Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A fucking day.

I woke up today feeling as if I was on top of the world. One of my major projects was successfully completed. My most perfect and beautiful angel of a companion had safely returned home to be with her family and friends and the weather was beautiful in Gobi-Altai.

I embraced all of these facts and went on a hike, which was amazing as always. To hear the silence that the world should be was beautiful and as always completely captured my attention.

After this extraordinary spring/summer day I decided to head home and with an American friend have a drink. And how quickly did this turn into a day I would never forget, I’m sure for the remainder of my life.

I should explain that Brit and I live with a family. In that family there is an adult supervisor, which is our landlords direct brother. He watches over the children, mainly the 2-year-old infant.

So, we returned to my apartment and opened a bottle of vodka with a mixer after our lengthy hike. While this bottle was being drank the house/child keeper stopped by. He of coursed noticed we were drinking and proposed the idea of buying a bottle and us drinking it together. This being completely acceptable in Mongolia we said yes. Not to mention the day prior it was his birthday.

Needless to say my site mate and I allowed this to happen, deeming it culturally acceptable. It turned out that after only 3 shots of vodka this person was absolutely and completely inebriated with a baby in his arms. We both noticed this and put a cap on the unfinished bottle.

I took the baby from his arms and tried my best to care of her and make her happy. Naturally, the child was yearning for it’s caretaker, I never gave her back to him, but did my best to entertain the infant and try to make the situation slide by.

I felt it was time to send the caretaker home, after he stood and fell into my wall I knew I could not leave him with this child alone. I left my apartment, baby in my arms and inebriated man behind me, stumbling to his doorstep.

Bouncing the child and singing to her I tried my best to make her comfortable and happy, but one of the people she trusted and loved most was stumbling to his doorstep and could barely unlock the door into the home, which she knew best.

I stood bouncing and singing to the infant the only way I knew, hoping to please and remove her mind from hunger and a need for her home, simply waiting for the drunk man to open the door and allow me to please the child with the comfort and recognition of her sanctuary.  

After we entered the home I had to fight the caretaker for the child, he wanted to take her in and leave me behind. I could not do this and insisted that before I gave her to him he must be at least seated. After he was seated and I turned the TV on I gave her to him. She found comfort in his arms. I sat by watching and consoling both the child and caretaker, trying to balance the situation as best I could.

At this exact moment I knew I would never forget for my entire life the predicament that I was in.

This exact moment and the situation prior had and will haunt me for the remainder of my life. I knew in my soul, in my ‘heart’ what should have been done, but because of what I had been taught, because of what I had learned about the culture, I should let things go (as far as drinking). I fought my natural urges to follow the ‘natural law’ or status quo.

(This is the lesson that should be learned, shall We follow the status quo or follow what we know is right?)

I stayed with the two until the infant was nearly asleep. I made sure she had her bottle, which at times I watched the caretaker drink from. At this point he received a call from someone, following this call tears ran from his eyes as the infant cried her self to sleep.

I left and went to my connected apartment to be with my American friend. As I was telling him of the situation, I noticed the Mother and younger brother sprinting to their home. I, of course knew why.

I am speechless and bewildered at my actions today. I try and try to be the best person I can be for humanity. But, situations sneak up on me. Yes, to the common person this may seem like an obvious answer, but in Mongolia what happened was perfectly acceptable. Is this an excuse, I suppose for the standard which I hope to hold myself to, yes.

Today, I failed. And I will guarantee that I will remember this day for the rest of my life. I can’t put into words the many emotions, which it sparks within me. Personally and regarding human kind and sociological matters,

I am sorry.

I love and miss you Brittany.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A day

