Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mongolian National Scouting Jamboree and Vacation in UB

            The final camp that Sally and I helped with this summer was the National Jamboree. I first heard of this event back in the early spring and immediately expressed an interest in going because of my background in scouting. I had attended the American Jamboree in 2005, and was excited about attending one in another country.
Sally standing next to our smallish tent we spent 9 nights in.

            Sally and I worked it out with the Khentii scouting executive so that we could attend as scout leaders. Since this was not a Peace Corps planned event, we were not required to teach; rather, we just went to support our students from the schools in Khentii.
View of our campsite from uphill
            Mongolian Scouting is different than traditional Boy Scouts in America. Like most scouting programs outside of the States, Mongolia is co-ed with boys and girls participating from ages 10-18. Also unlike most western scouting programs, some of the more subtle aspects of scouting have not reached Mongolia. For example, the principle of Leave No Trace is not usually applied.
Sally and I with some of the students and a teacher from her school.
            Sally and I piled into a mekr (15 passenger van) on July 25, and headed to the site of the Jamboree in the neighboring province of Тов (pronounced: Tov). This is the same province that Ulaanbaatar the capital of Mongolia is in. The site of the Jamboree was at a sort of resort town nestled in a scenic mountainous region about 20 km outside of UB. The camp site was on the slope of a treeless mountain just outside of the developed resort area. Our scout troop was really accommodating and provided us with a small pop-up tent to sleep in. Overall around a thousand scouts came to the Jamboree, and all 21 aimags/provinces were represented.
One of the dance numbers at the opening ceremony
            Activities at the Jamboree were varied. There were some days spent doing things with campers at the campsite. Other days were centered around scout patrols participating in a round-robin of activities and short classes. In the middle of the Jamboree, a day was spent celebrating Naadam, where the scouts dressed up and competed in wrestling and best traditional dress.
One of our scouts showing me how to start a fire with a battery and a stick of gum
Sally with a patrol that is participating in a group activity.
            The evenings often contained various dance and talent competitions. There were also two exciting ceremonies at the beginning and end of the Jamboree, where a number of Mongolian celebrities and traditional dance groups showed up to entertain the scouts.

            Sally and I spent most of our time with our students. Sometimes we would join them in their classes or play games with them. It was also a good opportunity to practice Mongolian with the kids, and some of the scouts were interested in speaking English with us. The literal high point of our jamboree experience was an afternoon where we escaped the camp to climb a nearby mountain.  
The valley I am facing has the resort town and Jamboree in it.

            Another aspect of our time at the Jamboree was interacting with various foreign scouts that came. There were two international troops: one from Great Britain and one from Taiwan. The adults in the British troop were hilarious with deep accents that almost required an interpreter. We also got to make friends with a number of the scouting representatives from Korea, Singapore, and Australia who were scoping out the site for the Asian/Pacific Jamboree that will be in Mongolia next year. There were also a couple of Americans working on the staff who were world travelers. One of them had served with the PC in Nepal, traveled to over 70 countries, and handled the more difficult aspects of Mongolia like a pro.

Traditional Dress on the Naadam Day
Wrestling at Jamboree Naadam
            The final absolutely mind-blowing coincidence was meeting a Mongolian Jamboree staffer who had worked at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico in the summer of 2010, which was also a summer that I worked there. I even found myself vaguely remembering him because I took a number of groups to his activity site where he taught a class on archeology. At the time, I most likely assumed that his ethnicity was Native American with no idea of how far he was from home or that our paths would someday meet on the other side of the world.
Two former Philmont Staffers a world away
            Overall the Jamboree was a lot of fun. It was great to spend time with the children. It seems that the summer camps of this year have taught Sally and I the importance of dedicating more of our time focused on interactions with children in our schools.

            After eight hot days without showers, Sally and I left our troop and traveled into UB for some much needed R & R. We stayed a couple of nights in a guest house to wash the stank of the camp off, and then broke into our American savings to stay in a nice hotel in the city center. It was a luxury to have so many comforts like air conditioning, television, room service, saunas, etc.  The trip to UB marked our summer vacation. We had originally planned on traveling into western Mongolia, but after three summer camps in one month we found that we really just wanted to relax in style.

Our troop from Khentii

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