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Friday, October 29, 2010

Trick or Treat, a love letter to Pete

Though Halloween is a little known event here in Mongolia, it's always been very special to me. That's because my first born made his entrance into the world on Halloween morning in 1982 at 7:50 a.m.

Weighing in at 8 lb. 6 oz., and a whopping 21.5 inches long, Peter Alan Hunt appeared via C-section following many hours of labor and pushing to no avail. Back in those days, and in Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, NC no less,(said with a delightful southern drawl) not too many innovative techniques were offered to women in the maternity ward, especially first time moms.

As comedian Stephen Wright says, in his hilarious deadpan delivery... Pete, like all children born by c-section... "came in through the window"......

I am not one for regrets, but I will say that the children I now have the pleasure of working with (who live in the dormitory and attend school here in the aimag center(equivlant of the county seat), have the benefit of my wisdom, maturity, patience and kindness that I did not possess while Pete was growing up.

As a woman old enough to be a grandma (no rush whatsoever!!!) I often fondly recall comedian Bill Cosby saying in a routine about his mother and her relationship with his own children, alluding to her sense of playfullness and joy, "this is not the same woman who raised me"!

Regardless of my parenting shortcomings, there is one major theme that rings true now and all during Pete's childhood... the depth of love, connection and bond that I feel toward my son!

Even though I have moved across the world from you dear Pete, you are always on my mind and in my heart. Happy 28th Birthday from Mongolia!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mongolian open house aka drink three times

drinking airig in the big bowl, my counterpart, Happy
So this was my first Mongolian house warming party, and as usual my invitation was at the last minute. (those who like to play it loose and not worry about making plans, etc. would love the easy going way things are done here). The man here is not the host, but a friend/coworker of the host. This is the chemistry teacher who speaks some English. He was serving up the airig, fermented mares milk, which is one of the popular drinks you must drink three times here ceremoniously. You get the big bowl full of airig, take three drinks, pass it back, it's refilled, then passed to the next person.

Airig looks, smells and tastes something like watery, sour yogurt. You can see in the background some of the juice, water, milk tea, fruit and many types of salads which were served to us upon arrival.

Me drinking the Mongolian national vodka, which is made from cow's milk (I kid you not), and looks and takes like airig, only this is clear. I'm drinking it from a cow's horn cup..... will wonders never cease....

On left, my fave chemistry teacher, and in striped shirt, our host (can't remember his name or what he teaches). After the airig and Mongolian vodka were passed around, we then moved on to the bottled Vodka. It is customary on both types of vodka to drink three shots. Whoa..... this is a big drinking country.... I did it, they were impressed, then thank goodness we left so I could go home and rest!
our hostess in orange sweater was busy serving, washing up and serving some more that she never enjoyed anything with us.
After all the drinking, we were then served dinner...each plate individually prepared with rice, beet salad, carrot salad and boats (little steamed dumplings with mutton)... What a lot of work for the hostess...
I was expecting to have to sing a Mongolian song, which I would have done when forced to, but perhaps that all happened later. As we were leaving, more teachers were coming in, so maybe the singing was led later by the men who were there when we arrived and still there when we left and by my count, had way more than 3 shots each during the time we were there!
You know what they say, when in Mongolia...

Turn, Turn, Turn...there is a season..I miss leaves!

Though it is autumn here in Arvikheer, with a nip in the air, and the shortening hours of sunlight, there is something conspicuously absent. The autumn leaves that I have become so accustomed to seeing every fall are not present here so close to the Gobi.

This area is considered Central Mongolia, but we are on the edge of the large and imposing desert. The soil is mostly sand, and when the wind whips up, there are mini sand storms; little cyclones of sand. An awe inspiring site to be certain, but also a time to close your mouth and cover your nose and eyes if possible.
I have have this experience even when I lived further north in the summer. I was visiting my training site friend, Little B, at her ger. We were standing outside in the hasha (barren, dirt covered yard) chatting (ok lamely attempting to chat) with her hasha mom, when off in the distance we watched a small wind blow into a very large ominous looking dust cloud.

