July 17, 2012

In case it ever comes up, cabbage is a decent substitute for lettuce in a BLT. Either that, or our longing for a connection to home was enough to fool our taste buds as we celebrated the 4th of July, our first holiday away, by making that classic sandwich. Really, any sandwich would have done since, though there is lots of bread in Mongolia, no one besides the Americans is putting things between two slices.

On the heels of our American Independence Day was a major Mongolian holiday, Naadam, also known as the Three Manly Sports. Now, I wouldn’t normally be interested in horseracing, archery, or wrestling, so I was glad that they also had musicians, singers and a few dance performances in the mix. That said, the rituals involved with the wrestling were intriguing and it was nice to see families spending time together and little kids flying kites. I enjoyed myself enough to plan to return to my soum for Naadam next summer.

The downside to the holiday (celebrated in our soum the week before National Naadam) was that we had two super-long weekends (i.e., we missed 5 total days of language class time). Before the break, we had our language assessment, though—20-minutes of me speaking in Mongolian!—which I was pretty comfortable with mainly because it kept to the most familiar topics. (By my count, we have about a 400-word vocabulary.) To fill our free time, I danced the night away at a soum “block-party” (how happy am I that my group dances!?), hosted group dinners, hiked a mountain, swam in a murky river, had a “Glamour Shots” photo shoot with my little sister, and played lots of Hozor. There was some studying too… just not enough for me to feel like it was enough.

I will leave you with this… my host family hosted one of those group dinners. They asked the Americans to sing along to the one Mongolian song we’ve learned called Traveling Bird—we were told that all Mongolians know this song and it is appropriate for any occasion—and we did pretty well. Then, quite unexpectedly, we were put on the spot to sing an American song—one that all Americans know—and we came up with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

New pics added here.