I’m not exactly sure where to begin in reporting this weekend. Let’s start with a list, since that seems the most effective use of time, both for you as reader and me as writer.
Things I saw:
-My first snow in Mongolia (Winter has most definitely started here)
-An outrageous amount of volleyball
-The Mongolian equivalent of a “town-hall meeting” with my province’s senator
-Someone use the dome light of a purgyon (the van described in my last post) as a serving bowl for vodka.
Things I did:
-Became default sports photographer for the volleyball tournament. (I’ll do my best to share some pictures when I can)
-Drank airag (fermented mare’s milk)
-Won a gold medal in what I will call “Mongolian steeplechase.” My contribution? Balancing a ping-pong ball on a spoon in my mouth without letting it fall and carrying it about 30 feet. They couldn’t fit that on the back of my medal, so it just says “Relay” in Mongolian. Clearly, I flew across the pacific and am living in the Gobi desert for exactly this kind of glory.
This weekend would seem to have been engineered to try every last fiber of my patience but somehow when I think back on it, I can’t help but smile. My participation in the faculty trip to a neighboring soum to compete in this teacher Olympiad has really solidified my place among co-workers and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s brought me pretty close to all of them in one weekend: all of this in exchange for some occasional frustration and a very late arrival back home on a Sunday night. I’m exhausted today as a result, and I’ll be quite honest, I sort of phoned in my lessons to my eighth graders this morning. I’m not proud of it, but remember those Mondays when your teacher just put in a movie or wrote some math problems on the board and told you to solve them and not to talk? That was because he or she was at a teacher’s Olympiad that weekend.
The drive out to this neighboring town was spectacular in the way that the Gobi always seems to be, and the camels were prevalent. The snow that fell on Saturday morning made for such a blindingly white backdrop all over the desert that my camera had a hard time focusing—I had to switch to manual. The soum we were in was quite beautiful, surrounded by rolling hills in the way that my town just isn’t, and with the help of the wind, snow worked it’s way in and around the bases of them to look like little raised bumps all neatly glazed at the base—something out of a Department 56 sculpture if Department 56 made sculptures of deserts.
My event in the competition was the ping-pong ball balanced on the spoon. Not spectacularly athletic of me, I know, but jumping into a volleyball game with a bunch of Mongolians is like somebody from Tennessee asking to play hockey with some Minnesotans—our volleyball unit in 9th grade P.E. is not even close to their league.
To award me my gold medal, the senator of my province showed up at the ceremony and placed the thing around my neck. Yes folks, I have a gold medal given to me by a Mongolian senator. The difficulty of tagging along for this excursion is definitely outweighed by the awesomeness of having such an heirloom of the Galloway family name. Grandchildren should be forewarned about the frequency with which I’ll tell this story.
Because the senator was in town, the awards ceremony turned into a “town-hall” meeting of sorts. It was interesting to see Mongolian democracy in action, and to be honest, it doesn’t look all that different from the American one—though with people speaking in civil tones rather than all the shouting that seems to so unfortunately dominate our current American debate. The trying aspect of all of this was that the meeting was taking place at 9:30 in the evening and I still had a two-hour drive home ahead of me.
We finally got in the vans at half past eleven, and when one of my fellow teachers unscrewed the dome light from the roof of the van to serve as a small drinking dish for the vodka, I was pretty much resigned to very little sleep and a rough Monday. On the ride home, I huddled next to my co-workers in a cold purgyon, drinking vodka from a dome light and singing songs, all in the odd glow of an almost full moon reflected off Gobi snow. Where do you begin to find fault with a situation like this? Because it’s late and you have to teach in the morning? Because when you get home to your ger it will be nearly frozen solid having sat empty for two days? There is nothing more ineluctably soul-crushing than an ice-cold ger in the wee hours of a Monday, but to ask me not to have lived this with my friends here is not something I’m willing to do—even for a full-night’s sleep and a cozy fire.
My verdict: great weekend.
All my best,