I’m in a guest house in UB now, after having moved out of Arvaikheer permanently, and everything’s a little too close and cluttered for me to say how I feel about all of that at the moment. I will say, though, that my final bus ride was less emotional than I would have liked it to be– mostly on account of the catholic nun seated next to me who wouldn’t stop cursing (isn’t there some kind of rule against that?) and expressing how upset she was that we kept breaking down. I suppose my surprise at her choice of language and the way I had to strain to stifle laughter actually kept me from sharing in her frustration, so that’s good.

Or maybe I was just all cried out. Saying goodbye to my community was way harder than I expected; being in Arvaikheer this summer, and not  America-ing and then training in UB like last year, allowed me to nurture some of my older friendships in a way I wasn’t able to before. I got super, super close to a lot of people at the last minute as a result.

And now for some scattered photo documentation.

Laura dancing on the way to Elsen Taserhai (ps– peep our flooded river)

Rocks at Elsen Taserhai

Laura running toward the dunes at Elsen Taserhai. My camera died for the most stunning part of this trip, so I’ll have to steal and upload some pictures from my friends later. This was kind of our last adventure before leaving– hot sand and beautiful sunlight and good company.

Ding Dong, with a keen eye on my going-away party supplies

Car 1 of my going-away party caravan. Back to front, L to R: Handaa, Oyunchimeg, Jargal, Uugana, Batmaa, Oyunaa. We went to the same river as the frozen one featured in my first ever post two years ago and had a huge sheep barbecue.

The  going-away party barbecue men, before the clothes came off. L to R: Tuvshoo, Baagii, Ukaa, Batbaatar, moi (but I wasn’t in any position to be handling fire, so they did all the work)

Somewhere between vodka shot #1 and vodka shot #16, I ended up in the river.

At some point the clothes went back on and the barbecue commenced

Two of the guys went to this dude’s ger nearby and borrowed some tongs from him, so he joined the party

And then the ladies started getting thrown in the river

Batbaatar, the guy who runs the gym I go to

Baagii, the guy who cuts my hair. I guess the clothes came off again.

Uugana, gearing up to own Baagii with two fistfuls of mud

I guess Baagii rubbed mud all over me. He also kicked me in the head and broke one of my toes when he threw me into the river. That dude is strong. Anyway, there were twenty or so Americans, Aussies, Brits, and Mongolians at the party. It was a really, really fun time– the  kind of party where you wake up the next morning and can relive the good moments through the physical pain you find yourself in.

I think it’s kind of cool that my first and last posts from this two-year experience have had wild party pictures taken at the same river. I’ll miss it– still not quite sure what else to say about that.

Two days after the river debauchery, my friend Oyun celebrated her birthday and the opening of her newly constructed house. Here are some photos:

Chimgee and Oyunchimeg

L to R: Oyunaa, Oyun’s sister-in-law, Oyun’s aunt, Oyun’s mom, the guy who built the house, and Chimgee

L to R: Oyun, Oyun’s brother, and Oyun’s sister-in-law

The only other thing I’m loading on here as of now are pictures of my school’s completed library (and yes, I did, in fact, finish it on the 28th–the day before I moved out of Arvaikheer.) I’d recently returned from UB with six boxes of books from the US Embassy and Asia Foundation, a brand new computer, and some other supplies. This stuff, in addition to the previous installations, was all removed and locked away while the room was being painted. I was afraid it would stay barren, so as soon as the walls dried, I threw the whole thing back together in three hours. Tada!

View from the glass/wood office partition. The side from which this photo was taken is the librarian’s office and the future site of the school’s non-foreign-language book section.

Some shelves are still empty, but I figure the next volunteer can do his or her thing with them.

Amber and Esu threw me a fabulous birthday bash at my favorite Indian restaurant in UB last night, and my camera was also batteryless at that time. I’m worthless with cameras, essentially. But I got a Madonna CD, a beautiful yak cashmere scarf, a bottle of wine, the complete works of Oscar Wilde, awesome time with 15 friends, and some delicious cake out of the evening. Luckily, Amber let me use her camera, so I’ll have some photos of that and the sand dunes pretty soon as a supplementary upload. I’m not gonna do another post, though, I don’t think– this is the last.

On that note, I have no closing thoughts for now– none, at least,  other than a bit about my ever increasing inadequacy to make sense of my experiences through words. I look back at my old posts from two years ago and think, “what a tool that person was”– mostly because I tried to compartmentalize and understand everything based on the contrasts between my own personal culture and that of my surroundings here in Mongolia. That’s not the right approach, I’ve learned. I no longer try to illuminate things for myself through contrasts, because no matter how sensitive and politically correct we think we are in doing so, to write about those contrasts is to inadvertently elevate ourselves above our material. At least the way I was doing it. I like to think, then, that my experiences have reshaped the way I view myself in cultural context, and this is one of the  most valuable changes I think I’ve made. I guess what I’ve learned is that my personal culture is more a product of my personal surroundings, as opposed to something separate that can be juxtaposed against my environment and observed. Or something. I’m just sad to go. And happy to go home. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later, but I don’t yet know where I’ll post it.

I’m gonna miss this place  more than I know how to say.

Thanks for tuning in, friends.

A quick and disjointed account of all things recent.

News and Happinesses

  1. Peace Corps finally approved the library project outlined in a recent post,  so my school will soon be able to acquire the necessary materials to set up a comfortable, student-centered, student-run learning space with books and electronic resources in several languages.
  2. Remember the sinus infection I spoke of in the last entry? Well, interestingly, it morphed into an eye infection that caused blood and mucus to seep through my tear ducts and glue my eyelids shut every night while I slept. But I kicked it! To be safe, though, let’s slap a huge “knock on wood” on this post to avoid jinxing myself any further. In fact, readers, please print this entire passage out, hastily duct tape it to a crowbar, and slam it twice into the largest tree you can find in your forested mid-Atlantic or New England community.
  3. One of my sitemates recently wrote a proposal that funded over 20,000 dollars’ worth of new beds, blankets, and furniture for a secondary school dormitory that houses herders’ children from all over the province. Let’s put some good vibes out there so that the rest of the funds (for new windows and flooring) will go through!
  4. I reserved a spot on the list of people COSing (close-of-service-ing?) on July 15th, which is the first possible day to end service in Mongolia in 2010. Seeing that in print kind of freaked me out; two years are being swallowed up faster than I’d ever thought possible.
  5. I was able to buy a week’s worth of healthy food– food that might return some vitamins to my system and prevent my eyes from bleeding– for less than one percent of an extremely generous gift from a certain family member (thanks Mema!)
  6. I’m considering finding an alternative source of kindling for my stove. Mongolians believe that it’s extremely bad to put things like used tissues (among other taboo items)  into the stove when building a fire. They sometimes refer to the Fire God, who is traditionally thought to live inside the stove of every ger. In Arvaikheer, at least, this is more of a folk concept than a real belief; still, though, some families adhere strictly to the spirituality of what can and can’t be burned.  I was reprimanded by Zaya Egch (my hashaa mom/big-sister) for having saved used tissues in a box next to my stove for later use as kindling last October. She said I would make her whole family sick if I burned them.  I regret to say that, since then, I’ve been saving the tissues in a hidden location in my ger and burning them every night. I figure I’m sick too often to waste the two-birds-one-stone opportunity of getting rid of the bio-waste while having a quick firestarter material. But we’ve all been sick all winter, so maybe it’s time I switch back to newspaper.
  7. Much of the first four seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess appears to have taken place in ancient Mongolia. Way to go, Rob Tapert and Flat Earth Productions.
  8. America has totally out-wintered Mongolia this month, so I no longer feel okay complaining about the harsh conditions here unless I’m spilling it to someone who lives in Bombay or Hawaii.
  9. I’m waiting to hear back from three grad schools. I’d forgotten what this kind of excited anxiety felt like…it restores some youth to my spirit.  Cross your fingers I’ll get accepted and offered some outrageous tuition waiver, and then force the stranger sitting next to you at the wi-fi coffee shop to cross his or her fingers as well. He or she will understand. If not, threaten him or her with the crowbar from point 2.
  10. I discovered last night that my carbon monoxide detector works, and my ear drums have the rupture scars to prove it.

