Archive for September, 2008

More new friends

While the weather is still pleasant here (chilly mornings in the 40s but warms up during the day), I walk as much as I can in addition to going to the office and back (about 1 kilometer to the office).  So one afternoon this past week, I took a late afternoon walk.   Lots of school children were out—they all like to say hi and I respond “Hello, how are you?”  Sometimes they answer, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they can say “My name is ….” if you ask them. 

            As I was walking along, a group of girls came running across the street to say hello to me.  I started asking them their names and how old they were (around 12) and a group gathered—12 of them, with a couple of boys.  I asked if they knew how old I was and then told them I was 65. Mongolians often ask about your age and don’t consider it a personal question.  And, in my case, they wonder because of my white hair and then they are surprised because I look so much younger than people they know who are my age.  I kidded with them about my age and then I told them both my names: Judy and Jargalmaa. Then I took their photo and they all crowded round to see it on the camera. I remembered I had some stickers in my bag and got them out to give to them.  They are taught to hold out both hands—one covering the other to receive anything.  They were all excited about the stickers.  As I walked on, a couple of the girls walked along with on either side and and took my hand. Mongolian children often hold hands or walk arm in arm together, even the boys may walk with their arms around each other.  That kind of casual affection hasn’t been lost over here and I’m glad.  As we walked, one girl turned to me and said, “I love you.”  Of course, I responded that I loved them too.  I told the kids they should say, “Hello, Judy” or “Hello, Jargalmaa” when they see me.  (Later note: It’s working.)

            Jeff, one of my fellow PCV who teaches English in the primary school, had told me that on Saturday morning, there would be a “sports day” for the teachers and it was to start at 9 a.m.  Knowing nothing starts on time, I took my time—got up around 7, made a fire, made coffee and oatmeal, and went over to the nearby school around 9:30.  Only a few people were there.  But more began to show up and then I saw Jeff.  The teachers  were all dressed in Army camouflage outfits, complete with cap.  As it turns out, sports day is more of an army exercise.  Each group of teachers was like a platoon. They all lined up and each groups went through a marching exercise.  I’m glad I didn’t have to respond to those orders to “To the left, march; About face, march; Halt”, etc.  Most of the marching is natural with the knees bent, but sometimes they goosestep like the WWII Nazi soldiers.  I must admit that kind of marching makes me very uncomfortable.  I suspect it is left over from the Russian domination of Mongolia for the 50 years leading up to 1990.

            Following the marching, they were to go out to the countryside and have timed competitions—including different types of crawling, a 1 ½ kilometer race, a 300-minute timed fix lunch, eat and clean up, a rifle taking apart and putting back together exercise, and others. Some of the women were wearing high=heeled boots—I wonder how they managed for the run!  Jeff pointed out a goat that was tied up nearby—and about to meet its maker as food for the lunch they were to make.  I watched the marching awhile and left around 11 and they still hadn’t gone.  They were supposed to be back around 4 and then each group was to give some sort of performance.  I planned to come back for it—but tonight around 8 I got a message from Jeff saying they’d just gotten back.  Who was surprised??

          I took a photo the other day which gave me an idea.  If you read the New Yorker, you know they have a cartoon captioning contest each week.  From time to time, I’m going to post a photo—and suggest you write a caption for it, if you want.  Might be fun to see what turns up.  This week the photo is of a little cart I saw in the zaak with one wheel that had been taped many times.  Don’t know if there had ever been a tire on it or not.  A good example of making do with what you have—again and again and again.

Most of these photos, except for schoolgirls in blue, will appear a little small I think.  And I think if you click on them, you can see them larger. Hope I’m right.

Class uniform for these school girls

Class uniform for these school girls


September 23, 2008 at 10:19 am Leave a comment

More pics….

There won’t be much text in this post but included are pictures of the views from my house.  The greenhouse you see in one of the pictures came down today. Bold and Tselmaa have been working very hard bringing the in the harvest.  i haven’t seen the fields but Bold brings in cartful after cartful of big bags of produce–carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets, cabbages and stores them in the shed you can see from my window.  Mornings are getting chillier–maybe 40s, but the sun warms up the daytime to somewhere in 60s today i think. 

   I had another sweet experience with school children the other day and will post shortly…so for now here are the pics.  Still haven’t solved the sideways photos–they all look fine until i get them up on the blog.  Clayton is helping me work on it.

View to the east-see the smoke coming up from the bathhouse?

View to the east-see the smoke coming up from the bathhouse?