We all stood there mesmerized, watching intently, when her mom squealed and ran for the cover of the house....we quickly followed as she ran in and closed the windows against the blowing sand and dirt. These little mini cyclones disperse as quickly as they appear.

The soil here, whether sand or dirt, blows easily without vegetation to secure it..... I have observed there are areas of weeds and desert like plants, grasses and flowers, then nothing but sand and rocks.

The main town area in Arvikheer has fenced in plots with a few trees and shrubs; all struggling to survive in the windy foreign soil. My view from my apartment windows is a quaint little courtyard, fenced and locked (even from me) with some fairly healthy looking fir trees. There are planters in many locations around town (outside stores, gas stations and homes) bursting with flowers. Many of these flowers are familiar looking annuals, such as sun flowers, cosmos and marigolds.

Aside from these planned and fenced in little garden areas, the land is pretty barren. Public landscaping is not the same in this country. Even in the big city, there is no such thing as a lawn,remarkably to me, not even in the big city parks. Thus, no mowing of lawns.

So back to the absence of leaves. As Joni Mitchell says "you don't know what you've got till it's gone".... leaves are something I have long associated with the changing seasons, the onset of fall, the end of summer, the precursor to winter.

Leaves to me symbolize autumn; along with representing the smell of fall. Fallen leaves with their beautiful colors, their crunchiness, the memories of playing in them as a child, playing in them with my children, and seeing other little kids loving the fall because of the fallen leaves!

Some of my best memories of this season inculde the fallen leaves, raking them, cursing them as I'm raking them, then praising them as they compost into beautiful rich soil. I could definetly use some rich soil here for my immense garden project/beautification plan for my school! Suffice it to say I am composting in my kitchen for now, and have been put in touch with a lady in UB who has red worms for composting. My plan is to obtain some of these worms when I got to UB for Thanksgiving!

It is still autumn even without the falling leaves, as the season turn, turn, turns toward winter.

Friday, October 8, 2010

food glorious food, or the answer to Sue's burning question, what do you eat Jo?

breakfast this morning, cream of wheat (known as baby rice here) with sugar, cinammon, and vanilla flavored soy milk and an orange!
my salad made from freshly grown lettuce, spinach, mung bean sprouts, cucumbers and home made honey mustard dressing, along with black bean soup (my neice Leah's recipie)