This is as far as I could open 'em when I woke up.

I don't have a mirror in my ger, so I took pictures of the pus-eye to see what was up.I don’t have a mirror in my ger, so I was checking the eye infection with a camera.

Le Pièce de résistance: peep that mucus, folks.Le Pièce de Résistance: Peep that mucus, folks.

The Things I’m Looking Forward To

  1. Seeing my students researching, pleasure reading, and relaxing quietly between classes in the soon-to-be-completed Merged School library.
  2. A respite from the cold, even if it means sandstorms are on their way.
  3. Getting my 10th and 11th grade students involved in a project to redo the English translations for the labels of all of the fascinating items at the Arvaikheer museum, where I was locked inside the dinosaur exhibit by myself with the lights off for almost a half hour last week [and what’s a “Dinny Bone?” A lot of big steppe dinosaurs had them, according to the displays that kept me company while I was waiting to be released.]
  4. Sushi…just sushi.
  5. Seeing my sister at the end of July.
  6. Wrestling with my 70-kilogram German Shepherd at my parents’ new farmhouse.
  7. Tsagaan Sar!  Saturday is Bituun, or Tsagaan Sar Eve, and that means the season of traditional dress, extreme buuz-eating, and brashik (fermented seabuckthorn juice) is upon us! My favorite part of winter.
  8. Using the new Korean chin-up bar at the gym down the mountain (what makes it Korean, I’m not sure. But those things work.)
  9. Starting up a guitar club at my school after Tsagaan Sar. Some organizations in America have expressed an interest in spearheading the funding part, so that should be cool.
  10. The continued use of the three woolen blankets and thick camel fleece bedpad I just bought at the market.  I’d been using crusty old Peace Corps emergency blankets before, and I think these may have been adding to my legion physical problems. I used the old blankets to insulate my walls, and the heat just keeps building and building in this little ger of mine!

I’m sure there’s a lot more that should go in this list, but I’ll leave it at 10 and 10 with a few nasty snapshots. More later.

It’s 3:07 a.m. I can’t sleep. It might have something to do with the raging sinus infection I have–you know, the one I somehow managed to contract while killing a debilitating throat infection with a ten-day course of bubonic plague medication. There is some wild pathogenic magic going on in these parts. I think the plague pills were so strong that they tricked my immune system into believing it wasn’t needed anymore.

Anyway, what better or more productive way to spend insomnia than to engage in my favorite computer pastime (second only to watching “Xena: Warrior Princess,” of course): uploading pictures to my blog.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have had some extremely warm weather. It’s been up in the high 20’s (Fahrenheit) for about a week now. The ways in which a warm spell can remind you what it felt like before the Mongolian Winter set in are startling; your eyes don’t freeze, your running nose doesn’t freeze, and it doesn’t hurt to take a full breath of air in. Check my unwashed faux-hawk, sans hat. No frostbite this week!

(several volunteers, including myself, have suffered frostbite on their ears and noses in the past few weeks. It ain’t pretty.)

It was warm enough recently for me to hike up to Undurlig with a few visitors. I even took my jacket off for part of the walk.

This is Marisa, a Peace Corps Volunteer from the new M20 group. She’s a ton of fun. She came down to Arvaikheer to chill with us for a few days and relax in the relative warmth. Another visiting friend, Tysen, also came on the hike, but all of the pictures of me and him together on the mountain are heinous. Sorry, Tysen.

Once at the top , I pointed down to the Wishing Tree (mentioned in a previous entry) and asked if they were interested. We ended up walking down there to find that we’d intruded upon an elderly woman’s private wishmaking time…She was wandering around the tree and crying, all the while mumbling and clutching a bottle of vodka. I lamented the fact that, after almost two years, I’m still not familiar enough with communicational norms to have asked her if she was ok. Instead we continued on down the mountain and returned to my ger.

The following days were much colder, though still warm enough to produce precipitation. We had some of that  frozen-cloud-snow– the kind that blankets the ground in a dusting of ice particles that are much smaller than the average snowflake. It can’t even be seen in the air when it’s falling unless it’s caught at the right angle to the sun, but it accumulates and looks something like snow after a few hours. Interestingly, huge storm-like clouds dumped this type of snow in the mountains around Arvaikheer today, but never entered the town.I managed to snap some pictures (and sorry about the weird floaters in some of the images):

^This one was taken on my way back from work today, and the one below was from my street. If you look closely, you can see snow falling in the distance in both of them.

So, if I were to try to summarize this entry thus far with any adherence to its title, I’d say the things that make me happy lately are 1))making light of frostbite and bacteria-on-virus action, visitors, and frozen cloud-fall seen from miles away. But all of this is just pretext for debuting my favorite part of every day: MY LITTLE BOY!

His name’s Ding-Dong, which is actually not a Mongolian word or anything. My extremely precocious 3 year-old brother named him. He probably heard it on a cartoon or in a song. Ding-Dong is tied to a runner during the day, and whenever I approach him, he gets extremely excited and wants to bite my ankles and jump all over me. The following images kind of illustrate that, I think.

