Archive for September, 2009

Actions speak louder than words.

That familiar phrase popped into my mind the other day for no particular reason, but on thinking about it, it now means something new to me.  The language is still a challenge—even the newly arrived PCVs speak better than I do.  But I hope that my actions—seeking out ways to help others, just being friendly—make up for my lack of verbal communications skills. I will still try to become a better Mongolian speaker, but true communication is from heart to heart and I have plenty of opportunities for that.

Speaking of communication, Mongolia and PC have been on the airwaves recently.  The following link is to an MSNBC clip talks about Peace Corps and our volunteers her in Mongolia.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/32736713#32736713

NPR recently did a weeklong series entitled Mongolia in Transition.  Go to NPR.org and search on Mongolia.

Harvest time

Here in Mongolia, there’s now snow on the mountains again and the nighttime temps are below freezing.  The lettuce I planted still looks good—it’s next to a small building that acts as a passive solar collector.  Soon though I’ll be switching to cabbage for my green vegetable.  Harvest is in full swing here–potatoes, carrots, cabbages, turnips, beets and onions.  My hosha family grew cucumbers in the greenhouse and they were prolific—the long green ones.  But the tomatoes they grew in the hosha never got ripe before they had to pull them up because of expected frost.  They had lots of green tomatoes though and they make pickles out of them. Bags and piles of vegetables arrive in the hosha every day from my host family’s fields outside of town.

The school teaching staff on Sept. 1

The school teaching staff on Sept. 1

School starts

School started here on September 1 The schools have big welcoming banners outside with lots of balloons and the opening ceremony includes speeches by the Principal and others as well as performances by the children–dances, singing songs, and reciting poetry. I stopped by a kindergarten school on my way to work.  I’m amazed at the poise and talent of Mongolian children even at an early age. And their friendliness is a joy to experience.  They all say “Hello” with a big smile and

This girl performed a traditional Mongolian dance

This girl performed a traditional Mongolian dance

sometimes and sometimes they can manage a little conversation.  I ask them their names and how old they are—those are the first words they learn. Children here wear uniforms ranging from sailor suits to French maid uniforms–white ruffled pinafores over black dresses.  Little girls on their first days of class often wear frilly dresses and big bows in their hair.  Many bring flowers to the teachers, artificial or live bouquets purchased from people like my hosha family who grow zinnias and lilies and cosmos just for this occasion.

Recognize the hula hoop?  This little girl was an expert!

Recognize the hula hoop? This little girl was an expert!

girlsingers

A popular uniform for school

A popular uniform for school

Summer travel

Although I thought I would have a quiet summer, I ended up spending a lot of time out of my site.  I wrote about the trip to Renchinhlumbe at the beginning of the summer.  And since then, I have been to some mineral springs, on a training trip with ADRA, back to Lake Khovsgul (my 5th trip!), to the countryside to visit a friend’s herder family, and then to Peace Corps Mid-Service Training near UB in August.  And coming up soon is a visit from my son and daughter the last weeks of September that will include a week’s trip to the Gobi Desert.

Off to the hinterlands

The most interesting travel was a training trip with my friend Alta. As I mentioned in my last blog, Alta was a translator during Peace Corp training last year and now works for ADRA (www.adramongolia.org.mn). Her focus is on their Self-Help Groups (SHG). This program is modeled after group lending schemes of the Grameen bank, encouraging savings and issuing small loans to build small businesses.  ADRA travels to the communities with SHGs to provide training for these groups in business practices.  Each SHG (from 5 to 15 people) elects a leader called a Trustee who attends the training and later shares what they’ve learned with their fellow SHG members.  Alta emailed me and said that many of the Trustees expected to be paid for their service.  She was looking for ideas about how to counter that expectation.  I did a little research and prepared a presentation focusing on the qualities that were important in a good trustee (or any leader), e.g. honesty, fairness, openness, selflessness. We discussed how each quality was important in their work.  I suggested that by working to express these qualities they would become more successful as well as help their fellow members of the SHGs become successful.  The rewards of these efforts would be more valuable than money.  We did some role play activities for each quality so they could see practical applications. The presentation went well and I think people appreciated it.

For me, a big highlight of this experience was being able to travel with Alta, Ariunna, (another young woman who was a trainer), and our driver, Amraa.  Our trip lasted almost two weeks and we trained SHGs in 2 communities.  The first was in Altanbulag in Selenge Aimag up near the Russian border.  It was near where I was in training last summer and we were able to stop and see my host family.  It was a lovely reunion to see Tsetsgey and family again.

groupaltanbulag

The training was held at a “resort” which I’m told was used by the Russian version of the Boy Scouts called Pioneers.  Built back in the 1940s, it is now pretty run down.  For example, the main building is like a 2-story motel except that the bathroom for each room was locked—not working anymore!  The outhouse was a hike from the main building and the only water available was at a long metal sink outside with several faucets spread out along it fed by a tank of water at one end.

About 20 Trustees came from various communities in Selenge for the three days of training.  I gave my presentation on the first day with translation by Alta.  She had said my presentation should be about an hour but when I saw the schedule, I was scheduled for 3 hours.  It worked out fine though.  I encouraged lots of discussion.

