Friday, February 25, 2011

Dormitory Dance Competition

I am always wracking my brain for some new and different activities for the students to get involved with. Especially now that I've been here since August and realize the school year is slipping away and there's much more I want to do before June. . .

There are several regular activities at the dormitory which are ongoing, i.e. English classes, movie night, story time, arts & crafts, life skills (for teens) and occasional other special events. A Valentines day party I organized was not very successful, and frankly a great event was what I needed to redeem my rep and not have them shy away.

The kids all love to dance (well most of them do, a few are too shy or self conscious, but once they see me out there they loosen up....hey ), and competitions are usually exciting, so why not a dance competition?
I asked Altai, my awesome counterpart/dorm teacher who liked the idea... and I offered a Friday night date and it was on! I made a poster (Mongolian and English.....) and a sign up sheet. There was a almost 2 weeks before the event. Altai agreed to be in charge of music, and I said I would find judges not affiliated with the dorm and I'd get awards. (my friends here tell me no wonder I am broke, I spoil my dorm own kids would laugh hysterically at that, I never spoiled them:) And spoiling them here means I spend some (ok about a fourth to a third monthly) of my meager PC living allowance to buy my own supplies for classes, activities, prizes, candy and treats at random times).

So as it turns out, no one was signing up and though I kept bugging the kids about it, no one would put their name on the sheet. My frustration was growing daily, and finally a couple days prior, I told Altai that if no one was going to sign up, perhaps we should cancel the competition and just have a dance. She assured me that there were 25 acts and she had the names and would give them to me in a couple days.

Suffice it to say the competition was amazing and fun, and the kids had almost as much fun as I and my friends who were the judges did watching them perform! They never cease to amaze me with their enthusiasm and their attitude of gratitude! (something I strive toward myself)

Monday, February 21, 2011

trip to the gobi

Yes, that is the Gobi Desert, just a few hours drive away from my town. The notion of a weekend trip was inspired by our site mate/friend, Erin who was having a birthday on the 18th. She lives in a small soum 2-3 hours south of our aimag center, and had to work all day Friday, her actual birthday.
Some conspiring ensued, and our VSO friends with a Jeep, suggested a surprise trip to see her and continue to the desert and another neighboring soum where their landlord happens to live.
Joyce and I convinced Erin we were coming to get her Saturday morning and whisking her away. We all pulled up around noon, and it was great! She was surprised and our adventure began! Not that riding in a Russian Jeep through the whoodo (countryside with passes and ruts that are roads here) isn't an adventure in and of itself! Thanks to Andrew, our fearless driver for getting us around all weekend. We headed from Gochinos soum to Baron Byan something... soum where we were graciously met by their landlord and a local English teacher.
We enjoyed Mongolian hospitality having dinner at his family's ger. Our accommodations for the night was a room in the school dormitory, which was very comfortable, and after taking our belongings there, joined our hosts to watch Mongolian wrestling in the local school gym. One of the coolest differences we noticed here were the saddled camels tied up outside. Not a sight I have witnessed previously in Mongolia.
Camels are amazing looking animals, with their big eyes and long lashes and now during the cold weather, their hair is full and lovely. Their feet are unbelievably huge, and they tend to snort and sniff. Our hosts took us on Sunday morning to an area a short drive out of town to ride camels. We all got a turn to pose with one, then took turns riding. It was a crazy cool experience to see them up close and personal, and to ride them, even for a short time. Though I felt pretty secure in between those humps, the ride was a little wobbly.
I was reminded of one of my favorite Mongolian movies, The Story of the Weeping Camel; if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it as representative of life as a herder in the Gobi.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

the scenery of Arvaikheer.....

...My sister Sue commented to me recentlAdd Imagey that on my blog she sees plenty of me, my friends, my co-workers, my site mates,my students, but what about the scenery? My town, what I see every day as I walk places....
I have struggled with this and the accompanying photos because to look at this place which has become my home, through my eyes, is not the same at all as looking at these photos. The pictures, taken at face value, seem rather dull, boring, perhaps even a little bleak. I have come to love this place, so as anyone who loves their home, it is comfortable, familiar and even beautiful to me.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian Lunar New Year

The lunar new year as celebrated in Mongolia, is similar in some respects to Chinese new year. All of Asia has a lunar new year traditional celebration and my first experience of this holiday was amazing!
The official holiday lasts three days and begins according to the moon, so the dates change each year. This year it was February 3, 4 and 5. Tsagaan sar translates to white moon, or white month.
During this celebration, the first day is generally for family members, with elders being honored. A special greeting is said. "amar bahn yy?", and you embrace with the elders arms over top your outstretched arms, and touch/sniff cheek to cheek. I rather enjoy this greeting as I tend to be a huggy/touchy type person, unlike the cultrual norms here. After using this greeting for 3 days, then going to my school gathering (where all teachers/staff were to attend, though only about 2/3 attended), I was corrected that men and women don't touch cheeks, though I did. Guess my rep as crazy American can withstand a few more cultural mishaps.....
The school gathering was similar to the tradition at someone's home. During a home visit, you are waited on hand and foot. Initially you greet all family members, eldest first. You are offered food, lots and lots of food, salads, candies, milk tea (tsute tse), then vodka (3 drinks, though traditionally you are to down the first shot then can sip the next two times), followed by wine, (same), and buuz, the traditional Mongolian Tsagaan sar food.
Buuz are the steamed dumplings, traditionally filled with meat, onion and spices. During my visits to 7 homes I ate buuz made from horse meat (quite tasty) goat, and other unknown meat. I was also given vegetarian fare at 3 of the homes, which was greatly appreciated! Families prepare hundreds and sometimes thousands of buuz for their expected visitors.
Preparation for this holiday reminds me of Christmas time in the US, with folks doing heavy cleaning and preparation for visitors, parties, open houses, only here it is very much confined to 3 days. The guests/visits are scheduled so there are only a few people at any one time, then once all the rituals have been completed, the host gives you a gift (sweets, make up, hand cream, a fortune telling game...) and that's your cue to leave!
Though it is not necessary for a visitor to give a gift, I baked russian tea cookies, and wrapped them in pretty paper and ribbon as thank yous. These were given after receiving gift from host. It was a whirlwind week!
By the time Sunday rolled around I was tired and I didn't even host anyone! Our school gathering was similar, and we met in the big room with men sitting on one side and women the other. Our school director sat at the table with the traditional white food centerpiece, and she was the first person to be greeted. Thankfully for me, there are always some counterparts looking out for me and steering me in the right direction! Following initial greetings, milk tea, then vodka, then meat was passed around then candy and white cheese curd while two llams from the Buddhist temple came and conducted a ceremony for the ocassion. Perhaps next year I will host a Tsagaan sar of my own!