View on my way to work a couple of weeks ago--snow on the mountains

View on my way to work a couple of weeks ago--snow on the mountainsView north--old factory and mountains

September 17, 2008 at 6:38 am Leave a comment

Today—meet the Governor

No, not a U.S. Governor but the Governor of our Khovsgul aimag (province or state). Yesterday my CoC Director Sara said I should be at the office at 9:40 a.m. for a 10 o’clock meeting with the Governor (our office is in the government building). My other PCVs were invited too. So we all arrived at 9:40 but true to Mongolian time we didn’t get in to the Governor’s office until about 10:30. His name is Mr. Batkhuu. We were ushered into a large office with a big conference table—very up to date—along with Sara and a translator (a teacher Sara knows named Enka). There was even a television crew there! There are several TV channels in Khovsgul so maybe we were on the evening news! (Update: We were!)

The Governor officially welcomed us and gave us his official speech about Khovsgul including the number of animals as well as people, its industries and quite a bit about their efforts to increase tourism, both in the summer and in other seasons. They have an ice festival at the end of February at Lake (or Sea as they like to call it) Khovsgol, north of Moron. They are trying to get some ice skating events going there and he said skaters from Holland and Japan are participating (at least I think that’s what he said, via the translator). I interjected that I looked forward to working with those involved in the tourist business with my background in advertising and promotion. I’ve seen a number of brochures and other materials translated into English and they could use a lot of help. I’ll have to work on that. They would also like to make better use of the internet. Would like to help with that too. Khovsgul is also home to the reindeer people who live north of here. They raise reindeer and live in what we call teepees. Have I mentioned before that many people think our American Indians actually came from Mongolia via the Bering Straits? The teepees sure look the same. The Governor also mentioned that Bozeman, Montana is their sister city. Not surprising since I think that Montana is also Land of the Big Sky and landscape probably have some similarities. I have been in Montana but only briefly when Bob was lecturing. Anybody know anyone in Bozeman?

The Governor told us how pleased he was to have us here and said that if we had any problems, we should come see him. Hope that won’t be necessary. At the end of our meeting—about half an hour or so, the Governor presented us with a small shopping bag with a little notebook with the Khovsgol logo, a Khovsgol pin, a CD of Mongolian music and a box of Khovsgol tea. The Khovsgol logo is very professional looking. I asked about it and they had a contest to design it—200 entries and winner was a teacher in a local school. I asked to meet him—he has real talent. Maybe I can use him for something else.

One other thing: while I was waiting for the meeting to begin, I talked with the translator about PC’s World Wise Schools program—which basically is a pen pal program between Mongolian schools and American schools. I had talked to the Principal and her Assistant in my granddaughters’ school in Brooklyn last May and they also signed up for it. The translator is eager to participate so I am going to get that underway. Kids will write letters and I can take pictures from this end and email them to the school in Brooklyn. I’ll post them on my blog too.

After teaching my English class, I accompanied my counterpart to a number of businesses in Khovsgul. She was delivering some sort of paperwork regarding the CoC and at the same time introduced me to the people in these businesses. We visited Mongolia Telecom, a couple of banks, a hotel, a restaurant, a delguur that includes a number of small businesses and finally a little smoked fish and meat product business. The last place was the most interesting. They had whole gutted fish that had been salted hanging in rows on a big rack—reminded me of the Marblehead fish flakes I’d seen in old paintings of early Marblehead where fish were spread out on tables and salted and dried before being shipped to Europe. The husband of the couple who own the little business is Russian and very friendly. He had us all sit down on some benches and we were served the traditional suutai tsai (milk tea) and then I was presented with several little gifts. A sealed bag of small smoked fish, one of the large fishes from the rack, and a small sealed bag of what seems like tiny bits of meat. We were encouraged to sample the bag of smoked fish—very salty and very bony—I tried simply to chew the bones well so they wouldn’t get stuck going down! We were also encouraged to sample the big fish though it was hard to pull any meat off of it. And finally we were also served a tea that was more like a soup with the bits meat in it. I was given a fork to eat it with and then drank the tea. The husband indicated he sold the fish to America but not the meat—Americans wouldn’t know what to make of the meat. In our “conversation”, the wife mentioned George Bush and she kidded that he was her friend. Then her husband spoke up and when I figured out what he was saying, he said that Condaleeza Rice was his friend. I didn’t reveal my politics except to indicate that we would soon have a new president and George Bush would be gone. That’s about as close as I have gotten to American politics lately. I will be voting an absentee ballot in case you were wondering. So the fish and meat gifts came home with me and I decided to share my fish with my house neighbors. Bold (the husband) stopped in to see if I was keeping warm and had enough water. It was really cold this morning when I got up (maybe high 40s in the house) and I did build a fire. Got warmer later in the day. Bold has what I assume is a little grandson with him, about 3), so I served tea and cookies and then cut the fish in half (included the head for them) and gave it to them. I had a little for supper but it is very, very salty. But I like finding ways to give things to my neighbors in gratitude for their concerns for me.