Tuesday March 6, 2012
8:15 AM: Ipod alarm causes me to stir and eventually lunge forward. I grab the Ipod and blindly press every button until the alarm is off. Back to bed.
8:30 AM: I am now bouncing around between stages 1-3 of sleep. My dreams are much more vivid, isn’t it crazy how you wake up from an alarm, return to your slumber and your catapulted into a dream which seems to last an hour, but it’s only a few minutes. Cobb was right.
8:35 AM: It’s the kick! I’ve just been ripped out of my dream from alarm number two, my phone. I strategically change its location every night before I go to sleep. I’m not the easiest to wake. Shut the hell up phone.
8:50 AM: Finally decide to get out of bed as I have to be to work at 9:30 AM. Well I lie; I have a ‘weekly work meeting’ that takes place every Tuesday at 9:00 AM. In reality these meetings take place maybe once a month, during the beginning of the school year it was a different story, motivation happens (new shirt).
9:00 AM: After putting water in the boiler to make tea I head to the bathroom for morning duties and a quick splash of water to the face. Turn on the hot plate to warm it up for when I want to cook eggs, waters ready, grab a tea bag and mug, mix with water and now it’s the waiting game. Time to put on clothes and fancy myself up.
9:10 AM: Fancied up. My tea is ready for a quick sip, hot plates ready. Grab two eggs a slice of cheese and half of a red pepper. Mr. Omelet, I love you so much. Such a quick and easy meal and so damn delicious.
9:25 AM: Finished my meal, give Brit a kiss and a hug and wish her a good day. I’m off to save Mongolia!
9:30 AM: Half of the staff isn’t at work yet, low and behold no morning meeting.
9:32 AM: Leave work and head to the library where I teach classes. I don’t have morning classes on Tuesdays, but the library is my escape from doing nothing at my actual work, at least I can read. I pick up Robinson Crusoe and enter the journey that Daniel Defoe had written so many years ago. Thanks Bookbridge! So Bookbridge is a non profit organization with its home base in Germany. The founder started the company after he saw what a box full of books did for a group of children in Mongolia. Bookbridge builds libraries for poor regions all over the world. Thank you Bookbridge for providing Gobi-Altai with books and also providing books that Mongolians will most likely never touch, for example, “Robinson Crusoe” It helps keep my sanity…
9:50 AM: Had an important meeting set up for 10:00 AM with what I translated to the Social Welfare agency here in G.A. I am working on a new project with my HCA. We are trying to start a program for disabled children. My counterpart called me and in broken English explained that we had to leave now to meet this director.  Very excited because usually I show up on time and it’s just me all alone awhile, obviously I have learned not to show up on time for Tuesday morning meetings. Also, I am extremely nervous for this meeting, partly because I will not be able to do any of the talking. Hope I can trust what my counterparts say.
10:15 AM: The meeting begins. I pay close attention to the conversation and am able to follow. I think I am generally happy with how things are going and what is being discussed, but sometimes I am definitely lost. I start to fade from focus, but I am quickly reeled back in. The director of the social welfare said he would cover 50% of the cost for the project and can cut some of the other costs through his direct resources.
10:30 AM: The meeting is over; I give a high five to my two counterparts. We were all happy to get this grant, but I still had a quick lesson to teach from this. Initially my counterparts wanted to of course go to an organization that isn’t from Mongolia to ask for support. I had to really push to get them to look within their community first for aid. I have always been pushing community first and the last resort is outside funding. Due to their past Mongolians are trained to always look for outside sources. It’s so easy for them to forget that their countries economy is on the upswing and seeking within for funding potentially can be much easier.
10:45 AM: At work again, everyone is sitting at their computers chatting on yahoo or playing games until lunch. Well, I’m off to the library to say hello to Mr. Crusoe. We left our situation a bit uneasy, he at sea with his boat nearly capsizing and I being rushed to a meeting where I understand half of what is being said with my fingers crossed hoping for the best. My situation turned out a little better than his.
11:00 AM and beyond: Who cares? This one has already been chalked up as a win.

 I still did a few things during the rest of the day like taught my advanced English class. I’m on Mongolia time now and to have a meeting that I pushed for, actually happen and early for that matter, that alone is a big deal. Now, to have it work out so splendidly and move one step closer to the beginning of my cities first ever program for disabled youth. That’s a good day.
This is how I measure things now, I pick out a few things that need to happen in a week’s time and these are my goals. It may be 5 things and it may be 1, but if I can get these things done I am happy. It’s been nice adjusting to this mind set, my stress level has gone down so much, and I’m already scared that it has gone down too much for the standards of the U.S.A. I can’t imagine going back and being put back into that mindset, already scared for my return. I do miss many things though; crazy stress is not one of them.
Great day, happy for my counterparts and happy for our new program to begin very soon.  Happy Birthday Shaq.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I have been in Gobi-Altai now since I returned from the capital, Ulaanbaatar in early November. Things have been going alright for me since that time. I have been extremely busy and it can get tiring and absolutely frustrating, but things are starting to slowly come together.

Since I entered the PC I have been doing something with my goals that I have always done, but it is something in which I have never paid much attention.

I have many goals that I want reached they are daily/weekly/monthly and beyond. I write a lot of things down for the sake of remembering and this helps. But, the one thing that I have done my whole life and still am doing here is setting a major I guess, life position goal and this goal should be met in a certain length of time. For example, during my Pre-Service Training I said to myself that I want to be completely open minded, try new things and challenge myself everyday to learn the language and culture the best I can. I thought if I am able to do this I would be happy with myself and well prepare to be off on my own in Mongolia. Along the path of PST there were many ups and downs both emotional and physical, but I had this goal of where I wanted to be at the end of this 3 month span and I think I did a pretty damn good job.

Next, I came to my site and I said to myself for the first several months here I want to learn my organization, town, and the ins and outs of the business side of Mongolia. Without even realizing it I did this, I have paid attention to where to go, who to talk to, and what I should do if I want something done. And the other day I realized that I have pretty much done this. I thus far have constructed a website for my organization and have handed the management over to one of my Mongolian Counterparts. I told him that I am done and he can come to me with questions, but he is the manager now, just gotta cut them loose.....

I am currently in the middle of 2 new projects which I'm very excited about. The 1st project is a large week long competition between all of the schools in our city which will culminate in a community day where the children will get together, clean up the areas around their schools and plant trees provided by the Governor. This event will be happening in the second to last week in April. The 2nd project that I have been working on is something that I have envisioned and dreamed about doing ever since I learned I would be working as a community youth volunteer. I am currently working with my organization to setup a weekly program that lasts a few hours for disabled children. Mongolia does not have many options for disabled people in general, I believe there are only 2 or 3 wheelchair ramps in our entire city let alone classes for disabled youth. So I pushed for this and have been so fortunate to find a volunteer from a different service organization from Holland who has a wealth of knowledge and experience working with disabled children in Mongolia. I am using her as an important resource to get this project off the ground. I wrote a proposal, along with 2 Mongolian counterparts, which was approved by my Director last week and we will be moving forward with the project.  Soon we will be visiting the homes of potential candidates who could be involved with this class and with other local organizations for funding.

So on top of these two large projects I am still continuing with teaching 3 separate English classes for students which meets twice per week, 2 separate staff classes which meets once per week, I am starting a sports club, a reading club, and a movie club all meeting once per week. Also, I attend English club open to anyone once per week with the rest of the PCVs in our city.

