Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter has arrived! the nine nines...

Winter has finally arrived along with the solstice.  Though it has seemed to me that the days are very short in terms of sunlight already, today is the shortest day of the year.  It doesn't get light until well after 8 a.m. now and is dark around 5:20 p.m.  I've already begun wearing long underwear (albeit light weight ones) for several weeks, as well as my wool sweaters.  This is a change from last year, when I thought my apartment was too warm, the wool sweaters too hot, and long johns uncalled for most of the time.  Is it true our bodies acclimate to the climate we live in?  If this is any indication, I'm going to be needing all that heavy long underwear I've kept!

In Mongolia the winter is one of the harshest.  This landlocked country, bounded on the south by the Himalayas and west the Siberian High, affects the winter weather and contributes to Mongolia having the highest atmospheric pressure during the winter.

Siberian High, also known as Russo-Siberian High/Anticyclone is a massive collection of cold and/or very cold dry air that accumulates and reaches it's greatest size and strength during winter.  The center of this high pressure cell or anticyclone is often lower than -40C (which is also equal to -40F).  This Siberian High is responsible for the severe winter cold, as well as the dryness (very little snow) in Mongolia.

The temperatures are pretty extreme, with winter weather below freezing for most of the country, from as early as mid October to as late as mid May.  Usually the months of October and April are hovering around the freezing mark.

Stats list that more than half of this country is covered by permafrost; soil temperature which is at or below the freezing point of water (0C 32F) for two or more years!  This permafrost can make building roads, construction and other infrastructure projects extremely difficult.  Wow...

Mongolians talk about the nine 9's of winter.  This measure of winter was originated hundreds of years ago when herders did not have modern methods of telling dates and is based on the lunar calendar.  It is said winter starts at the solstice (shortest day of sunlight annually) and is measured as 81 days total, 9 groups of 9 days, aka the 9 9's.  Back in the day herders could monitor the days by the following, very practical,  forms of measurement:

1st 9:    milk vodka congeals and freezes
2nd 9:   vodka congeals and freezes
3rd 9:    tail of a 3 year old ox freezes
4th 9:    horns of a 4 year old ox freezes
5th 9:    boiled rice no longer congeals
6th 9:    roads become visible
7th 9:    hilltops appear
8th 9:    ground becomes damp
9th 9:    warmer days set in

The 3rd and 4th 9's are said to be the coldest, so this is just the beginning.  I do recall being told last year that after Tsgan Tsar (the Lunar or White Moon celebration) the weather breaks and it's not as cold.  I found that to be true.  I have heard that Tsgan Tsar this year will start on the 24th of February.  The celebration runs for 3 days, ending on February 26th, which happens to be the last day of the 9 9's.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

the kids hard at work on their tree...

the tree was in 3 parts that they colored..

hard at work cutting out paper decorations

placing of the ornaments was a painstaking process

look at our tree!!!

wow, that's some gorgeous tree!

 During this, my second "holiday season" in Mongolia, I realized the dorm students did not have a tree to enjoy last year.  Since I've come to know that this season of merriment is a special time of year, even in a predominately Buddhist country, I decided the dorm kids must have a tree of their own!

With limited resources to purchase a tree, it dawned on me that our arts and crafts club, (sponsored by World Vision) would make a lovely tree out of paper!  Thursday at our weekly session, the kids did just that!  They had lots of fun and now have a tree to admire and wish upon, as children everywhere do.

Many holiday traditions are similar here in addition to having a tree.  Greeting cards are common as are small gifts for children.  I have already made over 100 simple "Happy New Year" cards to give to my students this year; I can't wait!  There is  general feeling of goodwill and friendliness that always warms my heart.  Shopping for decorations, gifts, cards and fancy clothes for parties is in full swing now, as I just witnessed in the local market place this afternoon.   

School children usually have as well as a performance, a party at school, where they dance and get dressed up.  Last year I attended the dorm party, which was lots of fun, as well as the teachers party, which was a wild and crazy event!
I'm looking forward to sharing in those celebrations again, and even here across the world, I enjoy the festive atmosphere.  Wishing all of you warm greetings of the season, and the best in the new year......

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where does the time go?

How can it be December already?  And only one post last month.... where does the time go?  Much has happened during this stretch, including a broken camera, which is now repaired, thank goodness.  However, now I am in the city again for dental without my computer so no photo postings till I return back home.

Some highlights of the month include a dorm room competition which my friends were kind enough to judge.  The notice had been posted 3 weeks and of course the entrants were very last minute.  The kids had fun and the top 3 places won gifts from me.  A fun hand made award certificate, suitable for hanging in their dorm room. The biggest reserved for 1st place, smaller ones for second and third.  

First place also won an Uno deck of cards, a small dictionary and some cookies and jello packs.  (the jello come in a bag and have little individual jello shots in plastic containers...kids love em!)