Note re pictures–am still having problems inserting pictures into my blog.  There should be 5 in this blog–and I think you’re going to see 2 or 5 or 7!!!  Don’t have time to straighten out–so just enjoy whatever is there.  If some are missing, I’ll put them in the next one–and try to fix the sideways ones too.  Alas, I thought I was a computer whiz!

Litle girl all dressed up at the internet cafe

Litle girl all dressed up at the internet cafe

The couple who live in the other half of my house

The couple who live in the other half of my house

September 14, 2008 at 9:04 am Leave a comment

Meet Jargalmaa and her new friends!


Hello Friends,

I have a new name.  My co-workers at the Chamber of Commerce gave me a Mongolian name last week.  It is Jargalmaa and it means Happy Mother!  Mongolian names generally have a specific meaning.  I think they chose well and now I answer to either Judy or Jargalmaa.  In turn, my co-workers wanted English names so we now have Chrissie, Donna, Jackie, Yolanda and Mary. 

            I was going to show more pictures of my home in this blog, but it will have to wait.  I want you to meet my new friends.  My Supervisor Sara has returned from UB and part of her responsibility is to introduce me to my neighbors and to others in the area where I live.  This afternoon (Saturday) she came by and we stopped in to two of the neighboring homes where Sara introduced me to the families and explained what why I was in Mongolia.  It’s a way to begin to feel a part of the neighborhood.   The smaller family appears to be living in a tiny house about 9×12 with 2 single beds (more than 1 person to a bed), stove, and a few little storage bits of furniture plus a TV of course.  The father is building a larger log house right next to the little one.  Hope it gets done in time for winter—but there’s a lot to do.  At least it would be easy to heat the little place. I’m posting 2 pictures of these families.  I gave the children stickers that I had brought with me from home and then I took a photo of each family.   I will have them printed and give them a copy.  As I’ve said before, Mongolians love photographs. 

            Sara also introduced me to the ladies at the bathhouse which I will probably frequent as the weather gets colder.  I can both shower and have a sauna.  The sauna may be one of the few ways to really feel warm in the winter.  Because it’s so dry here, it seems to me a steam bath might be even better but I’ll take what I can get.  There’s even a tiny hair salon in the building—a haircut for 1500 T., perhaps I’ll try her.  We stopped in 2 delguurs (food stores) within a block of my house.  One has just opened.  It is amazing how many delguurs are around—they all seem to carry nearly the same items and somehow they survive.  There’s a photo on the blog of Sara and my landlord, her father, Jansraan.  He has a wonderful face—as so many Mongolians do.  I expect he’s about my age. I’ve also posted a photo of the couple I share the house with, Bold and Tselmaa.  Bold is Jansraan’s son and Tsermaa is his wife.

            The other new friend is a woman who works sometimes for Tsermaa and Bold. I saw her helping with the pickling, doing chores around the yard, painting some storm windows, etc.  Tsermaa and this woman came to visit me one day and I served them sutai tsai and cookies and then later in the day the woman came back with some booz (meat dumplings) for me.  The interesting thing is that the woman is deaf but she’s very expressive and seems very interested in me.  This afternoon she came over to see me by herself.  She sat at my table (only 2 chairs, you know) and somehow we communicated for a few minutes with lots of smiles and gestures.  She expresses a lot of joy. Then I told her I wanted to take her picture—which I did.  It’s posted on this blog (I hope).  She has a lovely smile but often Mongolians feel they need to look serious for pictures so she is serious in the photo.  If she continues to work for Tsermaa it will be interesting to see this relationship develop.


September 8, 2008 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Home sweet home

Hope you enjoyed seeing the photos of the inside of my home.  Sorry one of my sink was sideways!  I at least have figured out how to insert multiple pictures into the blog.  I just don’t have time on the internet to learn all the bells and whistles of WordPress to make it look really good!

Wish I could invite you all over for dinner!  Alas, I have only 2 chairs but we can move the table close to the bed and I can seat 4 if two sit on the bed.  I have been looking for some plastic stools at the zak.  Chairs would be too expensive. I entertained the other night for my 3 site mates: Jeff and Byron who are English teachers at primary and secondary levels respectively, and Patrick who is a health volunteer and is assigned to the local hospital.  School started yesterday for them.

