Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007 Memories (myspace survey)

My answers were mostly about Mongolia, so I'll include them on this site.

1) Where did you begin 2007?
In Mongolia. With my neighbors at Nyamtseveen's brother's apartment, drinking milk and champagne and watching the Mongolian equivalent of the NYC bash, with lots of music videos. I brought noise makers, which the kids loved, and we watched the town fireworks from the window. Then we all went to bed on the floor.

2) What was your status on Valentine's Day?

3) Were you in school (anytime this year)?
Yes. I was teaching at Chandmani-Erdene Complex School in Uliastai soum.

4) How did you earn your money?
From you, the taxpayer, for my hard work and dedication as a Peace Corps volunteer.

5) Did you have to go to the hospital?
Only to visit some friends "resting" and one friend who had a baby in Mongolia. Dude went to the vet a couple times.

6) Did you have any encounters with the police?
Only when the foreigners and the police both showed up at Casablanca for some karaoke. It was always a showdown (think Sharks and Jets) but the police, unfortunately, always won out. I guess the owners preferred staying out of jail over free English lessons.

7) Where did you go on vacation?
Thailand and Cambodia. Yes, it was awesome.

8) What did you purchase that was over $1000?
My trip to Thailand and Cambodia. Plane ticket back to the states, though that was on Peace Corps.

9)Meet anyone new?

10) Did you know anybody who passed away?

11) Was anyone born?
Yeah, Altai's baby. Khashna's baby. And a whole lot of people got pregnant. This slot will be full for 2008.

12) Did you move anywhere?
From Mongolia to Middletown.

13) How did you celebrate your birthday?
Jess brought me tampons from Ulaanbaatar. Oh, wait, that was 2006. According to my journal, I read a little Diplomacy. Hmm, I think it was too close to when we left Uliastai for good. We were preparing for the good-bye festivities.

14) What concerts/shows did you go to?
Tried to go to a Bold concert. Turns out it was a scam. Lost 3000 tugruks ($3).

15) Are you registered to vote?

16) Who did you want to win Big Brother?
I didn't watch it. One of the few reality shows I'm just not into.

17) Where do you live now?
Middletown, OH

18) How did you spend your summer break?
Saying good-bye to all my friends in Mongolia. Waiting for culture-shock to set in. Catching up on "America's Next Top Model," all 6 seasons, or however many there are.

19) What's one thing you thought you'd never do but did in 2007?
Watch all 6 seasons of "America's Next Top Model." Be back in M-town for 5 months.

20) What has been your favorite moment?
Rock-climbing in Thailand. Finishing the never-ending city-wide talent show. Being compared to a falcon by my school's director while receiving a falcon statue.

21) What's something you learned about yourself?
Overall, I'm a pretty capable person. I adjust well to new things, places, and people. And I could totally make a career out of karaoke.

22) Any new additions to your family?
Dude has joined the home of my immediate family.

23) What was your worst month?
The month of rehearsals for the city-wide talent show.

24.) What music will you remember 2007 by?
Ozone, Last Christmas, James Blunt's Beautiful (cause my students loved it) all the songs on the Zavkhan Outreach program (top 40 from the year that a friend sent to us) and every song we sang at Casablanca.

25) Who has been your best drinking buddy?
Jess and David

26) Made new friends?

27) New best friends?
I guess technically this was 2006, but I'll count Jess and David this year.

28) Favorite Night out?
Karaoke at Casablanca.

29) What sporting events did you attend?
Mongolian wrestling at Naadam.

30) What was your best month?
February -- Thailand and Cambodia.

31) Overall, how would you rate this year?
On a scale of 1-10, I would give it an 8.

32) Other than home, where did you spend most of your time?

33) Change your hairstyle?
Yeah. After a year of no haircuts, I finally got it chopped off. But now it's been 4 months and it's not that short anymore.

34) Have any car accidents?

35) How old did you turn this year?

36) Did you have a New Year's resolution?
I'm not sure that I did. Probably just to make the most of the rest of my time in Mongolia.

37) Do anything embarrassing?
I think the sequined outfit I wore for the Latin American dance at the talent show was pretty embarrassing. Though not as embarrassing as the biker outfits the guys wore. Oh wait, I remember something more embarrassing. I had to do this Mongolian dance. In it, there was amove where I had to kind of bob my shoulders up and down really fast. It usually looks pretty cool. But my boobs are lot bigger than most Mongolians'. So when all my teachers came to watch me practice that dance, we all started cracking up when I got to that move. They tried to give me the thumbs up to make me feel better. And the guys seemed genuinely impressed by my mastery of the art. ;-) But I knew it looked ridiculous.

38) Buy anything new from eBay?
No. Some books from Amazon. Sold a Spice Girls shirt on eBay.

39) Get married?

40) Get arrested?

41) Be honest - did you watch American Idol?
Yes, because my mom recorded them and sent them to me. Ok, because I love it. But thanks to my mom sending it to me.

