Archive for April, 2009

Uuchlaarai

Uuchlaarai!
That means “sorry” in Mongolian.  And I’m sorry I’ve haven’t posted to my blog in awhile.  Every day, it seems, I’m adding more things to my “To Do” list. I’ve often thought I really need a butler—someone like Bunter from the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series.  Someone who is supremely capable, anticipates your every need, completely discrete and dependable!  Oh well, Judy, dream on!
No real theme in this report—just random thoughts and observations.

Weather Report:  Frigid cold mild
Only a few weeks ago, my Google home page was still describing our weather in Muron as “frigid.”  “Frigid” is not a pleasant word when it’s describing your living conditions.  Then one day, the weather was characterized as “cold” instead. I was so excited—I felt as if I should put on a bathing suit and go out and sunbathe.  And then, in a very short time, the word “mild” started appearing.  Temperature up around 10 C. (50 degrees F.).  It was till cold in the mornings, but very pleasant at noontime.  Then a week ago, it snowed.  And it’s been windy, though no big dust storms yet.  Over the past few weeks, a little green is showing above the ground.  Where in the world does the moisture come from?  Those little dry clumps of grass must have very deep roots.

Garden Report
This past week, Bold began working on his tractor that has sat in the hosha all winter.  It was missing a tire that he replaced and then he got it started and drove it around the yard—it has a very distinctive put-put-put sound.

He has also started his gardening operation here.  He dug out the place where he had tomatoes last fall—made it deeper and then put straw and manure from chickens, rabbits and horses in the pit. Then he put a layer of dirt over that since the manure is not well rotted enough to plant things directly in it.  Above that, he made some frames to cover the pit and covered those with plastic and finally there are some old blankets that he pulls over the pit at night to keep the cold out.  And now some little seeds have sprouted.  I think they are cabbage.  Will be interesting to watch the growing season unfold step by step. Two weeks ago, Bold put up the frame to his greenhouse in the hosha and has planted some onions Tsermaa had started inside.  She also has some tiny tomato plants underway.  I think they are also planting some lettuce—which I will look forward to very much.

My favorite woodcarver
Some weeks ago I was introduced to a woodcarver at the office—one of our Chamber members.  There’s a photo of him below—he has such a gentle, smiling look.  He showed me a snuff bottle he had carved—the workmanship was exquisite.  Apparently he and his son are woodcarvers and accept orders.  When I said I wanted to order one, my supervisor, Sara, said he was going to make and give me one (photos below).  It takes him 3 days to carve a snuff bottle (I would think 3 months!).  I hope you can see the incredible detail—every little bit of carving has a significance related to Mongolia culture. Mine has the lunar calendar animal related to my birthday (horse) on one side and Bob’s birthday animal (dog) on the other.  Even the bottom of the snuff bottle has a tiny carving of waves and fish, symbolizing water.   I am so impressed with the workmanship I have ordered several more.  Why snuff bottles?  I mentioned them in my blog on the Tsaagan Saar holiday.  On special occasions, men carry them with them in a special bag tucked inside their deel and then take them out and offer the snuff bottle to every guest.  You open it and take a bit of snuff out of the bottle and sniff it, then close it up and hand it back.  Or you can just sniff around the cap itself.  I’m not sure of the origin of the practice.  Generally it is only men who have the snuff bottles.  Mostly the bottles are glass—I had never seen a wooden one before.

“Love” photo at ice festival
I’m including one more photo from my trip to the Ice Festival.  There is a big rock in the lake not too far from where the ice festival took place.  The people from World Vision that I was with drove up the lake to this rock and we all got out and took a lot of pictures.  One of the group climbed up on top of the rock and then took a picture of us all lying on the ice down below and spelling out “LOVE”.  I’m the left side of the “V”.

My November/Obama Students

If you read my blog last November, you’ll remember that I taught English to a group of bookkeeping students the week of the presidential election.  We had celebrated Obama’s win together and they hold a special place in my heart.  Last week, I was with them again.  Once more, with no notice, I taught for 7 days 7 hours a day.  This time, I taught English to one group in the morning for 4 hours and then taught business English to the group I taught last year for 3 hours in the afternoon.  It was great to see them again although teaching business English to a group of people whose basic English is pretty limited is daunting.  I came up with a list of about a dozen words I could teach and filled in with other subjects for the rest of the time.  They learned a little about contracts and budgets and profit and loss and a few banking terms and that was about it.
One of the students, a school director, has invited me to visit his family this summer.  So, on July 3, he’ll be picking me up and we’ll drive for about 15 hours over very bad roads (so I’m told) to his soum (town) far up northwest of here near the reindeer people.  It is supposed to be very beautiful.  I’ll probably be gone about a week.  Will have adventures to share when I return, I’m sure.