So yea, I'm busy, very busy. It sometimes gets to me and man do I need a break on the weekends, but at the end of the day, it's what I came here to do so I'm by no means complaining.

As for the next period in these months to come I have told myself that I want to begin the disabled children's project, see the big competition become a success in April, and continue to force my main counterpart to make lesson plans for her English classes that she will be able to use forever (with minor adjustments, of course). If everything works out, all of these things should come to fruition. Just gotta keep on rollin' through the rough spots and keep my main goals up high, above the radar.

Currently 150 lbs, working out in a gym I found in the local sports center. Fearing the upcoming holiday of Tsaagan Tsar where I will have to visit several Mongolian Gers and be forced to eat copious amounts of mayonnaise filled salads, mutton/beef filled buuz, milk tea, and vodka. I plan to involve a lot of forced regurgitation to get through this week!

Until next time, do something different.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Actively Perched....


It’s time for an update on my life here in Mongolia. Some time ago I gave a schedule of my day-to-day actions and that was before it officially began, so it was what was supposed to be. Naturally, that schedule kind of fell to the way side, but it has a stamp on it! In Mongolia EVERYTHING is stamped and has a signature, I guess that makes things official, but I believe it loses its prowess when everything I see has a stamp and signature on it.

As for my real daily schedule to date, I stay quite busy. This is a very good and can be a very rare thing in PC Mongolia. Some times PC volunteers tend to be used as a pretty face or trophy as opposed to a serious asset. The Aimag Children’s Department (ACD) I work for keeps me quite busy, I calculated that I am working at the very least 40 hours per week for them along with a few extra things for the community.

My ACD has a full time English teacher, which is my main counterpart (CP). She is a very nice lady and speaks decent English, so she is an important asset to my day to day life and success here. We team teach 2 separate beginner English courses twice per week; 1 intermediate English course twice per week; and one free talk club with the “Children’s Community group”. They are a group of teens within the community who are Child leaders and are very active students. I very much so enjoy working with them and have been slowly trying to turn it into more of a fun club setting where we can talk about their community and try and think of ways to improve it with the hope to begin small projects with them. This would also allow me to work with another CP who is a smart guy, but lacks a little motivation. So I have to find a way to get him going, my main idea was to get my director to choose him to go to a training conference ran by the PC during Thanksgiving. After some strategically planted suggestions and politicking on my part he was chosen, so I’m excited for that and hopefully we can get going on something together. It will be difficult because he speaks virtually no English, but we usually work things out.

Back to my weekly routine, other than the English courses I go to the local kindergartens 4 out of 5 days per week. When we first arrived in Altai I asked my CP to take me around to all of the schools so I could meet people and just throw my name and face out there. I also wanted to ask people what if anything they would like from me. I took a lot of notes, but knew that I wouldn’t be able to do everything that was being asked. So I picked some of the common requests from the Kindergarten directors and that turned into a type of IQ training. The official title (because it was stamped) can be translated as ‘The Art of IQ’. Which made me feel threatened at first, that’s quite the name. I didn’t want expectations to be set too high. Regardless, it was happening and I had to put something together with my main CP. So 6 of 8 of the kindergartens were going to get general IQ trainings. To date we have done mazes, puzzles, identifying shapes and colors, counting, number writing, and we have used building blocks for them to build objects we choose. It has been great and a lot of fun, but keeping those young ones under control can be a tough task at times, especially if you don’t know their language. The other two classes specifically requested English. So we have been going over the alphabet very slowly and they now know the entire alphabet song, very exciting. They also know how to make the shape of many of the letters in the alphabet with their bodies!

I’m also nearing the completion of a website for the children’s center, recently translated and pretty much wrote 2 grants and all of the various other things that pop up that I am not informed about until the last minute that fill my schedule. I am exhausted by the time I get home nearly everyday. There are a few days in there that allow me to really relax in the evening, but I am keeping very busy. I might have to look into reviewing my schedule and changing it so I can feel more productive and happier with the use of my time.

I went to the capital and returned 10 days later to Gobi-Altai, my home base. I was able to buy a few things in UB that I could bring back to GA and also complete a number of errands that needed to be done. I had free time for two full weekends and in the week between was In Service Training with the PC and one of my CPs. During my free time I was able to eat at restaurants to excite my taste buds and also drink real live delicious coffee at a few coffee shops. The other thing that is great about UB is the presence of other white people. Their presence means I do not get stared at everywhere I go and that feeling is awesome. IST was 4.5 days of serious training. We went over many things all, which will assist with my life at site.

One of the most difficult things that we have to deal with as PCVs is how to adjust to the work life of the Mongolian culture. It’s unrealistic to come to a new culture and be thrown into their work environment and expect to conduct business in the same way or at the same rate as in the USA. I’ve always believed myself to be a chameleon; able to blend in to any situation I am put in and succeed every time. I do believe I am succeeding here in Mongolia, while keeping the PC’s goals and mission statement in mind, however learning what strings to pull, who to go to for assistance, and adjusting my schedule appropriately has been quite a challenge. Obviously, the language barrier is a major variable in our challenges. But, trying to bend my mind and mold my work style to better fit with Mongolians all the while trying to complete tasks and introduce new potential projects has been a struggle, which has led to mental fatigue and many frustrations.

