Monday, September 12, 2016

The Last First Day of School (09/06/16)

September 1st marks the first day of school in Mongolia. Students and parents arrive early in the morning for the opening ceremony where school and government officials make speeches to christen the new year and a select number of students sing songs or dance for the event. At the end of the ceremony, it is time to ring the ceremonial bell of the first day of school, so a few of the youngest and newest students in first grade enter the building ringing a small hand bell with enthusiasm and frankly… cuteness. Everyone else piles into the building and the year kicks off.

This being the beginning of our second year, Sally and I were more accustomed to what would happen, and everyone else is more accustomed to us. Last year, I was a novelty and was asked to give a speech as a new foreign teacher. This year, people are happy to see me and ask how my summer went, but I am no longer a novelty but rather a fixture.

Sally and I are both optimistic about starting the year and prepared to push as many successful projects as possible. One of the biggest lessons of our MST seminar was moderate realistic enthusiasm for the coming year. Now that we know the schedule and culture and have an appreciation for the difficulties of getting things done, we are more prepared to make changes in a way that might be meaningful and long-lasting.

A row of eagles on a fence line in the countryside outside of our town.
This year I plan to try a number of new ideas for teaching life skills and clubs.  Working at the summer camps this year helped me realize yet again what great kids Mongolian children are. It can often be challenging capacity building with adults, so this year I want to spend most of my time working with the youth in an effort to build their life skills and leadership capacity. The youth can be a real joy to work with. They are excited and can sometimes get more from interactions with PCVs than adults do. I will expand more on my individual projects in another post.

Last weekend, Sally and I traveled a few kilometers out of town to a small ger camp for a back to school party with her teachers. This being the first true Mongolian party of the new school year, we quickly found ourselves celebrating in an inebriating style. The party consisted of games between teachers, never ending vodka bottles, dancing, Mongolian BBQ (goat khorkhog explained in many other posts), walking away to escape never ending vodka bottles, exasperated exclamations of wonderment on how much vodka there was, high-spirited “stumbling” basketball, leaving the meal table to make friends with stray dogs by way of Mongolian BBQ, and finally an early escape with our neighbor who, tired of waiting on our driver who kept getting dragged back into the party, called her sober husband who delivered us home before sundown. You know, usual party in the countryside stuff.    

Now a word on the weather. Mongolia is different than America in that the hottest month really seems to be July. August was cooler with days that dropped into the 70s. Now as we enter September, the regular temperature seems to be mid-sixties to mid-seventies. Overall this past summer has not been as hot as last summer. The year of the monkey is said to be the coldest of Chinese years with the worst winters. The coolness of this September is a relief and a little frightening. I had a dream not long ago, where I was convinced that the winter was actually mid-way through and the challenges of the cold were half way done. Then I woke up realizing that it was only September and that the hardships of winter had not even begun. I left me feeling… disturbed and awed. 

Over the summer, Sally and I took on the annual permanent responsibility of a cat. This time last year we were cat sitting this same animal for a PCV friend who was going to adopt him. After a month or so with the cute juvenile, it went to live in a small soum in Khentii for the winter. At the end of spring, our friend decided that he could no longer take the responsibility of an animal, so we jumped at the opportunity to adopt the cat that goes by the name of Mission (his fitting namesake being a star wars character).

Mission is a great cat with almost no bad habits or annoying tendencies, aside from the occasional trashcan diving. He even plays a variety of games with us including fetch, tag, and tug-of-war. If it weren’t for his catlike ambivalence, I would be convinced he’s a dog. Being a Mongolian cat, he is without some of the comforts that American cats get. His litter is just dirt that I dig out of a neighborhood dirt-pile, and his food is mostly cheap sausage and whatever other meat we happen to have. He also does not have the option of going outside because of the dangers of stray dogs, pigs, enormous eagles, and malevolent humans, but he seems like a happy cat.

Sally and I recognize that we will probably not be able to take him back to America, so we are hoping he becomes a traveling Peace Corps cat, a comfort to lonely volunteers in the winter. We may already have a new owner lined up for next spring, so Mission the traveling PC cat can spread his love to someone else who needs it.


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