…because “Spring” just doesn’t cut it. The pictures of snow from earlier 2009 entries of this blog may have been the only times we had ANY precipitation last winter/ spring. One or two times, maybe. This year, though, I feel like it’s snowed at least three times a week in Arvaikheer since October– often to extreme accumulation and at winds that would emasculate Zeus. Our stateside/ western European cliche associations of rebirth and renewel with Spring simply do not hold up here. Spring is at least 85% miserable.

April snowstorms bring May…something better, hopefully.

That said, I managed to snap some shots of a beautiful, if terribly cold, day this past week while walking around.

Actually, upon review, these pictures make everything look pretty dismal. Sorry.

The wind was so insane the other night that the fence dividing my hashaa from our neighbors’ was completely destroyed. Poor Ding Dong must have been so scared when it came down, but he soon discovered the ruined fence to be a good shelter during the snowstorms (which, I’m told, may let up tomorrow. It’s supposed to be 70 F. My immune system is going to need some quieting down after the heinous vicissitudes of this season).

M’lil boy!

In other news, the library is coming along nicely. Still trying to work out the kinks, label books, catalog the collections, find more books, etc. The strains of springtime are taking their toll on progress, just as they did in my former place of work last year, but I think it’s going ok. Here are some updated photos:

Dig that Monglish on the chalkboard. I certainly do.

We may not have many books (a few steps back from these points of view and the bottom shelves are more visible in their barren states), but seeing these kids come in and browse and pleasure read in their own school for the first time is probably the most rewarding aspect of my service to date.

I even had some kids come and volunteer to help me catalog and organize the books. This was great– the more kids directly involved in the setup process, the fewer instances of theft we’ll have down the line. These kids will want to protect and preserve the things they’ve worked hard to start long after I’m gone.

Book theft from libraries is a big issue in this country, where student-friendly libraries are rare and books are normally locked behind closed doors or only available through a small window guarded by a librarian. Browsing is almost never an option. In fact, and I don’t know if I mentioned this in a previous entry or not so I’ll just repeat it, I ran into this problem while working on a similar project at my former place of work (the university). I secured permission to move all of the English books from behind closed doors to the English Club room in an effort to set it up as a student-run library. My supervisor, who had given me the go-‘head,  then went to all of my coworkers and said, “you are not only forbidden from helping him with this project, but you will also turn over any and all private books you are keeping in your classroom shelves to be locked away with the others.” Including some that I’d personally ordered from an NGO in America. I’m happy I haven’t encountered anything like that since.

The fear of student ‘bibliokleptomania’ (you like that? I invented it.) actually spurs theft on in that sense; granted, it’s also a problem in the States, but not to the extent that it is here. And I have to believe it’s because the students here are not brought up in a scholastic environment where books are there for them to browse and read freely without having to go through strict intermediaries in user-unfriendly spaces. This is what we’re trying to combat at my school. Word is spreading, too; I had a woman come up to me the other day and say, “I hear you’re setting up a library at Merged School…and that you’re not locking the books up?!

I haven’t seen a single one stolen yet, so I think we’re doing the right thing.

The following is completely unrelated, but I figure I’d share. When I load photos onto this thing from my mac, I have the file browser window and a photo preview program open. I scroll through the photo previews to find non-blurry images that suit the text and enter their file numbers into the blog’s file search bar. When I put the file number into the search bar, sometimes two photo files with the same number come up as listed on my hard drive. This is because I switched cameras about three years ago, and some of the old ones are still  on here. So, when I was choosing photos for this entry, these blasts from the past came up as duplicate file numbers:

Me and the best friend at a hookah bar in Maryland, like, sixty-five million years ago

Dad looking dapper at a sushi place, also from the Late Cretaceous Period (LCP)

And my beautiful mom at the same restaurant. I actually used both of these parental images in a PowerPoint during a recent menu layout and restaurant design training. The audience thought they were really pretty  people.

It’s nice to reflect on two or more very different periods of my life via photos every time I update this thing. It makes me happy that I haven’t yet gone on a crazed hard drive space-clearing purge to make room for other stuff.

Anyway, that’s all for now. More later.

Libraries and Teeth

April 14, 2010

Welcome, friends, to a speedy and cheerful post.

I just wanted to upload a few pictures of our recent Annual Fifth Grade English Alphabet Celebration, of our new library in progress, and of some satisfying cosmetic dentistry.