I should mention here that most Mongolians’ relationship to dogs is not characterized by the same love and friendship as it is in, say, American culture. Captive dogs serve a very specific purpose–to defend the hashaa, or yard, against intruders. They are never allowed inside under any circumstances (except in UB, where they’re sometimes owned as pets). They are usually never touched or spoken to in an affectionate way, and people often throw stones at them or kick them when they’re allowed to roam the alleys. [A lot of UB residents get offended when they read posts like this and insist that it’s not true, but most of these people don’t spend time in countryside places like Arvaikheer. So please take my word that I see this almost every single day and am NOT lying to make Mongolia seem inhumane].

Anyway, this little boy is the happiest part of my day. I love him. I play with him and feed him and talk to him so much that the dog next door, who watches jealously through slits in the fence that divides our hashaas, has come around asking for the same attention. That funny little neighbor even walks me into town sometimes.

This is me trying to wrangle Ding-Dong into a photo. He’s such a love!

K, It’s getting late and I’m starting to fade. I’ve talked myself through feeling okay about not going to work tomorrow…I love my daily life, but the Winter routines are catching up with me and making it impossible for me to get healthy again. So if you were one of the people who had to listen to me convince myself that I deserve a break tomorrow, thanks. More later!

Mountain Stuff

January 23, 2010

Sometimes I like to get above the town to Undurlig (Mongolian for ‘peak’)  for a few minutes to kind of center myself whenever the weather permits. I used to have to walk an hour to get there when I lived on the south side.  Now, though, it’s right behind my house. (Many of you might be bored to death by the same photos I take every time I go up there, but I don’t care, because I love posting them.) Today the temperatures on my mountain were about 20 degrees warmer than they were downtown, so I decided to walk up there for the first time in a while and relax for a bit.

I usually sit right here:

and while I was up there today I listened to this song:

It’s called “My Juvenile,” by Bjork and Antony Hegarty. The original video is nowhere to be found, but luckily a bunch of youtubers made their own (and the above is one of those). I started listening to it a lot when I first got to Mongolia. For me, at least, the minimalist makeup of it kind of lends itself well to looking out over vast expanses of land and letting my mind browse all of the intense and amazing things that have happened in my life over the past few years. I think it holds a special significance to me because of the fact that it’s about a son growing up and leaving home. Listen to the lyrics–they’re actually really poignant.

After I sit for a while, I usually head north and down aways to the Wishing Tree. It was set up by some monks last August, and since then Arvaikheer residents have been tying traditional sacred bolts of cloth to it and making wishes. I walk around it three times, as is common here, and think about all of the nice things I’d like to happen for my family back in America. Out of respect I won’t upload any pictures of it, but I’ll put one up of the stone pile next to it. Circumlocution around the stone pile three times is a kind of blessing which I think is borrowed from Shamanism. At some point during each rotation, people usually throw a pebble onto the pile.

It was a perfect hike. Getting up in the mountains from time to time is essential for me; I need the peace and quiet and visibility of it all to remind myself of where I am, and to purge all the little anxieties and confusions of everyday life here. It’s just an extremely positive feeling.

Also, look at this awesome hat I bought yesterday:

Victory in suede and faux-fur.

Library Project

January 21, 2010

Hello to everyone who reads this thing! I’m posting the proposal from the library renovation project I mentioned in a recent post. My counterparts and I have been working on it for a few months now and trying to secure funding, and some parties have expressed interest in giving material support of one kind or another. We’re trying really hard to get this thing done before I leave for good in July. (Fyi, the school is pronounced “Mer-ged”, and not like the English word “merged”).  The formatting is a bit strange from the paste-in, but check it out anyway:

Refurbished Library Project Proposal

Agency:

Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language

Arvaikheer Soum

Uvurkhangai Aimag

Project Facilitators:

B. Unurbayn, English Language Department Team Leader

Z. Zolzaya, English instructor

Oyunirden, English instructor

Patrick Hamilton, English instructor

D Dulamsuren, Japanese instructor.

S. Erdenbileg, Director

Chimeddorj-Oedov, Network specialist

Executive Summary

Students at Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language were forced to leave their former school facilities last April due to structural concerns, and the new buildings were not large enough to accommodate both classrooms and space for the contents of the previous library. Even when the old library was operational, its resources and accessibility  fell short of students’ and teachers’ requirements. Recent renovations and the upcoming completion of a new and larger building have opened up new space for a refurbished library, and the faculty and students are very excited at the prospect.

We intend to open a new library in order to restore independent learning and pleasure reading to the routines of the student body and to continue to improve on the general quality of education at Merged. Part of this process will be to engage our enthusiastic upperclassmen in a student-librarian program that will maximize student control and participation in the management and usage of library resources. Not only will involving students in the program bring them closer to their learning materials, but it will also ensure project sustainability in the future.

Needs assessment conducted among the student population has yielded results that are in overwhelming support of the construction of this library [see Appendix 1]. The available resources at Merged have already enabled us to begin work on the library, and schools and organizations overseas have already pledged their material support in the form of over 1,000 books. With the proper funding to acquire the remaining necessary items, and with careful monitoring and evaluation through frequent surveys and checks carried out among students and teachers, the full educational potential of our library can be reached.

The implementation of the new Library will serve as a tremendous improvement for all of the departments at Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language. This project will increase student involvement and hands-on participation in library resource management, encourage the use of new electronic learning tools, and promote extracurricular activities, research, and pleasure reading in an open study area and in the home. The augmentation of our book collection in a brand new space will bring a level of sophistication and student-control to the scholastic culture of Merged that will surely contribute to its national reputation and bring new opportunities to its much deserving pupils.

Total Project Cost: 5,141,000 MNT— $4,284.17 USD

Community Contribution: 3,506,000 MNT—$2,921.67 USD

Funding Request: 1,635,000— $1,362.50 USD


Project Background

The Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language in Uvurkhangai has maintained a competitive position in Mongolian education since it opened to Arvaikheer’s students in 1998. The school offers clean, well-equipped facilities to students from kindergarten- to eleventh-grade on tracks in math, science, and/ or foreign languages. These students have historically ranked among the top in national standardized tests and competitions—particularly in the areas of Mathematics, English, and Japanese.

This year, however, the old secondary school building was abandoned due to structural problems and its students were moved to the newer building. The school’s library remained in the old building, and all of its rather limited contents have been locked away and unavailable to students since last April. When 400 Merged students from grades five through eleven were given a survey to determine the necessity and intended usage for a new library space with more books, 64% of the students purported to have used the library on a regular basis prior to the abandonment of the old building  (see Appendix 1).  Merged teachers are therefore concerned that losing the library will hinder their students’ ability to use school resources to go deeper into the subjects they are studying or to continue research on their own.