Second place got their certificate, as well as food items and a deck of birds of america playing cards.  Third place winners got the food and certificate.  Most of the kids sang, some danced, recited poetry, a couple of gymnastics feats and a magic trick!  It was a good time!

Cooking club this month was making salads.  We used carrots and cabbage and made variations of slaws, including a carrot raisin salad with mayo which was a big hit.  Kudoos for vegetables!  Gotta start somewhere!

I enjoyed a huge Thanksgiving celebration with my PC family here in Ulaanbaatar.  PC made many turkeys and volunteers brought sides....yummy leftovers were enjoyed as well as the fun and fellowship of the day!

Here in the city for my ongoing dental saga, which is going surprisingly well.  Thank goodness for the staff at Perfect Dental, who are trained in Europe and very kind and very good at their trade!

It's difficult to explain to my director why I am in the city so long, why they are working so hard on my teeth.  Cultural differences.  

World Aids Day was celebrated here in UB with PCV's doing a great job putting together a program involving university students.  Most of the volunteers in the city teach at local university's and the kids were interested and involved.  Yea, since I was not at site to do something on a local level.  I may still attempt to do an AIDS lesson upon my return and maybe a poster contest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What have I learned?

What have I learned?  I recently was posting a blog, and while waiting for my slow Internet connection to come up, happened to ponder on the saying that I listed on my blog page.....
"One woman's quest to experience, learn and grow....."  And I felt a sudden pang of surprise and wondered.....what have I learned?  Have I grown?  What have I experienced?  Many days have passed since then with these thoughts interrupting and overflowing my everyday activities.

Here is what I have concluded thus far..... Firstly, that experiencing, learning and growing all overlap, intersect, play upon one another, and expand my viewpoint as well as my heart..

 My random thoughts are that I've learned I can survive and even enjoy life again without my daughter, though my heart shall remain broken always from her loss. (no matter where I am)

I can make a  new home in a foreign, strange land with a language I cannot seem to understand most of the time, let alone master......and even love that new life, that strange land and appreciate the odd and quirky language...

Though my heart sometimes misses "home", but more so the people there I love, and some of the places dear to me; it is OK to be away physically..... The Internet is an amazing thing which allows me to connect across the miles to those left behind and I am grateful for it.

My creativity can blossom from the newness and freedom of a new place and space... I have renewed the joy that sewing and many different art forms bring me and  I adore teaching and watching the children I work with be creative and artsy.

I have aged by already having celebrated two birthdays here  since arriving , and though the numbers are scary, I still feel much younger than my calender years.  I guess we all say that, young at heart.

I find myself feeling more anxious about what's next after this amazing Peace Corps experience.  At this point I am pondering a third year in my present location and position; provided my school (HCA), and PC think it's a good idea!  

Uncertainty lies ahead of me in the form of not knowing where to go next, what to do, what I want... And if I've learned anything it's that we can plan and  calculate  all we want, but the universe (or our higher power or whatever else we call it...) is in control, and I want to continue enjoying the ride.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghouls, Ghosts and Ghastly Goblins....eeeeeeekkkkkkk

Wow, Halloween is upon us again....This year I planned a festive party for the dorm student and it was a rousing success!  The kids made some masks, and many went way beyond the simple mask by painting their faces.....Me saying how awesome they were only goes so far... judge for yourself!
this mask was drawn on felt

the ghouliest girls....from room 204


Happy Halloween

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kids in the Kitchen!!!

This year at the dormitory, I wanted to continue having students learning to cook.  To enjoy the experience of preparing food that is tasty can foster a sense of accomplishment and it can be fun!
Since World Vision is sponsoring clubs at the dorm this year, I don't have to worry about how we (or I) can afford supplies!  Initially, the number of members for the Cooks Club was to be limited to 22 students.  However, this was the club that the largest number of students were interested in and we have 42 members!  Fortunately, not all of them turned up for our first session, as we couldn't have fit them all in the school kitchen where the ovens are!
The first cooking session was baking bread.... fresh, crusty on the outside, warm and soft on the inside, home made bread...mmmmmmm...
enjoying the fruits of their labors!!
fresh tasty bread with jam.....yummy

look what we made!!!!!

ooooooh, wow.....:)

shaping the loaves was very fun!

each team took their turn with their batch of dough

it's a good thing all 42 cooks club members didn't show up today!!!there wasn't enough room

how is this?

ooooh, look at my dough!

the oven was on with the doors open to heat the room....

yeast is slow to rise....

students worked in teams/groups

it was fun and rewarding for all the kids!
  I can't wait for the next meeting...!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Alcohol Awareness Week

Alcohol Awareness Week is a PC idea to bring to light the issue of abuse and addiction to the most commonly used drug here.  Yes, alcohol is a drug, and so widely socially accepted here (as in most societies) though the current rate of alcoholism here is around 22%. (with a total population over around 2.2 million people)  Pretty high indeed; that's almost 1 in 4 Mongolians who are alcohol dependent. Things must change for coming generations!

