Archive for December, 2009

A Christmas story

I hesitated to post this blog.  But please understand, this little story isn’t about me.  But the incident so deeply touched me, I had to share it with you.  And now, tonight as I draw near the fire on a cold winter’s evening and listen to the carol of Old King Wenceslas playing on my computer, I realize the incident is a kind of Christmas story.  Here it is…

I was on my way to work one morning this week.  It was very cold.  It gets light late here so that the sun which is low in the sky at this time of year had barely risen and temperatures were still hovering around the nighttime lows this week of 27 degrees below zero.  I was bundled up with nearly every square inch swathed in multiple layers of down and fleece and wool.

Murun's main street with the snowy mountains beyond

As I walked along, a little boy of about eight approached me from the other direction.  As we drew close, I noticed that, though he wore a coat, it didn’t close up tight at the neck and, indeed, his neck was bare and he had no scarf.  I passed him and then turned back to look at him.  At the same instant, for whatever reason, he turned to look back at me.  I gestured to him to come to me and he did.  I unzipped my coat a bit and unwound a warm scarf that I had put on that morning.  I had worn a scarf to bed the previous night and then added a second without noticing it when I got ready to leave for work that morning.  As I zipped up my coat I realized there were two but decided to just leave them both on.  So now I took the extra scarf and wound it twice around the boy’s neck, tucked it inside his coat and buttoned him up tight.  And then I continued on my way to work.  He hadn’t said a word but as he walked away he spoke a few words.  It wasn’t “Thank you” which really wasn’t needed here.  Perhaps it was, “Why did you do that, crazy lady?” I just waved and we both went on our way.

So, as I listened to the Old King Wenceslas carol telling of the cold weather (surely colder here than where the King had lived!), I could easily relate, especially to the closing words,  “He who now will bless the poor, shall himself find blessings.”  Blessed indeed.


December 19, 2009 at 1:04 pm Leave a comment

“Bayr Shin Jeel!”

Christmas tree in front of the State Department Store, where foreigners shop (no connection to US State Dept.

“Bayr Shin Jeel!”  That’s the phonetic spelling for Happy New Year in Mongolian.  Mongolians celebrate New Year’s and, to a certain extent Christmas, though more as a secular holiday.  Children studying English learn a couple of Christmas songs like Jingle Bells and I Wish You a Merry Christmas and there are even Christmas trees and decorations in the shops.

Right now I am sitting in front of my computer determined to finish this blog and post it today! When I first get up, now that it’s so cold, I pull on an old white down coat a friend sent me—can’t wear it in public, it’s had better days but it make a perfect robe.  Plus I also pull on a hat another friend sent—good for wearing to bed and when the house is too cold.

My wood pile, ready for winter

My fire is crackling nicely and I can hear Bold chopping some wood for me outside my window.  A beautiful sound—since the temperature is now getting down to around 30 below at night—that’s Celsius (-22 F) and up to around 0 F during the day.  The sky far above is blue above but a smoky pall hangs over the town made up of wood smoke (a light colored smoke mostly from homes) and coal smoke (thick black smoke from the power plants providing heat to the hospital, government buildings, schools, and some apartment buildings).  Can barely see the mountains in the distance, sometimes not at all.  [Later: took a walk with a friend this afternoon to the edge of town to see the frozen river and a bunch of cows drinking from a hole someone made in the ice.  Some of the cows were wearing old blankets wrapped around them.  Not exactly sure why—I’ll have to ask.]

Recently I went in to UB for Peace Corps’s required flu shot.  I had set up a couple of meetings so I stayed a few extra days.  One of the areas I have thought a lot about is the need for greater financial literacy among young people.  I remembered from my high school days that a program called Jr. Achievement enabled students to start a little business and learn about things like profit, loss, loans, debt, etc. I hadn’t been involved but I decided to check it out (

I was delighted to discover that Jr. Achievement is a worldwide organization serving some 9.3 million students per year.  Here’s how they define themselves:  “JA Worldwide (Junior Achievement) is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programs. Junior Achievement programs help prepare young people for the real world   by showing them how to generate wealth and effectively manage it, how to create jobs which make their communities more robust, and how to apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace. Students put these lessons into action, and help strengthen their communities.”

This sounded like just what I was looking for and then I found out that Jr. Achievement had actually existed in Mongolia for about five year from 1998-2002.  Someone from Peace Corps was actually involved in the start up of the program, but I have not been able to determine who it was.  I’m also not yet positive why it stopped though I think it may have lost its funding.  I’ve talked with someone who was involved in the past and I understand it was very popular.  So I am seeking to find a way to re-establish the program.  I spoke about the idea to my friends at an NGO called ADRA ( and they are very interested in working together on this.

While this all sounds positive, I must add that there are a lot of things that need to  happen before the program can be re-started.  The Ministry of Education needs to support it, schools accept it, personnel trained to teach, businesses need to provide financial support and serve on advisory board, etc. etc. etc.  And maybe it won’t happen—or maybe the idea will evolve into something else.  I try to keep in mind a wonderful quote from one of my favorite authors, Freya Stark, who wrote:

“Perserverance is often praised, but it is not so often realized that another quality must accompany it to make it of any value–and that is elasticity; perseverance in only one direction very often fails: but if one is ready to take whatever road is offered, and to change the chosen way, if circumstances change, and yet to keep the end in view–then success is infinitely more probable.”

Back to less serious matters:  After I got back from our trip to the Gobi, I attended a hair cutting ceremony for the son of one of my friends.  It is an important event in a family—the hair is not cut until the child is 5 and then family and friends are invited to celebrate and everyone takes a snip of the hair.  Gifts are given for the child and there is a lot of eating, drinking, and singing.  I was the official photographer for my friend’s son’s party.  The party actually starts at midnight and runs for 24 hours!

Two of my friends have recently given birth to sons.  I tried to talk one of them into naming their child Clayton.

My friend's brand new baby

She said relatives write down suggested names on pieces of paper and then at the end of a month, they choose a name.  So Clayton is on a piece of paper waiting to be selected!

Murun's new library, 7 years missing

Another thing I am excited about is that Murun has a new library!  It’s been without a library for the past seven years.  I walk past the building every day on the way to work and am so pleased that it is pretty much finished and will officially open soon.

Baadmaa, the children's librarian

The mother of one of my friends is the children’s librarian and I am hopeful I can help raise some funds to contribute something to the children’s room.  Murun’s museum will also move into the second floor of the building.  I had been told it exists but have never seen any of the collection.

There are lots of other things going on, but I want to get this blog up.  I wish you all a very happy holiday season—and if anyone wants to drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.  I have finally bought a little modem that enables me to connect online at home or at the office.  Since I am doing a lot of online research about various subjects and emailing to connections in UB about Jr. Achievement, it just made sense to do it.  So if you have any questions or comments, send them along.

December 13, 2009 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

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