On Sunday, Tsegmaa (the wife of the couple who live in that attached house), gave me a chicken.  A PCV described the chickens here as athletic—because they are so scrawny.  And this one was no exception.  I boiled it so maybe had a cup and a half of meat plus the broth.  I ate some on Sunday evening over rice with a curry sauce (I brought spices with me) and then made a soup of rice, chicken, carrots and sauce for Monday for my fellow PCVs.  Served bread, cucumber slices, and some of that Mongolian cheese without any flavor that the wife had given to me.  I discovered the Mongolians put jam on the cheese to give it some flavor.   I didn’t want to do that so I tried a little salt and that was a little bit better—at least you have the right texture and look of cheese and the salt makes you think it’s something edible.

Monday was a sunny day and the first day of school.  It was delightful to see all the children walking to school all dressed up in their finery.  Apparently many of the classes have their own school uniforms though my fellow PCV teachers don’t think it is absolutely mandatory.  Still, there were a number of boys in sports jackets and white shirts, and the girls were dressed up as well.  Some were dressed almost like fairy princesses—frilly dresses, big net bows in their hair, fancy shoes.   A lot of the clothes come from China—cheap knock offs—but with all the common brand names we know from the sports and fashion worlds.  A lot of the kids also wear warm-up suit outfits with mostly U.S. sports team’s logos, but often fractured English words on them too.  Parents walked hand in hand with the little children and almost all the children wore backpacks—just like home.  A school is located not far from me so I saw lots of children going by—it was great seeing kids walk to school—unlike the States where they all seem to be driven to school or take the bus.  On Sunday at the zak, I had noticed all the families crowded around the office supply booths buying pencils and notebooks to start the year, again just like home.  The Mongolians take school seriously, thank goodness, and it is required.

The pictures I posted show the simplicity of my living quarters.  The little wood stove will be my only source of heat for the 3-room house.  Most Mongolians don’t keep their sink in the kitchen for some reason but I can’t imagine a kitchen without some access to water so my fellow PCVs helped me move the little sink in from a little entranceway to the house.  You’ll note the big blue plastic water barrel in the corner.  It gets filled from the well close by.  I am very careful with water—it gets used and reused a number of times until I finally toss it outside.  A little water drains down into the bucket under my sink and then I pour that outside from time to time.  My bed is pretty comfortable with both a comforter-type blanket and a wool blanket.  Plus I have the Peace Corps supplied sleeping bag that I am assured I will need when it really gets cold!  Since I really have no dresser I’m storing my clothes in my suitcases on an extra bed I have.  Not quite ideal but it will have to do.

The last picture shows my part of the house (I have half of it) with the high fence around it that all the houses have.  Almost all homes are enclosed by a similar high fence.  There’s nothing picturesque about walking down any street.  And all the dwellings in Mongolia face south or at least their entrances are on the south—opposite side to the wintry winds that come down from Siberia.  I’ll soon post some more pictures of the inside of the hosha (the area inside the fence) so you can see the layout.

An amusing sidelight:  Our outhouse has no latch on the inside so there is no way to let someone know that you are inside.  I’ve been puzzling over this and I always knock before entering to be sure it’s empty.  I had a feeling that this is not what Mongolians do.  Now the dog is tied up right near the outhouse and I generally have a friendly word for him as I go by (building my relationship with him—he seldom barks at me now and I sometimes feed him whatever crumbs I can put together).  So this morning as I approached the outhouse, I said good morning to the dog—and then the outhouse gave a small grunt!  Being the perceptive person that I am, it occurred to me that someone might be inside!  So I waited a little bit and, sure enough, the husband (his name is Bold—a common Mongolian man’s name) came out. So now I know I should always talk to the dog on the way to the outhouse and listen for a grunt or other similar sound!  Another survival skill mastered.  Of course, it doesn’t exactly solve what I should do when using the facilities.  Maybe I should sing!  Here’s another outhouse piece of wisdom:  I think you know that the outhouses in Mongolia are the squat variety.  You must take your tp with you so I make sure I always have some in a pocket.  And I also make sure I don’t have anything else in the pocket.  For if something dropped out, it would be gone forever–it’s a long way down.  You also don’t want to wear slip on shoes. One of my fellow PCVs told of losing a sandal this summer in the outhouse—never to be recovered.  Hope this information is helpful to you…

September 4, 2008 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

A few pics of my house, commentary another day…

My sink

My sink

My stove--for cooking and heat
My stove–for cooking and heat
My bed
My bed

September 2, 2008 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

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