June 23, 10:15 pm
I’m not gonna lie; I had a real poopy morning. I woke up in a good mood, because yesterday was our first day of teaching, and our lesson went pretty well, because my coteachers and I are ballers. But then I went to language class and nothing was making sense. The more frustrated I got, the more confusing things were, and eventually I, being a mature adult, just gave up trying to understand and sat there frowning for probably a good thirty minutes. There were also Peace Corps observers in the room today — ostensibly to observe our language teachers, but also to observe us, as well — so I’m sure the notes on me went something like, ‘Katie L: Seems confused and grumpy; possibly lobotomized? Check medical records’
So I was overwhelmed. On the walk home, as I trudged alone across an empty, scrubby field, dust and grit blowing in my face, feeling really, really, really ridiculously sorry for myself, I passed some random guy whose face just lit up with delight when he saw me. He gave me the biggest ‘SAIN BAIN UU,’ just all smiles, all grins. So tickled to say hello to the foreigner! This doesn’t happen often — at least not to me, not in this town — and it almost undid me. I returned the greeting, and then, as soon as he’d passed by, my face crumpled.
So that was my morning! Confusing language class; sniffle-inducing nice stranger. Now do you see how hard my life really is here? Do you? Yes, I believe you do. I mean how could you not.
But wait! There’s more:
1. Later that afternoon, even though I was still feeling grumpy and antisocial and stupid and tired, I had a beer with some other trainees in a ger and felt better;
2. When I got home I found Aaw entertaining a couple of guy friends, and they were all tying one on, so to speak. I sat with them at the table for a while, sipping my shot glass of vodka, and eventually Aaw got out his accordion and ordered me to fetch my Peace Corps-issued Mongolian songbook. So I did, and we all picked out a song, and then Aaw played his squeezebox while the buddies sang. Buddy #1, who was sitting next to me, emphatically jabbed at the lyrics as he sang. I nodded and smiled and ‘za’ed and hit record on my iPhone. Coming soon to the internet: Aaw and Friends Sing The Classics! Prepare yourselves.
3. Then the friends leave, and it’s just me and Aaw, who is in an effusive mood indeed. He decides that I must have a DVD player in my bedroom, immediately, so he unhooks the extra one from the living room and carries it into my room and sets it down next to the TV that I haven’t been using. Then we have a five-minute tutorial session on How To Operate The TV And DVD Player. Then he gives me two CDs, ‘ABBA Gold’ and ‘америк кино’ (‘American movies’ — it actually has music videos on it, mostly Nelly and Elton John)(I have no idea).
4. I’m protesting, saying ooooh thank you thank you it’s all too much, and then he finds a pen and a piece of paper and sits down at the kitchen table. He draws a little picture of a person watching TV and falling asleep; next to this, he writes out the electricity rates for different times of day — apparently, it’s cheaper at night.
And then at the bottom of the page he writes in painstaking uppercase Cyrillic (the only kind of Cyrillic I can read) ‘чи манай хүүхэд,’ which takes me a second to figure out: You are our child.
So, like, a good day after all, and stuff.
Monday, July 12, 7:20 p.m.
Here are the things around me right now:
To my right
There’s a plate of bones and meat, which until very recently belonged to a living, bleating goat. Two goats, actually — they were brought home yesterday and killed. One was skinned; the other, blowtorched (!!!). I watched the first one die last night. Aaw and my brother knocked her over the head with a hammer a few times, and then they flipped her onto her back, cut an incision in her belly, and reached in and pinched off some artery or other.
We’ve all heard a lot about this Mongolian method of slaughter, through the Peace Corps and through blog-stalking and whatnot, and now that I’ve finally seen it for myself let me add my two cents to Internet Land: It is not necessarily the peaceful, loving, uber-humane death that people sometimes make it out to be. It seems obvious now, but I went into it expecting some kind of spiritual, flowery experience, where the subdued, smiling animal peacefully consents to death and everybody is happy and grateful and the goat reaches out and whispers ‘I’ll be right…here’ and we all shed a single tear and etc. I mean: No. That goat was killed, and kind of slowly, and she wasn’t too pleased with the situation, either, and for a good two minutes there was a not-small amount of screaming and moaning and thrashing and death-rattling (not from me; I behaved myself). Plus her goaty friend was tied up around the corner, listening to the whole thing and adding goaty commentary, like
WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW
I AM DYING
I KNOW RIGHT BLUUURRRRRAAAAAGGGGHHH
Anyway. I don’t mean to be a jerk about this. I’m sure that somebody at some point in Mongolia has killed an animal in a quiet, subdued way. I’m sure it exists sometimes. I just kind of suspect that it doesn’t happen very often, and I also kind of suspect that we Americans overhype it because
a) as people who guiltily buy our factory-farmed meat in odorless, plastic-wrapped, non-animal-shaped hunks, we want to believe that it’s possible for slaughter to be beautiful and calm, and
b) there is a tiny bit of essentialization going on here, re: Mongolians, nomadic pastoralism, Dances With Wolves/Avatar/noble savagery/etc.
So yeah. After the goat bit it, I walked back into the house. My English-speaking host sister raised an eyebrow and asked if I was okay watching. I said it was a little sad. She said, ‘I never watch. If I watch it, I can’t eat meat.’ Amen, sister!
Not that it stopped me from eating that goat. That tasty, tasty goat.
In front of me
There’s a big bowl of cooked goat innards. The family has been snacking on them all day, cutting off little bite-sized pieces with a paring knife. I partook of some a little bit earlier. Thanks for sending that bottle of Tabasco sauce, Mom!
To my left
The TV is on, showing the big Naadam celebration in Ulaanbaatar. The wrestling finals were on earlier; right now, they seem to be doing a wrap-up of the archery results.
My town’s Naadam was on Saturday, a one-day affair. There was wrestling, and horse racing, and archery, and delicious foods, and music, and just a general good-time carnival atmosphere. I know all this because I heard about it later; I had to hear about it later because I was sick with the crud on Saturday. And I did not go. To Naadam. The biggest holiday of the summer. The three manly sports, plus tasty huushuur. I missed it all. I was pooping and vomiting instead.
Let us never speak of this again.