Naadam Take 2

Well I wrote last time that my community celebrated its local Naadam.  In my American mind that would be it.  The local celebration would be enough of a celebration to keep everyone happy until next year.  It turns out I was dead wrong!  There is a national Naadam celebration that happened in Ulaan Baatar from July 11-13.  We had no school and everyone gathered with their friends and family to join in the drinking of vodka and watching the sports on tv.

On Monday, July 11, my family knocked on my ger door at around 5am to get our Naadam party started.  Let's first talk about cultural differences in knocking.  Mongolians are very polite when knocking at your door.  They might just use a finger or two and just sort of brush it against the door so it moves.  This barely gets noticed by me, particularly at 5am.  Americans will beat down your door when trying to arouse you from sleep or to get your attention.  So, I eventually woke up from the brushing against my door.

Let's also take a quick minute to analyze me at 5am.  Due to a high number of beetles flying around my ger I now sleep with a mosquito net to keep them from falling on me when I sleep.  This mosquito net is mustard yellow and allows me to live out my dream of having a princess bed.  Also, the sun comes up VERY early in Mongolia.  I think sometime around 4:30am.  Due to this early arrival I wear eye shades. Eye shades+mosquito net+5am wake-up-door-brushing= Chris stumbling in to the mosquito netting, answering the door with eye shades still on and really bad hair.  It looked like I should have been auditioning for a part in The Lion King on Broadway.

The minute I opened the door I knew I was in for an interesting day.  My entire family (host mom, dad, aunt, uncle and cousin) were outside my door completely dressed and together.  They were smiling and ready to begin the Naadam festivities.  I quickly threw on Naadam appropriate clothes (read: jeans and a t-shirt) and got myself mentally prepared for the day!  Unfortunately I forgot about my hair and it was a hot mess.

First we started preparing meat that would serve a later purpose.  I walked in to the house to see an entire sheep spread across the table in various stages of being cut up.  It was like an anatomy class I took at community college.  You started with the head and worked your way down.  There was a separate bowl for the offal.  None of this phases me anymore.  My host mom told me to sit down and we would chop meat together.  I like to think of myself as good in the kitchen when it comes to cooking Macaroni and Cheese or a hot pocket.  However, I am not good at chopping up big pieces of mutton.  My host mom smiled as I struggled to power through it and eventually she gave me a bowl of tea to distract me and finished the job in record time.  Now I know I am useless when it comes to certain things like reading road maps or doing simple addition.  For both of those cases it is better to not get involved.  But I thought I could at least cut meat.  My hair was still a wreck and I was worried that they would look at me and think he can't cut meat and his hair needs help.  Fortunately my host family is FANTASTIC and they just kept smiling, feeding me and telling me about all things Naadam.

Like I said in my previous post, Naadam is about the three manly sports.  Now back in the states I find sports to be as much fun as a cold sore.  In Mongolia I couldn't get enough of them.  Watching the opening ceremonies from Ulaan Baatar on tv and watching the skilled archers hit their targets is fascinating to me.  I couldn't get enough of it!  Eventually, I found out what the meat was for.  We were going to eat хорхог (khorkhog).  This is really good food!  You take a wood burning stove and get it red hot and then add a lot of stones.  Once those are red hot you throw them in to a big metal container (like a cream can) and then add the cut up mutton, vodka, potatoes and onion.  The lid is turned on and it sort of turns in to a pressure cooker.  The whole contraption is then put back on to the blazing hot fire to cook for an hour.  While you are waiting you drink a lot of vodka and take a nap.  Thank goodness I had my eye shades with me!

This is a picture of me enjoying Chinggis Gold Vodka.  Very smooth!

This is a picture of me and my host-grandmother.  She received two medals from the governor for having a certain number of children.  A fun woman!

After an hour or so, the khorkhog is ready.  Everyone gathers inside to partake in the feast.  The contents of the cream can are put in to separate bowls including the hot stones.  Everyone takes a stone and tosses it back and forth in their hands as it cools.  According to Mongolians, this is good for the body.  I was tossing those stones like a pro which means I should be healthy for life!  Finally the food was passed around.  The potatoes were peeled and SO delicious!  The mutton was particularly delicious.  Every piece was tender and succulent.  I ate my fill!  Then out came more vodka and the entire family did several toasts.  My Mongolian was gone by this point so I just smiled and toasted with them.

The vodka ready to be passed around.

Everyone enjoying all the food and festivities!

It was a great introduction to the culture and I made many new friends and am now considered an official member of the family.  My mother's side of the family hosted this and it was very well attended!  We sang many Mongolian songs and I introduced them to American songs like "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga.  We all danced and had great fun!

The next two days of my Naadam break were spent relaxing and going on a hike.  Going on a hike is not my normal definition of fun and I would rather staple my hand to a wall.  But my friends Bianca, Matt, Leo and I went and I told myself I would have fun.  Matt and Leo are dedicated hikers and Bianca and I are not.  She and I stopped at a store to grab a coke, twix and ice cream.  You know.....the essentials for hiking!  We were gone for about four hours and had a great time talking and just looking around at the gorgeous country side.

