightening as well. Right now, Wednesday afternoons are free, but one of our language teachers is trying to set up optional music/dance workshops. As many of your know, musical talent and rhythm do not fall under “Stacey’s fortes.” However, I do have have fun being bad.


I bit of the food update and clarification. “Salad” can refer to a variety of dishes. None of them resembling the plate of fresh greens that I long for. The “salad” that am served  contains mostly cabbage with the occasional appearance of a yam, bell pepper or cucumber. The dressing consists of oil and vinegar. Friday’s “salad” resembled American pasta salad. The Mongolian mayo is lighter. It was mostly pasta with small bits of cucumber, tomato, and ham. Now, ham is not the product of decreased porkers that you know. Well, there might be pig in there (probably not). Ham is sort of like the spawn of sausage and baloney. If you are served slices of it, you can eat around the pockets of fat.  Mongolians don’t consider Ham meat. If you say you don’t eat meat, you’ll get ham. You want to eat meat.

Today I had some time to chat with the Peace Corps Intern. She is Mongolian, but she spent nine months in the United States as a foreign exchange student (thanks to a Soros scholarship). She told me that Mongolians don’t see fruit and veggies as filling. They are not the main part of the meal – only a supplement. Fruit is commonly seen as a desert item. That makes so much sense. For a people that have to survive a harsh winter, cabbage won’t cut it. There was a bowl of fruit in the fridge, but I devoured it quickly. I got to eat plums! Plums!

Traditionally, summer is considered the “white months” and diary products are heavily consumed. This isn’t very true for the non-herder folks like my family. However, yesterday for lunch I ate “Milk with Rice.” It’s not exactly how it sounds: it does have a few raisins. It was also tasty except for the massive amount of rice I was expected to consume. My family gets its yogurt and milk supply from their grandparents who own cows. The fresh yogurt blows any corn-syrup drenched Yoplait product out of the water.


A great thing about this country: it’s karaoke all the time. Mongolian love to sing. They sing along whenever they know the words and will usually sing to themselves or with others at random moments throughout the day. When a American song plays on Russian MTV, I am encouraged to sing along and teach my sisters the words. However, I am not up on my top 40 hip hop lyrics. Thus, I usually can’t sing too much. My siblings were disappointed that I didn’t know more than “My lovely lady humps.” I did catch my older, little sister trying to sing the chorus to “Ghetto Superstar.” I somehow managed to pull the chorus from some crevasse of my brain. It may not be 100% correct, but it is close enough. She had forgot the “Ghetto” part, and now the song is known just as “Superstar.” Every once in a while, Bimba requests my personal rendition of the chorus.


Which comes to a sad fact of life: you cannot escape shitty American music.


  1. Hey Stacey, every time I read your blog it blows me away. The thing you are expiriencing… I love living vicariously through you. Your host family sounds like loads of fun. By the end of the summer your Mongolian will definately be Novine-High I am sure. You should write an entry about how the language works, I’m curious about the script and grammer structure etc. Also, I have some old National Geographics lying around, I was wondering if you could use them if I mailed them to you. Let me know. I just got home to Colorado a few days ago. Have a great day.

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