One day I may become techno saavy and actually post the photos I'm trying to post, in the meantime, here is a little snapshot of my food here in Mongoloia..... During my initial days in country, the copious amounts of fatty meat just did not agree with me (and we were served the good stuff then), so I quickly switched to vegetarian prior to going to my host family.
Their cooking was fine, just not the same as my own and I was always craving more veggies, especially salad. There is an easy solution to that-grow it on your windowsill....I have several photos of that, but of course can't seem to get them posted. Use your imagination here. I have two salad greens containers going, both with lettuce and spinach growing in them, as well as some dill, basil, chive, cilantro and parsley. I also bought a small green pepper plant at the recent trade fair. All are doing well, and thus far I have only harvested two small bunches of lettuce. However, I sprout mung beans on top of my fridg twice weekly so I have those with tomatos for salad as often as possible.
The veggies available are limited but awesome. Beets, potatos, turnips, carrots, cabbage, onion and garlic are locally grown and cheap. Not as cheap, but still inexpensive are tomatos, peppers and many fruits including apples,bananas, peaches, oranges, kiwi and earlier there were plums. Some dried fruits locally for sale are raisins (not very good, mostly with dried seeds in them), prunes and apricots that are tasty!
An abundance of various grains are available, so I have cream of wheat or oats for breakfast frequently, and the local yogurt is tasty as well. I also got a bag of muslic cereal from a friend who got to UB (the big city).
The local milk is very high fat content, so I usually don't drink it, but I do buy powdered milk and use it in my instant coffee in the morning. I make powdered soy milk and add a dry packet of vanilla flavoring which is pretty tasty.
There is real butter locally which is tasty and some wheat bread as well. I have also made bread a few times...yummy!
Friends and I get together often to share food, cook together, etc. Last weekend at Pablo's we all threw in ingredients and made enough small pizzas for an army, even though there were only 5 of us and we ate them all!
The meat here is too intimidating for me, so I have not bought any, though the chicken is ok, even if only dark meat seems to be available in this area. Chicken is expensive, mostly because it is imported!!! Eggs are readily available, cheap and good, but people keep chickens for eggs only.
I have yet to buy tofu, but friends tell me it's available locally and pretty good. I am really into beans these days (thank goodness I had learned many ways to enjoy beans prior to coming here).. lentils which I bought in UB make great tasty burgers, and I invented my own Cajun style red beans and rice which was delicious! (I brought many spices with me from home, there is a very very limited selection in country...)Korean food is popular here, so if it's spicy you want, you can order some kim chee at many local restaurants (spicy cabbage in a red spicy sauce) or buy it bagged and have it with rice and dried seaweed is everywhere, so homemade veggie sushi is a tasty meal.
My friend Caitlin is an awesome baker and has made several cakes since I've been here and my favorite is the chocolate chip oatmeal cake with peanut butter frosting. Yep, it's good.
Fixin's for spaghetti, soups and stir frys are easy to find and tasty. I have not starved..which is good, because I love food! Cheese is one thing that is very different (not to my liking) here. There are a few types of "cheese food" slices and spreads which make very passable grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese. Sandwiches are not a common thing here, though I am lucky to have some peanut butter for when the urge strikes!
Popcorn is my favorite snack here and easy to make on my stove. Thanks to my sister Sue, I can also have the butter flavored seasoning (as the label says,balllpark style from Amish country?)...
We recently discovered a new small restaurant in town that serves chocolate milk shakes (Tom!) made with ice, Hersheys syrup, chocolate ice cream and milk, and are sooooo good!
For those foods I really miss, it's amazing that UB has many continental restaurants with my favorite being American Burgers and Fries. It's owned by an American from Virginia, Rob who ended up in Mongolia. The food is truly American, familiar and quite tasty! I'll be having some burgers over Thanksgiving when I go to UB!
Ok, now I am really hungry....just a brief look into what I eat here across the world...not too shabby:)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Remembering Vicki at the local Buddhist temple/monestary

my own shrine to Vicki at home
me and Caitlin at the temple
lamas praying

Bataar and me outside the temple
Text ColorFriday, October first was the four year anniversary of my lovely daughter Victoria's untimely death. I have spent previous anniversaries with family and close friends, having fun and remembering Vicki with stories and laughter. And there are plenty of stories filled with love, joy, and a whole range of emotions. It's always heart warming to share Vicki stories with those who knew and loved her!

Last year, (I think it was just last year) Sue my awesome sister, Marguerite, our Mom, Pete, my eldest son and Courtney, my lovely surrogate daughter, had lunch together at Dravenstott's restaurant in Orrville. This is the small Ohio town where we had lived; where she and her brothers, Zach (her twin) and Pete, all went through school and it was the local family owned restaurant where Vicki had her first job as a salad bar girl. Yes, that's right, someone has to fill up the dressing tubs, re stock the salad fixings and make sure it all stays appealing and appetizing!

The salad bar there is my favorite, as it was Vicki's! They make an awesome broccoli cheese soup...mmmmm, I am salivating just thinking about it and now I really want some!

The first anniversary myself, family and several friends (Sue, Mom, Courtney, Mallory, Heaven and Wynter, DaVonna, Kory and Stephanie) got together and planted a memorial garden for Vicki near where her fatal accident occurred. Sue donated lots of daffodil bulbs from her beautiful yard and I brought a pink miniature rose, a little evergreen and some perennials that had been in our family back yard in Orrville. It now blooms with something year round.

