Thursday, March 31, 2011

English-the Global Language?

Non verbal communication comprises a large percentage of inter- personal communication. Since my Mongolian language abilities remain pitifully limited, even after 10 months in this amazing country, I'm grateful and dependent on non verbal communication!
Fortunately for me, many folks here speak some English and most others are interested and motivated to learn what is referred to as the global language.
Since talking with others is something I really excel at (lol....yea, I talk a lot...) my participation in English classes, events, competitions are a fun way for me to share with others!
Our local PCV's have a weekly "Monglish" night, where we assist others in learning English and it's intended to help us with our Mongolian language as well. Truthfully, we mostly speak English and our group ranges from as few as 5 to 20 some weeks.
At the dormitory I conduct twice weekly English lessons. These lessons are based on games and fun activities, which I find very effective! The kids are exposed to English through many games including bingo, one of their favorites, partly because I use candies for markers. Once there is a bingo, the winner gets candy as a prize. We have been playing animal bingo for weeks now and I just finished making a clothing bingo which will debut next week after the kids return from spring break.
Just last week I began assisting with the weekly English class held at the local Buddhist temple. My monk friend Bataar teaches along with a Mongolian woman and I assist by writing on the board, answering questions, talking, and pronunciation practice.
My friend Uugnaa teaches at the local technical university, and recently asked us PCV's to judge an English speaking competition. Five of us went and heard informative speeches which were accompanied by Power Point presentations given by 15 students. We scored each participant, then averaged the scores to determine the winners, who received English -Mongolian dictionaries from the university.
English Olympics are an annual competition held all over Mongolia and our local event was earlier this week. The test is for 9th and 11th grade students and my school hosted 23 students in each grade (from various area schools) for the test. The 11th grade exam itself was very confusing to students and as proctors we were not allowed to explain or clarify instructions. The two hour time limit was utilized by all participants and the highest score was less than 50%.
English teachers had their own exam and my friend and counterpart Oyunchimeg won this event; outscoring the competition by 20+ points! None of the 1st school students placed in the top 3 ; however PCV Joyce teaches (at Merged school) the first place 9th grade winner (who is my counterpart Chewka's daughter) and 2nd place 11th grader(who is a regular at Monglish night) - wooooo who!!!
Lucky for me that I speak the global language and that I'm somewhat animated when I speak, otherwise I might have much greater difficulty communicating!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mongolian wrestling- dorm style!

Mongolian wrestling
is similar to boys and mens'wrestling world wide. The outfits are skimpy and I think a little embarassing, just like the little singlets American boys wear in competitions.
My own sons both did a little wrestling, so I have watched it all before. However, here there is a whole little traditional dancing, after a match (eagle dance I believe it's called) and some thigh slapping that goes on before a match. It's all very formulaic and fun, and the dorm boys competition was enjoyable.
Some of the boys wrestled, and several were spotters (don't
know what else to call them....on sidelines, keeping wrestlers from falling on the crowd!!!!).....
There were several rounds of competition and all the guys were great sports!
The event started at 9 pm and concluded at 11:30.... kind of late for a school night...but that's how it goes. I was offered a place of honor at the head table, but opted to sit with some of the kids, both for my comfort level and for a better vantage point for photographing some of the action. As you can see from the photos, only a few of the guys had the costume which is traditionally worn for wrestling, down to the custom made Mongolian boots. I got the honor of giving out the awards; it's great to be a volunteer here!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Boys Can Bake!!! Let them eat Cake!!!

This could also be called Cooks Club, as my counterpart Altai referred to Sunday afternoons' adventure. Originally this was going to be (in my mind) an opportunity for all the dorm boys (around 40) to get in that big kitchen and bake with me supervising. I thought they could bake cookies in teams and the girls would vote for the best cookies and team!

Of course this is not at all how it went..... Instead what happened is Altai picked some boys, 8 or so, to be part of the baking. We went for cake instead, as the boys, when given the choice of cookies, bread or cake, wisely, chose cake. So as promised, I brought the ingredients, 10 kilos each of sugar and flour, 2 dozen eggs and baking powder, soda, vanilla and chocolate bars to melt.

Instead of the dorm kitchen, which I thought we had agreed upon using, we were taken to the school next door (which is my school) to use the kitchen that felt like it didn't have heat (though it did) and sans running water. No big surprise there.

