Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You Say Tomato, I say...

улаан лооль.

As you can probably imagine, communication is difficult. My mongolian language, according to my neighbors, is getting better. Ehhhhh... perhaps. What's more likely is they are getting better at understanding me.

But to my point.

My life is a giant game of taboo.

For those of you who have never played, taboo is a hecka fun game. You are given a word, such as tomato and you are given a list of taboo words, such as red, fruit, ketchup, and sauce. Now you must get your team to guess the word tomato without saying the taboo words.

Seeing as how my vocabulary is lacking, I am often using other words to describe the word I do not know.

For example, I needed the projector to watch a movie in one of my classes. I did not know the word for projector. So, when talking to my director, I said in mongolian, "I want to watch a movie in class. I need the big, white, TV." She says, "Aaaaaah, тийм байна, прожктор" which, transliterated, is "Aaaaaaah, teem bain, projector."

Go figure.


Za is the Mongolian equivalent to ok. It means everything and nothing all at once. And it is now part of my everyday speech.


Like I said before, these last two months have been nothing but Olympic preparation. As a result, I have very little to tell/show you.

In Dariganga, my days revolved around normal class, Olympic prep class for students, Olympic prep class for teachers, and the occasional ping pong, basketball, and volleyball practice (I'm competing in those sports in an aimag wide competition in June).

The weather is getting warmer (KNOCK ON WOOD WHEN YOU READ THIS) which means life is getting easier. I still have sandstorms to worry about, but I'll take it over -30 degree weather any day. When a sandstorm hits, I have to weigh my ger down:

Oor sonin you bain? Which translates to "What else is interesting?" Well... I'm thinking, I'm thinking. I recently went to Choibalsan to visit some friends of mine and we had a blast. Choibalsan is the aimag center in Dornod province, just north of Sukhbataar. It is waaaaay bigger than Baruun-Urt and, consequently, has a wider variety of food (oy, so much of pleasure from getting out of my soum derives from food). We had pizza, broccoli, mozzarella cheese, and soy milk. How delightful.

Of course, it was soooo wonderful to see my friends again. It's so strange to think that I hadn't seen any of them since around Thanksgiving, but plop us all down in one room and it was like we've been friends for years.

I've been chillin with my sitemates for the last few days, which has been beyond lovely. There is nothing better than good friends, good weather, and cheap beer.


Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?

Lloyd tom bolj bain, says everybody.

It's true. Lloyd is getting big. Unfortunately, my ger is not growing with him.

Maw and Paw sent Lloyd an awesome nametag and a rawhide bone. However, turns out the bone wasn't too necessary seeing as how Lloyd often returns to my haasha with a bone he found himself. Sometimes I forget Lloyd's a Mongolian dog until I come home to him gnawing on a cow skull. We used to buy cow hooves from PetSmart for Bailey and Ruby (which they loved). I laughed when Lloyd brought home his very own cow hoof, found right out my ger.

He's out grown his doggie bed! Which simply means you all need to send bigger packages so Lloyd has a place to sleep.

Attractive. Note that Lloyd still does not have any balls. I guess dog's balls drop anywhere from infancy to 10 months. And when that happens, his voice will probably drop an octave and he will grow hair in awkward places. Ahhh puberty.

I left Lloyd tied in my haasha. He was being fed by Bajay and Shinee, but I just ran into them in the aimag two days ago. I asked how Lloyd was and they said he was happy and playing with his friends. They assured me that lil Dilguun was taking care of him while they were gone. Phew, I thought.

Three hours later, I thought... who is taking care of Dilguun?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The English Olympics

After all the fun and debauchery of Tsagaan Sar was finished, my school switched into mega-business mode.

The Olympics were approaching.

Each year, Mongolia hosts Olympic academic competitions in a variety of subjects, English included. Winners of these competitions win endless amounts of honor for their schools and are therefore put under immense pressure to do well. Teachers study with their students hours every day to prepare for the academic rigor of the test.

To quote my director, "Sarah. You will help us win."

Oh boy. Not only were the students being pressured to do well, but my legitimacy as a teacher was on the line. As I've mentioned before, many of my students' English is... um.... sub par. But it is a result of terrible textbooks and two teachers who have never traveled to an English speaking country. They simply don't have the same opportunities as children in aimag centers or in UB do. The kids are by no means stupid or lazy, as their teachers might often tell them, they simply don't have the means to succeed. I warned my counterpart that I absolutely believed that my students would do better than they did last year. But, they would probably get beat by the aimag kids when it came down to it.

So, we studied. Endlessly. Sometimes for up to 3 hours a day. But I LOVED it. These were the 10 best English students at the school and they wanted to win. When I would tell them to go home, no one would leave. They would say I could keep teaching if I wanted. They would also remind me if I forgot to assign some homework.


After studying one Saturday afternoon, Gunje asks me, "What time tomorrow, bagshaa?" Uhh. Tomorrow is Sunday. And the American in me says it's blasphemy to study on Sunday. But who am I to deny these students who want to learn? So I invited them over to play Uno and Spoons and drink tea and look through magazines. Speaking practice, right?

Fast forward to three days ago. My 10 students were nervous about the test, but I was confident that it wouldn't look as foreign to them as it had in years past. So, they took the test, complained about the hard questions later, and kept checking their watches, waiting for the scores to be posted.