There is also no longer a place for them to study or browse through books between classes, and nowhere for them to use computers.  In the same survey, students reported that having a quiet place to study in the building between classes and after school was the most important aspect they hoped to enjoy in a new library [see Figure 6]. Over 94% of students reported that they would make regular use of a library if it were to be refurbished, and 82.5% expressed that they would be interested in participating in a student-librarian program designed to help the student population have more hands-on involvement in library resource management [see Appendix 1] [see figure 2].

Renovations being carried out at the newer building have created new opportunities for infrastructural improvements, and the school is enthusiastic about the prospect of converting a large room for teachers into a student-centered library containing books in Mongolian, English, Japanese, and Russian, in addition to children’s books, books on physics, history, science, mathematics, and test preparation. Our director and training manager have already offered a space for the new library and helped to divide the responsibilities of setting it up among members of the faculty.

Many of the resources required for finishing the new library are already available at the school, including computers and other electronic learning tools. Additionally, electronic resources in several languages—Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, French, and German—were acquired by the school and will encourage students to take the initiative to learn independently through pleasure reading and browsing to build new language skills [see Figure 5].

Goals and Objectives

1. To increase the amount of available learning resources at the school

Objective 1.1. Acquire books in several languages for all the subjects offered at Merged

Objective 1.2. Set up electronic learning resources (language software, Internet, movies, cds, etc.) and their corresponding technologies in the library for open student usage

2. To encourage students to utilize a variety of learning tools for any subject

Objective 2.1. Hold tutorial sessions on library technology and book borrowing protocol

Objective 2.2. Integrate scheduled library usage into each class group curriculum

3. To encourage out-of-class learning and to provide students with a space for scholastic and extracurricular activities

Objective 3.1. Advertise and maintain open study hours throughout the week

Objective 3.2. Advertise and recruit for clubs and organizations to be held in the library (foreign language clubs, math and science clubs, book clubs, etc.)

4. To improve the quality of language education at the school

Objective 4.1. Provide a centralized location for students to hone their language skills in all of the languages offered at our school via software, the use of written resources, Internet, electronic media, and contact with other students

Objective 4.1. Provide a wide array of resources in languages not offered at the school in order to help students who wish to learn other languages

5. To allow students a place to study and have total control over the information at their disposal in a quiet, user-friendly   learning environment

Objective 5.1. Keep the library open from the time school starts to the time it ends

Objective 5.2. Keep library resources and facilities accessible and student-centered

6. To develop students’ and instructors’ comfort in using and maintaining library resources

Objective 6.1. Create a sustainable part-time rotating student-librarian program which would maximize student involvement in the initiation and  continuation of the library

Objective 6.2. Train student librarians in assisting library users with library resources

Project Description

With a combination of support from the Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language and resources from The Asia Foundation, we will go to UB to secure books in Mongolian, English, Japanese, and Russian, in addition to children’s books, books on physics, history, science, mathematics, and test preparation. While in the city, we will also use acquired funds to purchase the necessary repair materials, a rug, and whiteboards for the room. Upon returning to Arvaikheer, the books we secure will be kept in our storage facility until the language faculty, carpenters, and student volunteers have finished setting up the library’s furnishings. Carpenter Ts. Baatar will be commissioned to build five large shelves and three large desks.

We will then transfer the previously acquired electronic learning resources to each of the five computers in the new room and hold student librarian managerial elections. Ten students from our Merged tenth- and eleventh-grade volunteer pool will fill daily library-monitoring shifts of three periods each, Monday through Friday (five student-librarians per day with rotation). One library manager will be elected during this time to help oversee the creation and maintenance of the librarian schedule, to aid in the training of student librarians in the checking out of books and software usage, and to ensure student librarian responsibility.

In training the student librarians, Oyunirden, Unurbayn, and Zolzaya will hold three sessions during the second week of the first month to instruct the volunteer librarians on how to keep books catalogued and record book transactions, how to monitor student library usage, how to log hours, and how to assist class groups who have come to carry out their research and class activities. We will also get the assistants acquainted with the accompanying electronic learning resources, with anti-viral software acquisition and implementation, and with computer hardware. This part of the process will involve hands-on usage of the facilities and simple demonstrations, followed by a short quiz to test their knowledge on the material covered.

The final step in this project will be the process of familiarizing the teachers and students of our school with the library facilities and integrating its usage into their curricula. Each of the instructors at Merged will take his or her individual class groups to the library, and these groups will take turns occupying the library for the completion of research projects and class activities on rotating schedules throughout the week.  Debriefing meetings will be held on Fridays between faculty facilitators and student librarians to monitor the success of the project and to discuss new ideas and improvements.

The recent construction at Merged has created a competition for space inside the newer building, and therefore securing a set and accessible library room for the students will provide them with a place to organize into more extracurricular clubs and activities without having to work against the busy schedule of lessons in other classrooms. Students will be able to maintain consistent English Club, Japanese Club, Chinese Club, Poetry Club, Internet Club, and Book Club meetings in the new library while at the same time having immediate access to the materials they may need during club meetings.

Among the more beneficial aspects of creating this new library will be the peer-tutoring program we have already begun to organize. The library will provide young learners with the opportunity to improve on their studies not only through independent research, but also through scheduled tutoring hours with advanced students in every subject. This, paired with the aforementioned student librarian program, will set the stage for a new level of student responsibility and preparedness for the time after graduation.

Action Plan Summary

Action Facilitator(s) Time frame
Acquire language books from Asia Foundation, etc Zolzaya, Patrick Week 4, Month 1
Book categorization and cataloguing Patrick, Senior students Week 4, Month 1
Acquire room materials Erdenbileg, Zolzaya, Patrick Week 4, Month 1
Room layout and set-up Zolzaya, Patrick, senior students Week 1, Month 2
Language software computer transfer Oedov, Patrick Week 2, Month 2
Student librarian and managerial elections Oyunirden, Unurbayn, Zolzaya, Week 2, Month 2
Training of student librarians and creation of librarian rotating schedule Patrick, Unurbayn Week 2, Month 2
Implementation of student librarian program Unurbayn, Zolzaya, Oyunirden, Patrick Weeks 3-4, Month 2
Software training, internet set-up, and integration of the library into department curricula Oedov, Oyunirden, Unurbayn, Patrick, Zolzaya Week 4, Month 2
Monitoring and Evaluation (logs, surveys, quizzes and exams, etc.) Student Librarians, Unurbayn Weeks 1-4, Month 3

Potential Library Usage Breakdown

The following is a hypothetical weekly lineup of activities and scheduled usage periods for the library:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
8:00-8:40

(student librarian 1)

