Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dorm Rooms

The dorm rooms here in Arvikheer, where students live for 9 months out of the year, are pretty nice by Mongolian standards. I only qualify that because if they were compared to the USA or some other country, they might not fare as well.

I recall my first look at a school dorm here. . . It was almost one year ago! When my group of PCV's arrived in Mongolia, it was night time and dark. We then took a very interesting bus ride to a neighboring town where we were to be housed in the school dormitory for our initial orientation period. (It was also my first experience with the pimped out buses here....)

The ride was scary because the roads were bumpy and rutty so the bus went very slowly and there were no lights anywhere. The occasional large dog was seen running along side the road, and there were odd sights, like little police booths where the bus had to stop, and arched entryways on the road with weird writing I couldn't read. It was like being in a foreign land... Oh yea, it was.... not so much anymore!

The dorm building appeared to be very plain and stark. There were no curtains on any windows. This I realized can be quite annoying and disorienting, especially when the sun rose at around 5 a.m. and I was severely jet lagged! The beds were tiny bunks, very hard and not a pillow to be found anywhere. There were many helpful local volunteers there to assist us with carrying all our luggage (100 lbs. of check in baggage, plus carry on....) to our assigned rooms.

The dormitory here in Arvikheer houses 100 students, ranging in age from 6 to 17. They come from neighboring soums and often spend the majority of the school year in this environment. The rooms are pretty nice, with curtains and decent beds, bedding and most even have lockers of sorts. The students take good care of them and many times have posters, bulletin boards and awards hanging on the walls.

My bright idea was to have my friend Andrew take photos of me with each group of students in their dorm room. Then I was going to surprise them with a copy of the photo at a party I am planning to celebrate the end of the school year...this is still the plan...but...

Tune in next week for a recap of the big party...these kids are amazing and deserve the best I can give them!

Much to my chagrin, by the time I got around to arranging this, I discovered that the students in grades 1-5 had already finished school and were going home for the summer, if they had not already left!

So most of the pictures are now with the older kids! And that means they will not be here for the big bash I have planned for Sunday! We are making pizza, watching a slide show, movie and popcorn and many, many games! The students still here are now grades 7-11 so that changes the original idea, but it will all work out in the end.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

KharKhorin, ancient capital of Mongolia

This past weekend I visited KharKhorin with several of my site mates. The oldest monastery in the country, Erdene Zuu is located here, as well as the infamous phallic rock (both old and new ones) and our wonderful PCV friend Marisa. Many reasons to visit this lovely little town only a three and a half hour meeker ride from Arvikheer. The ride is always an adventure! Allison and I were the only non Mongolians on our way there. The paved road to UB is where we started, and followed it for at least an hour before turning off onto the rutted, dirt path that is the road for the next two hours. The half way point stop is an ovoo where many of us walked around clockwise three times, tossing a stone with each turn; and this is primarily a toilet stop. Our friend Babs (who speaks the best Mongolian among us) found and arranged the meeker for us. It cost us 8,000T each (around $6.) Babs and Joyce ended up on this same meeker the next day and it was the one we all rode back home together on Sunday.

We got to experience the lams chanting at the monastery and it was thrilling, peaceful, spiritual, and uplifting. It is a beautiful and serene place I would like to see again, even though dear Marisa will be back in the USA this summer, having finished her PC stint.

My photos cannot do justice to the serene view from the monastery grounds and the panorama of sky, mountains and intricate buildings. I found this place, just like my response to most monastery's, calming.

It blows my mind to think that the ancient capital of this magnificent country was once here, in the time of Chinngis Khan! The more I learn about the history of this beautiful land and it's warm and welcoming people the closer to my heart it becomes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Where is my sh%$! What the what?! Manure, dung, doo doo, excrement, kaka, whatever else you want to call it, it's still sh#*! As part of my gardening adventure here in Arvikheer, my good intentions (and enjoyable, though somewhat time consuming and perhaps even a little hard work) were blown away by someone else's good intentions...

Let me start at the beginning. One of the exciting projects that both my school director and I were in agreement about was gardening. She envisions a greenhouse on the school grounds, growing vegetables. These vegetables would supplement the diet of the children living in the school dormitory, plus some would be sold to the public, with the profits benefiting the school as she sees fit.

My vision is to teach some children and adults about the wonders of gardening, the magic of vegetables and to introduce more variety as well as vitamins to the dorm students diet. I also have a serious gardening addiction that needs to be fed by just such activities!

Since I came to town in late August last year, one of my first outdoor gardening endeavors thus far has been to get the directors' ok to plant salad fixins' in the two large urns outside the school. It has been almost a week since I did that. After amending the dirt with potting soil, horse dung and some sawdust, I planted seeds with the help of a dorm student. I have been diligently checking and watering the urns daily, garnering some strange looks from the school workers and much curiosity from the children. I am anxiously awaiting the emergence of some green any day now! (provided all the seeds have not been pecked out and eaten by the birds I have witness feasting there...)

The compost bins, thrown together with the assistance of some of the Eco club members are another project that some folks seem to be interested in. While adding my own compost scraps to the pile yesterday, I noticed that one of the other bins is now being filled with veggie peelings, mostly from potato's. These I am pretty sure can only be from the school cooks..yea! What excitement to know that some Mongolians are willing to try this weird idea of mine out!

My enthusiasm really jacked up my mood yesterday. The pleasant weather also helped me feel fine and I spent several hours and many trips hauling bags of dung I had found from at the stream bed to the fenced in garden bed areas in front of the dormitory. There I dumped this dung, not bothering to scatter it, or to get my shovel from home and bury it.

