Love and Acceptance in the Land of the Blue Sky

Hello blog readers!

I want to tell you about a phenomenal outpouring of love and acceptance I witnessed on September 3, 2011 in Ulaanbaatar.

Needless to say, I am a huge proponent of human rights across the world.  I truly believe that everyone is created equally and that we all have rights as human beings on this planet.  LGBT issues are very close to my heart.  Growing up in Nebraska, I had many people telling me that being gay, or different for that matter, was wrong and it didn't make me normal.  I could care less about being normal.  I remember witnessing the election of November 2000 when Nebraska voted to amend its constitution to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages.  It broke my heart and I lost hope.  I couldn't understand why people could be so angry at someone for wanting to love and be loved regardless of their sexual orientation.  I am very fortunate to come from family that shows me endless love, tolerance and gave me the ambition to succeed in life no matter who I am.  Their love and support allowed me to join the Peace Corps.

I brought with me, to Mongolia, my passion for human rights.  I knew that LGBT rights were still emerging in this country.  It was only in 2002 that homosexuality was decriminalized.  On September 3, I attended an event hosted by the LGBT Centre in Ulaanbaatar.  It was called "Mr. Beauty 2011" and it was a drag queen competition.  I went with some friends to this small bar that was off the beaten path.  I didn't expect to see many people there.  I was SHOCKED when I entered!  There must have been around 250-300 people there.  The night started with the contestants coming out wearing traditional women's Mongolian clothes.  They were absolutely gorgeous!  The other portions of the competition were swimsuit wear, formal wear and then came time for the question.  Unfortunately, my Mongolian wasn't good enough to understand what was being said.  My guess is that each question and answer dealt with LGBT issues in Mongolia.

Seeing 300 people at an LGBT event was fantastic.  Watching them be unafraid of who they are for four hours gave me immense hope.  People could be who they were regardless if they were gay, lesbian , bisexual, transgender or straight.  Seeing their love and happiness rejuvenated my mission for equality.  I was speaking with a Mongolian man at the event who said this about homosexuality in Mongolia:
"This is just a normal part of human existence."  He summed it up so well and he wants to take that message across Mongolia.

As an American, it would be so easy for me to approach this with a typical go-get-'em attitude but I know it will not work in Mongolia.  They will do it their way and on their time.  All I can do is offer support and advice as best I can.

Here is a link for the Mongolian LGBT Centre.  They are working so hard to promote LGBT rights across this nation.  They have come a long way by simply becoming a recognized NGO. This youtube video chronicles their mission and the path they took to become a nationally recognized NGO.

This is a serious post but one that is very close to my heart.

In love and acceptance,


Professor Lyons.....I like it!

We need to have a discussion about my first week at school.

Staff Meetings
My first 'day' of work was Monday, August 29.  I had to attend a staff meeting that began at 9am.  It was three hours long and totally in Mongolian.  I maybe understood a few words here and there but mostly I just smiled if I heard my name or something that sounded like it.  People probably thought I was crazy.....but that is all right!  My school's general director is very nice and very welcoming.  He brought me to the front of the meeting and encouraged me to speak about myself in Mongolian.  This was where my two months of Mongolian came in handy!  I regaled everyone about my life, what I studied, how old I was and told them about my family.  My Mongolian was decent and people understood me!  SUCCESS!!

After my fabulous introduction I was whisked off to my new office.  I share a large room with the other English teachers.  They are fantastic!  I felt very welcomed, honored and privileged to be teaching with them.  They all complimented my Mongolian so I gave them compliments on their clothes and make up. Normal?!

Per usual, I now have my office desk covered in Post-Its.  I love them!  I use the recycled kind so I feel a little bit better about not being able to recycle them here.  3M, feel free to send some Post Its to Mongolia!  I fear that I will soon run out.  My co-teachers all think I am crazy and walk by my desk and laugh.  So I just give them a Post It!

First Day of Classes
So, Thursday September 1 finally came.  I was READY!  I put on my Mongolia maternity deel ( I call it that because it is big so I can "grow" in to it!) and walked to my office.  We sat around and gossiped for a few minutes and at 9 o'clock we went outside for the opening ceremonies.

It was fantastic!  The main building had been covered in balloons, streamers and a large banner welcoming all the students.  There were many speeches given.  I was told the day before that I would give a speech in English and one of my counterparts would translate for me in to Mongolian.  Right before I got up on stage I was told I would be translating it myself!

My speech in English thanked everyone and I said that I was very honored to work at a wonderful institution such as Gazarchin.  I thanked the Director for all that he has done and I wished everyone a very happy start to the school year.  I used a lot of flowery English and smiled a lot.

Here is how I translated:
Me:  Hello everyone.  My name is Chris Lyons.  I come from America.  I am 25 years old and I am an English teacher.  Yes....okay.....I want to teach you.  This I know.  (Here is where I tried to be flashy and show off some "complex" grammar) When you learn English......(here I get lost)  school.........study........work......very good......ummmmm.........English.........lesson..........I will teach.

Okay so I got lost.  I didn't know how to finish the sentence in Mongolian so I just said some random education related words and smiled.

<At this point the Director takes away my microphone and the audience of several hundred people just gives me funny looks.>

What happened next is beyond my comprehension.  I couldn't stop talking.  So........I grabbed the microphone out of my Director's hands and said (in broken Mongolian):

This brought on even more awkward looks and silence.  Eventually I was cheered off the stage and stood in the corner for the rest of the ceremony.

So it wasn't my best first impression.  I was wearing a huge deel and gave a really awkward speech in Mongolian followed by more awkwardness as I finished said speech.  Yay!

The next day was my first day of teaching.  I have been assigned to teach American Country Studies, English Speaking and Listening Skills and American and British Literature.  I am very excited about all of those classes!  My first class I taught was Speaking and Listening.  I told my students about myself and told them to tell me about them.  They all did a great job!

Ever since the first day things have been going much better.

The new addition to my family and the big freeze

Okay so that title is a little dramatic.  A few days ago I got a cat.  She is three years old and came from a family of ex-pats that moved back to the states.  She is very affectionate and just sleeps on my stomach all the time and judges me for eating in bed.  Her name is Ааруул (Aaruul) which is the Mongolian dried milk curd that everyone eats and enjoys.  I wanted a random Mongolian name......and it worked!  She has been great company because things are starting to cool down in Mongolia.

Yesterday was the first day I began to notice the change.  I walked outside just wearing a light jacket and, for me, it wasn't enough.  I went back inside and put on light gloves and a scarf.  I got so many strange looks and comments.  People were asking me why I was wearing winter garments when it wasn't winter yet.  In my opinion it should not be freezing in September!  So I endured the comments and was happy I was warm.

Today when I left for school it was only 29 degrees outside.  This necessitated the use of my down winter coat, a scarf and leather gloves.  The comments were even worse today!  My co-teachers even asked me why I was wearing such things and they asked me if I knew it wasn't winter yet!  I responded by saying this is "normal for Americans."  They just laughed and tried not to walk beside me as we went to lunch.  They were just wearing long-sleeved shirts and seemed perfectly fine.

This is me and Aaruul trying to stay warm.  Even she is judging me for wearing winter clothes!

In the mean time I will continue to stay warm, eat more food and teach more classes!  I hope everyone is warm and well!