I was doing pretty good at updating this blog several times a month. That made me happy because, for those of you who read it regularly, I knew you would read it and think of me and it makes me feel less lonely than I might otherwise feel; if that makes any sense.
But lately I find myself not knowing what to write about. I’m not sure if it is because this is my second year, and therefore some of the novelty has worn off. Or maybe it is because, with each turn of the calendar, I find myself counting down the months to my own Close of Service; continually weighing my pre-Peace Corps expectations against what I’ve actually accomplished, and coming to terms with the reality. Of course, it could be the approaching winter that has me mentally hunkering down. So, while I’m awaiting the next unique Mongolian experience, here are some happenings of late that you might be interested in.
When our M24, Jerome, received a care package that included taco seasoning, he very generously arranged for a group dinner at his place the following weekend when our soumer, Max, would be visiting. Most Mongolian food doesn’t use much more than salt as far as seasoning goes, so adding flavor is always on our minds when we do our own cooking. Perhaps I’m burying the lede here, because I suspect you are most interested the fact that our tacos had horse meat.
“Well, how was it?” I can hear you asking. It was good! It’s a red meat, very lean, unlike a lot of the mutton we eat. But maybe that’s not fair to the sheep since Mongolians add fat to their food, and since the Americans here don’t buy sheep I’ve never seen it prepared another way. But, back to the horse… This particular horse was not ground meat, which would have been better for tacos. I don’t know if that is the reason it was a bit chewy, or if it needed to marinate or what. The point is that it was good. Especially considering that Jerome purchased the horse meat from the trunk of a car outside of the black market. Maybe it wasn’t strictly cold enough for that yet—this was a few weeks ago—but now that real winter has settled in around us, with temps regularly below freezing, the trunk of a car is better than a freezer because it requires no electricity.
For those who don’t know, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I simply love that there is a day set aside to acknowledge what we already have; I especially love that there are no gifts exchanged, since gift selection is not among my skills. Maybe that is why Black Friday enrages me so… the early morning hours, the crowds, the frenzy, the prices so low that you have to buy more things because you haven’t spent enough: a five-dollar DVD becomes a stocking stuffer.
This past Saturday night, my three site-mates and I joined a few of the other non-Mongolians in Govi-Altai for a Thanksgiving dinner. We had chicken legs rather than turkey but, as one who often opted to fill her plate with all the side dishes and forgo the turkey altogether, that didn’t give me pause. This year, side dishes included mashed potatoes and gravy, an enormous fresh salad (with cabbage), macaroni and cheese, sliced carrots (there are no baby carrots here) cooked in with the chicken. My contribution to the meal was mashed turnips, a first for me, and prepared more out of curiosity. Over dinner, we wondered aloud, again, why are there no yams or sweet potatoes in this country with a bounty of other root vegetables. Also absent were the signature stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole.
We M23s were looking forward to a trip to UB—conveniently scheduled to coincide with Thanksgiving—for our required flu shot. However, due to the Continuing Resolution (e.g., no new money for Peace Corps), our Thanksgiving in the capital is canceled, and other arrangements are being made to get us vaccinated. What this really means is that we will not see our peer group, as a whole, until our COS Conference in March or April. There are so many really cool people I haven’t gotten to know as well as I’d have liked.
Vocational School Teachers
There have been some ups and downs in my Peace Corps service; I’ll wait to share some of that in another entry because I do want to be balanced. But, for now, I want to shout out to my new group of teachers at the local vocational school. We PCVs got an alcohol-awareness life skills training off the ground in September (it had stalled in the spring, so that it finally happened was exceptionally gratifying). Rather than launching the training at the high schools (maybe why we had difficulty the first time), we went to the vocational school.
After the first planning meeting, the principal asked if we could begin giving English lessons for the staff, not the students. As the TEFL volunteer, I agreed, but not without some private concern that it would fall apart, that people would lose interest or show up but not participate. It’s been two months now and that hasn’t happened. While there certainly isn’t perfect attendance, the teachers, by and large, do come. And they are enthusiastic to speak, to ask and answer questions. Mistakes are made, but no one is embarrassed about them. They want more vocabulary, practice with each other in class, and ask for homework. Those two nights a week that I trek to the other side of the town, I couldn’t be happier. And for that, I am very thankful.