10b class research time Open study Mongolian Language track research time Physics track research time Open study
8:40-9:20 (student librarian 1) Open study 9A English  class research time 11b English class research time Open study Open study
9:25-10:05 (student librarian 1) 10A English class research time 9b English class research time 11A English class research time Open study Open study
10:15-10:55 (student librarian 2) Open study Open study Physics track research time History track research time English read-aloud time with primary students 3
10:55-11:35 (student librarian 2) Electronic resource tutoring time Internet Club Open study English read-aloud time with primary students 2 History track research time
11:40-12:20 (student librarian 2) Open study Open study English read-aloud time with primary students 1 Open study Open study
12:20-1:00 student librarian 3 Open study Open study Open study 8a Japanese language research time 5A, b English class research time
1:00-1:55 (student librarian 3) Mongolian Language class research time 8b English Class research time 7a Japanese class research time 8b Japanese language research time 6A, b English class research time
1:55-2:35 student librarian 3 7g English class research time 7b English class research time 7b Japanese class research time Open study Open study
2:40-3:20 (student librarian 4) Chinese Club Open study time Japanese Club Open study Book Club
3:30-4:10 (student librarian 4) Open study English Club Test preparation assistance hour Russian Club Foreign Language Peer Tutoring
4:10-4:50 (student librarian 4) Poetry Club 10A Japanese   class research time Open study Open study Maths and Sciences Peer Tutoring
4:55-5:35 (student librarian 5) Foreign Language Peer Tutoring 10b Japanese class research time Japanese Movie Night Open study Open study
5:35-6:15 (student librarian 5) Maths and Sciences Peer Tutoring open study Open study English Movie Night
6:15-6:55 (student librarian 5) Open study Open study Open study Teachers’ English Club Open study

Sustainability

Integration of the library into Merged curricula will provide students with continued access to reference materials, electronic learning resources, foreign language books and software,  and pleasure reading toward a general improvement of the quality of education at the school.  Eleventh-grade students involved in the management and monitoring of the room will be in charge of assisting the faculty facilitators in recruiting and co-training new student librarians and managers for the following year prior to leaving Merged. Incumbent tenth-grade student librarians can also choose to run for the position again for their final year of school.

Current enthusiasm among students of all ages at Merged suggests that such a project, if designed and implemented according to plan, would be willingly and responsibly continued into the future despite potential volunteer absence [see Appendix 1]. Tenured faculty involvement is also very strong with this project, and that tends to be a main factor in the future continuation of, or disregard for, such endeavors.

Risks and Mitigations

As mentioned earlier, competition for teaching space is rising among teachers in the midst of the recent construction projects going on at Merged. However, our director and training manager are extremely adamant about the conversion of the current teacher’s lounge into a permanent library, and this should prevent any other parties from attempting to take over the space.

Resources

Refurbished Library Cost Evaluation

Item qty Unit Cost Total Cost Requested Funds (MNT) Arvaikheer
(MNT) (MNT) Community Contribution (MNT)
Books / 0 0 0 0
Carpet (rug) 2 50,000 100,000 0 100,000
Chairs 15 28,000 420,000 0 420,000
Couches 1 450,000 450,000 450,000 0
Large desks 3 60,000 180,000 0 180,000
Desktop computers 5 500,000 2,500,000 0 2,500,000
Dvd player 1 30,000 30,000 30,000 0
DVD’s / 0 0 0 0
Electrical outlet installation (renovation) 1 50,000 50000 0 50,000
Facilitator’s desk 1 45,000 45,000 45,000 0
Flooring (renovation) 1 400,000 400,000 400,000 0
Headphones 4 10,000 40,000 40,000 0
Internet (installation) 1 120,000 120,000 0 120,000
Keys 5 1,000 5,000 0 5,000
Paint (renovation) 5 5,000 25,000 0 25,000
Posters 10 5,000 50,000 0 50,000
Shelves 5 50,000 250,000 250,000 0
Software / 0 0 0 0
21” TV 1 300,000 300,000 300,000 0
UB Transport for Zolzaya and Patrick 2 28,000 56,000 0 56,000
Whiteboard/ 2 60,000 120,000 120,000 0
blackboard
Total Cost (MNT) 5,141,000 1,635,000 3,506,000
Total Cost (USD) $4,284.17 $1,362.50 $2,921.67

Funds Management:

An alternate joint account at Khaan Bank will be opened in Zolzaya’s and PCV Patrick Hamilton’s names. All funds will be directly transferred to this account. Proof of requisite amounts for specific items, including the furnishing materials and technological resources stated previously, will be recorded by Zolzaya and Patrick during the purchase of said items.

Resources Available at Merged

Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language is willing to provide the space for our library, to cover the cost of Internet and concurrent monthly fees to be installed on our computers, of a rug, of large desks, of chairs, electrical outlet repair, and of foreign language posters for the walls. It is also willing to cover the cost of transportation to and from Ulaanbaatar for resource acquisition for Zolzaya and Patrick. We have the proper electronic learning tools at our disposal, and the school already has some books and materials in the old library.

All available computers were purchased by the school. Desks and chairs will be commissioned from a local carpenter, Ts. Baatar.

The Barnesville School in Buckeystown, Maryland, has donated a shipment of 1,000 elementary English language books to our Merged Library. These books will arrive in mid- to late-January. The local government of Okayama, Japan, will also be donating a shipment of Japanese language books and CD’s by the end of January 2010.

Monitoring and Evaluation:

Visitor satisfaction surveys will be placed on the facilitator’s desk in the library, and all users will be encouraged to fill one out before leaving the library [see Appendix 2]. This data will be compiled and discussed at weekly student librarian debriefing meetings with members of the faculty project staff. Mandatory post-setup completion surveys will also be distributed to all of the students making use of the facilities via their respective instructors after the first month (and every other month for the first year) to gauge their levels of satisfaction with the facilities and student librarians, involvement in library extracurricular activities and clubs, personal achievement standards, number of books checked out, and frequency of personal and/or extracurricular use [see appendix 4]. Weekly quizzes, personal interviews, and monthly exams will be given on the specific material covered during lessons conducted in the library or for lessons that made use of library materials and/or resources. The survey process will be repeated with addenda at the end of the year to evaluate overall faculty and student satisfaction.

