Archive for June, 2008

How to milk a cow, etc.

To give you the flavor of my present community, here’s how we milk a cow in Mongolia. First, if it’s a warm day, you take some dung from a big pile, put it in a big basin, set it ablaze, then stamp it out so it smokes. You position the basin so the smoke blows across where you’ll be milking the cow, to keep the insects away I guess. You bring the cow into a small pen where the calf is. You tie the back legs of the cow together to prevent it from moving too much. Then you let the calf begin to suckle and after a minute or two, drag the calf away and tie it to the side of the pen. Then you take a stool and pail and start to milk the cow. Now here’s my job: I hold the tail of the cow to keep it from swishing and scratch the behind, yes, the behind, of the cow to pacify it, I guess. Often the cow keeps moving around and the milker has to keep moving the stool and try to keep it from kicking. It’s not an easy job. Then you let the calf Finally, you take your pail of milk and strain it into containers. It’s then boiled in a big heavy pot on a wood stove and used to make milk tea which people drink all day long and to make tarik which is yoghurt.

The milker is my host family’s head of household, a 61-year-old lady who looks much older and works very hard. Her name is Tsetsgey and she is taking good care of me. She has a daughter, 24, who operates a little convenience store at the edge of their property. Very, very simple. The daughter has a tiny bedroom off the end of the store. She has a daughter, Saggi, aged 3 who basically hangs out all day and amuses herself. No toys. She calls me emee (grandmother) Judy—just like Mia and Ella at home. Other people appear here and there in the house but I haven’t figured out who they all are.

This community is in a valley between those high somewhat barren hills you see in pictures of Mongolia. It’s a settled community near a larger town. The homes in this area are all wooden with some brick or stucco inside a large fenced area. In this “hosha” (a largish fenced area enclosing all structures and the garden) are the outhouse, an outside kitchen, sheds and pens for animals, a garden and their tiny convenience store. Very dry and dusty though they say this area is more humid than some other parts of Mongolia. Sand is tracked into the house all the time and so sweeping and cleaning floors is an ongoing task.

Small herds of goats, sheep, and cows are taken to graze each day and brought back at night. A herd of goats lives across the street. I have worked with Tsestsgey in the garden moving the soil (looks like silty sand to me), watering, planting onions sprouts and tomato plants. Everything is very labor intensive. Water must be brought from the well some distance away in large containers on a little cart, then poured into barrels and then ladeled into buckets and then an old paint can with holes in the bottom is dipped in bucket and used to water the soil.

I have my own room, use the outhouse, and eat meals with the family. Generally a meal is a one-item affair with bread and milk tea. Examples: rice with bits of meat and vegetables, soup with bits of meat and vegatables, omelet, some kind of fried sausage they call “yam” and booz (a meat steamed dumpling and kooshur (like a calzone but fried with meat inside). So, far I can eat everything though the lumps of fat in the soup aren’t my favorite. Fat is a special item here, much prized. Bread is all white bread, purchased at the store.

Each day, the cow is taken by a community herder to the hillsides to graze and then the herd is brought home in the evening and each cow dropped off at its home. The calf goes separately. Just now we have 2 cows, one is Tsetsgey’s brother’s I think and 2 calves. The cows are milked every morning and evening and much of the milk is used for making yoghurt which is sold in the store. This morning I got sent to chase the little calves a different direction from where they were heading. The calves and their mothers are kept separate so the calves won’t drink the milk before they’re milked. But the town’s calves just kind of wander and sometimes they wander in the wrong direction. Tsetsgey saw them wandering the wrong way and sent me to chase the group in the other direction. I was very effective!

There are 12 PCs in this community and we go to school every day, studying language for about 4 hours a day plus cross culture and technical—which means stuff about the area you’ll be working in, for me, business development. We’ll be here for about 12 weeks before we are assigned our job for the next two years and move into our own quarters. Yesterday we went into the larger town and visited a chamber of commerce and a micro-business which makes bread.

It’s warm here now in June and I understand will get hotter through the summer before beginning to turn cold, colder, coldest in the winter. Days are long, the sky is wide, and the hills are dramatic. So, all is going well, though oh so different from home. I’m posting this at the Post Office which has a few computers in the larger town.