The test is two days long. If you score high enough on the first test, you move on to the speaking and writing tests. Otherwise, you're outta the game. 4 of my students made it to the second part. 0 made it last year.

My counterpart told me there was no speaking and no writing because no students had made it past the grammar and vocab test before. I was very nervous for my students because they weren't prepared for this. I suppose I should have had a little faith.

A few hours later, I was with my friends in the square, when a mob of adolescent girls came screaming towards me. Eventually, I was able to understand that Gunje won 3rd place for 9th grade, Odko got 4th. Gundgie got 3rd for 8th grade. Buyna, 4th. I was gushing with pride.

I am just so happy.

Not to mention that the director now thinks I'm a genius and spent five minutes thanking me over the phone.

SUCH a good day.

Tsagaan Sar

Or literally, "White Month," is probably the biggest Mongolian holiday of the year. In most cases, it lasts for 3 days at the start of February. In my soum, the celebration continues for 20 days.

Tsagaan Sar is a cross between Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and St. Patrick's Day. Everyone dresses up in their best del and walks from house to house. At each house, you must drink milk tea, take a shot of vodka, and eat some buutz. Then, when you leave, the host gives you a present, anything from candy to pens to bath products. I got a belt from one of my counterparts and bath products from another (I hope that's not a hint).

To sum it up, you trick or treat around town, drink endless milk tea, equal amounts of vodka, eat obscene amounts of buutz and see how long you can go without puking. Just kidding. It was alot of fun to visit everyone's houses and gers and to hang out with all my friends and co-workers in a non-school setting.

Oh, Anhaa's mom, who has adopted me as her fourth daughter, made me my own Mongolian del. Awesome, non?

This is Anhaa's family. Her uncle, mom, and dad. The cake-like structure on the table is a traditional Tsagaan Sar decoration/dish. It is basically a cookie fort filled with aral (milk products) and candy.

It wouldn't be a holiday in Mongolia without a sheep's head.

Just. Too. Cute.

More of Anhaa's family. The two women on the right are her sisters, Mojie and Zolaa.

This is me greeting my director. The first time you meet someone during Tsagaan Sar you must greet them by saying the words, "Amar bain oh?" If you are younger than the person you are greeting, you arms go underneath his or hers (like so).

Shinee, Me, Bajay, and Anhaa. Note to self: get awesome hat for next year.

Mongolian Highways - or - How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Countryside

As I near the 10 month mark here in Mongolia (holy effin crap), I find that Mongolia is becoming more and more... normal... to me.

By normal, I mean that throwing a rock at a dog's head no longer leaves me feeling guilty. Or that eating a bowl of sootay bodaah (milk tea with rice) is as commonplace as eating a bowl of cereal was when I lived in the States. And spending hours upon hours traveling through nowhere packed like a sardine in a very questionable looking car does not leave me frustrated, angry, or uncomfortable (well, that last bit is a lie... I just don't think about it anymore).

To quote my neighbor Bajay, "Saraa, chi jinkin mongol hyn!" Sarah, you are a totally legit Mongol.

You better believe it.

Anyhow, last time you saw me, I was headed back to Dariganga to celebrate Tsagaan Sar with my friends and co-workers.

I was traveling with my lil pup and my counterpart's sister. And of course 6 other Mongolians, but I didn't know them. We all piled in the car and set off for my home sweet home.

It became quite clear quite soon that this was going to be a long and difficult trip. Springtime in Mongolia is a very nasty ordeal. It is constantly windy and terrible windstorms can kick up in a blink of the eye. Well, this is precisely what was happening. Coupled with large amounts of unmelted snow, the road to Dariganga disappeared completely beneath feet of snow drifts. After an hour of trying to drive through this, I suggested we go back to the aimag and try again tomorrow. They laughed and said, Zugaree, which in this instance can be translated as, "Silly American. We do this all the time, so don't worry. Here I have a CD with Fergalicious on it. Sing along for the next 7 hours."

7 hours, and a maybe 30 km later, my drivers decides it is too dangerous to drive through the snow like this at dark, so we turn around and go back to the aimag. Grrrrr.

The next day we try again. Conditions were exactly the same, but at least it was daylight. Every 10 feet, we'd get stuck in a snowbank and have to dig ourselves out.

I left the BU at 9 am. I arrived in my ger at 11 pm.

We dug the entire 180 km to Dariganga.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring!

It has been a loooooooooong time since I've been back in the aimag and I am happier than ever to be here. Later today (I'm currently waiting for a phone call that will inform me the car is here... could be 10 minutes, could be 5 hours), I am travelling up north to visit some dear friends of mine.

When I come back, my students will meet me in the aimag where they will participate in a rigorous English grammar test that I have been prepping them for since February.

And then it's back to Dariganga.

Anyhow, just wanted to let you all know that I am here for a while, so if you haven't forgotten about me yet, be sure to chat with me!

Like always, I'll be posting random entries while I'm here (fear not, Lloyd shall be the topic of one of them... He is currently chained outside being fed by my haashaa fam... poor baby!). But for now, I'm going to browse some news sources... what a time to be wholed up in Themiddleofnowhere, Mongolia.

Wind, sandstorms, and toppling gers (a typical Mongol Spring),