“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try . . .” Anne Lamott
This post contains serious text combined with some not-so-serious pictures. I couldn’t bring them any closer together, so I offer them both as the truth.
At the end of five months at my site, Peace Corps has moved me to a new site. I believe my old site is a very good Peace Corps site, as two PCVs before me had successful 2-year stints there, and I feel certain that the next volunteer to be placed there will do well. It just wasn’t good for me.
I like to think that I can still do many things I’ve always done. Well, maybe, because of a shoulder injury I can no longer chop wood if it’s too dense, but I’m strong. I like to use that strength when I can. During PST (training), we were asked to let staff know any requests we had related to location, assignment, or living situation. When I first contemplated what I wanted, I outright rejected the thought of living in a Soviet-era apartment building, which are a blight on the cityscapes of this country. I pictured myself living in a ger, the traditional Mongolian felt tent that has been used for centuries here in Mongolia. Pictures of gers in the wide open spaces of Mongolia inspired me. I wanted to fetch water, build a fire, and stay close to home to keep the home fires burning. I wanted a hashaa family that would help me figure things out in my house and in my community. I wanted to experience how Mongolians live.
I assumed I would learn Mongolian easily because I have found languages easy to learn. In fact, as recently as a year ago, I was learning Romanian, and it was going well.
A poster announcing a Mongolian Language class in Australia. http://www.volokh.com/
Then, as training continued, I struggled with the language. Sigh . . . I went to site unable to communicate even basic sentences beyond information about my host family or my family in America.
I also began to see that living in a ger would be dark, it wouldn’t have windows, except a small one at the top, and it would be more cramped than I was comfortable with. Thinking about living in a ger made me feel tired. I began to consider the only remaining option – the wood house. That’s what I had lived in all summer with my host family. That’s what I got.
From the start, I had mounting difficulties. I spoke no Mongolian, and my hashaa family spoke no English. I discovered I couldn’t get my water myself. (One of my counterparts who got my water once told me that mine was an unusually difficult water trip.) Communicating my needs to my hashaa family was almost impossible, even with the help of a counterpart. I learned I couldn’t count on the people who offered to get my water. Our assumptions didn’t coincide, and I didn’t have the language to ask questions.
For most of the past 5 months, I have been sick, mostly with upper respiratory infections. Besides the twin factors of being in a new country with new viruses plus being with 2000+ students for the first year, I am apparently sensitive to the particulates in the smokey air from ger fires. Even though I wore an N95 mask while I was outside, the school, which was in great disrepair let the outside air in, so I was breathing it indoors since I can’t teach with a mask on.
Looking fetching daily in N95 mask. http://www.deviantart.com/
This combination of factors created an untenable situation. Being sick most of the time sapped me of any energy I could put toward making this work. I felt I was in a very dark tunnel heading downward, that I couldn’t see to the end of. I tried to succeed at this site, but it was too much to overcome.
Here I am in my new apartment, hearing the Red-Billed Chough calling a welcome outside, just as it did at dawn of my first day in Mongolia 8 months ago. This little place is lacking a few things, like water in the kitchen, but it has so much that my previous house didn’t have. This building is set among trees in a part of the city that has clean air, away from the ger fires. It has hot and cold running water in the bathroom with a shower. An overstuffed couch and chair take up much of the living room area. And I live next door to the university where I will be teaching English. My students, I hear, are a motivated lot, who are studying engineering in preparation for working at the copper mine here. I met my three counterparts, all of whom speak English well, and who have found me a Mongolian language tutor. Overall, this is a much better fit for me.
The setting of my building
My minimal kitchen
An extra touch that I appreciate
Overstuffed: rare in Mongolia
Tomorrow morning I fly out to spend 12 days in Vietnam. I have a feeling a lot of my time will be spent at the beach. I’ll post pictures.