June 14, 2008

Learning to wash my clothes

Peace Corps asks your host families to teach you a number of things so you can live independently in Mongolia, like how to chop wood, build a ger, cook food, and wash your clothes. Peace Corps supplies a large basin for each of us to use while in Mongolia. Today was my first lesson from Tsetsgey. I had an audience of 4 to witness my instruction, including a semi-English speaker who tried to explain what I should do . Water is heated on the wood stove, my basin is put on a stool and I have my clothes ready. Hot and some cool water are poured in. I had brought some laundry soap from home and added that to the water along with my clothes—some underwear and a few shirts and pants. I began to wash them and then Tsetsgey handed me her soap as well. Looks like the old Fels Naptha my mother used on tough dirt—and it feels the same. To do it the Mongolia way, you rub the soap on the clothes and then rub, scrub, rub, scrub the clothes for a long time, each item. Perhaps it’s because the sandy silt gets into everything but it seemed way overdone to me. Then you squeeze each item out and I mean squeeze and twist with all your strength. My cotton knit shirt will never be the same! Then you dump the water from the basin in the yard carefully swirling it around to get the dirt to spill with the water (this has all been going on in the outside kitchen) and fresh water is poured in and each item rinsed and rinsed and then wrung and twisted again and again. Finally I could hang the clothes up, first having to turn each item inside out. Whew! My audience made comments as we went along, critiquing my performance and encouraging lots of scrubbing and wringing. I now know why we were told that washing clothes in Mongolia is hard on clothes. I just hope I have some left in one piece at the end of the summer! The one thing I don’t understand is why the wringing is so necessary since the dryness of the air here means clothes dry quickly. I’ll probably figure it out sometime while I’m here. Just one of many cultural issues to explore!

Thanks for all the responses so far.  Many people asked questions I just don’t have time to answer yet.  Will try to do so.  Time at the computer/internet is limited. I’m off now to buy raisins at the market.  Fruit is very limited and vegetables rare in my meals.  Still, I feel well and am working very hard at school.  Am getting some extra help with language next week.  Even though, I actually can speak some, write some, understand some.  Peace, Judy


June 21, 2008 at 4:58 am Leave a comment

A few photos

June 17, 2008 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

June 17, 2008

June 17, 2008 at 9:03 am Leave a comment

Next chapter

I am now in a small community living with a family.  I wrote a great blog post this morning and then ended up copying the wrong file to my flash drive.  So you’ll get more later.  I am sending this from a post office computer in a larger town nearby.  So this is the quick version.  My family consists of a head of household, a 61-year-old woman Tsetsgey who works very hard milking her cow, making yoghurt and milk tea, making and planting a garden, cleaning constantly (very sandy, dusty, and hot), with her daughter (24) running a tiny convenience store, and everything by hand.   Wood stoves, water from a well a distance away. There is also a 3-year-old girl, Saggi, very cute who amuses herself all day with no toys, playing in the sand or with other children.

Food is simple, basically one-dish meals: mostly white (bread, rice, potatos, some meat, bits of vegetables).

We go to school each day with lots of language:  it’s really hard but I’m trying hard.  Also we get cross cultural stuff and yesterday the business devleopment people visited a Chamber of Congress and a tiny local bakery.  I’ll be repeating this info in my next posting–in a more interesting way.  At least you know I’m safe and healthy and learning a lot.

June 14, 2008 at 3:03 am Leave a comment

Here I am…

This will be a quick update from a local internet cafe.  I’ve arrived here in Mongolia now going through Pre-Service Training.  An amazing country.  Wide open country, herds grazing, mountains in the distance, big blue sky, fascinating people. Will try to send pictures later.  Have already heard the throat singers at our opening session…plus acrobats, singers and dancers.  Having a good time with my 62 fellow Peace Corp Volunteers, working hard, trying to learn the language, cross culture, health and safety issues, etc. etc.etc.

Yep, the food is mostly meat dishes, but I have had some fruit and veggies.  More later….  



June 5, 2008 at 12:51 pm Leave a comment

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