42) Did you get sick this year?
For the most part, I was pretty healthy. 2006 was the year of horrible "stomach rejecting Mongol food" issues.

43) Been snowboarding?
No. But did go sledding with the Uliastai PC crew.

44) Are you happy to see 2007 go?
Yes, because I'm ready to move on and move out. Hopefully I'll be moving at the end of January.

45) Been naughty or nice?
Nice, of course.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hair-cutting ceremony

Hair-cutting ceremony
Originally uploaded by jemacole2
One great tradition they have in Mongolia is the hair-cutting ceremony. I may have mentioned it earlier on this blog. I was able to go to a handful of these celebrations, and I loved them. Mongolian children don't cut their hair until the lamas tell the families which day is best. Boy's usually get their hair cut at the age of 3, and girls at 4 or 5. Friends and family are invited to the family's home for the celebration. Some families invite everyone they know and it lasts all day. Others have smaller parties or small groups that come by on different days. They serve the typical celebration foods: candies, milk curds, potato salads, and buuz. Oh yeah, and of course some vodka.

The top picture is from the last hair-cutting event I attended. Monkhoolei, the boy, is the grandson of the woman Iived next to. He was always at their ger playing with his cousin, Nyam-Ochir (the boy I lived next to). This celebration was in the countryside. My neighbors took him out to visit his father's parents who are herders. The other volunteers and I tagged along for the countryside experience. I added some pictures of the trip. It was a really nice, final countryside experience before coming home. It was always so relaxing for me to go out to the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and fields. This trip was especially nice because my Peace Corps buddies came along. It's definitely easier to deal with the awkward moments and the attention to foreigners if you're not the only one.

My second-year sitemate, Dylan, wrote a blog entry about this trip. It's really well written and a lot more complete than I could do months later. You should definitely check it out: Dylan's entry.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Now looking back

Everyone likes stories, and I have lots. Not all are interesting to read, but they'll be fun for me to remember. So while I have lots of time on my hands, I'm going to recount some of the memories I have from Mongolia. I'm also trying to sort through my pictures, so I'll post them for my and your enjoyment.

Most of you have facebook and/or myspace pages, so I'm not going to bother updating you on the past 4 months that I've been home, other than to say I'm in M-town but will be moving to DC in January or February to work at the State Deparment. Whoo hoo!

Student play
Originally uploaded by jemacole2
This photo is from one of the many talent shows the schools hold each year. They love their talent shows. This one was a competition between classes. Each class had to prepare performances in difference categories: Mongolian traditional singing, Mongolian traditional dancing, hip-hop, pop, Mongolian instruments, group song... all kinds of stuff. I think there were 9 categories. And these competitions would start in the morning and last until 11 in the evening. It was crazy.

The first year I was so annoyed by this competition. Like most events, I didn't know about them until they were happening. But I was always expected to attend. It was always incredibly frustrating to finish up classes and get ready to head home and then be pulled into another event. I was excited about it at first. I love watching their performances. But after the first 3 classes performed basically the same 30-minute show, I was ready to go home and have some dinner. The first year was also when I wasn't eating the school's food because it made me so incredibly sick. So I probably had a packet of cookies and that's all. I remember being very unhappy.

The second year, though, I had my own classes. I knew the students and was rooting for them. I could also eat the food, which helped dramatically. This picture is of my favorite class. They were my 10th grade English specialized class. Most of these kids came directly from the countryside. In the countryside, high schools only teach to 8th grade. Then most kids move away from their families to continue studying in the province capitals. This class, because they weren't from my town and hadn't ever been taught or hadn't ever even seen a foreigner, were much more receptive to me than the other classes. That's why I loved them.

The week of this competition, the students kept talking about what they were preparing. Then the day of the competition they weren't sure they were going to participate. Apparently some of the boys were embarassed. So when I went to watch, I was waiting to see if they would perform. Their time came and they didn't show up. But, I guess they asked if they could perform last and the school managers agreed. I wasn't thrilled about staying til the end, but these were my kids. And they did really well. They had this amazing poem reading (Mongolians love to recite poems, and it's pretty fun to watch.) They acted out a lost-love story as they read. I loved it. And no other class had done something like that. I was so proud. I couldn't get pictures, though, because it was night by then and nothing was turning out.

This picture is of their opening. They sang a traditional Mongolian song in their traditional outfits. It was also slightly different than the other classes. It's definitely a good memory.

Monday, April 30, 2007

People's Choice

My poor neglected blog. Anyone reading this has nearly missed all of my second year of service. Unfortunate, because this has definitely been the easier and more rewarding of the two.

Now the fourth quarter of school is beginning. For me, this means a lot more time, as the fourth quarter has no Olympics, no education center evaluations, and therefore really not a lot of work going on besides preparing older students for graduation tests. My school also recently got Internet access, so with my extra time, I may be hanging around the computer lab more often. These two facts, as well as my growing anticipation for finally coming home, may lead to me to clock a few more hours on the Internet. In which case, I'll try to catch you up on some of the more interesting moments in this past year.