To give you a little background, many primary schools around the country choose a random day in the Spring to celebrate the English alphabet. I’m not quite sure how it’s done in other places, but the kids at my school were each assigned a letter of the alphabet to use in a group recital. After all saying a phrase with alliteration corresponding to their letters, they sang songs and performed short skits. My counterpart handled most of the assigning and rehearsing. She chose to take lines straight from a Mongolian-written kindergarten alphabet workbook, so the kids were made to recite strange things like,”‘A’ is for ‘apple.’ Draw an amazing apple,” or  “‘B’ is for ‘boys’ and ‘balls.’ Boys play balls. Draw a boy and balls.” [And the latter is a direct quote.] I explained to her why this wouldn’t make sense, but she said the audience wouldn’t speak English so it didn’t matter.

The kids sang the ABC song, “London Bridges,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and a few other notable nursery rhymes. When rehearsing, my counterpart had the kids practice “Ten Little Indian Boys.” I explained to her that it’s not necessarily an appropriate song and has been left out of the nursery rhyme scheme for a long time due to its insensitivity to Native Americans. She said she would take it out of the lineup. When it was showtime, however, she had the boys line up, sing the song, and then tap their open palms against their mouths while making stereotypical Native American sounds and dancing in a circle. Afterward, they sang a song about” The Lord,” which never happened during rehearsal. I point the finger at the temporary volunteers, whose nationality and umbrella organization will remain unspecified, who came here last summer and left some pretty questionable song books in a local library. Thanks guys. ❤

Anyway, the kids were adorable. I had them perform three-kid acts from a hypercondensed ESL version of Aesop’s Fables that I found on the internet. They all dressed up as foxes and crows and rabbits and delivered adorable performances. As I don’t have any pictures of their skits, I’ll leave you with some photos of the chaos leading up to the show:

The kids lined up at the top of the stairs, which is our makeshift stage.

I was surprise-forced to announce awards and superlatives to the fifth grade class in front of our Mongolian audience without any preparation. Completely in Formal-Announcer-Mongolian, which can be slightly different. It was pretty funny. Sorry I don’t have better pictures. I did, however, manage to catch a glimpse of this magical Chinese copyright infringement during the show:

Onto other things! Our library is finally under way. They moved the fitness room to another location and stripped the nasty carpet up, put a bunch of huge wooden tables in, and commissioned a glass partition to be put up to separate the stacks from the English Corner. The room is about half the size of the primary school’s first floor! It’s already attracting students and faculty who are tired of failing to carve out some semblance of concentration in the insanely loud classrooms and hallways. Take a look at the room in progress:

Some kids already using the space!

So, shameless plug time. As you may know, getting stateside bookstores and organizations to pledge books to projects like this is easy as pie. Shipping them, however, is something that most parties seem to be terrified of. I can’t really put my mailing address here… so some of you will get it in a reminder email about my updated post. If other readers are interested, leave a comment and I’ll see if I can privately send you the address.

And now, for a dental update. Last year I chipped my right front tooth on a pint glass. I finally had it sanded and fixed this past week in UB. (I also used the opportunity to grab a whiteboard and several hundred Mongolian-to-foreign-language dictionaries for the library.) Peep my new look!

Before:

After:

See? Glory. It was a five minute procedure. I’m a happy boy. More later.

Hello all. I just got done reading my buddy Olivier’s blog and decided it was time to do the responsible thing and put some stuff up here. Just some pictures of the last few weeks and some updates.

My sitemate Esu and I ( ^ ) just spent two weeks out west by the Kazakh border in Baynolgii. We took a four-day bus ride out there to help with the province’s first ever English Teacher Methodology Seminar. The whole thing was a huge success, and it was a great chance to catch up with my pal Laura. She and I trained together in Sant in 2008. We haven’t had much time to hang out over the last two years because of the 1600 kilometers of desert and huge mountains between us, but it hasn’t stopped us from staying in touch. Esu and I stayed in her one-room house with four other volunteers from nearby Hovd. It was a total blast.

Laura and moi at dinner in San Francisco in 2008, just a few days before coming to Mongolia. Man, we were clean back then.

And here we are now.

An English directional vocabulary activity during one of my seminar sessions. The teachers had to take turns directing one blindfolded person around an obstacle course made of rearranged desks.

Baynolgii Aimag, nestled in the gorgeous Altai Mountain Range,  is inhabited by a predominantly Kazakh ethnic population. The language is totally different than what I’m used to in central Mongolia– it was fascinating to hear Laura bust it out every time we got in a cab or needed something from a store. She was our translator the whole time!

Laura's House

Hovd Kat and me

The weather was incredible for the most part. It was so warm on the last day of the seminar that we sat outside in her yard and had a picnic.

Me, Olgii Laura, and Hovd Laura enjoying a late afternoon outside

Nice view of the mountains around Olgii

Statue of some guy shooting backwards while running

Sadly, our other friend from Olgii, Matt, decided it was time to end things a bit early and head to Cambodia for the foreseeable future. We had an awesome going-away party for him at Laura’s house. It’s always a bit sad to see people go, even if we’re this close to the end of our service.

Matt and Laura down by the river on the outskirts of Olgii

After we’d had a chance to hang out in Olgii a bit after the seminar was finished, it was time to come back to Arvaikheer. Esu and I were in a hurry to return, so we decided to skip the last two legs of our journey and come straight home.  We reserved two seats on a bus leaving Olgii for the following Monday for 60,000 tugrug (roughly 45 dollars). We packed all our things up and heaved them to the bus station, where a different driver and a new bus were waiting. The price was also different– 120,000 tugrug per foreign passenger. Sixty for locals, one hundred and twenty for foreigners. We explained that we weren’t tourists, that we were here on work, and that we don’t make any money. Laura’s coworker helped us to communicate this in Kazakh. Her coworker’s husband is also the region’s transportation director, so we figured it would be handled smoothly. There was a lot of laughter between him and the drivers, though, and much to his wife’s fury. In the end we resolved to spend the rest of the day in Olgii, take an 8-hour jeep to Hovd, and wait there for two more days before catching an eastbound bus. A bit pricier than the original 60,000, but nowhere near the 120,000 that the shady driver was attempting to get out of us.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died before I got to Hovd, so I can’t prove how gorgeous it was. We stayed with our friend Cameron in his beautiful apartment for those two days and just ate and hung out. It was actually nice to break the trip up into segments after all.

Like I said, no photos, but I’ll try my best to describe it. Hovd borders Baynolgii along probably one of the most dramatic stretches of the Altai Range. A sizable portion of the elusive snow leopard’s dwindling population lives in these mountains, many of which are snowcapped all year. We made several stops in small soums along the way and marveled at the enormity of the mountains. It reminded me a lot of my time in 2006 in Xinjiang, China, along the Karakorum pass (which, as I may have mentioned before, shares its name with the famed ancient capital of Mongolia in Uvurkhangai!) So, screw it–I’ll just throw some pictures of that in here and you can pretend it’s in Hovd.

…And pretend that everything you see here that’s not sky is a nice reddish color. Sorry..picture fail. And look how much of a skinny baby I used to be:

Anyway, back to Mongolia. Esu and I arrived in Arvaikheer and work reared its demanding head almost immediately. I mentioned in a previous post that Peace Corps approved my school for a SPA Grant, which means our library is well underway. I returned to see a room roughly 1/4 the size of our primary school already undergoing renovations for the new space. I couldn’t be happier!  I rushed to the market and purchased a large tv, a dvd player, and fifteen ridiculously large posters for the room. This Thursday I’ll jump on another bus and go to UB to buy some more city-exclusive items for the  kids (a whiteboard, speakers, and maybe a couch. Cross your fingers I can negotiate reliable shipping!) Some things just aren’t available outside of the capital. It’s ok, though; I’ll kill two birds with one stone and get my front teeth fixed… I may or may not have chipped one of them on a pintglass. Don’t worry about it.

In other food-and-drink consumption-oriented news, Easter  at Amber’s was phenomenal. I shattered everyone’s doubts by whipping up my FIRST EVER SELF-BAKED DESERT: apple pie. I can say, without ego, that it was fantastic. I also made two pizzas. It was a potluck deal, so my sitemates contributed pumpkin bread, deep fried whole peanuts, chocolate chip cookies, eggs, biscuits, yogurt, cheeseburgers, and no-bake peanutbutter oat cookies. I ate for four hours straight without pausing. It’s been a good few weeks for food; Laura fed me so well when I was in Olgii that I gained five pounds, which is also a first, considering I’d only ever lost weight while traveling. GOOD TIMES.

Arvaikheer was gorgeous today. It was raining in the desert to the south, snowing in the Khangais to the north, and about 60 with big billowy clouds in between. And I could see all of it happening around me in a beautiful and dramatic panorama. I didn’t even wear a jacket for most of the day. I decided to lay out on top of my ger in the sun when I got off work.

My back yard, as seen from the top of my ger

Me on top of the ger

OH OH OH And!! Three cheers for my baby sister, who got accepted to nursing school!!!!! I LOVE YOU STEPHANIE!!!

More later.