Monday, March 21, 2011

A Trip to the Hudoo

(hudoo = countryside)

by Kara

A little over a week ago I was told my coworkers were asked to do a training in a soum (a district of our province) about 2-3 hours away. On Monday I came to work and checked to see if the trip was still on, as I’ve been told this before and suddenly the trip has been cancelled, but this time, the trip was still a go. I went home at noon to get my stuff so I could come back in time to go to our coworker’s house for lunch at 1:00 and leave at 2:00. One of my strategies I regularly employ at work is to ask different coworkers the same question separately to see if I get the same answer. Every coworker I asked said declaratively we were going to leave at 2:00.

We got back to work from lunch around 2:30 and since I had already dropped my laptop off at home, I sat at my desk waiting for the call to go. I’m still not sure exactly what we were waiting for and I never even bothered to ask, but I ended up sitting at my desk waiting for the next 4 hours, until we left at 6:30.

After making a couple of stops we arrived at the school dormitory, where we’d be staying, around 9:30 pm. A very sweet woman who is the director of the local parent’s organization and who helped organize the training greeted us and welcomed us with a bottle of vodka and box of candies. This is a very common thing to do, but I still felt very weird having to take a sip of vodka with dormitory children running around the halls outside our room. Nobody drank much, it was mostly just about the ceremony, but still…

My coworkers didn’t let our late arrival affect their plans. We began some games and activities with the kids and at the end, left them watching a movie we’d brought. They all seemed excited to have something different to do for the evening. Most, if not all of these kids, are the children of herders. Their parents live too far out into the countryside for the children to be able to commute to school so they live in the dorms. It houses 80 kids, ranging from 1st to 11th grade.

My coworker leading games with the dorm kids.

The next day was spent doing trainings. My coworkers led all of the lessons and I served as staff photographer. Since none of them speak English and therefore can’t even get close to being able to translate for me and I don’t speak Mongolian that well, it’s impossible for me to lead a training. Anyway, my role as a PCV isn’t to lead trainings, it’s to help develop the capacity of my coworkers, but still, it’s sometimes frustrating not being able to contribute in more ways. However, I was pretty proud of their work and I don’t think they needed my help. They led trainings with parents about good parenting, and other trainings with teachers, social workers, the soum governor, and students. They didn’t use any powerpoint presentations and had games, activities, and small group work! I’ve seen way too many extremely boring presentations to be able to appreciate the better ones.

Meeting with the Governor
My coworker Orkhoo talking to parents

After the trainings and some more activities with kids it was already 7:30pm and it was time to get ready for the volleyball tournament. Upon further reflection, I think this is the real reason I was asked to accompany them on the trip – to play on the volleyball team. That suited me just fine though.

We walked into the gym and I immediately saw a man drinking straight from a bottle of vodka, by himself. Even in Mongolia where vodka is a huge problem, that was not a good sign. He continued to roam the gym, onto the court during games, and yell at people the entire night. I think he yelled at me in particular (“Foreigner!!” and after I made a mistake, something like “Geeeeez, what happened?!”) Having a huge drunk yell at me didn’t help the fact that I was already getting stared at more than usual. I get stared at regularly (staring isn’t considered rude here), but I could definitely feel even more eyes on me than usual in this small town, as I don’t think any foreigners live there and few even visit. It doesn’t really bother me, it’s just a bit unusual.

Anyway, we played many rounds of volleyball and finally at about 12:30am our team played in the championship game! However, our team fell apart against our opponent, who was better than us anyway, and we came in 2nd place. By then it was 1:00am and I was ready to hit the sack, but no… it was time for table tennis!

The only volleyball photo that was taken - and of course I'm not in it. I think I had just served.

Two hours later the table tennis portion of the tournament concluded (I definitely did not play) and we could finally go to bed, around 3:00am. I got back to the dorm room I was sharing with my other female CPs and we all got in our pajamas. Just when I thought it might finally be time for sleep one of my coworkers brought in a bottle of dessert “wine” (think super sweet cough syrup) and a box of candy. Somebody had dropped it off as a present for us. He said, “Should we drink it?” In my head I thought, of course not, we’re going to bed, and we might as well save it (they like it after all) for a festive occasion, but my coworkers all readily agreed to open it. So we all had a little wine and finally got to go to sleep around 4:00am.

I had been told repeatedly by my coworkers we’d planned to leave at 8:00am the next morning. Now, I knew we wouldn’t actually do that, but I was hoping for 10:00am. But by the time we rolled out of bed, they spent an hour or so putting on make-up while I sat and waited, the guys warmed up our van that’d been sitting outside for two days by lighting a fire underneath it (literally, on the ground, underneath the engine), we visited the local kindergarten, saw the governor once more, etc etc, and we left at 11:45am.

I wanted to write about this trip because spending so much time with my coworkers on a trip like this (even if it was less than 48 hours) is kind of an intensive experience. For me, much of the trip is spent in silence, simply trying to understand what’s going on around me, so I spend a lot of time observing. Even after having been here for nearly two years, I still find myself surprised at times, learning new things about my coworkers and Mongolian culture. Spending a lot of time together without a break seems to highlight our similarities and differences. I find it interesting that my coworkers seem to have little to no desire to be alone and more so, that being a part of a group is vital. My female CPs always went out to the bathroom together (a latrine outside, which made me again, thankful for the indoor plumbing I have at home), they all brushed their teeth at the same time, put on their makeup at the same time, and even for their trainings, all coordinated matching outfits. While I feel the need to express my individuality and independence, they seem to express a desire to show they’re part of a group and a community. (I am, of course, making generalizations.)

By the end of the trip I was ready to come home to the comforts of my home, eat fruit and vegetables again, speak English, have some alone time, and have more control again (over time, what I eat, etc). It also made realize I don’t think I could survive as a PCV without the supportive network that I have here in my town (Mark and my fellow PCVs). Still, the trip was great. I was proud of the work my coworkers did and happy to be a part of it, even if I was just taking pictures and playing volleyball (but hey, we did get 2nd place).

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