The Week You Missed
My Mongolian world has grown just a little bit larger.
After a whirlwind week in Zuunmod and Ulaanbaatar, this newly minted PCV is finally at site. I’ll give you a short recap of last week’s main highlights.
Zuunmod was its usual self. Somehow that part of Mongolia always seems to wear clouds when we show up—really, it’s unlike any other part of Mongolia we’ve seen. Life in our training site was always sunny, and my spot here in the Gobi is nothing but clear blue skies and pounding sun. The highlight of Zuunmod was our site announcements. Over the years, Peace Corps Mongolia has designed a jazzy little ceremony for all of this. We walked upstairs to the gymnasium of the secondary school in Zuunmod and the Peace Corps had a gigantic map of Mongolia spread out on the floor. We all removed our shoes, and as our name and site was called, we took our place on the map. It was great to see how we were all dispersed throughout the entire country. It was at once an exciting, anxiety-inducing, and moving display; here we all were, standing on the edge of finding out the information necessary for our next 2 years of living here in Mongolia. As I said to some friends, the nights before we found out were extremely restless because I’ve never been so close to finding out such a momentous piece of information while at the same time having so little power over its outcome. Even choosing where I’d go to college pales in comparison to this—in this I had no choice, my life and comfort was in the hands of the Peace Corps administrative staff. That being said, I think they chose well.
After our site announcements, we headed to UB to prepare for swearing-in. This was the longest time any of us had spent in the capital city, and Peace Corps did a pretty effective job of inspiring wariness in all of us about the nature of this particular urban setting. The Chief of Diplomatic and Embassy Security in Mongolia came and told us some stories and gave us warnings about what and who to look out for in UB. Honestly, we’ve been told these things so many times that I’m pretty sure it’s all had a chance to sink in, but the reality is that it’s the “not knowing” that’s the biggest danger. It was certainly the source of the trouble for my episode in Exeter, England back in 2007—I just didn’t know who I should be watching closely in my new setting, and so was caught by surprise when a bunch of warm-up soccer pants clad 20-somethings decided to harass me and give me a little beating. Ask any Englishman who and what these people are, and they’d be only too happy to tell you to steer clear. They looked innocent enough to me, but they weren’t. UB went fine though. I had no problems whatsoever during my time there, though I did hear of some people that were on the receiving end of xenophobic harassment. It’s a growing pattern in UB unfortunately. Thankfully, the rest of the country remains its usual hospitable and friendly self.
Swearing-in went extremely well, with some outstanding performances by some of my fellow PCVs. Some highlights were the traditional Mongolian dances, outstanding musical performances of Ayni Showyyd (“My Beloved Bird,” a Mongolian love song that will just make you cry), and a jazzed up version of “Mother’s Tea.” This last one really brought the house down, complete with some of our friends acting out a young man that was in sore need of his mother’s tea, and who should show up on stage to serve him but his Mongolian mother of course. It was outstanding. I’ll see if I can’t dig up youtube clips for a few of these to pass on to you all. Sadly, I cannot give you the video of me dancing as I’d promised. Our group had a difficult time finding the music to our particular dance and so we decided against participating. I’ll give performances for all of you when I get back to the states upon request…how’s that?
In the rush to get to site, a friend of mine sold me his Moriin Khuur! I’m extremely excited about this. The Moriin Khuur (Mongolian Horse-Head Fiddle) is sort of a Mongolian cello, which is just perfect since I spent all those years in my high school orchestra, slaving away at the cello without much promise. This could be my calling! The instrument itself is incredibly beautiful: a deep, reddish color with an exceptional and delicately carved horse head acting as the scroll at the top. Its visual appeal is surpassed only by its sound. As soon as I heard someone play a traditional tune on this instrument, I fell immediately in love; chills up my spine, and goosebumps on my arms. When you try to imagine what music must accompany Mongolia’s scenery, nothing fits more perfectly than the Moriin Khuur. I encourage all of you to head to youtube and look up a traditional Mongolian tune played on it, there’s bound to be many, and they’ll probably accompany videos of horses running at full gallop across the Mongolian Steppe. Throw in some throat singing and you’ve got the soundtrack necessary for an army of horsemen to conquer the known world.
All my best,