1st Secondary School students at opening ceremony

students made signs and posters

Historically, alcohol is a socially accepted part of most celebrations and very deeply ingrained into Mongolian culture.  It used to be that all nomadic Mongolians made all their own alcohol; airig (fermented mare's milk with a fairly low alcohol content is still all locally produced), vodka made from cow's milk, also called traditional vodka.  This tastes similar to regular bottled distilled vodka, but with a lower alcohol content.  The alcohol now consumed is usually purchased at the store with a most popular brand called "Chinggis" and has around 40% alcohol content.

Our local week was October 3-10th and had all 5 secondary schools in Arvikheer competing in categories such as school participation, an essay contest and a poster contest.  The theme for the week was "peer pressure and drinking responsibly", and targeted students in grades 10 and 11.  

Some ethnic groups are known to have higher alcoholism rates, such as Native Americans and Mongolians.  Looking at the cultures, facial features, ceremonies, etc. the two groups appear to be quite similar.  Change begins with the younger generation and it starts here and now.
students at 1st school hanging up posters

10 a class with their posters!

Second Secondary School of Arvikheer won the big prize of the competition, for best participation!  An awesome trophy and plaque!  A great start:)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Integration into the Community

Integrating into the community is an integral part of a successful PC experience.  Building personal relationships is a big part of this integration process.  I have many counterparts here at First Secondary School of Arvikheer that I consider friends, and really helps my ability to be a successful volunteer!

My first year here I was a little reserved and shy (hard to believe I know especially for those who know me well:)), not attending the teacher camp out weekend prior to the start of the school year and other events.  However, I always enjoyed the parties and celebrations, though felt most comfortable with the students at the dorm!

This year I am expanding my horizons and getting out of my comfort zone more by becoming more of a team player as part of the teacher/social worker/school employee group.  The camping trip in early September was great fun and helped the foreign language teachers and I get to know each other a little better!  These women are not only my counterparts, I consider most of them my friends as well, which is the Mongolian way.  Co-workers are your friends and your social network here! 

No wonder, since school personnel spend so much time together!  Case in point.... the city wide Teacher/Staff Competition between all 5 secondary schools here in Arvikheer.  This event was held yesterday, and my school won first place!  Though events often seem very last minute and thrown together to me, they come together quite nicely.  All staff and teachers (myself included and only a few were missing) assembled in the school gym at 5 pm Friday.  There we practiced our opening number (which I wish I had been able to film instead of participate in because it was great!!!) for hours.... I also wanted to be on the "darts team", so we practiced.  We had one dart, a dart board and over a dozen people..... not the most useful practice....Oh no, I thought, this is ridiculous....

Close to 8 pm, I said I needed to go because I was meeting my site mates whom I had not seen nor talked to much all week.  Later I found out that the practice continued till 10 pm, by which time I was heading home.

Saturday started late as usual.  We were to meet at 8:30 a.m, which turned out to be more like 9:45, where all school teams assembled on the town square, a few words were said by some local government folks then we marched through town with a police escort, each school group with a member holding the school flag out front.  We proceeded to the outskirts of town where we had cars, meekers and buses (each department had to arrange their car) with numbers on their windshields and we lined up and proceeded (again with a police escort) to the outskirts of town, near the river, in an open field area for the games.

Each school set up their own area, marking it with the rocks all of us picked up and made our square with.  My school had two lovely tents, one where we put our stuff, some folks had to change clothes, and the other was our "hospitality" tent, where we drank airag frequently.  I must say that particular airag was the best I've tasted in Mongolia, not too sour or fermented tasting.

The first competition event was the performance and everyone in school took part, with four different musical numbers (including a surprise performance rap by a young teacher and a history teacher who had debuted their rap at practice.... and it was the winning piece I believe!), and a twist and shout type song where the dart team was featured dancing.....lol ...I really felt a part of the school and the team!  I even felt badly that I did not score in darts (one throw and I had scored consistently during practice that day...) Oh my, I felt competitive!!!
First Secondary School marching!

 After our big win, the celebration continued at school, where we toasted (with vodka), enjoyed the food we won, apples, candy, pizzas, cake, etc... and danced!  I was in the early group going home around 8:30.... exhausted from the cold windy day out doors and my legs were tired from so much standing. However, I do feel fully integrated:)

tug of war was so awesome, I wished I was on the team!!!

the Amazing Dart team!  some of us are even smiling:)
though it's usually "all serious" in official looking photos.....the lighter side

gymnastics competition, which is more like "dance/aerobics" routine
the celebration continued in our big room at school!

We're Number ONE!!!!
Director in center with Foreign Language Dept. (some of them..and me:)