IST came at the perfect time. I had fallen into a work schedule that kept me quite busy, but it was mundane and allowed for people to begin to take advantage of me. It also was pulling me in just one direction, which I absolutely do not want. As a CYD PCV I am able to work with and do so many different things and I want to completely embrace that opportunity. TEFL volunteers come here and know they will be English teachers in some way shape or form. I as a non-TEFL know that I will still be teaching English, as a native speaker that is inevitable. But, I have to work extra hard to remind Mongolians that I offer many other things as well. So since IST I have been re-motivated and I am going to complete re-vamp my schedule. I am going to attempt to set it up so that I will be able to work with many CPs as opposed to just the one I have had most of my time focused on. I plan to cut back my English teaching hours and instead of focusing on team teaching, which more times than not leads to me teaching, focus on class and unit planning with the Children’s Department English teacher. I still plan to team teach with her a few times a week, but I believe that if I cut back on my presence in the classroom it will force her to have lessons prepared for herself. In the time I set aside for myself during the week I intend to use for the creation and implementation of a new business and life skills club offered to the children in our community. The business club will be offered in the afternoon when the older students are finished with class. The life skills club I plan to work with the Children Rights specialist and go to the ‘technical college’ or as I like to call it the ‘your only good for haircutting and fixing things’ college (that’s a different story which I will tell at a later post).

The other thing I got from IST with my CP was a decent project that we want to work together on. I was talking with the other PCVs at our site a few weeks back and we thought it would be a good idea to setup a competition for next spring that would pit all of the schools in the community against each other. We plan to have a sports, dance, singing, art, English, and business competition. This will hopefully be a multiple day event and will culminate with a community day where the students will go out into the community for a day and complete requested or needed tasks in the area. We really hope this works and the winning school will get a good size trophy which they will have in their school until the following years competition and also they will win a decent prize for the school. We hope these things will provide motivation.

Other than that, I am happy to be back in Gobi-Altai, it was nice to go to the capital so I could get some tasty food in me. It is also nice to see where Mongolia is really advancing and how modern they are becoming. However, this is at the cost of the environment. According to the UN Ulaanbaatar is the most polluted city in the world during winter and I concur. I was there for only a few days and developed a scratchy throat with some congestion as well. They say being outside in UB for a day is the equivalent of smoking 60 cigarettes, yikes! I’m very happy not to be placed there. Many of the PCVs living there have developed some serious breathing issues and might even have to be relocated. There are many things I am excited for now that I am back at site, I hope I can get moving on some of them and change up my schedule. It’s one big game and I am still trying to figure it out. Slowly but surely, slowly but surely I will be able to get shit done. I’m like an eagle perched and studying my settings until I know the exact manner in which to strike. Steadfast….Actively perched, until further notice.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Part 3 and Back to Daily Life

Part 3:

I woke up the following morning bright and early. I was looking forward to heading back home, but was not looking forward to the long ride. However, I knew what we were in for so things weren’t as bleak as they may have seemed. I had a little spring in my step although it was around 7:00 AM so I decided to do some hiking of my own. I started toward a small canyon where I noticed a climbable path to the top of a peak. I made it to the top rather quickly as it wasn’t too large. I faced east sat down and was sitting alone atop this peak and looking across the flat desert with the mountain range in the far distance. The sun was rising and it was just me enjoying some peace and reflecting on the weekend and my time in Mongolia. I was enjoying my time and in my peripheral vision I noticed an elderly Mongolian women atop a peak not so far from me. She was at one of the many prayer sites and was walking around the site tossing milk into the air and offering it to the earth. This is a tradition that many Mongolians take part in everyday, but especially at special places like Mother Mountain. It was a beautiful and warming site and I will never forget it.

I sat in that spot for some time and thoroughly enjoyed my surroundings and the rising sun. I was there until everyone had gotten up, I went back down and figured we were going to be heading out quite early so we could get back to town at a decent time. Not so, we ate two more times and took our time. We ended up leaving Mother Mountain around 12:00. The ride back home turned out to be even longer than the ride there. The engine in our microbus was constantly overheating all through the desert until we got to that incredibly rocky and insane mountain pass. We really started zooming here, instead of driving for 10 minutes and stopping for 15 we were on a roll at 20 consecutive minutes when we had to stop once more, not because of overheating, but because a herd of cows was being led through the pass. Once the cows passed we hit the road and really started cruising. We stopped a few more times and finally made it back to town at midnight. Exhausted we walked inside smacked the dust off of our sleeping bags and threw them on our futon and passed out.

It was probably the longest shortest trip I have ever been on, but I don’t regret it for a minute. I learned a lot, saw, and experienced many new things that I will never forget. Even when I think I know all there is to know about this culture I am always pleasantly surprised.

Back to Daily Life

Things got back to normal and we were very excited to be back home and could relax. My director offered to take me to the countryside the following weekend and I felt obligated to since I had just told her all about us going to Mother Mountain with Brit’s director and work mates. Brit and I hopped in the car on Friday and was in for a very Mongolian night and day. We at all forms of dairy, intestines, dough products and meat. We were at my director’s brother’s ger and it was quite small. Brit and I were politely asked to sleep in the meeker, we obliged. The seats were laid down and with our sleeping bags it wasn’t so bad. I was just about to fall asleep when I felt someone or something against the vehicle. I assumed they had gotten drunk in the ger and one of them wandered out and was leaning the vehicle for something to lean on while they pissed. This noise repeated for sometime and I started to get a little annoyed so I grabbed the flashlight from my bag (always prepared) and flashed it out the window. It turned out the ger owner had quite the flock of sheep/goat/cattle and they were perplexed by this new and large beast that had fallen asleep on their stomping grounds. Well it was our vehicle and my sleeping quarters for the night and all night long goat and cattle were ramming and poking at the vehicle investigating what it was. I used the light a few times to flash and scare them off. This only worked for short moments. Nonetheless, I fell asleep and had sweet dreams from the cold fresh air.

