Monday, June 27, 2011

Yak mania!

Yaks are some of the coolest looking animals in Mongolia. Webster's describes the yak as "a wild or domestic ox of the uplands of Asia that has very long hair". Their faces look like cows to me and their mournful deep "mooing" is low and reminiscent of a bull.

A weekend jaunt in a friends Russian Jeep through some very rough terrain, took 5 of us site mates a few hours away from our town to a national park valley teeming with yaks.

We had the opportunity to milk them and yes, as a farm gal, I have experience with milking cows and the yak was similar. Though cows have larger teats, it was surprising to me how natural it felt to be milking a yak! The herder gave me an old dress (which was inside out) to put over my clothes to protect them from yak hair. Though not a flattering picture of me, I have the proof that I milked a yak in Mongolia!

Our friend Andrew who had been to visit this family before, took us to meet them in their wooden house nearby. We stopped there to say hello and introduce ourselves first and were treated with the usual Mongolian hospitality, being served milk tea and some delicious yak yogurt and bread with sweet cream, called orum. (these treats of course were made with their yak milk)

After chatting awhile, we proceeded to a spot nearby next to a gorgeous river and set up our camp site. Unfortunately for me, later that evening during a rainstorm in the dark, I tripped over one of the tent lines and bruised some ribs. This kept me from our main event, horse back riding the next day!

I thought my ego was slightly more bruised than my ribs until the bumpy ride home Sunday evening.....ow... As I rest now trying to heal as much as possible in the next week and a half until the long awaited and excitedly anticipated visit from my sister, I am still happy to have gone on this adventure to see yaks up close and personal!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

garden in the desert...

Now I ask you, who would be silly enough to take on a major and overly ambitious gardening project in an area which is essentially desert. That's; silly excitable enthusiastic gardener that I am.

Now that it's past mid June, at home in Ohio I would have most everything planted and the garden would be a green living thing of beauty. Here, not quite the same. The garden bed (or at least part of it) has been mostly prepared, and planted with lots of hard work and many wonderful helpers, especially the girls of the English Garden Club.

These students, in grades 7-10 volunteered to help me work in the garden, 3 times a week for an hour each time for the opportunity to practice speaking English. I am delighted and grateful for their help! The watering alone for the approximately 50' X 10' bed involves countless trips into the dorm and filling up buckets in the sink then carrying them back out to the garden. It's a time consuming and good exercise, but a tedious task.

Our garden bed is a fenced in area in front of the school dorm, conveniently located and at least partially sheltered. However,much to my dismay an ornery dog has found his way in and likes to traipse over the beds; I have caught him running through!

The ground in these beds (one on either side of the entrance) is filled with sandy dirt and lots and lots of rocks and stones, not to mention the fire weeds that sting like chiggers. The initial preparation involved hours of digging, then adding in some decent soil (thankfully school got bags of it for us) and some manure (mostly bagged as well, that we added in, while attempting to remove most of the rocks. In addition to the club students, occasionally another student or school worker has pitched in and dug or pulled weeds and rocks with me!

Seeds planted in the garden have come mostly from my sister Sue and my friend Stephanie back home and include my favorites, which may or may not fare well here. Huge amounts of green beans, peas, radishes, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs and about 40 tomato's have been planted thus far. (all from seed except the tomato's which I nurtured on my bedroom window sill.) This week I anticipate planting a few cucumbers which I've started and perhaps a few flowers to fill in some spots, as well as working on preparing the other side garden, which though smaller, is extremely rocky.

My plan for this smaller side includes "the three sisters" as the trio of sweet corn, pole beans and squash was called by Native Americans, though I don't know how well they may do. I think I'll try it along with a few small areas of potato's which are a big favorite here.

Hesitation and angst permeate my mind lately and my garden efforts here.... I have made such a big deal of my gardening abilities that now if it fails I will "lose face"....( least many of them have seen my lovely indoor garden). The location is not as ideal as I'd hoped (almost 7 hours sunlight a day) and the director warned me that people may take (i.e. just up and steal) plants and or veggies from the garden, plus the poor soil and the tremendous amount of physical labor involved.... This is the experimental garden year, I have now started telling folks; we will see what will grow, and the soil will be enriched just by growing plants in it this year. By next spring our compost will be ready and I will have a clearer picture of how to adapt my gardening practices to Arvikheer. Plus, I think I will attempt to write a grant for a greenhouse project here for next year!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Children's Day

Children's Day, a national holiday in Mongolia, is celebrated on June 1st. Technically, I believe it's Children's and Mother's Day, but kids are really celebrated on this day. Women's Day is celebrated in March, when all women, not just mother's, are honored. Here in Arvikheer, a new Children's Park has been built since my arrival and the park was crowded and appreciated by many on Children's Day. The ferris wheel has been up for months, (before winter) and the rest of the rides and area seem to have appeared since late April. It's amazing to me how quickly some things happen here, i.e., construction! With the limited number of good weather days (above freezing, long hours of sunlight, etc). when things need to be completed, it happens!

I had just been walking around the area of the park a few weeks earlier (yes, looking for dung for the garden) and it was pretty empty.... All the sudden there is (in addition to the ferris wheel), several other rides including a merry go round, a tall hanging swing ride, a pharoh's boat ride, and an above ground pond where paddle boat rides were offered! It is an amazing little place for this small town and is located right next to the new (as of last summer) soccer field (where teams pay to play there) and across the road from the new sports complex (also new last year).

A couple friends and I walked around, enjoying watching the kids have fun and admiring the festive atmosphere! It was quite crowded and most children were all dressed up; even in the dry dusty park!

Just outside the park area were vendors selling ice cream, drinks, snacks and toys of all sorts... Lots of happy children everywhere! Children are a society's most precious resource and though there are issues with child welfare and safety, (just like everywhere!), it is heartwarming to experience a day dedicated to the celebration of children!