Archive for November, 2008

Best election victory celebration took place in Mongolia!

First, the caption is missing I think on middle picture–shows me receiving a gift from my class at a gathering at the end of our week.

Second, thanks to all who have sent messages to me via my blog or email.  I do read and enjoy them all.  I had thought I would have more opportunity to respond when I got access to the internet at the Chamber of Commerce.  Alas, the internet is not always working or someone else is using it or some other funky reason prevents me from going online to email or even to post to the blog.  But don’t stop writing!  I love to get mail!  And just a small comment before you read the rest–I registered for an absentee ballot before I left the US and gave them a printout of my address here in Mongolia for the Peace Corps headquarters but I never got the ballot but thank goodness the election didn’t depend on my one vote!


The main purpose of this posting is to tell you about the best Obama victory celebration ever!  It all began the Monday before Election Day.  A little after nine that day, a man came into the office and began to talk to my Supervisor who is the head of the Chamber of Commerce.  As best as I could understand, the man was involved in the administration of a school nearby and they needed an English teacher. Some 14 students from Khuvsgol Province were in Muron to take a bookkeeping course. As part of the course, they were supposed to have an intensive beginning English class starting that very day for 7 straight days, 6 hours a day with a test on the final day. And the teacher, for whatever reason, was not there and they needed someone right away and would I do it?  And I think they are crazy but I find myself saying, “OK, I’ll try.”  And then I think I’m the one who is crazy.  The man wants me to come immediately, so he and his driver drive me home and I dash in to pick up any English language teaching books I can put my hands on that Peace Corps has given me and then we drive directly to the school where the students are waiting for a teacher. 

            The man goes into the class with me and tells the students something in Mongolian but I have no idea what he says.  He points out my desk at the front of the room, indicates some tiny pieces of chalk and a much worn blackboard, and leaves.

            Facing me are some 14 students ranging from early 20s to perhaps 50–three men and the rest women.  They are sitting on narrow, hard wooden benches, 2 or 3 to a bench with a narrow wooden table in front of them. I take a deep breath, write my name on the board and start with the alphabet.

            Although I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to the Chamber of Commerce as a Community Economic Development volunteer, I have already taught some English over the past couple of months. But no more than 2 hours at a time and always with time to prepare.  This is really different.  Somehow I get through the day, and the class and I begin to get acquainted. They are all very shy at first.  My Mongolian is sketchy at best and I have real problems saying people’s names.  So I do what is easy for me and fun for them.  I give them all English names that I can pronounce.  We have a Bill, Nancy, Janet, David, Sam, Donna and so on.  I try to bring as much humor into my teaching as I can and we have a lot of laughs together, even without understanding each other’s language.  Tuesday is a little easier and we are getting to be a little more comfortable with each other.

            Tuesday night, I get a message from a fellow PCV offering to text me (we all have cellphones) updates on the election results as they come in on Wednesday morning.  Remember, Mongolia is 13 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.  When the first update comes through, my phone beeps twice and I stop what I’m doing to check it.  Obama is leading.  As best I can, I try to explain to the class what’s going on, writing the candidates’ names on the board and consulting my English-Mongolian dictionary for “vote” and “election”.  They have recently had an election for Governor of their province, so it is fairly easy to get the message across.  However, I think very few people here are aware of our elections, much less any people or issues surrounding it. 

            Then it happens:  The text message pops up telling me Obama has enough electoral votes to guarantee he will be our next President.  I begin jumping around the room, cheering, shouting “Hip, Hip Hooray!”  I shake everyone’s hand.  I am ecstatic.  The class seems to catch my enthusiasm.  And before I know it, somehow they are telling me that we will all go out and celebrate that night after class.  I am to meet them at the school at 6 o’clock. 

            When I arrive at the school, we all troop over to a nearby little hotel called The Flower Hotel with a small dining room.  At this time of year, there are few tourists about and not many other visitors.  So we have the dining room to ourselves.  Several tables have been pushed together and I am given the seat of honor.  The bookkeeping teacher has also been invited to join us.  Several bottles are already on the table and the bookkeeping teacher opens one and the cork comes out with a huge pop.  It must have been some kind of bubbly stuff because it is foaming all over the place. Glasses are poured and we toast Obama, including the “Hip, hip hooray” three times, led by me at the students’ request. 

            Then traditional Mogolian food is served and not long after that one of the students, a man who is a director of a school in another town, gets up and wants me to dance.  I insist we all dance so we make a circle and dance disco style to American pop music.  Thank goodness all that’s required is to move your feet to keep time to the music and think of interesting things to do with your arms. Everybody loves it and I am declared a very good dancer despite the fact I haven’t been on a dance floor in decades.

            All through the evening, I can’t help smiling and shaking my head in disbelief—here I am in Mongolia with people I have known for only two days and who probably have never heard of Obama until that day, but they are sharing my joy and with such generosity and love.  They wouldn’t let me pay for anything.  What an amazing experience.  Surely no celebration in the States could have been any better than this. I can’t stop smiling. 

            By the end of the week, we are best of friends and planning a reunion and trading cell phone numbers.  When we part on Sunday, after another party, we are in tears.  And, as I reflect, perhaps this is one message I take away:  Obama’s victory, I hope, represents a victory for peacemakers, those who see the people of this world as friends they may not have met yet.  A victory for those who focus more on the things we have in common than on the things that divide us.  A victory for those who want to heal divisions and strife through the wise use of diplomacy not force.  Optimistic?  Idealistic? Yep. But not naïve or inexperienced.  I’m sixty-five years old (Mongolians are very open about asking your age).  And I’m celebrating the beginning of a new era in my own country’s history.  What better place to do it, than halfway around the world.  

            And with Thanksgiving coming up, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.


November 18, 2008 at 3:32 am Leave a comment

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