Posted by: soupysays | July 10, 2006

After Mid-Center Days

 Darkhan did turn out to be a well deserved break. It was three informational session-filled days, but it was a chance to catch up with other trainees, bitch/brag about host families, and just relax.


In the end, I am happy I got to take the train. When we go to UB on Saturday, we are going by train, but we are traveling at night, and the scenery will be lost on us. And there is scenery to see. Mongolia in the summertime is simply beautiful. The recent rains certainly haven’t hurt.


We got to the hotel at 8:30am. Our first session didn’t start until 11am. We all had one order of business on our minds: a shower.


So far, life without running water has not been a difficult adjustment. Having to walk outside when you have to pee at 3am is a pain, but what I really miss the ease of turning on a faucet. You can control the flow of cold and hot water with such ease! Anyway, I really haven’t perfected washing my thick  hair in the bucket bath. Bathing here seems to be such a project. I have a plastic tub that I fill with water and haul to my room. My mom heats some water so I’m not taking an ice cold bath. (Trust me, the well water is ice cold.) My family thinks I’m weird because I turn down my sister’s assistance during bath time. One sister scrubs the other’s hair, and then she will pour water over her to get her wet/rinse off the suds. I do have to admit that this is much more effective than my solo baths. However, I’m going to hold on that Americanism: bath time is me time. That’s be one cultural bridge I’ll never cross.


I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing my hair felt when I stepped out of the shower. So. Clean.


On the 4th, the trainers and trainees competed in a basketball game. Honestly, I thought the game was going to be boring, and I wasn’t expecting to stay for the whole thing. However, the presentation of the whole event made it great. The trainers (and the Country Director, Ken) burst out onto the court wearing real basketball uniforms. They had them made by a woman in Darkhan. Jay, who left the country after three years the next day, came out with a mohawk. The game hasn’t even started, and I am laughing my ass off. The game came down to the wire: the trainers barely won. I cheered like an idiot through the whole thing. Afterwards, we were treated to “hot dogs,” “hamburgers,” and “pizza.” I think Jeff summed up the meal, “This is the best tasting worst pizza I’ve ever had.” There was real, Heinz ketchup. I was happy.


That night I got to experience a Mongolian club, Queens. It appears that I get to escape the American “meat market” dance clubs for two years. Mongols dance in circles, and every once in a while someone jumps in the middle to show off moves. I had a fantastic time.


On morning, my roommate Juli (another health volunteer) and I went on a walk to a big Buddha statue not too far from the hotel. While we were there, we were approached by the Lama (he identified himself as such), and then proceeded to chat (or attempt to) in Mongolian. I think we did ok. He actually asked us phrases that we know like “What do your parents do?” He wanted us to come back that evening for something, but we couldn’t. Twas a fun, random interaction.


We got back to our site on Wednesday night. I had my language test on Thursday, and it didn’t go as well as I hoped. I have been a little lax in studying lately, and it showed. I was a little hurt because I was asked if I wasn’t spending time with my host family, and if that was why my language wasn’t coming along. I spend most of my time with them! However, a lot of my speaking and listening happens between me and my little sister and just interacting with her isn’t moving my learning. I am trying to speak more with my Mom, but she tends to use my little sister as I interpreter instead of trying to understand me or trying to get me to understand her. It’s a little frustrating. She did try and help with my pronunciation this evening which was nice. Sadly, her approach is just to have to read a phrase until I say it correctly and then move to the next phrase. No retention, no conversation, just reading out load. I will continue to speak to her, and hopefully I can make some headway.


This past weekend was Naadam in my town. The country-wide Naadm goes from the 11th – 13th, but soums and aimag centers have their own Naadams. I saw my dad wrestle on Saturday. It was a bit of an upset. He went down in the third round. That evening my mom simply said that he wrestled badly that day. While he was sitting there. Quite a difference from the American “you did your best” lines. I saw a little bit of archery on Saturday, but it doesn’t seem to be a popular event. It was held outside of the stadium. Inside, a basketball tournament went all day. It appeared that everyone just played in whatever they happened to be wearing that day. What stood out was how slow the whole day moved. There is a lot of waiting. On Sunday I saw a horse race…sort of. I saw the winner come to the finish line. The losers were no wear to be seen. However, it was a bit scary because it is good luck to touch the winning horse’s sweat and then touch each of our family members. When the winner came in, a mass of people on foot and horses rushed to winner in order to touch it. I did not. I held my sister and stayed out of the way.


At the race I was stuck on a horse and got my photo taken. Later, some guy came over with his horse so I could repeat the “sit and take picture” act.


Naadam was not as exciting as I thought it would be. The family treated it like a pretty normal day except for going to see the wrestling. Only my sister and I went out on Sunday.


I am about to meet the Community Youth Development (CYD) trainees for a beer at the Chinges Bar. We don’t have class the 11th – 13th because it’s a national holiday. We are going hiking tomorrow. We hope to climb one of the mountainish hills behind the city. The idea is to take a picture of Russia from the top.

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