The Goat

In honor of Halloween, here’s a story about the only demon I’ve ever met.

On my first day of PST, a goat stuck its head through the window of my host mom’s house.

It was brown, rather larger than a large dog, and its horns curved toward each other instead of straight back. My host mom’s daughter-in-law, who had come to help with morning chores, fed it a piece of candy. She gave me a piece of candy as well, and when I turned toward the window, the goat had reared up and put its front hooves on the sill. I fed it the candy anyway.

This was my only positive experience with the goat.

We walked out of the house into the хашаа, and the goat ran toward me. I dodged out of the way before it could headbutt me. It came at me again, and my host sister, laughing, grabbed it by the horns to redirect it. She smacked it with the wooden stick she was holding, and — for the time being — the goat left me alone.

It had decided, however, that I was its new toy.

Every time the goat saw me after that, it attacked me. I would dodge out of the way, or grab it by the horns and swing it around the way my host sister had, but apparently this was part of the fun; it wagged its stubby little tail and came right back at me. If it saw me with other Americans, it would mark them as targets too.

Once the goat followed me to the neighborhood park and attacked me right outside the gate. I wrestled it by the horns for a solid five minutes while the kids in the park laughed. Finally a couple of teenage boys grabbed it so that I could escape; the goat wrestled with them until a herd of cows wandered over and distracted it.

I asked my host mom once why the goat always attacked me, but not my ten-year-old host sister. “Чамд хартай,” she informed me, grinning. It loves you.

One weekday evening I was having a quiet dinner with my host mom. Somebody called her on the phone, and she stood and went over to the window while she talked. Suddenly she started shouting. “Ирина! Ямаа, ямаа!” Renee! The goat, the goat!

I’d left my ger door open. I ran into the ger and found the goat happily munching on a cupful of sugar I’d left out for my morning tea. I wrestled it out, grabbed the cup, closed my door, and fled back into the house.

I put the cup away and resumed my meal, but not ten minutes later the goat was at it again. I removed it again, this time making sure I’d closed the door completely.

When I came back in, my host mom smiled and drew her finger across her throat.

Yeah, I thought, I could kill him, too.

My host mom’s friend and neighbor stopped by shortly after. She looked out the window, and then she shouted. I looked out and caught the goat tugging on the string I used to tie the ger door open in nice weather — sneaking his way back in to see if he could find the sugar.

With the neighbor’s help, I tied the door closed and settled in for a quiet evening. But then three boys came into the yard and started chasing the goat around. My mother watched, laughing, and shouted advice until they subdued it: One grabbed it by the horns, the other by the back legs, and they wheelbarrowed it out of the хашаа.

Again my host mother looked at me, smiled, and drew her finger across her throat.

One of my sitemates reported a goat slaughter in a nearby хашаа that night. I never had problems with the demon goat again.

Settling in

First off, and unrelated to the rest of the post: This week is the 19th year of Viable Paradise, the SF/F writer’s workshop I attended last year. Missing my fellow VP 18ers and wishing lots of fun, enlightenment, and whiskey upon this year’s attendees!

October 30th will mark the end of the first quarter of Mongolia’s school year. It’s hard to believe I’ve been at work for almost two months — the time has flown. I’ve gotten a lot busier as I settle into my routine (hence the lack of posts last week — I desperately wanted to write a VP-related post but needed sleep more).

Here’s what I’m doing in the day-to-day:

I wake up around 6:30, get dressed, eat breakfast, and work out if I have time.

Between 7:30 and 9, depending on my schedule, I leave home. It’s a half-hour walk from my apartment to my school. When the cold gets bitter I’ll probably take a taxi or the bus, but for now it’s a good time to relax and prep mentally for the day.

The secondary school day is divided into 7 periods and lasts from 8am until 1:30. Mongolian teachers’ schedules operate more like a college schedule in the U.S.: you’re expected to be at school when you have class, but can go wherever when you’re not teaching. I show up for the first hour penciled in on my schedule and stay until the last — sometimes this means I’m there all morning and into the afternoon, but other days I only have one or two classes. During the school day I plan and teach lessons with my counterparts, do grammar, writing, or speaking one-on-ones with them, take Kazakh lessons from one teacher, or — if I have a blank hour in my schedule — practice my Kazakh with non-English-speaking teachers and work on my own lesson plans.