The following day we were doing a whole lot of nothing when one of the men we were with asked me if I wanted to go fetch water and I was obviously more than willing. We hopped in the meeker and brought along several water containers. So we set off, me, two men, and three young boys. We were driving along the vast Mongolian rolling plains and all of the sudden all of the men popped up and got very excited. I did not know what was going on, but could see that their eyes were peering in one direction. I did the same and spotted what was so intriguing, a fox. The hunt was on! This fox knew something was after him so he picked up speed and so did we, he veered off the two wheel track road and so did we. He went over hills and through riverbeds (both dry and wet) and so did we. I figured our goal was to run over the animal since we had no weapons. We were using the horn as a way to direct the animal. This may have been the funniest and most exciting experience I have had in Mongolia so far. I have to admit I have never hunted anything in my life, never really wanted to either. I do enjoy fishing and eating fish, but don’t like killing things, just don’t have it in my. However, on this day my adrenalin was pumping and I was on the edge of my seat, I wanted this fox dead! We chased and chased, honking our horn and criss-crossing across the Mongolian plain. We would lose the fox for a moment and then someone would spot it and the excitement rose as we had to catch the beast. We ended up losing the fox 2 times. We had narrowed down that this animal was living in a dried up creek that it had been sticking to, so when we lost it we found high ground and sat waiting for it to pop up somewhere. At this time we all got out and grabbed a handful of good killing rocks. We now had two weapons, a large vehicle and rocks as our ammunition! We spotted it both times and continued the chase, I was sure we were going to get our prey, however, the third time we really did lose it and ended up just getting water. All in all the hunt lasted about an hour and it turned out the water was only about 10 minutes from the ger. We had driven miles off track and waited about 40 minutes of time. No big deal though, that’s just how Mongolians are, if there is a fox that needs a good hunting then it will be hunted. If the fox escapes oh well, it will meet its demise another day, we now know where he lives!

After this we went back home and cleaned out hearts out. Our regional PC manager was coming by the next day to see how we were doing with our job and home. In that next week we finally got our second door (our house is now warm), our curtain we had ordered from UB (we now have two rooms and I will never escape curtains as my bedroom door), and most importantly a refrigerator. Great couple of weeks!    

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Part 2: Chi Chatnaa!!

Part 2:

I left you off at the point of our arrival to Mother Mountain. That night we took it relatively easy. Our Mongolian companions had been telling us that they brought tents to sleep in. I’m down with that! We get out and they began to setup a small tent in which only 2 people can fit and I’m not seeing any other action as far as tent erection. I do begin to wonder where we all will be sleeping. The tent is setup and they looked at Brit and I and pointed to the tent and said, “house.” We had a little giggle and moved our things in. While this was going on others were preparing dinner, which of course was mutton soup with a few noodles and veggies. I have been pushing myself to try everything and do as the Mongolians do, but Mutton is by no means on my ‘do as the Mongolians do’ list. I do not enjoy the taste; there is no way to describe it other than, mutton.

Regardless, this is what was made for dinner and I knew I needed some calories, so I ate as much as I could. Brit enjoyed some of the bucket salad and bread previously mentioned in the Part 1 post. After dinner had been had we were each given a can of Mongolian beer and a bottle of vodka was busted out and it was finished. We were instructed to go into our house and go to sleep. We busted our wonderful Peace Corps issued sleep bags out and were nestled in and ready for a well-deserved rest after a long day. Brittany, in natural fashion, passed out immediately. I laid awake and listened to the activity outside our tent. All of the Mongolians were preparing their beds and I could tell that on this night they would all be sleeping outside under the endless number of stars. I have to admit, I was jealous.

We woke bright and early the next day. I don’t know how they do it, but Mongolians go to sleep late and wake up very early. I think it’s a cultural thing because my host family did the same as did many other host families, according to my PC buddies. And this group of Mongolians was no exception. I rolled around for a while trying to catch an extra half hour of rest, but it was to no avail. I rose from my house and was greeted by everyone with a boisterous good morning (in Mongolian). It was at this time that I got to see for the first time where we were and where we had come from last night. I looked out across what proved to be a desert in between our location and a large chain of mountains from which we crept slowly through the night before. Mother Mountain was all smooth red rock and was very hikeable. The many layers of rock provided some very doable climbing and we were excited to see where the day would lead.

Breakfast was made and once again I enjoyed the same mutton soup. I once again knew I needed calories so I forced down as much as I could. For the next few hours Brittany and I wandered around the campsite and were getting to know Mother Mountain. We could tell that everyone was preparing for the hike so we grabbed a bag and packed our camera, a protein bar, some almonds, a thing of juice, and water for the hike into the unknown. At the time it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s so crazy to just go and do things with people and not have any idea as to what’s happening or what the plan is. We completely place all of our trust in their choices, completely powerless and at the same time a weird freedom.