This little intersection on a busy 2 lane highway is a beautiful, yet strange and lonely place for me. This is farm country in the heart of NE Ohio. Lovely fields, pastures, plenty of livestock, mostly cows; farms and wide open spaces that Vicki loved so much adorn the area. Not such a bad spot to leave this world, if choosing when and where is an option.

According to some ways of thinking, this may be exactly how we leave this world...We plan in a place called Bardo, (in between heaven and earth, life and death) what lesson we need to work on, learn, master in our next incarnation. Then we figure just how to do that. While in grief therapy, my wonderful counselor Jane helped me explore this notion. If I were to hold to this line of thinking, then Vicki would have approached me in Bardo and asked me to be her mother next time, letting me know that she wasn't long for this world as her lesson should not take very many years. I would have then agreed lovingly to do so, in spite of the anticipated mind numbing hurt, pain, grief and loss that I would be certain to endure; just for the sheer joy of having her as my daughter for only 18 years.

I have stopped there many times over the years when returning to the area to visit with family and friends. I pull onto that road, drive up and turn around and park near the intersection, with my car off and the flashers on. Tears, as well as overwhelming feelings of love, grief, happy memories and sadness are intertwined. I feel so grateful to have been her mother and to have shared this life with her, yet miss her so much that at times it is a physical aching for her.

Friends of Vicki's erected a huge white cross honoring her memory shortly after she died. Her friend Heaven and her dad made the cross, and many young people helped paint it, and wrote messages of love to Victoria on the back. The cross stood for at least two years, then one day disappeared. Turns out the family was tired of having it there and I think it's still in their garage. I just don't have the heart to go and get it and do something with it.....

This year was the first time I have been away from home, so it felt kind of weird and a little lonely. I have maintained contact with my family, friends, all my loved ones back in the US in various ways, letters, email, FB, etc., so I am not totally disconnected or out of touch with those who also knew and loved my daughter.

Let me back up and say that I do have plenty of kind and caring friends here in Mongolia. My fellow CYD trainees and all of my great site mates, especially Caitlin Rose whom I feel quite close to and spent the anniversary day with.... So when the date was quickly approaching, I knew I needed a plan for some sort of service to honor Vicki's memory. I know for me, I need to honor her memory, and deal with the loss head on; rather than letting it sneak up on me unexpectedly.

Since Caitlin knows the local head lama, (Tibetan Buddhist monk) Bataar, we went to speak with him. There are many monks (35 or so) who live in the compound. For a token offering of money and matches for each lama there, Bataar asked each to pray that Victoria's next life be a long and happy one. The money helps them with living expenses and the matches I am not totally sure I understand their signifigance. However, when someone dies here and you are given matches, you are to light one and hold it until it burns out. I plan to learn more about this in particular and Buddhism in general.

On October 1st at 10:30 a.m., Caitlin, Bataar and I went inside the temple where the monks were chanting morning prayers. This is a lovely experience and as they chant, at certain points, several of them also play instruments. Two drums, 2 horns and 2 pair of cymbals join in with the chanting to what I liken to a "joyful noise".

We approached each monk in turn, Bataar telling them please pray for my daughter Victoria who died 4 years ago today, then Caitlin handing me a 500T bill and a partially opened box of matches, which I then handed to the monk (with both hands and a nod to each). Each lama accepted with both hands and a nod. After we finished we sat awhile and listened to the chanting, which is melodic, soothing and embracing. I stayed in the safe peaceful environment during the time Vicki has passed on. (approximately 11 a.m.)

Though I identify myself as a Unitarian Universalist, I find many Buddhist teachings speak to me in a meaningful way and am comfortable visiting the temple. It was the perfect way for me to honor her memory from here in Mongolia.

In loving memory of Victoria Marie Hunt
Born 01-29-88
Died 10-01-06
I hold you in my heart