As a farm girl, I understand the usefulness of manure as a fertilizer. Farmers worldwide know how beneficial animal dung can be! In some countries, such as China, the use of "night soil" is employed to boost crop growth . Here in Mongolia, animal dung is most frequently used as fuel for ger stoves; especially in areas where wood is not readily available, i.e. a majority of the country. Some of this dung I found even appeared to be from a stall with partially decomposed straw combined with it. The perfect combination for helping this rocky, sandy dirt produce better crops! I erroneously thought others would see this dung as exciting and beneficial as me!

What a rude awakening I had today on my way past the dorm to the monastery where I assist with the Saturday afternoon English class, when I saw all my dung was gone!! Who would ever think in a country where garbage, broken glass, discarded clothing and all sorts of trash are frequently found lying around that some animal dung thrown into a dirt bed would be offensive. Outraged, confused and pissed off, I went to class, vented to my monk friend and called Oyun.

After class I met with her and one of the dorm teachers. Apparently as part of the great weather spring clean up the school director told all the foreign language teachers to clean all the sh*% out of the beds in front of the dorm building. Ugh....there is not a heavy sigh heavy enough to convey my anger at myself for not burying that crap!

There appeared to be confusion as to why I might need the dung when we are attempting to make compost. I explained that the compost won't be ready for months and the only way we can get this dirt to grow stuff is through enriching it with dung! Ah, ha... that's all I needed to do was explain this basic fact. I did notice today that there is a little less trash around the school building; trash cans are still on my radar!

Next time I go hunting for dung, I intend to train students, (look out Eco club) exactly what to collect and perhaps we will have a dung collecting field trip! Live and learn.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Random Thoughts on a Typical Week

week ago Sunday I spent the entire afternoon at the cinema. No, not watching movies; it's what the "old theater" is referred to. I was watching the kids from the 5 local secondary schools Eco clubs compete. The two weeks prior was an active time for the Eco clubs, with the presentation competition at my school, then a big club competition at the local Aimag Children's Center.

The Sunday event was specifically for the Ecology/Green clubs, and included skits about taking care of mother earth, talent competitions,and a knowledge quiz portion etc. I really admire the stamina of the students, patiently waiting their turn for each event. My own patience has expanded by leaps and bounds in the past 11 months here; as well as my ability to sit in hard chairs for hours at a time. Though I couldn't understand the language, I could mostly follow along and the students from my school were very creative in their presentations. They won first place, with a big trophy; it was very exciting!

During the week I had my usual weekly activities, two English classes at the dorm, an Eco club meeting ( where we made compost bins from wire, which I actually got the school to pay for, though I ended up having to purchase my own shovel), Life Skills club, movie night, and arts and crafts time and assisting with English class on Saturday afternoon at the local monastery.

Thursday after English I was astounded to see a volleyball net erected, as well as a banner, balloons and real nets on the basketball hoops! I knew something was going on and suspected an important visitor was coming. However, turns out the 11th graders (what we would call high school seniors) were having a sporting competition that afternoon. Fortunately I took some photos because the nets, banner etc were all down the next day. I made many new little friends from the school that afternoon, as they all clambered for me to take their photos!

Friday evening at the dorm I had a karaoke competition for the students. They were so cute, and it was mostly younger kids, as many of the older students were busy, with 5th, 9th and 11th grade graduation celebrations planned for all the next day. I need to get over feeling that an event is not successful if it's not well attended. The idea is to give special attention to the dorm students and if nothing else, they certainly get that from me, and I in turn get so much back from them.

I don't really understand the grade system here, though I believe that there are separate Kindergarten schools, then grades 1-5 are all considered elementary. Oddly enough, there is no such thing as 6th grade, so 7, 8, 9 are what we would call middle school or junior high, and 10 and 11 are high school.

Graduation from 5th grade means you are advancing to middle school and from 9th to high school, then from 11th you are on your way to university! I did not attend any of the celebrations though I have been invited to go on a class trip with my friend and counterpart Oyun's 10th grade class early in June.

Saturday evening some friends and I had soup at my house then hung out at the town square (very close to my apartment) for an open air concert; sort of like a Mongolian Idol type of competition. It was a little chilly for being out too long but rather fun for the hour or so we lasted! We ran into several Mongolian friends, and some of my dorm students as well!

Yesterday (Sunday) the weather was beautiful; sunny, rather mild and not too windy. I ventured out hiking around town attempting to collect manure for gardening. My hour and a half was enjoyable, though only garnered a bag of dried manure. It was enough however for the two big blue urns out in front of my school that the director ok'd my planting salad fixins in!

I went by the dorm and found two willing young boys as helpers as well as a young girl. The boys graciously hauled my two big plastic bins full of mostly composted veggie scraps that have been sealed up in my kitchen. Booya carried the heaviest one as well as dug holes in the "soon to be new vegetable garden" patch in front of the dorm. He then buried the stinky compost, along with some sawdust in the holes for me! What an enourmous help he was! Nyearma, my quiet little friend, hung out with me and helped me dig the manure into the planters as well as some sawdust and potting soil we went to the market to buy. After preparing and water the planters she helped me plant the seeds then water again.

Nyearma and I enjoyed some ice cream after and I am very interested to see her reaction as the salad garden grows! Now if only I can get her and some of the other children to want to try lettuce, spinach and radishes! We did plant carrots and that is one of the most commonly grown and used veggies here, so that's a start!