Thursday, March 1, 2012

Life in Bayan-Olgii

It's been quite awhile since I've written on the blog. What would be the point, though, to sit on the internet all day  when I'm in some far off land? I'm fortunate, though, to have internet --- if only to keep my mother from going crazy...But, let me update you'll on the life here in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia.
Before getting my site placement, I had wished for a simple life living off the elements of the land, somewhere in the countryside of Mongolia. How I had wished to wake up at 6 AM to make fires, chop coal when it 40 below, and bathe in a tumpin of cold water (no really, I did). I had hoped for the "real Peace Corps experience," the poster dirty volunteer riding a bike through the soum.
What I got was, a rather large city, that is in terms of Mongolia. Olgii has roughly 40,000 people, smaller than Blacksburg, yes, but perhaps the 5th biggest city in Mongolia. I live in an apartment with running (albeit cold) water, central heating, a partly functional toilet, and for the most part, electricity. Not only are there apartment buildings, we have a rather large theater in town, a bunch of public and private schools, post office, and several restaurants and bars.
So the city is fairly big, and I live a fairly modernized life, but that doesn't make it less difficult. What I've come to realize is that there is no real PCV experience, easy or even standard PCV experience. I have two sitemates who led completely different lives than I do.
Everyday I wake up around 7:30 AM. I have a cup a coffee, can't start the day without it. I usually teach around 4-6 classes in the morning with counterparts, take the occasional tea break with togash (sweet bread snacks). If our cafeteria has food, it's a good day. I eat. Then more classes, clubs, competition preparation or Mongolian/Kazakh language tutoring in the afternoon until about 5 PM. I work a lot, but that's by choice. I like my school and I love my students. If I don't work, my students come to my apartment. They have a 6th sense of my whereabouts at all times. There's no point in not opening the door, the will knock until their hands are bruised. No joke. In the evenings, I usually visit my Kazakh family, speak in my terrible Mongolian, am completely lost for 4 hours when they speak in Kazakh, and lesson plan for about two hours before I go to sleep.
I can't tell you last time I ate a piece of fruit. There is fruit here, expensive, but here. I eat what and when Kazakhs eat: Meat and flour products at 9 PM.
My schedule and my life here is quite different than other PCVs outside the country and within my own city.

I haven't got to travel to much yet. All the volunteers in Bayan-Olgii went to Hovd over a break in the fall. And just last week, Adi and I went to Tsaganuur, a soum about 2 hours north of here to visit another volunteer for the Mongolian National New Year, Tsagaan Sar.

My 9th grade students. 

Leo walking on the frozen Hovd River.

My student, Altintaz.

Leo, I and our counterparts at IST in Terelg, Mongolia.

My Mongolian sister from my training site, Dulaankhan.

My Mongolian Language Teacher, Orgio, and Chris, a fellow volunteer.

An English Teacher, Anar, and two 5th graders.

Some of my favorite students-- 3 5th graders, 2 9th graders, and a younger brother.  We play basketball at every possible opportunity.

Altintaz, my student, and Adi, a soumer. We took Altintaz to  our Turkish Restaurant for her birthday.

Adi with a baby in Tsaganuur Town for Tsagaan Sar.

Leo's director with a baby in Tsagaanuur.

Leo, the man, cutting the meat.

A typical Mongolian Tsagaan Sar table. 
My life here is not what I expected, but I wouldn't trade it. I've found my niche, I've found my home.

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