Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How I Called My Husband a Dog in My Mongolian Language Exam

and more…

by Kara

A few days ago Mark and I received the very exciting news that we will be moving to Tsetserleg, a city in the Arhangay (also spelled Arkhangai) aimag (aimag = state/province). Tsetserleg is the “aimag center” or capital of this aimag. It is located in just about the very middle of Mongolia. Every Mongolian we have talked to about it has told us how beautiful it is (“amar goy!”). It is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, lakes, and rivers. It is located about 500 kilometers of Ulaanbaatar which takes about 10 hours via bus (the road there is paved in some areas not in others). Mark and I are very excited about this placement. From what we’ve been told, Tsetserleg seems like the kind of place we pictured living as PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers – get used to that acronym). It is in a beautiful location and it is somewhat remote but not entirely remote since it is still a city and the capital of an aimag. Also, we’ll be with two other PCVs in town, an English teacher and a health volunteer, and one other person who lives in a soum (smaller town/village) but comes into town often.

We don’t just get to hang out, ride camels, climb mountains, and experiment with cooking and baking for the next two years. (But I will definitely be riding a camel at some point.) With the announcement of the locale also came the announcement of our jobs. Mark will be working for the Knowledge Network, a small non-profit that was developed by MercyCorps and works with agribusinessmen developing business plans and providing trainings and technical assistances. He’ll also work directly with MercyCorps RASP (Rural Agribusiness Support Program). He’ll may be helping some tourism businesses. Because Tsetserleg is so beautiful it is a huge tourist destination but none of the tourism businesses are locally owned – they are all owned by people from UB. He’ll have to provide you all with some more information later, because I know I’m not doing a very good job at summarizing this.

I will be working for an Aimag Children’s Center (ACC)! Each Aimag Center has an ACC; it is a state-run organization. I don’t know much about it yet because each ACC is a little bit different, but I hope to be doing a combination of direct work with kids (Life Skills lessons, English classes, sports, camp, working with at-risk youth like kids who have dropped out of school, working with disabled kids, and working with kids who have been forced into labor, i.e. mining) and some program planning, research, fundraising, and community education. In addition, Mark and I will most likely be doing some sort of English teaching or tutoring in our workplaces and/or in our communities. I imagine that with a big tourism industry in the area that speaking English is a marketable skill. In addition to our daily work at these organizations we’ll also be figuring different community projects we can do on our own. There is a World Vision office in our town so I hope they are some of the people I can partner with.

Lastly, we found out that we will be living in an apartment! This is what we expected (the other options were a small house or a ger). Living in a ger gives you major street cred amongst PCVs in Mongolia and is pretty bad ass, but it’s a LOT of work. However, we know apartment living here has its downfalls too -- i.e. the govt controls our heat and thus it is often very cold. However, our paperwork we were given says our apt has running hot water… I’m really scared to get my hopes up, but if it does, I will be incredibly thankful. I will gladly welcome the luxury of hot showers back into my life. But if not, I’ll just be thankful I don’t have to do things like go outside to use an outhouse in -30 degree winters like I would if I were in a ger.

Before we received this very exciting site placement news we also received the news that we both passed our Mongolian Language Exams! (The test is called the "LPI", as Mark explained.) The requirement is for all PCVs to reach “Novice High”. This is still a very low speaking level, but shows that you should at least be able to survive in Mongolia. Mark received the Novice High score and somehow I managed to get Intermediate Low, one notch up on the scale. I’m not quite sure how I did this since I definitely made some big mistakes… This is where the title of this blog post comes in. At one point the tester and I were talking about my family and I thought she said, “Ta nohoi te?” – “Do you have a husband?” So I said yes, his name is Mark, he’s 25 years old, and then when I started explaining that he’s a business volunteer she gave me a funny look and I realized what had happened. You see, the word for “husband” and for “dog” in Mongolian is very similar – “nohor” and “nohoi”. I might have been able to get away with saying I had a 25-year-old dog named Mark if I left that business part out. J Anyway, I realized what happened and we laughed. I knew it must’ve been pretty funny to her when my language teachers made fun of me for it later because she told them all about it.

Anyway… Mark and I are excited to be done with the language exam, know where we’ll be living, and start a new adventure together there. We swear in as official volunteers on August 19! Then we head to UB for a night and leave for Tsetserleg on August 20. Leaving Zuunmod is bitter sweet. We’re excited to live together again, cook for ourselves, make our second home together, and start our new jobs. But we’re sad to be leaving our host families, the other 15 PCVs we’ve been training with and spending every day with these past 2 months, and our Mongolian language teachers who have been so wonderful to us. Both of us have families who are very loving and caring. Though it was stressful and terrifying to move in with them at first, now it feels like home (relative to everywhere else in Mongolia). In addition, they provided great insight into Mongolian culture and great daily language practice. I’m going to especially miss my super-caring host mom and little 6-year-old brother because they are the ones I spent the most time with. Although, I suspect host mom may have considered my time here a little bit of a failure because she didn’t fatten me up quite as much as I imagine she wanted to. I know I’ll miss her comments from my meals, “Eat, eat, eat! Do you want more? Is that enough? Here, eat more. Eat, eat, eat!” But I’ve got their phone numbers and promised to come back and visit them. The same goes for our language teachers. As for our fellow PCVs, we hope to at least get to see most them at Thanksgiving and then again at another training point next December. It’ll be hard to be away from them though! Experiences like this help bonds form quickly.

On a side note, I know some of you were really more interested in learning about Mongolian culture and hearing our insights more than you really care about whether or not we passed our language test. I think we’ll be able to provide more of this later on, but right now we’re still figuring everything out. I would hate to make too many generalizations and put Mongolians in a box, only to be proven wrong later.

Thanks for reading! Keep Mark and I in your thoughts and prayers – especially as we are traveling, settling into our new home away from new friends we’ve made, getting to know our new coworkers and community, starting new jobs, and always for our health. We’ve both very thankful to have had pretty good experiences so far. Despite lots of ups and downs, it’s been great.

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