Monitoring

Monitoring Question Source of Information Method(s) of Acquiring Information Responsibility Timeframe/ Frequency
What is the level of student satisfaction with the new facilities? Student library users Surveys available at library facilitator’s desk, compiled and discussed at student librarian debriefing meetings; student interaction with librarians Unurbayn, Student

librarians

Once weekly
What is the level of student satisfaction with student librarians? Student library users Surveys available at library facilitator’s desk, compiled and discussed at student librarian debriefing meetings Unurbayn, Student librarians *Librarians can ask library users to fill out a survey before they leave at any time
Are students making good use of the library outside of class? Student librarians Student librarian observations, discussed at student librarian debriefing meetings Unurbayn, Student librarians Once weekly

Evaluation

Evaluation Question Source of Information Method(s) of Acquiring Information Responsibility Timeframe/ Frequency
Is in-class library time having a positive influence on student performance? Teachers, Students Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective); in-class research presentations; exams; teacher debriefing meetings; quarterly grades D Dulamsuren

Patrick Hamilton

Oyunirden

Z. Zolzaya

B. Unurbayn

S. Erdenbileg

Chimeddorj-Oedov

Monthly; end of each quarter
Are students’ foreign language abilities increasing due to room usage? Faculty, Students, competitions/ standardized tests, Exams and Quizzes Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective); Personal Interviews; Teacher Interviews; Exam and Quiz Scores D. Dulamsuren,

Patrick Hamilton,

Oyunirden,

Z. Zolzaya,

B. Unurbayn

Monthly; end of each quarter
Are students reading more for pleasure now that the library has been open and available to them? Faculty, Student Librarians Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective), Personal Interviews; Book Transaction Records; Student Librarian Observations Student Librarians, D. Dulamsuren,

Patrick Hamilton,

Oyunirden,

Z. Zolzaya,

B. Unurbayn

Monthly
Is the number of checked-out  books increasing through library activity and social programming (extracurricular activities, info sessions, class work, etc). Student Librarians Book transaction records Student Librarians, B. Unurbayn Monthly, end of each quarter
Which clubs and extracurricular activities have been most helpful/ enjoyable? Students Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective) Student Librarians, D. Dulamsuren,

Patrick Hamilton,

Oyunirden,

Z. Zolzaya,

B. Unurbayn

Monthly
What is the most useful resource (technology or personnel) available at the library? Student Librarians Mandatory surveys (from students’ perspective) B. Unurbayn, Student Librarians Monthly

Appendix 1: Library Needs Assessment Surveys

Student Survey

Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language is conducting a survey to determine potential interest in the creation of a new library. Please carefully consider all questions and answer honestly.

  1. Did you ever read or study in the old library before it was closed?

Yes—256/400 = 64%            No—144/400 = 36%

  1. If the library were to be reopened at Merged, would it encourage you to read more?

Yes—377/ 400 = 94.25%       No—0 = 0%     (no answer) = 23/ 400 = 5.75%

  1. How many hours per week do you think you would make use of a new library? (Figure 1)

1—31/400 = 87.75%

2—82/400 = 20.5%

3—90/400 = 22.5%

4—58/400 = 14.5%

5—60/400 = 15%

more than 5—79/400 = 19.75%

  1. Would you be interested in participating in a student-librarian program in a new library?

Yes—330/ 400 = 82.5%          No—62/400 = 15.5%            No answer—8/400 = 2%

  1. What kinds of books would you most like to have available in a new library? (Figure 3)

Literature (Novels, Poems, Articles)—169

History books—187

Language and Grammar books—211

Math- and science-related books—180

Other—88

  1. What kinds of activities would interest you in a new library space? (Figure 4)

English club—171

Chinese club—37

Japanese club—121

Book club—65

Poetry club—33

Essay writing prep—37

Peer tutoring—15

Computer club—152

Foreign songs club—68

Other—47

  1. In addition to English, what other languages might you be interested in learning or improving your skills in via new library resources?  (Figure 5)

German—86

Spanish—19

Russian—142

Japanese—158

Chinese—75

Arabic—8

French—62

Other—30

  1. What would you like to see yourself accomplish/learn/be able to do after using the new library facilities? (Figure 6)

Use new books and library resources—174

Improve communication skills—103

Develop your reading, writing, and listening skills—137

Spend more of your free time in a quiet study place—191

Improve your knowledge of how to conduct research—165

Other—33

  1. In your opinion, how much would opening a new library in Merged improve your studies? (figure 2)

Very much—332/ 400 = 83%

Somewhat —39/400  = 9.75%

Not very much—8/400 = 2%

I don’t know—21/400 = 5.25%

Appendix 2: Weekly Monitoring Surveys

Library User Questionnaire

  1. How satisfied are you with the new library facilities?
    1. Very satisfied

b.  Satisfied

  1. Neutral

d.  Unsatisfied

  1. How satisfied are you with the assistance of the student librarians?
  2. Very satisfied
  3. Satisfied
  4. Neutral
  5. Unsatisfied
  1. How many hours did you spend in the library this week outside of class? (circle one).

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5 or more.

Appendix 3: Monthly Evaluation Surveys and Quarterly Evaluation Guidelines

Monthly Evaluation Survey

  1. Is in-class library time having a positive influence on your studies? Yes/ No
  1. Are your foreign language abilities increasing due to room usage? Yes/ No
  1. Are you reading more for pleasure now that the library has been open and available to you? Yes/ No
  1. Which clubs and extracurricular activities have been most helpful/ enjoyable?
  1. What is the most useful resource (technology or personnel) available at the library?

Quarterly Evaluation Guidelines

Questions to Consider:

  • Is the library schedule conducive to incorporating library resource usage into class curricula?
  • Is in-class library time having a positive effect on student performance?
  • Is the number of checked-out books increasing through library activity and social programming (extracurricular activities, info sessions, class work, etc)?
  • Are students’ foreign language abilities increasing post library-setup?
  • Have students’ test scores shown changes since the opening of the new library?

Appendix 4: Figures and Charts





Home for a Spell

September 19, 2009

My excuse for the late post–no internet access (or, rather, no time for internet access) since my return to Mongolia at the end of last June. Apologies.  Anyway, I figured it would be appropriate now, on a nice little Saturday night in Arvaikheer, to dedicate an hour or so to a post about what it’s like to go home in the middle of a two-year Peace Corps stint.

I suppose it’s best to start from the flight out of UB. I could probably have counted the number of times I’d been in a car on one hand during my entire first year here, so the prospect of putting myself inside of a large metal tube with wings which relies on the unfathomable principle of lift was something I was not ready to face. To compound my anxieties, I found out that MIAT (Mongolian Air) pilots are all former air force…take-off was like being catapulted through a type-II supernova. The hull of the plane protested accordingly.

I actually had a dream on the flight that we crashed. You can imagine how that must have sat with my fellow passengers.

I’ll skip straight to the America part, as my new fear of air travel would make the remaining leg of the journey sound redundant. In short, coming home was just as much of a mindjob as I had imagined–but in all the best ways. I felt a strange delight in the new areas in life in which I had become socially awkward. I adjusted to a vastly different pace of life for the four weeks I was there, and I got a much needed break from the culinary realm I described in previous posts. Of course, seeing family was the most heartrendingly relieving part of the whole experience, but I’ll get to that.