The boys ended up baking two humungous cakes; one vanilla and one chocolate. (we quadrupled each recipe.) Since the recipes were in English, I explained and showed them how much sugar, etc. to put in. They enjoyed the process and I got a huge kick out of "making them" lick the huge stock pot which was our mixing bowl. As far as I know, people here generally do not bake their own goodies so this was their first experience. I attempted to explain to them that licking the bowl and putting your fingers to taste was always my own kids favorite part of helping bake!

I have many fond memories of my own kids in the kitchen and even when they drove me crazy with their "help", it was a great shared experience. My sons both know their way around the kitchen, (as did their sister) and can cook and bake; an important skill for all young adults! Perhaps these boys will now feel confident to do more in the kitchen, and all expressed an interest in learning more. I would like to continue these baking activities at least once monthly and will do what I can, as the school year is quickly flying by.

The pride on their faces when they served the cake at dinner that evening was great! They were all smiles and the kids were amazed at how yummy both cakes tasted! There was enough cake in those two huge pans that each dorm student got a small piece of each. These boys fill my heart and enrich my life. I am very fortunate to be able to share a small slice of their lives.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

money, money, money, money...Money

A buck is still a buck and a togrog (pronounced toogrick) is still a togrog; though the value of that buck has declined since my arrival here in June. Back then the exchange rate was around 1,500 T per dollar. Now it's hovering at around 1,150.

The actual money here is quite lovely, and bills only, so no small change clattering around in your pockets. The photos show just how attractive the bills are.....A togrog seems to go a long way sometimes though on a Peace Corps salary not always far enough! Ah, just like back at home, surviving paycheck to paycheck!

Some of my most frequently purchased items (and great bargains) are the big jug of Mongolian yogurt priced at around 3,000 T. A block of wet Mongolian tofu 1,000 T, a pack of delicious green tea is 600 T, coke zero is 650 T, a beer around 1,350 (the one pictured is my favorite, a dark beer pronounced Har Horen and it's a little more than most).

The bag of apples is only 1,500 T though I believe apples and oranges were way more expensive in the summer time. Eggs are sold individually and usually you grab some out of the cooler and the cashier puts them in a small plastic bag for you. I however, like to take the egg crates, thinking I'll use them for some plants later this spring! Oh yes, the price of eggs is 250 T each. My favorite brown bread is made locally and costs 550 T a loaf. The local tub of costs 1,900 T and real butter here is good though always unsalted and comes in big chunks wrapped in plastic and is a little more expensive. Sugar comes in cubes (also available in granulated form and you buy it by the kilo), like those shown for around 1,600 T and this particular one is in the shapes of suits of cards. I recall during our Pre Service training having these at breakfast and thinking oh my all the sugar cubes here are so cute!

Paper products are reasonably priced, with napkins shown going for 700 T and my choice toilet paper is 300 - 400 T. There is much plusher t.p. available but I happen to like this one, though the texture is very similar to crepe paper in the US. I like the fact that here paper products are not used too much. You will get a small napkin in a restaurant, but generally you need to carry your own t.p. (I buy the Mongolian products:) Kleenex can be found in small pocket packs or large boxes, from either Germany or China. Funny how weird that sounds to me, but how I have become accustomed to these changes! Generally t.p. is not flushed here either, and there is a waste can next to the toilet for the paper.

I also buy some imported foods, such as that huge box of Corn Flakes (from Germany) which cost 3,500 T, but worth it; cereal is hard to find here! The peanuts shown are from Germany and sports the offending can with the pull off tab which was the cause of my first stitches in Mongolia (during Pre service training in the summer......) The crackers are from China and a bargain at 1,000 T tasting like Ritz! The big yellow bag is powdered milk, imported from Korea and sells for 6,000 T. Occasionally I buy Mongolian milk which comes in a box on the shelf and the equivalent of half gallon sells for 1, 700 T. The powdered milk is handy for drinking in my morning instant coffee, a jar of which runs 5,000 T.

Fresh produce has been fairly easy to find in my small city, with more types of veggies showing up lately, such as broccoli, leaf lettuce, red cabbage, zuchinni and bok choy! I anticipate having more veggies growing in my own garden this summer, but it is great to find them in the market here.

Since most of my money is spent on food, that's what I've focused on here. However for a quick comparison sake, one way bus ticket from Arvikheer to Ulaanbaatar costs 14,000 T, as does a small set of computer speakers. You can purchase a warm hat or mittens for 1 - 2,000 T in the market, kids scissors for 300 T, and a glue stick for 500 T, though a ream of paper goes for 9,000 T.