Our last night of break was spent playing kick ball with the children in the ger district.  It seemed like an easy game to teach to the children and I enjoyed it growing up.  There were five Americans playing and around 10-or-so children joining in.  Everyone had a good time and they understood the rules and point of the game.  It was a great way to spend the last day of my Naadam break!

Mongolian Language

So I have now been learning Mongolia for about six weeks.  Compared to day one when I knew nothing I have come a long way.  I feel fairly comfortable with daily conversations and as long as people speak slowly I understand them.  However, I am realizing that learning Mongolian can be like Dante's Inferno. First there is consonant hell.  There are some consonants that English doesn't have and I have to make my mouth do tricks to get them to work.  Also, going a level deeper, there is vowel hell.  Mongolian has seven vowels and four of them are variants of O that gets progressively more closed until it becomes oo like loose.

Now I have many verbs and nouns under my command.  I can conjugate them in to four different tenses.  But now I have discovered homonym hell.  The words for river and fire are VERY similar. One tiny vowel changes them all.  My parents are confused by my poor pronunciation and I am worried that we will start a fire instead of go to the river!  I am hoping that there are not many levels of Mongolian language hell I can discover.  I am fortunate to have great teachers and very supportive friends who help me with my language troubles.  Also, many of my young family members take it upon themselves to help me.  We study, dance and listen to Mongolian pop music which I download from the internet.

Here is one of our "study" sessions!

Also, here is one of the bugs that I try to keep out of my bed by sleeping in my princess bed.  The bugs are coming!

I hope you all are well!  I am off to go "study" Mongolian.  I feel some power dancing coming on to a popular Mongolian club song called  Хаврын анхны хайр. Here is a link to the youtube video!

Enjoy your weekends!



One Month and Counting

So I have been in Mongolia for one month and three days.  I look back at my time here thus far and just have a huge smile on my face.  This doesn't mean that every day was a walk in the park but I have learned so much and grown in many ways that I smile at it all.  But this means that it has been one month since I have been in America and one month since I have seen my beloved family and friends.  It is their strength, encouragement and love that allowed me to come to Mongolia and it will continue to inspire and push me to grow more.

Last weekend, July 2 and 3, found Khutul celebrating its Naadam.  Naadam is one of the BIG national holidays in Mongolia.  It is a celebration of the three manly sports: horse racing, archery and wrestling.  On Saturday morning, a family friend stopped by to show me one of his horses.  I got on and asked if I could ride around the ger district.  He said yes and got on another one of his horses and the two of us rode around the ger district for about 30 minutes.  It was great.....except the horses here are shorter than their American counterparts and the saddle stirrups weren't long enough for my legs.  I was a little stiff getting off but it was so worth it.  After that we ran down to the finish line of the horse race and watched about 20-or-so children race their horses.  They were SO talented and quick....and very young!

That evening, there was a concert held in the cultural center.  For about one hour we were treated to traditional Mongolian dance and music.  It was a great time and fascinating to see their traditional songs be set to a pop music context.  They mix their styles well! Starting next week, I will be going to the cultural center to receive Hammer Dulcimer lessons.  I am hoping to perform for the swearing-in ceremony on August 19.  Should be fun! This is a picture of one of the groups performing.  The lady in the middle is playing the hammer dulcimer and she rocked!

The next day, July 3 was a big day for Naadam.  The morning activity was archery.  I wasn't able to watch it because we had to go to another training site to receive more vaccinations.  I wish I could have watched it!  We were back in time to experience wrestling which is great!  My host family took me to the wrestling stadium and we watched it for an hour.  The traditions that are wrapped in to Naadam are fantastic.  The winner of each match does the eagle dance to show his dominance and then gets a cool Mongolian hat to wear.  Here is a picture of the wrestling: 

My Mongolian language lessons continue to go well.  My pronunciation gets better every day and I am becoming more confident in my language skills.  I have also latched on to many children in the ger district who help me with my Mongolian if I help them with their English.  Children are great cultural and language guides!  They are so eager to learn and to teach.  I am grateful for their help and encouragement.

So after being here for one month I can look back and see how much I have changed.  I am beginning to speak a new language, I don't have running water, I use an out house (!). I also hand-wash my clothes in a tumpin and bathe in a tumpin.  This also means I might only bathe three times a week!  In many ways I am different but still the same.  My love of music is still strong and my devotion to family and friends is as strong as ever.  I look forward to being sworn-in on August 19 and beginning yet another new chapter in my life titled Peace Corps Volunteer! I am thankful for all the cards and mail I have received.  Each letter is so special to me and gives me the encouragement I need.

I am also learning to appreciate the smaller (sometimes not so small!) things in life.  I haven't seen a cable tv show in one month and I don't miss it.  Also, I can take time to enjoy my 20 minute walk to school and take in the gorgeous views that are found all throughout Mongolia.  My favorite thing is to just watch the weather.  Mongolia is SO open that you can literally watch a storm develop and blow through.  And Mongolia has GORGEOUS sunsets!  I always thought Nebraska had fantastic sunsets but I must say that Mongolia beats it.  What do you think?

Thank you all so much for your encouragement and support!  You all honor me so much with your comments and thoughts.  I appreciate them so much!

I hope you all are well and warm!  I will keep you updated with my Mongolian life and will soon post pictures to Picasa and will put a link on this blog.