Last week, we reached the two-month mark since our arrival in Mongolia. We have been in training, divided by sector, since that day a lifetime ago. We have been living with our host families, adapting to Mongolian food, learning the very difficult Mongolian language, practice teaching, and generally becoming oriented to this job we have been invited to do in Mongolia for the next two years. When I say this job, I refer to the 24/7 job of representing America in our communities as we work on the assignment we were invited to do. We’ve gotten to know our fellow PCTs in our particular groups fairly well, have witnessed some ups and downs we’ve all experienced, and are soon facing the return to the large group for our swearing in. After swearing in, we will be disbursed across the country. Last Friday marked the end of practice teaching. This week, our light schedule includes our Language Proficiency Interview and some wrapping up of the business of Pre-Service Training.
Our group decided to thank our families together. On Saturday, we went to the top of a nearby hill to have a picnic. We arrived in cars and taxis. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I smelled the strong aroma of the herbs growing on this hill. Along with the herbs, the mist and clouds helped create an environment that felt almost magical.
We brought out what we needed from the back of my host father’s car, including the cut up pieces of a goat that was butchered the day before for the occasion.
A traditional method of cooking meat in a setting such as this involves the use of a large pressure cooker, which looks like a gas tank from a car, filled with cut up meat, onions, salt, water, and rocks. This container is sealed and placed on a wood stove, also brought from home. While the fire and the meat were being prepared, the other parents were busy laying out a huge picnic on blankets. (And I thought we were the ones thanking the parents, rather than the other way round!)
At this point, all the PCTs lined up, and sang a couple of Mongolian songs we had learned. Each trainee, addressing their host family members, individually read from a list of the special things they appreciated about living with them.
A hug from my host father, with sister closeby.
While waiting for the goat to be cooked, we snacked on the delicious spread.
Reminiscent of the three manly sports just celebrated a few weeks back, one of our language teachers initiated a game of horse and rider, where pairs of people decided who was the horse and who was the rider, and raced to the finish line. This brought lots of laughs from everyone, American and Mongolian alike.
Then a group of the Mongolian men encouraged the male PCTs to wrestle with each other, Mongolian style. The host dads all coached, cheered, and laughed as each pair tried to simulate what we’d seen at Naadam in July.
Soon the goat was ready, and the container was opened. When the rocks were taken out, they were carried to the picnic area so that everyone could pick them up and toss them from one hand to the other to give a healthy year to all who handled them. The goat pieces were piled into a silver bowl, and everyone dug in. Everywhere I looked, I saw people gnawing on bones, up to their elbows in juices and grease.
Toward the end of the picnic, one host dad gave a moving rendition of a Mongolian “Long Song”, a particular style of traditional music. Then everyone pitched in to clean up, and before long, we all left this lovely herbed picnic ground.
I remember at one point during the festivities, looking around at these families, and I heard myself say silently, “What a group of good, good people!” We all have highlights from our home stays as well as low points. In the end, I know we will use what we have learned here in this village with these families as we fan out and each make our ways to our sites and our individual continued journeys in this majestic country.