I’m writing this post from a small soum in the aimag of Selenge. This is my site for Pre-Service Training (PST) and my first home in Mongolia. I arrived here almost two months ago and will be here for another two weeks before returning to Ulaanbaatar for our Swearing In Ceremony. The remaining 40 trainees are scattered throughout five other sites in Selenge and I see half of them once a week when we meet up for various training sessions in the nearest town.
During PST I am living with a host family. My mother, Oyunaa, is incredibly supportive of my attempts to integrate into the local culture. Her efforts to speak slowly and in simple sentences have reduced the stress of learning a new language ostensibly. She is also one of the most social people I have ever met and must know everyone in this little village. Unfortunately, she has made it her mission to fatten me up because she thinks this will give me more energy. I have been attempting to thwart her efforts, but it has been difficult when the Mongolian staples are fatty meats, dairy, and gluten and they seem to follow the Hobbit meal schedule* almost to a tee. Oyunaa’s favorite command is ‘Eat! Eat!’ She tells me to ‘Eat! Eat! when I wake up. ‘Eat! Eat!’ when I come home for lunch. ‘Eat! Eat!’ when I get home after TEFL training. ‘Eat! Eat!’ when dinner is served. ‘Eat! Eat!’ if a second dinner is served. ‘Eat! Eat!’ when I’m passing within 10 feet of the kitchen. ‘Eat! Eat!’ as I’m heading out the door. On several occasions, ‘Eat! Eat!’ as I was already spooning food into my mouth.
I only see my host father, Amraa, every few days because he spends most of his time at the family ger in the countryside tending to the cattle. I’ve been out to the ger twice now. It sits in a beautiful valley through which the Orkhon River runs. I helped to herd the cattle, milk the cows, light the ger fire, and chop wood. The second night we stayed at the ger there was a terrible thunderstorm. It was amazing to watch the sky flash through the opening in the top of the ger.
I have three younger siblings, the oldest of which I haven’t met yet because he attends school in Ulaanbaatar. My little sister, Marlaa, is four and nothing the Peace Corps told us to expect of Mongolian children. Where they said she would be shy, she is outgoing. Where they said she would be quiet, she is loud. Not many minutes pass without her calling out ‘Emma aina!’ I usually echo with ‘Minii duu!’ She chatters away to me in Mongolian non-stop, usually staring at me for a few seconds between each statement and question before continuing on to the next, not discouraged in the least that 80% of the time I haven’t understood a word she’s said. She also likes to go through the roster of the other Peace Corps Trainees here, most of whom she has adopted as her other older brothers and sisters. I made the mistake of showing her that I could lift her above my head, swing her round by her hands, and carry her on my shoulders and the resulting workouts have been almost enough to stave off the weight my mother has been trying to put on me. Almost.
My youngest brother, Toroo, is one. He is curious about everything and likes to discover new things by putting them in his mouth. This extends beyond food to dirt and rocks and other foreign objects that zero out of five doctors recommend for consumption. He is trusted to feed himself and the result is that his hands are more often than not caked in a mixture of food, saliva, dirt, and god knows what else. He loves to pat you on the legs when his hands are the messiest, so I’ve learned it’s best to wear the same pair of pants around the house to limit the amount of laundry I have to do (by hand) each week. Toroo is by far one of the cutest disasters of a mess-making machine I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. He even said my name the other day! Realistically, this was probably an accident seeing as his two favorite syllables are eh and ma. It was likely only a matter of time before he put them together in the right order, but I’ll take what I can get.
So yea, I’ve got just two more weeks to spend with these amazing people before moving on to my permanent site and I know it’s going to be really tough to leave them.
*Hobbit meal schedule: breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper