Over the last three weeks (wow!) since arriving to Mongolia I have experienced varying levels of culture shock. At first it wasn't that bad. The training site where all 68 of us were together sheltered me from full immersion in to the culture and I felt at home with my American friends. That only lasted one week. Since June 9 I, and 12 other trainees, have been living with host families at our training site. The 12 of us learn Mongolian together every week day from 9am until 1pm. Living with a host family truly allows me to experience an authentic Mongolian culture. I am learning the customs, traditions and rules that govern everyday life and the interactions within it. As you will well imagine, this gives me a case of culture shock.
Sometimes this shock is due to another trip to the outhouse or eating an unfamiliar part of a sheep. Other times the things that would be really easy in the states are very difficult to accomplish in Mongolia. The other night I asked my host mom if there was a Gmobile shop nearby where I could pay for the monthly plan for my modem. Things got lost in translation and we walked over to her sister's house and I tried to ask again. She tried to have me explain a modem in my broken Mongolian. All of this led to an unexpected phone call to my Language Facilitator who answered my question. This took place over the course of about two hours of me trying to explain, mime and eventually give up. I appreciate all the love, effort and support that my host family gives me. But in the end, culture shock rears its head.
The Mongolian language continues to help increase my culture shock. I find the language frustrating and am trying to find an effective study strategy that works for me. Not being able to make yourself understood adds to the shock. Some days I really struggle with the frustration and continue to get angry at myself and others if I cannot make myself understood. But, I am learning to cope and deal with the overwhelming emotions of being homesick, not being able to communicate and struggling to see the bigger picture.
On Sunday, June 26, I turned 25. I was dreading this birthday for two reasons. 1. I was turning 25 which, in my book, was old. 2. I was in a foreign country and felt homesick. My fellow trainees threw me a birthday get together at the Lotus Cafe. They ordered pizzas and gave me a gorgeous cake. After the pizza and frivolity we went to the Nice Bar for a good (?) Mongolian beer. It made for a fabulous day with my new friends. They are so special to me and I appreciate all of them very much.
When I got home in the evening from my birthday celebration my host family had another party planned. They whipped up my favorite meal which is tsuivan. To accompany the tsuivan they served me some vodka and another delicious cake at the end. It was a great time filled with my host family and many of their friends who are my new friends. I was also able to Skype home to my family back in the states which made for the perfect end to my day.
Monday, June 27, found me in Mongolian class. I had a bad case of the "Mondays" and found everything really irritating. I stepped back and realized that I wasn't mad at my friends, my language teachers or anyone else. I was irritated with me for being irritated and irrational. By the end of our morning session those emotions were wiped away. My language teachers and my fellow trainees bought me a delicious chocolate cake and my favorite marmalade candies. My language teachers also bought me a gorgeous leather knife holder (it must have a better name than that) and a leather key holder. Very thoughtful gifts indeed!
Our afternoon session was titled "Mongolian Culture Through the Arts." We learned a traditional Mongolian Song called Аяны Шувууд. It is about missing a distant lover and is expressed through metaphors of migrating birds and the sights and sounds they experience. The melody is Pentatonic and simple and quite pretty. The minute I began to sing all of my feelings of irritability, distress and anger melted away. It felt really good to do something musical again. It is a favorite among Peace Corps volunteers.
Our swearing-in Ceremony is August 19 and we are encouraged to learn a traditional Mongolian art and perform it during the ceremony. I have decided to learn the Mongolian harp. I forget its actual name but the sister of one of my language teachers plays and teaches it. I am very excited to start to learn it! Will be totally different from the pipe organ, but music is music!
That is my update for now. I will continue to persevere with my Mongolian language skills and just accept my feelings of irritability and frustration as they come. In the mean time I will keep enjoying everything that my Mongolian life has to offer and will enjoy its music.
I hope your lives are enriched by music wherever you are and that you take the time to appreciate it in its simple or complex forms.