Saturday, June 6, 2015

First Day with Host Family (Caleb)


As I write this, I am seated on my couch in my ger that my host family has set aside for me. I can hear the water dripping in my PC issue water filter, birds chirping, and the dogs of Enerel that never go completely quite. #hearinglossisawesome! It is 9PM Mongolian time, and the sun is still two hours from total dark. The temperature is a nice dry 65 degrees that I am enjoying in comfort.
Yesterday was a whirlwind of emotions, Sally and I attended PST training together during the day at the college in Darkhan, and then immediately afterwards we were sent to the hotel to collect our belongings and board buses to host family sites. It was very sad to say goodbye to Sally knowing that this will be the first of several goodbyes we must say to each other throughout the summer, but we will persevere.

The drive to Enerel was all too short (10 minutes) and still reeling emotionally, I was shepherded up the school walkway to where the host families were gathered.  Almost immediately we are introduced to the people who will be taking care of us for the summer. I was placed into a family of five, a mother, father, sister 17, brother 18, and older brother who is in America learning English.
As I left my group of fellow CYD volunteers placed in Enerel, I immediately fumbled the basic Mongolian greetings I had been taught, but was hugged anyway by my very sweet host father and mother. They spoke to me in Mongolian and chuckled when I have no idea what they are saying. We walked from the school to the gers carrying my entire luggage, a distance of about a third of a mile. My host family has given me a ger to live in while I am with them, and they are staying in the other. I think I can spend an entire blog talking about gers, so let me just focus on last night.

My host family has been incredibly sweet. They laugh at my miscommunication and lack of understanding, not in a harsh way, but as one laughs at a three-year-old who is not using the language right. They fed me a hearty stew of mutton, cabbage, and various other vegetables for dinner. Prior to the dinner, I was also served tea, and a variety of snacks, cookies, sweet spread, and Mongolian style donuts which are only slightly sweet and shaped more like fat dominoes. The daughter in the family understands some limited English and conversed with me throughout the meal using a Mongolian/English phrase book. Topics with my host family started out with how old I was, what is my profession, what does my wife do, and a pantomime expression of how tall my fellow male CYD volunteers are. (I stand almost a foot taller than everyone in my host family. Two of my fellow volunteers stand a foot taller than me.)

Towards the end of the meal, in a gesture of sincere generosity and kindness, my host father takes the Mongolian/English phrase book and points to “Do not worry/be afraid,” and “Let us open our hearts.” It was a really nice touch to the wonderful hospitality they had given me. Later I was shown into my ger, and while I did not request more food the table in the ger was laid out in all of the uneaten goodies from earlier. These I placed in the fridge as soon as they left, but not before I was shown how to lock the sliding lock on the door, and instructed on how to say “Help” in Mongolian. (Promptly forgotten, I think there is a limit on how many new words you can learn in a day.) 

I slept really well, the best I have slept yet in Mongolia. The Peace Corps issues us an enormous winter sleeping bag that will probably keep us perfectly warm in -40 degrees. It has three layers. I slept with the innermost one, and part of the middle layer. The outer layer is too hot to touch in this warm weather of about 50 degrees.

In the morning, I am shown how to fetch water with my host brother. We walk up the hill behind the gers to a water station, where my little brother must pay to get water. It becomes evident to me that we went to the uphill station so that we could more easily take the jugs downhill. My host brother did not let me help him, because I am still considered the guest. Hopefully they will let me take part in more chores soon.

After fetching water, my host mother and I descended the hill to the school where the other CYD volunteers gathered. We then followed our language/cultural facilitators on a walk around of Enerel so we might know where everything was. My host mother pointed out words and showed me various sights along the way. The Enerel market is an enormous maze of shops and vendors. It may be possible to find almost anything in this market. My host mother instructed me carefully to beware of thieves in the market and to hold on tight to my bag.

There are some of you that may be wondering about squat toilets. This has been something that I have been naively worried about. It turns out that it is incredibly easy, so easy that I am re-evaluating American’s system.  My host family has a three walled out-house facing the property fence. The toilet consists of two boards separated by about 8 inches that one squats over using the boards as foot rest. Very natural, very easy, it feels like you are setting your system up for the easiest possible release. Why don’t we do this?

I would also like to finish this blog, by saying that my host mother is a fantastic cook!  I naively thought that I would lose weight over the summer, but until she and I can communicate my food intake this will not happen.  I think she might be trying to fatten me up for the winter, more likely this is just a sign of hospitality to give the guest so much food.  I have had mutton three times with my host family. Each time was a different experience and very savory. For dinner tonight we had a sort of mutton pasta with handmade noodles and potatoes. Very good! I had intended to control the portion size, but I stepped out to my ger for a second. When I returned my plate was 5 inches high! I ate as much as a could and then in an effort to not be rude or waste any took the rest to my ger for later.

In the evening, Sally and I are able to share our adventures via telephone. Overall this has been a really neat experience so far. My host family is wonderful and very kind. I will continue to integrate in the hopes of learning the language quickly.


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