Bees and Bows

We also visited some of the little businesses run by the people in the

This lady is 69, lives and operates her little store in a 12 ft. square house

This lady is 69, lives and operates her little store in a 12 ft. square house

SHGs.  One member of the group has a little shop about 12 feet square.  In it is a refrigerator, a small freezer, a counter and shelves for her stock plus a bed and stove.  She’s 69 and lives and runs her business in this tiny store/home.

Beekeeper showing Judy his hives

Beekeeper showing Judy his hives

Another family we visited are beekeepers.  I asked what they did with the beeswax and they said “nothing”.  Thinking of how popular Burt’s Bees is in the states, I said I would try and find some recipes that they could use to make some natural products.  I’ve written to Burt’s Bees and another place online that has beeswax recipes but so far no response.  Some of the ingredients in the recipes I located for things like lip balm and moisturizing cream are not easily available in Mongolia but I feel sure there are available substitutes.  If anyone has any knowledge about this or knows someone who does, let me know.

Another business we visited makes bows and arrows.  Archery is one of the “three manly sports” in Mongolia along with wrestling and

Example of bow and quiver made in traditional way

Example of bow and quiver made in traditional way

horseracing.  The family we visited still make bows in the way Chinggis Kahn probably made them using all natural materials from the countryside, even snakeskin.  These are used by archers competing in competitions in Mongolia and are also real collector items.  Once again, I have tried to contact some people I found online who might be interested in importing a bow like this but so far, no results.  Again, if anyone has any suggestions, I welcome them.

On to Tariolan

From Altanbulag, we drove to Tariolan in Khovsgol where we met with another smaller group of SHG Trustees.  The drive is grueling and we were fortunate to be traveling in a Land Cruiser with the world’s best driver.  Yes, I am now a fan of Land Cruisers, but only in Mongolia! It took us two days to get to Tariolan.  In Selenge and in parts of Khovsul there were big wheat fields that surprised me.  A lot of flour is used Mongolia for bread, noodles, and their traditional foods, buuz and khosher.  Much of it is imported.  I also witnessed firsthand examples of deforestation and pasture degradation.  While the scenery is beautiful, the problems are also very evident.

In Tariolan, I got to see a small felt-making business. Felt is much in demand because it is used to cover the gers.  Weddings are often held in early September (propitious dates) and so the feltmaking is very active in summer preparing felt for the newly weds’ new gers.

And back to the lake!

On top of Wish Rock at Lake Khuvsgol with my friends from ADRA

On top of Wish Rock at Lake Khuvsgol with my friends from ADRA

From Tariolan we drove to Muron and the following day drove on to Lake Khovsgul.  My companions had never been to the lake and two of them had never been on the water.  We stayed in a ger right next to the lake.  I paid for a little motorboat trip for us to go up the lake to the “Wish Rock” which I visited during the Ice Festival.   We climbed up to the top of the rock and added our sacrifices to the ovoo (sacred spot), made our wishes, and celebrated with the vodka Amraa had brought along.  Everything here is celebrated with vodka. Before we left, we climbed up a steep hill next to the lake into the forest.  Ariunna, Alta, and Amra stopped to hug trees—and stood there hugging them for awhile.

Amraa getting energy from the tree

Amraa getting energy from the tree

I asked why and they said that the tree has energy and transfers it to the person hugging it.  I liked that idea so hugged a tree too!  Certainly gave new meaning to the label “treehugger”.

Off to the countryside

Following this trip, I was invited to visit my friend Ganaa’s family.

Ganaa's family in the countryside

Ganaa's family in the countryside

Ganaa works at one of the local TV station in Muron whose offices are right next to my office.  The rest of her extended family lives in three gers in the countryside and are herders.  Their gers are located in a narrow valley between some high hills.  I got to experience real herder life.  Brothers and sisters, parents and children, and a grandmother who was 92 years old all live together as one big family.

94-year-old grandmother at the herder's family.

94-year-old grandmother at the herder's family.

Although I slept in a bed in my sleeping bag, most people sleep on the floor with blankets—there were at least 8 of us in the ger I slept in.  Everyone sleeps together, eats together and shares the responsibilities of the herding, cooking, milking cows, going for water, making yogurt and other milk products.  Both wood and dung are used for cooking and in winter for heat. While we were there, they slaughtered both a sheep and a goat since Ganaa was planning on taking meat back to Muron.  Once an animal is slaughtered, one of the first things they do is to cook up the entrails and that became our main meal.  I like the liver and will eat the other items sparingly but I must admit entrails are not my favorite dish.

Boys from the herder family

Boys from the herder family

Still, I loved being able to experience the herder life if only for a couple of days..  It is not an easy life and I gain more and more respect for those who live this way.

Advertisements

September 14, 2009 at 2:51 am Leave a comment


How to get email updates

Recent Comments

Ginny Stopfel on A great way to kick off the ne…
Ginny Stopfel on This is not your normal Christ…

I voted today

I Voted