But, before I do, here's the news briefs:
- Dude's pregnant. I'll be a grandma in a week or two.
- There's only a month left of school!Whoo hoo
- I was awarded the "People's Talent" medal

And for full-coverage of the medal:
Just a week or , a city-wide obsession is coming to an end. For nearly a month, my school prepared for and then performed a competition show. This competition included every organization in our city (schools, government offices, military, police, etc.) Yes, this is a nice idea. And, yes, it was fun to watch and fun for the first week or so of practice. But what it really gave me was a deep appreciation for SYT. That's right, Summer Youth Theater. It boggles my mind to remember how efficient the practices were and how dedicated everyone was to the show's success.

During this month-long process, there was definitely some dedication. But that dedication wasn't quite channeled into successful practices. For two straight weeks we practiced everyday, from 10ish to 7ish. And still, after all this, there were things still being learned on the performance day..

I was in four performances: Mongolian solo song, Mongolian solo dance, group chair dance, couples Latin American dance. The Mongolian song was a traditional song put to a poppy beat. It was everyone's favorite. The Mongolian dance was fun. I'll bring the music back and show you all. The chair dance was made because I showed the Pussycat Dolls "Buttons" video to the choreographer, so she made a sexy little dance in which we throw our hair back about 100 times. My neck's still sore. And the Latin dance was choreographed by me and Jess.

We preformed our school show 2 times. Then I was invited to the next two rounds. The third show was the competition of the bests. And the fourth show was a gala of the best of the best. I got a medal, about $13 and a DVD of Mongolian folk songs and dances. For the most part, it was worth it. But I'm glad they restarted this Soviet-era tradition during my final year. I'm not eager to be a part of it again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Friday, June 16, 2006

C is for ...

So what is the worst part about teaching in Mongolia? Cheating.

Cheating, of course, is a problem everywhere. Students will always cheat if they can get away with it. So is the strife of a teacher, right? But it's not the student cheating that's difficult to deal with. It's the teachers.

Unfortunately in my town (I'm trying not to overgeneralize) "cheaters never prosper" is merely a theory that no one buys into. So not only do students get away with cheating, but they are indirectly taught to cheat by the teachers. The scholarship application process here isn't a student spending their after-school hours typing out essay draft after essay draft, asking teachers and parents to edit and give advice. No. I sat in a room where four teachers and a mother were filling out an application, writing essays, and deciding which lies would help their student the most ... all while the student sat popping bubble gum and reading a magazine on the sideline. For a week straight, I was also asked to write the English essays for these students. I was given every excuse in the book for why I should, or why it wouldn't be so bad. My school's manager, who just couldn't understand my persistent "no" to this request, looked at me in amazed confusion and ask what religion I am.

This isn't an isolated event, but it was definitely the worst I experienced. My idealism was nearly down for the count. Especially when I considered all the other small incidents:
- someone texting me during the English Olympics for an answer (after two months of preparing people for this test.
- Being yelled at because I wouldn't raise the grades for teachers who never attended my English lessons.
- Being asked to sway the decision for multiple English tests, oral tests, etc.

But, luckily I'm writing this a few weeks later. If not, you'd have a horrible rant about how it's pointless for me to be here. But I'm passed that phase. It's part of the culture, as it is many a culture. It's of course also a problem in America. It just so happens that in most of our schools, they at least work to give us a bit of a conscience when it comes to cheating. Here, they haven't started that process yet. So if nothing else, in the future I'll be a passing thought in someone's mind when they're deciding to cheat or not to. Maybe they'll say, "Hey, remember that blonde American ... she wouldn't help us cheat." Then, hopefully it won't be followed by "Glad she's not here anymore."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I'm sorry (head hanging in shame)

Wow, has it been this long since we last spoke? And I don't even have a good excuse. Can I just say I was busy? Will you believe me? Would you forgive me? I won't make any more promises about writing on this blog. After each entry, just assume that I'll probably never write again. Then any additions will be a welcome surprise.

But congratulations to me and the others in my group. We've survived a year. Amazing, huh? And welcome to the M-17's, of which there are 57 now beginning their training in Darkhan; 3 of whom will join me at my site.

The weather is warm (inside my ger it was 82 F yesterday!). School is unofficially over for me. And now I've started my laid-back summer work: tutoring, English camp preparation, and visiting friends. My health is good, according to my mid-service check-up. Just waiting for reports from my MIF kit (which is an acronym for something that means poop analysis) to show whether there's something living in stomach. And, no Christopher, Dude no longer has bad gas. Life is good. But you've caught me at a good time. If I do ever make it back to this site, I'll start to explain the incredibly frustrating fourth quarter I had at school, and the most difficult part, for me, of working in this culture.

Hope all is well. Let me know how you're doing.