Eleven weeks later

One week ago, I learned where I would live and work for the next two years. Two days ago, I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Tomorrow, I will be going to my permanent site.[1]

My time is once again my own — at least more than it was during my training — so I intend to resume blogging. I’m especially excited to blog now that I know my experience is going to be unusual even for a PCV (see the bottom section of this post). Expect posts once a week on Wednesday as often as I have reliable internet.

Note that this is a super brief summary of my experience; I hope I have opportunities to expand on it in the coming months. This blog cannot be complete until it houses my demon goat story.

PST wrap-up

So, what was it like?

For two months, I lived in a ger inside my host family’s хашаа (hashaa), or fenced property, beside my host mom’s one-room house. My host mom was retired, kept four cows, and sold frozen тараг (tarak, yogurt) out her window to the neighbors. One of her sons lived down the street, and his two daughters came over almost every day to hang out and help with chores.

IMG_1130[1]The view from my ger door. From near to far: хашаа, neighbor’s ger, hill with Buddhist stupa and prayer wheels, and (on the right) the town’s sacred mountain.

Two granddaughters means my host mom was an эмээ (emee), and as such she was a force of nature. She was steadfastly determined that I learn to understand her Mongolian, cook traditional Mongolian foods in a hot pot, wash my clothes in a түмпэн (tumpin, a plastic basin that vaguely resembles a very small swimming pool), and light a cow-dung fire. While she was very understanding of my need for sleep, she insisted that I participate in cooking, washing-up, and family chores.

My work day began at 9am with a four-hour Mongolian lesson. I was at the largest training site and had thirteen American classmates; we were divided into three language groups by learning speed and style. Our teachers (aka LCFs) were native Mongolian speakers who lived in the area and had been trained by the Peace Corps. They were our cultural liasons and our advocates within the community; we relied on them as much as, if not more than, our host families.

IMG_0279[1]The western half of my ger. The only picture anyone got of the inside, complete with my underwear hung to dry — go figure. Not shown: my plastic dresser, my bed, and the door to the south.

Lunch was an hour and a half long. I had the option of either making a twenty-minute trek uphill in ninety-degree weather to my хашаа, where my host mom would feed me hot soup (Mongolians don’t really serve cold food or drinks), or of spending my limited funds on a lunch from the local дэлгүүр (delguur, small shop). I mostly ate with my mom, because I wanted to spend time with her and because I’m cheap.

After lunch, one of the smaller training sites joined us for a methodology lesson that lasted until 5:30. As training went on, however, we spent more and more days practicing instead of studying. Our teachers recruited local kids to take classes from us; in pairs, for a total of twelve days, we taught three forty-minute lessons to students aged 6 to 28.

IMG_1118[1]
The sacred mountain, as seen from the town’s Naadam stadium.

Then I went home, stumbled through a few broken sentences of Mongolian with my host mom, ate hot бууз or хуушуур (buuz, khuushuur, composed of flour and meat), and planned yet another lesson.

What I’m saying is, I did a lot of things and didn’t sleep nearly enough, and I’m pretty glad it’s over. But the relationships I forged — with both Mongolians and my fellow American trainees — motivated me and kept me sane, and I’m going to rely on those relationships for those next two years. (Huj huj, Хөтөл.)

What’s next?

Our formal site announcements happened a week ago, on the 10th. But I knew where I was going four days in advance, because I had an extra day of language training.

I’ve been assigned to a school in the far western region of Mongolia. This part of the country is predominantly Kazakh — the people there speak the same language as the people of Kazakhstan, are mostly Muslim, and (according to almost every Mongolian I’ve spoken to) have very different cultural traditions. This means that my last two months were…well, I certainly won’t say they were useless, but my next two months are likely to resemble them very closely, as I learn to navigate a whole new language and cultural perspective.

I’m super excited for this experience and gratified that the Peace Corps staff thought I was up for the challenge. (I’m also working in a large school with no less than eight Mongolian counterparts, which is…a tad bit intimidating.) I will freely admit I have mixed feelings about the prospect — not only will I have to learn a third language on the job, but my atypical experience is going to set me apart from the support network I’ve only just built. But I also think it’s going to prove a valuable opportunity for growth.

I’ll tell you all about my new site next week!


[1] I wrote this on Monday the 17th, but set it to post on Wednesday so I could jump right into schedule. These days are accurate for Monday.