Business Report
As I’ve noted before, PCVs have their primary assignments (for me, it’s the Chamber of Commerce). No one in my office speaks very much English so it has been a challenge to communicate about things I can do to help them.  Even though I’ve had a number of ideas, progress has been slow.  I’ve advised several businesses on things they could do to attract more business, done a little translating of Mongolian materials into English, and am hoping to develop a couple of seminars about business planning and raising money for business expansion.  I mentioned in an earlier blog I was hoping to facilitate selling handicrafts online, but I have come to realize that someone here in Muron would need to have the web expertise to carry on once I leave.  So far I haven’t been able to identify anyone with that capability.
I have been teaching English to some of the people who work in the government building where I work, including the province inspectors, e.g. buildings, food suppliers, hospital, water, sanitation, etc.  I’ve also taught people in the statistics department.  I think both groups are valuable contacts for me in other ways.  For example, I came across a substantial amount of medical waste dumped by the river near a hospital.  I took pictures of it and showed them to one of the hospital inspectors who will follow up on it.
PCVs are encouraged to develop secondary projects These are projects seek to find ways to respond to needs in the community. On the secondary project side, I am very excited about an Ecology Club we are starting.  Mongolians use the word Ecology much as we use the word Environmental.  We will have both an adult and a student group and will focus on learning more about the environment and the kinds of things that impact Mongolia (like deforestation, desertification and pollution from the burning of coal) as well as the issues facing the whole world.  And we’ll identify things we can do right here.
For example, litter and trash disposal are big problems here from both a health and an aesthetic point of view.  We are working with the local government and World Vision to make and install trashcans along the main street.  To encourage people to use them, we have a contest for the student members to make anti-litter posters.  The students are also adopting an area at the main intersection where they will plant some flowers and maintain them.   Muron would love to have more tourists visit and this will be one way to make the town more appealing. (See photo of one of our trash cans below.)
We’re making a list of other projects too, like planting trees and growing vegetables in their hoshas.   We hope to show some films on nature and global warming issues (we’ll have Mongolian voiceovers).  And I hope to hook up with some sort of environmental club in the States so they can exchange information about their respective projects and learn about the problems in each country.  If you know of a group that might be interested, let me know.

Technology P.S.
A fellow PCV who read my blog on technology reminded me of an item I overlooked: Out in the countryside, some of the gers have solar panels on them to provide some electricity.  Hope I can get a picture of one sometime to post.

Cashmere goats
A fellow PCV who lives in a small town about 40 miles and several hours drive from Muron comes in occasionally to Muron to do some shopping.  She was here this weekend and told me that the previous weekend she had gone out to the countryside with the family whose hosha she shares and combed goats.  That’s where the cashmere comes from.  Mongolia is a major producer of cashmere and mostly exports it raw.  In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of goats being raised due to higher prices for the cashmere goat hair.  At the same time, it has been hard on the environment since the goats are very destructive of their grazing areas compared to other animals. And now, due to the world economy meltdown, apparently the demand for cashmere is not so high this year and prices have fallen a lot.  Doubt if you’ll see any difference in prices in the stores though.

Mongolian Holidays

Among the many holidays celebrated here in Mongolia, I was surprised to find out that Mongolians know about April Fool’s day which they call “Laughing Happy Day”.  They also know about Halloween.  English teachers at the schools make the most of that and they have competitions for the best costumes.  But they don’t go trick or treating.  They know about Valentine’s Day too and they celebrate International Women’s Day—kind of like Mother’s Day.  People send “Happy Women’s Day” cell phone messages and give the women in their family gifts.
On Women’s Day, Bold came over around 7 and asked if I wanted to go to a Women’s Day concert at the theater—right away.  So I hurriedly put on my deel (not sure how big a deal this was) and Tsermaa and I set off for the theater.  It turned out to be a performance of music and dancing and even some short skits.  Most all of it traditional Mongolian music and dancing and I’m so glad I got to see it.  My life in Mongolia always seems to be filled with the unexpected.  Never, ever a dull moment!

Rabbits, rabbits everywhere

I got up this morning and looked out the window and was surprised to see rabbits all over the hosha.  I didn’t see anyone around at first and then I saw Bold and Tsermaa come out.   Somehow the rabbits had gotten out of their pen.  So I grabbed a broom and hurried outside.   Apparently the rabbits had burrowed out the back of their home and were enjoying their freedom.  Trying to herd them back into their home through the same burrow where they came out was quite a challenge with all of us scrambling all over the yard, chasing them out from under and behind things.  Finally we had them all back inside again but not without a considerable amount of effort.  I can verify that rabbits do not like to be herded.

Remember to click on the photo to see it larger.

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