June 9, 2013
Peace Corps has devised a system in which each trainee lives with a host family during the three months of training. In this way, the trainee is fully immersed in the language, culture, and food of the host country in preparation for living on their own when they receive their assignment. There are so many things that can’t be learned except by living immersed.
On our way from the site of our orientation to our host families, we stopped at a few places of interest. First up was a herder driving his herd across the road. We got out and greeted him, so he came over and greeted us. We also stopped at Buddhist shrines, where people had left money, empty vodka bottles, and various treasures.
I am so fortunate to have been assigned to the family I am living with. They are a retired couple, both 60 years old, who have two of their three daughters living with them – one with a four-year-old child. The third daughter lives a short distance away, and is also hosting a Peace Corps trainee. There are two sons I haven’t met. This is a happy family, very good-natured with each other, and they laugh a lot. There are chickens, much to my delight – 8 hens and a rooster. A dog is tied up in the yard, and does a wonderful job of guarding. He is currently barking for all he’s worth to protect the household from the cows that are strolling past our locked gate. One can never be too careful! On the flip side, he’s a total pushover for a chest rub.
The women in this family are also excellent cooks, and for this the family receives very high marks in my book. I’ve been receiving excellent culinary care, and I am usually trying to decide if I really need that extra spoonful of deliciousness, or if I should save room for the next meal. The community is located in the “bread basket of Mongolia”, yet the idea that everything made with flour has wheat in it has been a difficult concept to get across to them. So far, the wheat grown here has seemed to have little deleterious effect on me, but I’m trying to keep the wheat in my diet on the light side until I know for sure, given that the consequences of sensitivity are not pretty.
The family has also started their vegetable garden. They are growing tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, and onions. They have fruit trees that produce small black berries that look similar in size to tiny grapes, which are turned into jam and wine in the fall. I tasted a small glass of the wine, and it was a delicious dessert wine. Someone is usually home, so they don’t fence against the chickens, but shoo them away when they get into the garden.
I have my own private outhouse, separate from the family one. It has a lock on the door and a bucket for used toilet paper. It’s basically an A-frame with a green door, and has planks running across the floor, with one missing. The gap is to be straddled, and it works like a charm! I find it a far more effective a position for elimination than sitting. On my first day here, I managed to drop my glasses into the abyss, and one of the daughters found a long stick and pulled them out. Her mother set about thoroughly washing them, spraying windex on them, and then washing them again. The incident became a joke to tell the relatives.
On Sunday, all the trainees (PCTs) in the area were to assemble at the school at three o’clock to meet the nurse practitioner for another round of shots. The daughters walked me to the school, and on the way we met the third daughter’s 7-year-old son walking their PCT (Will) to the school. It was truly wonderful, after 48 hours of total immersion, to visit with the group again and tell stories. Everyone was in such good spirits that we didn’t notice when three and four o’clock came and went. This was Mongolian time, and we all knew it. Just before five, the medical crew arrived. They were delighted by how well we were all doing. Afterwards, we all decided to visit the store owned by fellow PCT Jeff’s family. While we were browsing, the toddler of his household wanted him to pick her up. Every time he tried to put her down, she cried, so he took her back. We were there all of 15 minutes, and he was still holding her when we left.
I left the group and began walking confidently in the direction of my house. It felt so good to be walking. At one point, I realized I didn’t know which dirt road to turn into to get home. Just as I was thinking I’d gone too far, I heard a car honking behind me. I turned and saw my host family who had come to look for me. When we returned home, the parents had a good laugh with the two daughters at my expense, describing me walking, happy as a lark, right past the road where I should have turned. The solution came the next day, when one of the daughters walked with me to school, and as we came to the corner to turn at, she proceeded to paint a large mark with her red nail polish on the cement block!
Another beautiful day in Mongolia is coming to a close. The sun will set, but it will still be a bit light out at ten o’clock. I will once again fall into my bed and sleep like the dead, well past 4 o’clock when it begins to get light again.