Monthly Archives: July 2010

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

GOAT 1
WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW

GOAT 2
I AM DYING

GOAT 1
OH SH#T

GOAT 2
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!


(Eej, with innards)

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.

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Herro everybody.  I haven’t been writing anything in my journal lately, so below I have typed in my entries from last month — like you even care.

It may interest you to know that the boy from the last entry — the one who thinks it’s funny to do the pole-in-the-hole gesture at me, which, I mean, it is obviously hilarious, but also how dare he, am I right — is currently standing next to me and trying to make nice.  He is doing this by softly singing Shakira’s World Cup song to me, and also by “Hi”-ing me.  I am rebuffing him at every turn, like this:

KID
waka waka eh eh

ME
(silence)

KID
waka waka eh eh?

ME
(silence)

KID
This time Africa…

ME
(silence)

KID
Hi

ME
You are a real stinker.

Also, please enjoy dis view:

Hope everybody is well, and everything.  I had my first real vomit-and-poop-fest this weekend (AND WHAT A FEST IT WAS), and if you are reading this I probably thought of you fondly during my 24 hours of sweaty, stinky bedrest.

June 3, 2010, 7:08 a.m.

We’re going to land in Chicago in a half hour.  I have the window seat. We’ve been saying goodbye to people for so long and now we’re finished — we’re like two little particles hurtling through space.

There’s a documentary about fire, or explosions, or possibly lightning, on the airplane TV right now.   Mongolians really don’t like lightning, apparently.  Hopefully this isn’t some kind of ominous portent?

10:30 a.m., en route to San Francisco

It’s taking just about all my willpower to not put on a pair of United headphones and watch ‘Valentine’s Day’ right now.

I’ve been trying to read David Foster Wallace’s ‘E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,’ see, but it’s not as breezy a read as I thought it would be, and I’m tired and I don’t want to think and look at all these stupid silly actors!  There’s Taylor whatserface and the were-boy from Twilight, all making out and whatever.  Aren’t they dating in real life? Couldn’t this maybe, possibly, be almost entertaining to watch?

Under different circumstances I would probs let myself zone out in front of this self-referential piece of trash, but this DFW essay is all about
a) our collective zombification in front of the boob tube
b) the way ‘mass commercial culture’ supports post-modernism via Americans’ ‘exposure to mass images’ and ‘our guilty indulgent psychology with respect to that exposure’
c) the way pop references work so well in fiction, because

  1. ‘we all recognize such a reference, and
  2. we’re all a little uneasy about how we all recognize such a reference’

d) how ‘irony and ridicule,’ while entertaining and effective, are also ‘agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture.’

So basically, I can’t read all that and then go, oh my gah, the girl from the Devil Wears Prada is having dinner with the guy from That 70s Show*, let me sit here for two hours and smirk at this dumb piece of shit movie.

*Obviously I am only pretending that I don’t know their names (Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace).

All the women in this movie have the most horrifying biceps.

God we’ve just been talking about and talking about and talking about this and now it’s finally here, almost here, we land in San Francisco in I-have-no-idea-when and then we drag our 1,000 lbs. of luggage onto a shuttle and we take that to the hotel and then we stand in line and fill out forms and then presumably we go sit down in a conference room where I, at least, will have to resist the impulse to burrow under the carpet.  I can’t wait to meet 70 new people, all at once, most of whom I’ve mildly stalked on Facebook for the last couple of months!   Moreover, I can’t wait to try to act like a normal person while I do these things!  Also, I’m so glad that I got two hours of sleep last night.

(The mountains we’re flying over have SNOW on them!  How is this even possible)

Yeah, I think the sleep deprivation is mostly what’s messing with me right now.  And the hunger.  I swing back and forth: This is so exciting!  This is so horrifying!  This is going to be great, but awful, but awesome, but probably mostly awful, oh god nobody will like me and I’ll be bad at everything.

June 5, sometime at night, waiting on a bus in Ulaanbaatar

Notable things:

1. Korea (more accurately the airport in Incheon) was mildly exciting, but I was kind of bushed and carrying way too much weight around and this dampened things a little.  We ordered chamchikimbap and the guy at the register understood me; that was nice.   Also, I purchased a tube of toothpaste at the airport pharmacy, and the crusty old pharmacist a) ooh-ed when I told him where I was going, and b) assured me that the toothpaste would whiten my teeth very quickly.   Then he said ‘kuh-reddit kah-duh’ was an acceptable form of payment.  Kamsa hamnida, friend.

2. I want to remember the safety briefing, or whatever you call it, when we were onboard our flight to Mongolia.  There were no TVs, which meant that we had to watch the flight attendants buckle seatbelts and inflate lifejackets in the flesh, not on a screen.   I’ve always liked it better that way — every flight attendant has a different style, and every time I get kind of hypnotized, watching them tighten straps and whatnot.

Usually I’m the only passenger ogling the flight attendants like this.  But today was different: The plane was maybe 90% Peace Corps volunteers, and the announcer was reading the safety instructions in Mongolian, and the flight attendants were Mongolian, too, and by god this was probably, for most of us, our very first encounter with real-life Mongolian and real-life Mongolians.  There was actual shushing on the plane today as the demonstration started.  All 70+ of us put down our books and ceased our conversations and watched and listened, riveted, and the next two minutes were kind of sweet and terrifying and desperate.  All of our fears and anxieties and hopes were focused like lasers on the attendant as she pretended to blow air into her life vest, like if we only listened hard enough, we would be able to understand.

June 7, I think? Monday, anyway. 7:30 a.m. in the trainee dormitory in Zuunmod.

Woke up at 5.  Squeaked my way down from the top of our metal bunk beds and then rustled around in my plastic-bag-riddled luggage for approximately fifteen thousand minutes, which must have thrilled our roommates.  Finally located running gear, put it on, walked downstairs, left the dorm, pointed myself in the direction of the hills and started to run.   Felt like the world’s biggest badass until, three minutes in, I doubled over and started wheezing. Altitude?   Maybe I’m just fat?  Whatever.

Lunch with the ambassador today!

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I’m in the internet cafe right now.  There are a bunch of little kids up in here.  One of them is leaning against me, looking at my monitor and picking his nose.  Another one drank some of my water earlier.  All of them have hi’d me at least once.  There are also two obnoxious teenage boys, who are playing some kind of killing-people-PC-game and who yell “YAAAAH” every time they shoot somebody.

I took a shower yesterday, but somehow I can still smell my feet from here.

So anyway!  Let’s look at some pictures.

This was the view from our van as we drove from orientation to training last month.  It took about two hours.  It was weird knowing that our windows were in fact windows, and were not, say, TV screens.

Here is the babiest baby.  I’m not sure who he belongs to, but he was spectating at this weekend’s volleyball tournament.  Guess whose team won?

Orange team!  That’s what’s up.  Here you see me, looking really attractive, and my host mom, who has a rather impressive serve.

Oh man.  One of these little rugrats just came up to me, said, “Big sister,” and then made a super obscene hand gesture (!!!)(I believe you might be familiar with it?  It involves the index finger of one hand, and an orifice made with the index and thumb of the other hand?)(again !!!)  I grabbed his arm (the look on his face was priceless) and hissed “never never never” and he pouted and said “okay” and then I let go.

I win!  Time to clear out.  Seeya.

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