IMG_5629

First, on to social awkwardness. I always considered myself to be a rather socially apt person in my American life, but I had suspicions that spending a majority of my time with the same 7 Americans for an entire year in a rowdy Gobi border town might have an effect on that confidence. It did. On one of my first few days back in America, I took my vastly overweight wolf-shepherd mix, Molly, for an evening walk in my city and tried to get a feel for the place again. She was kind of a buffer–my conversation starter and my security. We happened on a waning arts festival on the canal, and people started coming up to me and asking me questions about her. “What a beautiful dog!” they would say. “What kind of dog is she?”

The first person who asked me this–the first American stranger I’d spoken with in a long time, I suppose–got a very loud and awkward, “UMMM THANKS HI” in response. Another family in a paddle boat far enough away to be allowed their own private discussion began discussing my dog. “I wonder what kind of dog she is–maybe a shepherd mix?” one of them said. I edged awkwardly toward the canal alongside their boat and tried to confirm their speculation, but their conversation had moved on. As had their paddle boat. Still, in a moment of poorly timed conversational bravery, I yelled out, “SHE…is.” Only the elderly man disassembling his crafts tent heard me.

Yet another powerwalking duo approached me and complimented Molly’s beautiful coat. I told them that she had gotten a little heavy in my unspecified absence, and one of the women said, “Awwwwwwwwww, did you just finish your first year of college?”

NO?!” was the only retort I could muster.

I guess my point is that I had lost the little graces that made me tolerable in public.

shaven and obese, but half wolf nonetheless <3

shaven and obese, but my little baby half wolf nonetheless ❤

me, being SUPER awkward on the DC Metro:

On my first night at home, we went to pizza hut as a family. It was so amazing to sit across from my mother and sister and father and actually put faces to the year-long infrequency of their voices. I ordered a huge pizza and slid back into my booth seat, reached into my bag, and extracted a few bread rolls saved from the flight. “Anyone want bread?” I asked. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy–bringing food into a restaurant like that. Faux pas 1. The pizza was amazing, though.

Maybe this would be a good segue into the aforementioned culinary heaven to which I was reintroduced upon going home. A list, and some pictures, will suffice:

pizza, sushi, ice cream, kebabs, crabs, cheeseburgers, fish, sandwiches, cheezits, pretzels, spinach salads, cheese, kalamata olives.

IMG_5293

IMG_5295

see the intensity?

see the intensity?

IMG_5897

IMG_5913

Treasure [of] the Chesapeake

treasure the Chesapeake

Venison kebabs, courtesy of uncle Dan

Venison kebabs, courtesy of uncle Dan

So, in the interest of not dwelling on the unfathomable distance between my current living situation and the contents of the images above, I’ll move on to some of the other things I did while I was home. For the firs two weeks of my stay in Maryland, the weather was exactly like this:

IMG_5448Many of you might see that and think, “how awful to finally come home and to have such heinous weather.” On the contrary–I had been living in a Gobi border town with absolutely not a single instance of rain in over 10 months, so the first two weeks in Maryland were a rainy treat to my senses.

IMG_5732

Don’t let the goofy photos fool you, though…This rainy period happened to coincide with a very dark time for my family. I won’t go into details, because this is one of those instances where I think language would fail to express some of the things we were thinking and feeling, but I will say that a member of my immediate family was diagnosed with a very serious and probably terminal illness just a few days after I got back. We panicked and suffered  for two weeks before finding out, post-op, that it was a false diagnosis. All I can say is that I have never been more grateful in my life.

And fittingly, the day we got the good news, the weather transformed into (and stayed like) this:

IMG_6168

The next two weeks were smooth sailing–lots of hanging out with my family and going to the beach and spending afternoons in the mountains and playing with my dogs.

baby Gaia

baby Gaia

my son, Blaze

my son, Blaze

my dad, about to get hit in the hip with a fastball.

my dad, about to get hit in the hip with a fastball.

My Mema came down for four days and we hung out at the beach in Delaware. It was amazing to see her, and it was really special that she came down to see me during my visit. And Seeing the ocean was a total shock to my world after a year of cold desert life!

haha...

haha...

Mommy and Mema at my favorite pizza joint

Mommy and Mema at my favorite pizza joint

Seeing everyone was amazing…I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from Mongolia and from Peace Corps until I was relaxing and living it up in beautiful Maryland. The whole experience rejuvenated me;  I doubt I would have been able to stay sane during my second year here in Mongolia if I hadn’t gotten a chance to spend time with my sister. This is the longest we’ve ever been apart, and I’ve never been a huge fan of spending time away from her to begin with. Needless to say, coming back to Inner Asia was a little emotional.

Almost as soon as I returned to Ulaanbaatar, though, I began working from 7:30am-8:00 pm, five days a week and sometimes seven, in the city. I lived solo in a nice little apartment in the center of UB and trained new TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteers in small satellite towns in and around Tov Aimag. Though rewarding, it was a gruelling and mentally trying experience to tackle after such a nice period of rest and rejuvenation in America. The city is expensive and trainers were not given per diem allowance this time around. I rarely slept, and on the weekends I felt I had to make the difficult decision between rest and unwinding.

In the middle of July, I skipped home to Arvaikheer for a day and a night to watch Naadam (the National holiday of the three manly sports–archery, horse racing, and wrestling). I unlocked the newly graffiti-covered door to my first floor university apartment to find that it had turned into a sandy, water-damaged hole of destruction and asbestos. The stench of the place was horrendous, and I knew then that I could not live there any more. When I returned to UB to work, I broached the subject of finally moving in with a family into my own ger or house in another part of town. Not only would the housing situation be settled, then, but I would also get a unique chance to live in a Mongolian family’s hashaa (yard) and to reach new levels of community integration through family connections. The PC Mongolia Safety and Security coordinator kindly jumped on board and persued a new housing agreement with my Mongolian supervisor at the university in Arvaikheer. To say that he was displeased, and unwilling to help, would be a vast understatement. Long story short, I am now a high school- and middle school English teacher at the Merged Advanced School for Mathematics and Foreign Language. I have moved into a ger on the slopes of the mountain above Arvaikheer (many of the photos from previous entries were taken from a spot very close to my new place) and I have NEVER BEEN HAPPIER here in Mongolia. Not to jinx anything, but my new job is filled with young and talented professionals who appreciate and seek out my input and engage me in social events outside of the workplace. My projects are almost unconditionally supported from the upper administration, the students are brilliant, and I get to work with young kids, too!

For those of you who don’t know, a ger is a circular, wood-framed felt and canvas tent. Mine is a “four-wall ger,” meaning that it has four curved sections of cross-piece latticework that come together to form the circle. The top is a dome-like shape, the apex of which rests roughly 8 feet above the center of the floor.

