Posted by: soupysays | July 4, 2006

A Month in

The countdown to shining beacon at the end of this week, mid-center days in Darkhan, has reached less than 24 hours. I am leaving my host family for three days with quite an accomplishment under my belt: I helped cook and clean up after a meal.


Ever since my arrival at my host family three weeks ago, I have been served to. The only meal preparation I have been allowed to do is stuff a few buutz, peel a potato, and roll a bit of flour for hoshers. I have cleaned my meal bowl a couple of times, but every time I offered to help with the dishes, I was told no or told it was my sister’s job.


However, today, my older sister, Bato, asked if I wanted to help make lunch. I said yes. We made noodle soup. Noodle soup has noodles, a little bit of meat, potatoes, carrots, and even a smaller bit of cabbage. Cooking is different here. I had never sliced small slices of meat from a giant hunk of sort of frozen meat. My sister probably thought I’d lied to her when I told her a could peel potatoes. I’m pretty clumsy at it with a big knife. However, my mom and aunt said it was tasty. I then helped clean all the dishes with Bato. A success.


I believe my family suddenly realized I could cook because on Saturday, all of the health trainees got together at Elisa’s and cooked for our LCFs (Language and Community Facilitors or Mongolian teachers) and various family members. Doug and a visiting M-15, Bridgett, joined us. Peace Corps gave us 12,000 Turgurks (less than $12) to have the experience shopping and cooking. We broke the bank and put on the quite the Mongolian-American fusion meal. We made pizza, potato salad, potato hoshers, and apple-cinnamon hoshers. Otherwise know as “a lot of food.”


The pizza almost didn’t happen. We went to the market in SB on Friday and could not find reasonably priced tomato paste and could find no cheese. Juli and Hamilton found some tomato paste in a random 5th bagh store on Friday evening. Juli’s older brother knew where to get cheese and took a taxi into SB on Saturday morning. He came back with spreadable cheese. It worked wonderfully. My family has asked me to make pizza during Naadam.


Hamilton really wanted to make his potato salad. I’m really glad he did. Thanks to some mustard borrowed from Doug, everyone gobbled it down . Hamilton spent a lot  of time making it. Lots of love. I love the taste of love.


The potato hoshers are  one our  group’s favorite Mongolian dishes. They are basically fried pockets of potato (or meat). Some of us had seen or partially assisted our family’s making them, but we gave it a go. Melinda made some of her mashed potatoes. Like Hamilton’s potato salad, a lot of love and labor went into them. The hoshers did not look like mini-works of art when the Mongols make them, and ours were too greasy, but they tasted yummy and disappeared just like the the pizza and potatoes.


The apple-cinnamon hoshers were the real experiment. We were only able to make them thanks to the cinnamon supplied by Doug. Once we had confirmation of this essestinal ingredient, we drooled at the mere idea of them. They were a bit more tricky than the potato hoshers. The dough had to be thicker because the apples wanted to stick through the dough, and since the filling was runny, they had to be made right before we fried them otherwise, sogginess happened. After a final product taste test, we realized that we forgot to put sugar in the dough. We fixed this during the last batch by putting sugar and cinnamon on the dough before the filling. They were still tasty, but like my “summer of endless batches of fudge,” perfection is not reached on the try. The Americans liked the apple-cinnamon hoshers. The Mongols did not.


Cooking is different here. Everything is from scratch. It took hours to cook it all. We made all the dough. We couldn’t fry the hoshers while the pizza backed because we would overload the electrical system. We had only a few host family houses we could used for cooking because not everyone has an oven. If a store (or market stall) had cheese last week (or yesterday) , it doesn’t mean it was there today. Also, since we live outside the city, we have even less available walking distance away.


I cannot remember when I felt that full. After cooking, we played in the river. What a great day.


On Friday, during the first two hours of language class, each volunteer brought a family member to participate in a round robin speaking event. Each PCT sat with each family member for 10-15 minutes to simply speak. It went well. My brain didn’t ache as much as when we chatted with the kids for an hour, but by the thirty minutes or so, my brain felt like mush. I did manage to find out some interesting information during the last chat with  Hamilton’s mom. They own 40 goats. The other day, feeling a bit frustrated over language, and thought, “A month ago I spoke no Mongolian.” After Friday’s session, Ashley’s sister told Ashley my Mongolian was good. I feel that mine is about middle of the road compared to everyone in the group. I have making more an effort to speak with my host family, and that has helped. I have a mid-service spoken language assessment on Thursday. I’m hoping to score “Novice-Mid.” Peace Corps wants everyone at “Novice-High” by the end of the summer.


That night Melinda and I walked into the yard just as Bato came carrying a 1.5L pastic bottle of beer. My parents had Michelle’s parents over and another friend. They were already working on the vodka. The beer had been bought for the women. (My 16 year old sister did not drink. She is just the beer purchaser.) It turned out that my father was celebrating receiving a pin from the President of the Aimag. It symbolized that  he was wrestling in the SB Naadam.  He had known from some time (the paper was dated 6/6/06), but now it was official. In pin form. It had images of the three “manly sports” that occur during Naadam: horse racing, arrow shoot and wrestling. Women compete in everything but wrestling.


Melinda and I joined in for some beer, laughter and singing. What a great country.


Tomorrow, I head to Darkhan for mid-center days. We were supposed to take a Meeker and leave at 9. However, last night’s rain washed out a bridge. We are taking the train at 6 instead. I have to be up at 5.


  1. Wow Stacey! I’ve been a bit behind on reading your blog. It sounds like everything is going well. I love reading about your experiences.

    Can’t wait for the next installment!

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