Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Weekend at Sally's 06/24/15

It is hard to believe that a whole week has passed since I wrote my last entry.  Time seems to be flying by. The weekdays are filled with classes, training, studying, and integrating with our host family. I have succeeded in losing yet another item to the abyss from which nothing is returned… This time it was my Mag-light. An unfortunate late night loss, that glared up at me from a distance of ten feet as if to wail, “Caleb!!! Why?!?!” Realizing there was nothing I could do, and that I would not want my beloved light back anyway, I concluded my business and went to bed pissed…angry at my clumsiness.

The Mongolian currency is Tugriks. There are about 1,900 Tugriks for one American dollar. I have yet to figure out exactly how everything is valued, because it seems like some items are just more expensive than others. I bought a hat for 55,000 Tugriks. A cab ride to Ulaanbaatar from Darkhan (a distance of five hours/ 230 km) is 10,000 Tugriks. Shaving cream 4,500 Tugriks, Vodka (low quality) is about 6,000 per liter, A Coke is 1,300 per can, and, my favorite measurement of Tugrik is from my good friend Theo, an ice cream cone is a whopping 250 Tugriks. Theo (a fellow married PCV CYD trainee, who is also separated from his wife, and is my neighbor) commented on a recent shopping trip to the local market that I could have one can of shaving cream or 18 ice cream cones. In a single sentence, my perception of expenses has been forever changed.

The high point of last week was the weekend which I got to spend with my lovely wife. I left the Darkhan area on Saturday morning and traveled north to her host family. It was a really nice visit. Sally and I had at that point been separated for about two weeks, so we were excited to see each other. She walked me around her community, showing me her store and dreaded hill. Compared to Darkhan her community is slow paced and in the country. It was nice to walk around even though the high was well into the nineties.

Later that day, her language cluster of TELF volunteers came to visit, because they were required to spend time at everyone’s house at least once. We had a nice afternoon of laughter, byyt (delicious Mongolian stuffed dumplings), and played a game of horserace involving the ankle bones of slaughtered sheep.

The bones have four distinct sides that are based on the shape of the bone: a camel, a horse, a ram, and a sheep. In the traditional game, each player gets one bone and turns it to the horse side. They then place it at the beginning of the track that consist of more bones. Then each player roles 4 bones at a time in an attempt to get a horse face up allowing them to move down the track. The winner is the person who gets their horse to the end of the track first. I realize that this may sound morbid, but it is actually a really cool game, and entirely suiting for the herding culture that is Mongolia.

In the heat of the afternoon after all had left, Sally and I lay around her house playing cards and enjoying each other’s presence. Toward the evening, we went to her host family’s house and spent time talking to her host parents. Her host father, following the Mongolia tradition, offered me his snuff bottle. This is the first time that someone has done this for me, and I was excited to participate in the tradition. Snuff is finely ground tobacco that is housed in a delicately carved stone bottle. After receiving the bottle, I am allowed to acceptable alternatives as the male guest. I may hold the bottle two my nose and just sniff the fragrance, or I may take a small amount out and snort it off the bridge of my thumb and index finger.  I did the latter before returning the bottle to my host. To say that the nicotine goes straight to the head is underestimating how fast you feel the effects of snorted tobacco. I did not find the sensation entirely pleasurable as it left me with the shadow of a headache.

Around sunset, we climbed a nearby hill and saw spectacular vistas. I have deeply enjoyed every opportunity I have had to climb mountains/hills in Mongolia. The views from these expeditions are truly amazing.

The next day Sally and I made lunch for her host family preparing a meal of American style spaghetti from ingredients we acquired from the local store. It was fun to see the table turned on our Mongol friends. (The word Mongol has some negative connotation in America, but here it is what the people refer to themselves and their nationality.)  Some of Sally’s family really enjoyed it, but others were not entirely impressed.

After an afternoon in the heat, it was time for me to take my journey back to Darkhan. It was sad to say goodbye to my wife, but I am excited about the next time I see her. We shall only have to be separated for a short time before we are reunited in Darkhan for mid-center training days. While we miss each other dearly, the separation has been busy and exhaustive with language learning and training, so it seems to be going by quickly.


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