We set off and started our hike. I’m happy that one of the very first obstacles was actually semi-difficult, I immediately knew this was going to be pretty hardcore. We had I think 17 adults and 1 baby of about 2 years old. Seeing a few middle aged women, elderly men and a baby truckin’ along helped Brit out, she is a trooper and always completes our hikes even though she is scared of heights. She has always pushed through just for that feeling at the culmination that she overcame a major fear for the day and every single time it is worth it for her, I know this because it is worth it for me and it must mean that much more for her to complete the hikes we have gone on.  So we trekked on, all of our crew assisting one another when needed. We made it to the first stop, they told us it was ‘Panda Rock’ because it looks like a Panda sleeping. As we continued, the mountain revealed more cracks, crevices, and alleys. We investigated as many as we could and made it to our next stop. Here, there was a rock with many imprints and the Mongolians said this represented baby footprints and we had to make offerings to it, praying for healthy children. Next to this was a rock, which looked like an open mouth with a uvula hanging down. This rock provides a healthy mouth and throat (did this one for you Mom!). We had to rub our neck on either side of the uvula shaped stone. Just a short walk away was a large rock and we had to walk around it 3 times rubbing money against it the whole way, the prayers are for monetary support! The final rock at this location was curved and it was supposed to help your kidneys and stomach if you rub your body against it and meditate for a moment (did this one for you Dad).

We continued on and it was so beautiful. Everywhere we went led to something just as beautiful as the last. The next stop (my favorite) was called 7 pots. There were 7 small pools of water one falling to the next; it was gorgeous. I would have loved to see this waterfall in action, however the water was stagnate but still was beautiful. We hung out here for a bit and then picked up again, we passed a rock where you put your head in and it of course helps keep your brain and mind healthy. We went on to what was called the ‘Theater’. These were very cool rock formations that provided an amphitheater feel. I loved this area as well; I got in some great hiking and climbing. It also provided for some great views. I looked behind me and saw the mountain chain that we came from the night before, it appeared deceivingly close, but I knew all too well that the desert in between takes at least 2 hours to drive through. We took several breaks throughout our hike and it was at the theater where we took another. I decided to hike around by myself, but Brit told me that while I was gone several people downed some vodka, Mongolians crack me up. I don’t think I would have been down to slam some shots at such a high elevation with very little calories in my tummy and the sun beating down, not to mention some rather treacherous hiking, hilarious.

We kept going and at this point we’re about 3 hours in and were running out of our food and liquids. We started to get a little worried, but we kept on and climbed down to the dried up riverbed below. Next thing we knew we were headed back up the mountain and this was it, the final stop. It was a very old cave and inside was a prayer site, full of lit candles incense and offerings to keep Mother Mountain happy. We all sat in the cave and it was a very calming feeling not to mention shaded! Each of the Mongolians knelt before the offering site, prayed and made their offerings. Very early on in the hike I had grabbed a very pretty rock that stuck out like a sore thumb. I had a feeling that we were going to reach an ultimate prayer site and I saved this rock the whole time. I laid it near the offering site and with it lays a wish/prayer. Brit and I both knelt and prayed together. I lit incense and made a healthy offering of almonds and rice. Before we left we wrote in a book that is left at Mother Mountain marking our point in history at Mother Mountain.

We had to exit the cave facing the prayer site, bowing, and walking backwards. It was a great experience and the long arduous trip did indeed pay off as they usually do. We left the cave and noticed that people were getting their pictures taken by some rock and they were placing their heads upon it. Ok just another prayer rock, cool, we’re down! We both climb up and go along with it. After, we climb down, in between, and out of a very tight area between two rocks. Our pictures were taken repeatedly at both the rock we placed our foreheads on and as we exited the tight area between the two large rocks. This proved to be quite hilarious. The Mongolians showed us the pictures and the rock we placed our heads upon looked exactly like a large and erect penis, where we exited represented our rebirth from the vagina (I did feel a little slimy, I thought it was sweat). This was a very funny moment they, were loving our pictures and our faces as we realized what each of these things represented. Through Monglish, they asked me if my penis was like that one and I said, “Teem, bi hoochtay,” this means yes, I am strong. They loved it and we exchanged terms for ‘penis’ in English and Mongolian. Needless to say the new words for the day were ‘penis, balls, dick, cock, nuts, and last but not least pubes’.

We climbed down to the riverbed once more and we all had to remove our shoes and all of the sudden we were racing. The small rocks did not feel good on the bottoms of our feet, but the race was on. I placed third in the male group and Brit placed 1st in the female group.  We put our shoes back on and took a nice and easy hike along the river bed back to our campsite.

We were taking it easy and eating some candy, bucket salad, and bread. Some women got the fire going and threw some meat in. I did not know what kind of meat, but assumed it was mutton. I threw back a few beers and after some time the meat was boiled and ready. Turned out it was Marmot and I was very excited. I very much enjoy the taste of Marmot and Mongolians love it, although it is illegal to kill and eat. This is one of their national foods; they believe the meat is extra special for your body. As far as I’m concerned it provides essential nutrients and fats just like most all meats. I assumed the Mongolian squatting position and started eating meat right off the bone. I chose this way because Mongolians like to pass around a knife and cut the meat off the bone. I am not nearly as good as they are at this, so to avoid constant ridicule, I tend to pick up the bone and go to town. Now, we were warned against eating Marmot because this is one of the animals in the world that if you come in contact with will give you the sickness, ‘Black Death’. But, we were provided ‘Black Death’ medicine in our medical kits, it’s all good. Actually, our PCMO’s told us that you only get Black Death if you come in contact with the animals fur as the fleas that setup shop here are where the Black Death comes from. So if boiled and skinned, supposedly it is completely safe to eat. I am 4 for 4 with eating marmot and not getting Black Death so they must be right. Regardless, each time I eat this meat I stare ‘Black Death’ in the face and challenge its wrath.

Every time I ate, Brit was off with her Director eating vegetarian food or ‘White food’ as Mongolians have dubbed it.

After the meat was gone we all sat in a circle and busted out a bottle of whiskey. Whiskey is by no means common to drink here and I think they brought it because Mongolians have this funny stereotype that all Americans love and drink Whiskey. We proceeded to drink. Shots followed; by the way this may have been the worst tasting whiskey I have ever come across. We drank it and it was here that the saying of the weekend was born. Brittany does not like whiskey, but Mongolians being the inventor’s of peer pressure were forcing her to tip it back. I did catch the fever and joined in, busting out the phrase, “Chi Chatnaa!” meaning, You can do it! This got a huge laugh and caught like wild fire. This phrase haunted me the remainder of the evening as I felt it would. We finished the bottle and it was time for a game.

We walked over to an open area and split up into men and women. We tied a string on the backside of our belt and hanging from it was a half filled water bottle. On the ground lay a small ball and the goal was to hit the ball with the water bottle until it crossed the finish line about 10 ft away. The motion we had to do to make this happen very much resembled a motion resembling the male during sexual intercourse. It was hilarious and brilliant; I don’t know why I have never seen this game before. But, Mongolians have so many games that have a sexual underpinning and provide for one hell of a laugh. The winner was a woman and she completed the task in I think 12 seconds, blowing the rest of the competition out of the water. I took about 30 seconds and was teased for this, but I explained that I like to take things slow and they loved this. After the game was finished it was time to finish the rest of the booze. Apparently there was only 1 bottle of vodka left and it was gone quick. Many of the people went to sleep, including Brit. I stayed up in the one guesthouse that we had taken over for the night. We fashioned a table and my hiking headlamp hanged above us as our light. As always, there was a secret stash of vodka. At this point it was me, Brit’s Director, and I think 3 other men. Between us we finished the first fifth of vodka and I was holding my own. Every time I was apprehensive to drink I heard the wonderful phrase, ‘Chi Chatnaa!’. They began to sing and sing their beautiful Mongolian traditional songs and I provided a beat drumming on the table. In came two more people and one fella busted out what looked like a green water canteen. Nope, this was a slick way to conceal vodka. We finished that bottle and sang the night away. I was not taking full shots, because the fact of the matter is, I cannot hang with Mongolians. So I was implementing the ‘lip trick’ where I just bring the vodka to my lips and do not drink. It was a great and memorable night. I stumbled to the tent and went to sleep ending our very long day.

I was tired, but I was very happy that we had made the decision to come along on this trip. I downed a bunch of water so I wouldn’t be hung over for the long ride home and fell quickly asleep. Great Day!!! 

And always remember, CHI CHATNAA!!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mother Mountain: A Journey

Part 1: Seriously?

Brittany asked me I think 3 days before her workmates were taking a group trip to a place called Mother Mountain and it was about 280 Kilometers away. They told her that I was invited and knowing the little that I do about travel in Mongolia I was definitely on the fence. But, I ultimately decided to go; knowing that Brit would need the support and it’s always good to have a friend that speaks English with you.

So they told us we were to meet at Brittany’s work building at 9am Friday morning. Being the punctual Americans that we are, we were there right on time at 9am and to my astonishment there was a small group of Mongolians already there. I was so excited! I assumed at this point that we would be leaving shortly and would possibly be to our destination by 2 or 3 (Jackass). We put down our pack and sleeping bags and took a seat . Brit’s co-workers told her to go upstairs for some reason so she left me outside while she went upstairs and didn’t come back for quite sometime. I used this time to try and communicate with some of her co-workers to get to know them as much as I could before the road trip ahead. Brit finally came back and told me no one was up there, but her work room was full of supplies for the weekend. Food, Beer, Vodka, and Water all very important things!!

At this time it was about 9:40am and still no vehicle to load our things in. Well we waited, waited, and waited just a little longer and finally piled in the vehicle at 11am. Yay, we are hitting the road and we fit 16 people in one Microbus! We were uncomfortable, but it was bearable. We pull out onto the road and begin to drive around town and then we stop in the middle of the road and the driver gets out, vehicle running and sitting in the middle of the road. Next thing we know he comes out of a hashaa with another guy and he has a bag. I have no idea what is going on, at that point I assumed we were dropping his buddy off across town. So they added one more person to the front of the cab and we started driving again. Just before we reach the outside of town we swing a right and head into the Ger districts and stop at someone’s hashaa. 3 people come out and the driver jumps on top of the Microbus. Some things are taken out of the vehicle and thrown on top as we have to make room for more bags and an entire cut up sheep plus 3 more individuals. We pile back in the vehicle now 20 deep plus everyone’s supplies for the weekend and we officially head out of the city and hit the bumpy and unpredictable (for a rookie) dirt road south to Mother Mountain, oh yea, it’s 11:45am.

So I should premise the rest of this section with this point. Many Americans who travel make it a point to not use rest stops carrying the ideal; let’s get there! I personally have been handed down this ideal from one Chris Cherwinski; Rest stops are for pussies! (These exact words never came out of his mouth, but this is what I learned.) Mongolians 100% and completely disagree with this.

Stop number one approximately 12:30pm. I recall thinking in my head stopping already?  Is this for real? And yes it was for real. We all got out of the microbus, stretched our legs and the Mongolians of course cracked open some vodka, milk tea, and a pot of boiled sheep innards to munch on real quick. Everyone took a piss, men about 20 ft away from the vehicle unzip and let it flow. Women about 50 ft away from the vehicle, take your jacket off tie it around your waist unzip, unbutton, drop the pants squat on down and let it flow. I’ve never seen this technique before, but women no longer have the right to complain about not being able to pee outside. If you have a jacket or something slightly close to it, boom pissing outside with as much privacy as me standin’ and swingin’ free! Brit is now a master at this practice and I am very proud.