My schedule isn’t fixed, because my CPs want me to work with different classes, but I teach about 5-6 40-minute periods a week (10-12 counting lesson planning), do 2-6 hours of Kazakh/English exchange, work through maybe 2-3 one-on-ones, and spend 1-2 periods planning for afternoon classes.

Some afternoons I teach as well: one teachers’ methodology class and two concourse (graduation exam) classes. In the next few weeks I should also be starting an English class for non-English teachers and at least one English club for students. If the class is after 3, I usually trek home for lunch, but if I have an earlier class I eat at the school canteen (which serves хуушуур. only хуушуур).

After class, I go home, finish my workout, and write a little bit if there’s time. Two evenings a week I hold an English class for police officers, and I usually spend two other evenings prepping. Sometimes one of my CPs invites me over for dinner or just to hang out. I try to be in bed by 10:30.

On the weekends, I write, clean, and cook for the week (cafes are a thing here, but instant meals aren’t, so home cooking is a must). I chat with my next-door neighbor, if we’re both around. Some weekends all of us PCVs will be in the aimag center, in which case we hang out!

In two weeks, however, we have the semester break, and I’m told I won’t need to attend any of the teacher development classes happening at the school. I admit I’m looking forward to the break: while I’m working slightly under a 40-hour week, the wide spread of my classes (in terms of scheduling, type, and level) and the chaos of an unpredictable schedule are leaving me a little bit tired.

EagleFest: The Report

Last weekend, a whole bunch of people trooped in from other aimags for Bayan Ulgii’s Eagle Festival. I stayed at the Quiet Apartment with my aimag-mates, while one of the other Bayan-Ulgii people hosted the partiers.

Our apartment was asleep by midnight on Friday, but we had chocolate chip pancakes in the morning. I think we win.


The hunters just kinda tied their birds to their cars when they didn’t need them.

Morning: wakeup, and breakfast, and morning drinks (for certain of the visiting contigent), and finding an ATM that actually worked in the city center — around eleven, we finally piled into a mikr [offroading minivan] and headed out to the festival, which was maybe 8km from Ulgii aimag center. We got there just in time for the lunch break.

The eagle hunters stuck around for most of the break, though, and so we got to see that the eagles are, in fact, gigantic. For reference:

[a picture will go here once I nab it from the person who took it.]

We hung out for a while, watched the hunters practice with their eagles, and browsed the souvenirs on sale. We also discovered it was much colder out in the mountains without five-story apartment complexes to shield us. People had set up gers selling xуушуур, and a group of us piled into one just to escape the wind. Then we booked it to the mikr, where we hung out debating whether we wanted to stay.

But then, just when we thought it was time to leave, there was an exhibition!

The eagle’s owner would turn his or her bird over to another hunter, then head down the mountainside to the exhibition ring. S/he was then supposed to call the eagle to land. Inevitably, every time I tried to take a video, the eagle decided not to grace its owner’s arm.

After that we left.

My school decided to celebrate Teacher’s Day on Saturday, for some reason, so I missed most of the festivities. I did, however, split my evening between our teacher banquet and hanging out with the visitors. I did not make it to bed before midnight that night, on account of there being only one set of keys to the apartment, but I still got close to eight hours of sleep[1].

On Sunday, we did not have pancakes. But we got to the festival just in time for lunch break.

I bought a wolf’s tooth. I absolutely did not need a wolf’s tooth, but I like buying trinkety souvenirs.


After lunch, male and female horse riders paired off to play a game in which, apparently, the woman has to hit the man with a leather strap or else the man gets to kiss her. I’m…not entirely sure I appreciate the gender politics of this game, but it was fun to watch.

Sunday wasn’t as cold as Saturday, but in-aimag travelers had to be back in Ulgii to catch a public mikr, and out-aimag travelers wanted to get back to their homes at a reasonable hour. We left around 3:00.

All in all? Rather less eventful than I expected, but still loads of fun. I got to eat pancakes, held an eagle, asked a kid (in Kazakh!!) if the falcon he was holding belonged to him, and had the privilege of watching one of the guys in our group walk around wearing a hat made of fox faces. A weekend full of the sort of details that make this experience unbelievable in every sense of the word.

[1] Those of you who know me know my extreme fondness for ridiculously early bedtimes. Those who do not…poor souls, you will learn.