in a rut

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.

Taco night
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.

Early Thanksgiving
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.

11 Responses to in a rut

  1. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    I am glad to hear that I’m not the only one that sometimes has difficulty trying to figure out what to write about. I do know what you mean & it does make sense that you knew updating your blog more regularly, that you knew (know) when people read it, they think of you & that makes you feel less lonely, yes, that makes perfect sense. I don’t care for Black Friday either (even tho I love to save $) & I too find it hard to take the earlier & earlier “in your face” sales tactics that seem to happen more & more each year. Some radio stations play 24/7 Christmas music starting Thanksgiving Day; ok, I’m used to that. One station however now starts the week before Thanksgiving! Back to more pleasant, interesting things from your blog entry: Horsemeat Tacos – sounds very interesting & although I’m a vegetarian, I would def try one, if given the chance. What do you mean by “alcohol awareness life-skills training” in your 2nd to last paragraph?

    • eelevol says:

      excellent question. There are a dozen life-skills books written (in Mongolian) on various topics. The one dedicated to alcohol awareness has to do with making responsible decisions about alcohol consumption. Like knowing that the alcohol content is different in different types of drinks (vodka vs beer vs traditional airaag). Also, knowing that your decision making and responses can be impaired when intoxicated. These are things we may take for granted as common knowledge, but of course were taught along the way.

  2. Kathy P. Willis says:

    Oh Love, you sound a little homesick – even though I know you’ve done a good job of making a temporary home there. I’m glad you were able to celebrate Thanksgiving with your friends. The picture is terrific, everyone looks happy.

    I’m thankful for you. I’m SO happy that someone in our family is teaching English – my favorite subject! You never cease to amaze me.

    Your uncle & I are leaving for Ohio in the morning to visit his sister for the holiday (8 hour drive). We’re looking forward to it as Ally & EJ will be in New York.

    I’m excited about your Mom & Aunt Hope visiting next month. Ally has Skype, perhaps we could set a time when we could call you so you can talk to your Mom face to face!! She would LOVE that Christmas present!!

    Take care little niece. Love you lots. ~Auntie Kathy~

    • eelevol says:

      Yes, Auntie, a little homesick. Last year at this time I had a vacation in Singapore–with my mom–to look forward to. A skype date sounds wonderful! In the meantime, safe travels to you.

  3. Ally says:

    Hey there sweet cousin!! Yes…this time I teared up a little at what you wrote. I don’t know what your spiritual experience has been there–but when I pray for you, I see God’s hand totally on you. It’s like you are where you are supposed to be. Sometimes we can get so anxious about what is next–that we can lose where we are in the moment. Before you know it, your time will be up there. I pray that you will have peace during the lonely times though–and even if you don’t always “feel” it, that you will “know” you are not alone. I’m so proud of you and all that you have set out to do. I pray that this last year will be even better than the first. Thank you for not holding back on sharing your experiences–even the tough ones. Just know that sooooo many people are thinking about you and missing you too!! We love you much! Forever, -Ally

  4. Robin says:

    I love reading your entries! I miss you and love you!

  5. Ken Allen says:

    Hi Love. I work with Priscilla at the Post Office and she let’s us know of your adventures in Mongolia. I may have even met you at Ellen and Rachel’s 4th of July gatherings.

    I just want to say that your journey is moving and though I haven’t read all of your blogs your dedication and faithfulness is evident by your sharing what you’ve experienced each month.

    Over the years I’ve noticed that I feel down at certain times. It almost seems to be cyclical. What helps me is I recognize the feeling and know that it will pass and that I will get through it.

    Prayers being sent your way to get through this moment.

    -Ken Allen

    • Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

      Hey Ken, I definitely know what you’re talking about, can totally relate. When I start feeling that way on a gray, dreary Winter day, I remind myself that Summer is coming and imagine a perfect Summer day in Maine, high 90s, full sun, day off from work and most of the time, that thought alone puts a smile on my face and a bounce in my walk 🙂

    • eelevol says:

      Thanks, Ken. I appreciate your reaching out to me. These moments are generally short lived and here it is, another new month. I’m doing okay.

  6. Connie says:

    Sweet potatoes aren’t grown in Mongolia (or northern Canada, my home) because they are a warm climate crop. They are not at all frost tolerant. They can be grown in southern Canada or northern US, but I bet most of the ones you and I eat are grown in the southern US.

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