Monday, October 5, 2015

Teachers Day Celebration (Багш Нарын Өдөр)

Sally and I have now been working at our new jobs for over a month. Last Thursday, October 1st, was teacher’s day in Mongolia. It is during this day that teachers switch places with their best students and enjoy a holiday from teaching. Usually gifts are exchanged between the chosen student and the teacher. Later at the end of the day the 12th grade students put on a sort of party/dance for the teachers and entertain them with music and games.

Teacher’s day has been a climatic event that seems to have been building in anticipation for a month. Sally and I have witnessed multiple competitions between teachers of various schools throughout September. Volleyball, chess, and singing were a few of the ways that teachers could compete with each other to determine who was the best school, or rather the best teachers… If I was to offer one complaint about the festivities, it would be the lack of activities for the children. The focus of all of the fun was toward the teachers who have only just started their school year.

My teacher’s day started like any other, but upon arriving to work I realized that the teachers had already attended their morning lessons and were free from school for a couple of hours. So I joined my foreign language teachers in a nice lunch at a local restaurant. It is amazing to think that the students did such a good job of maintaining discipline and respecting the event that the teachers were essentially granted a holiday. I found myself marveling many times that this might not work in America.

In the afternoon, I went with Sally to her school event where current teachers were putting on a performance for older retired teachers. Sally had been asked to play a song in the performance, and she asked me to join her. We arrived on time, and true to Mongolian Standard time we waited for an hour or so before the event started. Our performance was a ukulele/tin whistle rendition of a classic Mongolian song. I experienced slight performance anxiety and slaughtered the tempo, but Sally was able to masterfully keep us together. The Mongolians loved it.

A word on the Mongolian clap, which is not an STD. Mongolians have a tendency to clap together at the end of a performance at about 90 beats per minute. This is unnerving to an American. To an American performer it feels like one large silhouetted person is clapping slowly and ominously at the end of a dark room. To an American audience member you find yourself wanting to show enthusiastic appreciation, but forced to slow down to this monotonous clap, clap, clap…  

 Later in the evening, I attended the student led dance and games. It was entertaining to see the students have the teachers do a number of games and activities all in good humor. Students and teachers competing for whose group are the best dancers. Naturally both groups thought they won.
Friday marked another day of festivities for me as a social worker. My counterpart instructed me be in the town square at 9:30 a.m. I failed to accommodate for Mongolian Standard time, so found myself waiting in the cold for an hour and a half before the event started. My CP had (through my English/Mongolian Dictionary) explained to me that this was to be a children’s demonstration. I was expecting a performance. There were some speeches, and a few children’s performances. Teachers, myself included, received a red neckerchief for our service. I walked with a number of my school students in front of the stage and then out of the square and down the street. If you have never found yourself in a parade in a foreign country, let me assure you it leads to a lot of self-reflection on the art of miscommunication which I seem to have mastered.

The parade completed a two mile circuit, and I found myself at the town theater with my social worker CP. We took seats, and it was there that I gathered that the celebration was for 90 years of government children’s programs. Two hours were spent at the theater listing to speeches that lacked enthusiasm or infliction.  The result is that a significant portion of the audience fell into peaceful slumber. After the speeches came the award section of the show where a significant percent of the audience received medals, plaques, or ribbons to a pleasant march by John Philips Sosa. This section of the event lasted about an hour and a half and led directly into children’s performances. I found myself watching a multitude of performances that the local children had put together for their teachers and government workers. The acts were very entertaining ranging from singing, to Mongolian string orchestras, to dancing. (Unfortunately I didn’t have our camera with me at this time.)

Two hours later I left the theater at the end of the afternoon marveling at how a demonstration had become a performance, a parade, speeches, award ceremony, and musical performance. The most ironic part was that I did not see any of it coming…

The third day of festivities found Sally and I back at the theater at 11 o’clock for a teachers meeting. From my experience the day before, we had a good idea of what this “meeting” was going to be like. All the teachers went to the theater where we received shorter speeches, longer award ceremonies (so many medals and plaques…), and performances put on by the teachers. (Hoping for the children again, I did bring a camera.) It seems like there is a lot of prestige for being a teacher here. The event at the theater lasted until 4 in the afternoon at which point we emerged into the light with stiff legs and sore buttocks.

Picture of traditional Mongolian Dance
After the “meeting,” all of the schools had teachers’ parties at various restaurants around the city. Sally and I were planning on not attending our separate parties because the cost per person was more than we could afford with winter clothing still needing to be purchased. However, it worked out that we were able to go at cheaper rates. We attended our parties for a several hours enjoying good food, dancing, singing, and lots of vodka. At one point I even played my tin whistle for all of my teachers spinning them a traditional Irish jig. Sally and I are becoming experts at moderating our drinking while maintaining the illusion that we are drinking as much as everyone else. The result of this careful moderation is a nice sober walk home while the night is young. (To everyone who travels or plans to travel, I cannot express the importance of maintain some sobriety while walking distances in the dark in a foreign countries. In Mongolia a majority of crimes against foreigners are done against people who are inebriated.)

Some teachers from my school singing

After the conclusion of three long days, we find ourselves at the other side of the much anticipated Teacher’s Day. Now the celebrations here will be tuned down until the New Year, which will no doubt be a party.


No comments:

Post a Comment