Monthly Archives: February 2012

On being invited

I was at school the other day when I overheard a few of my teachers laughing and giving another English teacher, Enkhmaa, a hard time about something.  I didn’t exactly catch what it was about, but I heard the verb “to offend.”

“Who’s offended?” I asked.

“We are!” they said.

“Who offended you?” I asked.

“Enkhmaa did!”

“How?”

“She didn’t invite us to her son’s haircutting ceremony!”

“I KNOW RIGHT,” I said (I’d heard about the ceremony the day before and had been pouting about it, secretly). “I’m offended too, Enkhmaa!” And then she buried her head in her hands in mock shame, and we all had a good laugh.

This reminded me of a moment last fall, when a teacher came up to me and said, “Katie.  Did you go to the party on Tuesday?”

“Party?  What party?” I asked.

“The other English teachers went dancing on Tuesday,” she grumbled.

“Oh.  I didn’t know,” I said, frowning, starting to get into the spirit of things. “Why didn’t you go?”

“They didn’t tell me!” she said.

“Well, that’s just ridiculous,” I said.  “Aren’t we fun to hang out with?  Aren’t we cool?”

“We’re really cool,” she said, jabbing her finger on a nearby table.

Yeah,” I said, also jabbing.

I bring this up because it’s the first day of Tsagaan Sar — happy Tsagaan Sar! — and we’ve had invitations on the brain for the last couple of weeks.  Who would invite us to their homes for the holiday, we wondered?  Would anybody extend an invitation for the first day, which is just for elders and family?  How soon was too soon to start fishing around, pathetically, for invitations?

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On Monday, good old Erdenetsetseg, who took us around with her family last year (and who is pictured above), invited us to come with them again today.  But then I got real sick yesterday, and remained real sick this morning, and as much as I wanted to get out there and Do It Up one last time, and as grateful as I was for that invitation — an invitation that is basically the equivalent of inviting your foreign coworker over for Christmas morning — there is no doubt in my mind that the vodka and mutton would’ve killed me.  So we have been sitting on our butts all day.  Whatevs.

Fortunately, it’s a multi-day holiday, so all is not lost.  We’re visiting a straight edge, vegan family tomorrow (and eating and drinking god knows what), and then, because Friday is an auspicious day, we get to go to Ryan’s coworkers’ place and see our first haircutting ceremony.

And then SOMEBODY is turning THIRTY on Friday!

Can you guess who?

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Kiddos

1.

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Ah, teachers’ day.  This photo was taken at some kind of ceremony honoring three of our teachers (one from each ‘generation’ [young, mid-career, and recently retired], although I couldn’t tell you why these three teachers were chosen); the girls were acting in a skit about the retired teacher’s life, I think.  The previous sentence gives you a good idea of how much I know what’s going on at any given time.

All four of these girls are teachers’ kids.  Thanks to Mongolia’s lack of hangups about keeping work and family separate, I see them scampering around the teachers’ room every day: Preening in front of the mirror, practicing their cursive at the table, waiting for their mothers to finish work and take them home.   They used to stare at me in silent horror, but now we are buds (when I’m doing anything interesting on my laptop).

The three honorees.  From left to right: Baaska, math teacher and insanely good basketball player; Mystery Retired Physics Teacher I’ve Never Been Introduced To; and Doogii, English teacher and possibly the kindest person I’ve ever met.

One of the first units Doogii and I taught together this year was with a group of no-good middle schoolers.  I walked into the room that day and immediately recognized them as the kids I’d most hated to teach last year.  Glued to their cell phones.  Openly disrespectful to their teachers.  Slobberingly servile to their Alpha Mean Girl.  Cretins, every last one of them.

Right away I’m thinking, “Oh, great, I can’t wait to watch these boneheads walk all over sweet, sweet Doogii for the next 40 minutes.”  But they were quiet, and attentive, and on task.  And then — and then! — the next day, when it turned out none of them had done their homework, Doogii folded her hands and gently lectured them about responsibility, hard work, and the importance of taking charge of your own education.  Heads bowed in shame, and hands fiddled guiltily, and on Alpha Miss Thang’s face, I saw actual remorse.

So that’s Doogii.  What a gangsta.

Here’s part of Doogii’s career retrospective display.  We spent hours setting this thing up before the ceremony.  I show you this mostly because I want you to see the “анхны төгсөлт” and “3 дахь төгсөлт” slips of paper, which were hand-lettered by yours truly.  My supervisor handed me the papers and the pen and told me, “You will write these, because your letters are the nicest,” and thus came to pass the most triumphant moment in my Mongolian language learning.

(They kind of translate to “first graduation” and “third graduation,” because those are pictures of her first and third, um, class classes, like a group of students she not only taught English to but also was kind of a homeroom teacher/den mother to?  For many years, each?  I don’t know why I thought I needed to explain this part of the Mongolian  Education System just now, forgive me)

Back to the children, please!

2.

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That’s better.  This is Namuuntsetseg, the biggest, most shameless flirt in the hospital children’s ward.

A couple of traveling PCVs came through town to put on music therapy seminars, and so we got to hang out and take some pictures and listen to some tunes.

This baby is having his mind blown by the hokey-pokey.

3.

At the orphanage last Saturday, Erdenekhuu (reclining, peace sign, striped shirt, cool guy expression) grabbed my camera and went to town.  Every time I asked for it back, he waved me away with a “hold on a minute.”  Things devolved into a posed-photo fest as all the other kids yelled for him to take every possible group photo (“Now me!  Now me with her!  Now the three of us!” etc etc etc):

But he got some pretty awesome candids too, I thought:

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I’ll have to thank him for taking my Picture Of The Day for me.

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Apartment buildings e’erywhere

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I usually don’t like taking photos without some kind of sentient being (human, dog, cat, cow) in the frame, but doing this photo-a-day thing has forced me to consider other things.  By “consider other things,” I mean “run outside at the end of the day and take a photo of my apartment block while my camera slowly grinds to a halt in the -30 temperatures.”

Did I tell you that winter finally came?  Because it did, it’s here, frozen boogers, every day in every way.

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Sometimes I get a little bummed about living in Erdenet, and how neither of us really got to experience much traditional, countryside culture in our time here.  But then I remember that this is almost exactly what I expected:  When we got our invitation for “Asia/Central Asia,” I immediately imagined us in a cold, mid-sized city, living in an old, concrete Soviet apartment building.  And here we are.

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A couple of long-term missionaries (she’s American, he’s Swedish) had Ryan and me over for dinner last year.  They’ve been living in the district across from ours for more than ten years, and have two little girls.  When we arrived, we commented on how delightful their building’s stairwell was – fresh coat of paint, no broken bottles, no urine, minimal penis graffiti, et cetera.  Then they said the same stairwell had made a visiting relative of theirs weep.  “We told her, ‘Don’t worry, the buildings look a little run-down but the apartments are nice on the inside,'” they said.  “But she cried all the way up.”

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We have some relatives visiting next month, too!  Guys: Please try not to cry when you get here, okay?  Thanks.

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