All ger doors face south, and as I once lived on the south side of town and am now on the highest ground in Arvaikheer, I walk out of my door every morning and literally look down on my old job. =)

Among the greatest parts of this transition is my new ability to control the temperature inside my living space by building gorgeously hot coal and wood fires in my stove. I also love the ways in which ger life encourages me to be more conscious of the resources I consume; I get my water from a well down the street once a week and store it in a huge blue container next to the entrance to the ger. At any given point, roughly 500ml of this water are kept in a small gravity sink to the right of my entrance, and this is my hand-washing water. I only refill this once a day, and I’ve still managed to stay perfectly clean. I’ve also been distilling some of my “gray”(or used) water back into drinking water.

the view outside my hashaa door

the view outside my hashaa door

m'ger!

m'ger!

m'ger!!

m'ger!!

my ceiling--half is open to the sky until october, when those four sections will be covered with glass to keep out the cold

my ceiling--half is open to the sky until october, when those four sections will be covered with glass to keep out the cold

Anyway, that’s quite a bit of time squeezed into one entry. This summer has been a swoosh of family and friends and work and changes, and I’m optimistic about my second year. I’ll try to keep posting more frequently now that I have an internet cable snaking in through that new ceiling of mine =) tata.

My Town!

January 10, 2009

After a first entry filled with carefully vague allusions to my whereabouts, I discovered that I am, in fact, allowed to disclose my location–provided I don’t give the exact situation of my house in relation to other landmarks in the town. So, I decided to do an entire entry on my city!

I said before that I’m living in a province in the middle of Mongolia. To be more specific, the name of my province, or aimag, is Uvurkhangai. “Uvurkhangai” means “Southern Khangai,” and refers to the province’s situation in the southern portion of the Khangai Mountain Range. These mountains take on a lower, more sloping nature as they stretch south, and my town rests in one such tamer section of the range in northern-central Uvurkhangai.

our low-lying Khangai

our low-lying Khangai

view of the hills to the north

view of the hills to the north

ancient rock carvings on the big mountain
ancient rock carvings on the big mountain. no archaeological studies have been done on this site, but homologous rock images in other parts of Mongolia have been dated at roughly 40,000 years old.
carving of a mammoth and gazelles

carving of a woolly mammoth and gazelles--the depiction of woolly mammoths in rock carvings would suggest that they are at least 10,000 years old. A previous Arvaikheer volunteer who studied cultural anthropology noted that the whiter the carvings are, the older they are.

Arvaikheer, behind a pole covered in sacred blue cloth, or 'Hadag'

My town, behind a pole covered in sacred blue cloth, or 'Hadag'

The name of my city is “Arvaikheer,” which is a shortened pronunciation of the name of a famous

horse, Arvagarkheer– the fastest horse in an important race of over 1,000 horses sometime in the late 18th century. Arvaikheer is, indeed, deserving of a horse-themed name by virtue of its many surrounding herdsmen, large wild-horse herds, and the distinction of having the nation’s 2nd best fermented horse milk, or airag. Recently, local authorities decided to build on this equestrian reputation by constructing a large complex of stupas, or buddhist shrines, in the center of Arvaikheer valley. These 108 stupas, collectively called “Morin Tolgoe” or “Horse’s Head,” surround a painted statue of Arvagarkheer, and they boast a strong horse aesthetic. I was fascinated to see this blend of buddhist devotion and municipal pride; each stupa has two sides carved with two of the “eight auspicious signs of buddhism” (a pair of golden fish, a victory banner, a white umbrella, a conch shell of melody, a sacred vase, a dharma wheel, an endless knot, or a white lotus of honesty) in gold leaf friezes, and two sides carved with horses in various poses.

statue of Arvagarkheer, at Morin Tolgoe

statue of Arvagarkheer, at Morin Tolgoe

the stupa complex, pre-completion

the stupa complex, pre-completion

an example of the horse emblems on the stupas

an example of the horse emblems on the stupas

It wasn’t until my second trip to the stupa complex that I heard a fascinating bit of folklore that further drove the concept of the horse aesthetic home. Facing the semi-circle of columns that encases the statue of Arvagarkheer is a famous mountain called “Aav Khaerkhan.” Aav Khaerkhan, or “Father Mountain,” is the site where a Robin Hood-esque story took place in Mongolian oral tradition. In the story, a do-gooder bandit who stole sheep and gots from the rich and redistributed them to the poor was being chased through Arvaikheer valley by a local police force on horseback. When he reached a wide and violent river at the center of the valley, he realized he could go no farther. The police were approaching fast, but try as he might to ford the river, the bandit’s horse was too afraid of the rapids to cross. Desperate to escape, the bandit invoked the name of the big brown mountain swelling out of the land across the river : “Aav Khaerkhan, take me to safety!” And just like that, his horse rose into the air and flew him across the water to the top of the mountain, and he escaped the authorities to continue stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

that black bump in the distance is Aav Khaerkhan

that black bump in the distance is Aav Khaerkhan

So, I know that was a lot about horses, but I felt the need to make a few establishing shots before going on with my explanation of the town itself.

The lifeblood of every town in Mongolia is the market, or zakh. For my first few months here, I spent nearly every day walking in and out of kiosks and stores in the market and talking with vendors and customers. Places where things are sold are definitely the best spots to hone your language skills in any country, and they provide a very visual framework on which to begin building an understanding of the culture on a consumer level. Arvaikheer’s market centers on the sale of home goods, clothing, motorcycle and auto-repair materials and services, food, and ger supplies.

view of the main road in the market

view of the main road in the market

a rainy/snowy view of the market in august

a rainy/snowy view of the market in august

For the first week after I was placed at site, Arvaikheer was experiencing scheduled power outtages between the hours of 6 am and 6 pm. This was when I did the bulk of my market exploration (and the bulk of my ill-informed housewares shopping). I remember perusing the dark stores during the day and not having the common sense to pay extra attention to the things I was buying…With no electricity and no lights on the inside of the shops, it was impossible to check the reliability of electrical appliances before buying them, and I stupidly ended up purchasing a tripod hotplate with a faulty leg. My food went half-burnt for a month before I discovered other cooking options.

Aside from the market, people spend a lot of time in Ayuush Square in the center of town. This is where the aimag government headquarters are, and across the street is the communications center (post office + internet cafe) and the town’s most respected night club, “New Leader” (no Mongolian name).

Ayuush Square and the Government Building

Ayuush Square and the Government Building

Arvaikheer is the fastest-growing aimag center in terms of development, and it is expected to surpass Darkhan as a commercial center in the next two to three decades. There is even talk of moving Mongolia’s national capital city back to Kkarkorin–the ancient capital and aforementioned senior class fieldtip site, which is also in Uvurkhangai– and this would further enhance the politico-economic importance of Arvaikheer. In the mean time, I enjoy the quiet, dusty nature of this little desert town, and I will continue to post on it proudly =).

If you would like to see more pictures of rock carvings, or more pictures in general, feel free to email me at pmongolia@gmail.com.