We are ready to hit the road again we pile back in. 5 people squeeze on the back bench and 5 on the front. These are the only two benches in the main cab and the rest is open space, which actually help the situation. We throw down everyone’s sleeping bags and sleeping material to make our 3rd and center bench. So we had 10 people on benches, 7 people shoved in the middle, and 3 people up front. Fucking uncomfortable, yes this deserves the word fucking. But, this was expected, I know what it’s like in this country to travel and you shove as many people as you can in the vehicle no matter what and rock it out. It’s ok because no one is comfortable.

We have to head through our first set of mountains that surrounds our city and this showed me that the trip will be more than 4 or 5 hours because we hit a high of probably 10 mph while climbing the mountains. We finally hit the down hill portion and start rollin’. Wait, time for a break, so we pop out stretch our legs, people pee and back in hit the road. We make our way down the mountain pass and make our way to rolling and rocky hills (this includes the road) and continue on until we hit (in my mind) the next checkpoint. We stopped at a random Ger and ask them if we can borrow 4 bowls for the weekend, don’t worry we’ll have them back Sunday. Sweet got 4 extra bowls, pile back in and start driving and we hit open rocky desert and we stay on this path for a long ass time. Hours, and we did have one major stop where we all got out ate some actually quite delicious bucket salad and bread, to cap it off 2 fifths of vodka. The drivers tweaked out some things on the vehicle and about an hour later, ready to hit the road again. At this point we are about 4 hours into the trip, about 9 or 10 stops, and at least 3 bottles of vodka (that I know about) deep.

Off in the distance I notice a large mountain range and we were hitting out 4-6 hour mark that I had planned to travel and everyone was making a point to look at this so I had this dreamy belief that this was our location and in a short time we would be relaxing at Mother Mountain. This did not happen, the driving continued and we hit an official checkpoint, a soum called, ‘Biger’. Everybody out, piss, buy stuff at a store and the driver purchases an extra belt, pile back in and ready to go. We drive and hit yet another set of mountains, we drive into the depths of the rocky dried up riverbed, very very slow and carefully. We take this route for some time and hit open land and we start cruising. We are traveling at a decent speed and we are at about 6 hours so I’m feeling good and still hoping that soon enough we will be relaxing and enjoying our vacation at Mother Mountain. Driving, stopping, driving, stopping, and we come upon another soum, ‘Bayn-tsarem’. We meet what I thought was a random guy and he leads us to his hashaa, people get out use the outhouse and go to the shop. At this point Brit and I both are ready to be done and figure that we are very close. Brit asks one of her counterparts how much further until we get to Mother Mountain and she says about 3 more hours. Both of our jaws drop and we have nothing left to do, but laugh and just go with it. We pile back in the vehicle and hit the road, it’s dusk and we are coming upon some more mountains and these fella’s are rocky. We start through the pass and we are literally driving on an old dried up ravine deep in between towering rocky mountains, all I’m picturing is a large rock smashing our vehicle or blocking the road. This route took at least an hour an was unbelievably bumpy, rocky, sketchy, and most important slow as shit. Before we reach the end of this pass it is dark and we see lights in the distance. This is not good because we are on a one-way road surrounded by sharp rocks and it would be virtually impossible to go around each other. The vehicle approached, there was lots of light flashing back and forth and leaning out of vehicles screaming at each other, nonetheless we made our way around each other and continued on the drive.

We finally start to smooth out and pick up speed, we are now going through a desert, out of my left window I can see very little but can tell it’s nothing but open flat land. To the right I can faintly make out some very small rolling hills. My temper and patience are unbelievably short and I literally think I am going crazy. I have always known and have experienced before that when it is dark and you are traveling into the unknown the experience seems much longer and worse than it actually is. But, this knowledge was being tested and pushed to the brink. I literally looked at Brit and said, “I don’t know if I’m going to make”; “I might cry”; and last but not least “I think I’m literally going crazy.” I was talking to myself in weird ways and at an alarming rate, I also believe that the Mongolians felt my fury even if they couldn’t see me. My energy was pouring out negativity. Quite some time later we start to hit some plant life, but still no mountain in site (it’s dark and we are in the middle of no where). We stop in the middle of the desert and everyone gets out and holy shit, to my surprise we stopped somewhere important. There was a random ass well and the Mongolians stocked up with water and also wood.
I wandered in the dark and lost my mind for a few minutes staring at the clearest night sky I have ever seen, seeing more stars than I ever had and by the time I got back the open space we were sitting in was filled with wood. You’ve got to be kidding me, but I didn’t care because I knew we were close.

Well about 20 minutes later we reach Mother Mountain. There is a gate that is open, one Ger and one small building and that’s it. I noticed there were about 3 other groups of Mongolians enjoying a fire and we pull up find an open spot and start unpacking the vehicle. Approximately 11 hours, at least 17 stops (one of these stops was due to a baby puking all over the place), and 5 bottles of vodka later we had FINALLY MADE IT!

NOTE: Traveling with Mongolians, although incredibly uncomfortable and unpredictable isn’t so bad. For them, I believe that the ride is literally half the fun. They know they are going to be uncomfortable and in a vehicle for a very long time so they make the best out of it. They drink, tell jokes and stories, and sing. They sing like crazy and everyone knows the lyrics. They have an arsenal of what seems like an unlimited number of traditional songs that are very beautiful and everyone is involved. This is their fun, their free time, and this is how they enjoy their time together. It’s a time to be together and enjoy their land, history, and culture. They take full advantage with no complaints.