Monday, July 03, 2006

Naadam and such

So I have been here in Bayangol for a little over two weeks now. I am having a really great time being a member of this family. I am getting used to living with a lot less than I have become accustomed to, which is really amazing seeing as I have only been here such a short time. My family is lots of fun. My parents don’t act any older than my siblings who are 11, 20, and 22. They have some disco lights in my room, so I’ll turn on music some nights and well all dance in my room. When we play games (either with cards or ankle bones from sheep) there is always some sort of cheating going on, and I’m sure that they change the rules on me since I don’t really understand the actual rules yet and always just take their word for it. I only know one card game, and it is pretty simple in theory, but I still haven’t won a single hand. Sheep ankle bones are used in any variety of ways called Shagai (I know of four varieties). There are 4 sides of the ankle, and they are called the sheep, horse, camel, and goat. In the most popular form, about 80-100 of these bones are thrown on the ground and you try to flick a bone at another one of the same type. If you hit it without hitting any other bone, then you pick up one of them and repeat. Once the last pair hits, everyone expect the flick-er puts in two, and this continues until only one person has all the pieces. Games can take a while depending on the skill level of the players (which is very high for Monglians, and very low for us Americans… they seem to be able to get about 10 pieces before I am able to find two pieces that are the same).

The extended family lives close by and are always stopping by to eat, play, or just chat. I am having a terrible time keeping track of all of the names since there are first of all so many of them and secondly in a foreign language. There are a bunch of toddlers which are very cute but annoying since their Monglian is better than mine which is never a fun thing to think about. My Monglian is getting better though, but language reception is better than my production. They treat kids a little differently here. I feel like they just let them be and learn on their own, whereas in America we baby them. I feel that parents might be a little weirded out by the parenting style here, but as a non-parent it makes quite a bit of sense. They babies are very cute though, with huge heads and wide eyes that stare at me wondering why I look so different and don’t understand them when they talk.

Wednesday and Thursday of this week are my soum’s Naadam, which is a festival where they do the wrestling, archery, and horse racing. There is also lots of singing, dancing, contortion-ing, and general celebrating. Next month is the big Naadam in UB, and it’s the 800th, so its going to be a really big deal. They are doing a lot to prepare for it, but in traditional Monglian style, they didn’t start preparing until a few months ago. There had been tons of stuff about in on TV, and you can tell that the whole country is buzzing because of it.

By the way, my house has 2 TVs (one black and white) with 3 channels. No running water, but we get around that pretty easily. We have a refrigerator and stove, but we don’t use the stove, but rather a electric cooking pot for everything. It’s amazing how many different things you can make from the same 6 ingredients. I can only think of a very few things that aren’t very appealing to eat, and they aren’t eaten very often, and usually aren’t prepared for a full meal. A few deserts and side dishes aren’t great, and if you don’t like mayo then there are a few more things that you won’t like, but there should never be a problem getting full in this country, even for vegetarians (there are plenty of them in Peace Corps, and that’s why I know that). We have a tank hanging up in the air for showering (but we just set it up last week, before then I used the bathhouse). People don’t shower much here, but they don’t smell bad like some of the Europeans that I have encountered. They usually bathe once a week, and wash their face and feet about every other day.

About money here: the bathhouse is $.50. A ride to Darkhan (maybe about 80km) is $5 round trip per person, and a ride around the city is $.20. I got a shirt, hat, and sandals for $10. A meal at a restaurant (which they don’t have in Bayangol) is $2, a beer is $1.50 or you can get a bottle of vodka for $6 ($2 at a store). An ice-cream is $.20, but make sure you get the unsalted kind. There really aren’t a lot of things to buy, and I haven’t done much food shopping, but I would assume you can get a weeks worth (for one person) for $10-15. Speaking of alcohol, the drinking culture is no where as bad as I thought it would be coming here. Yeah there are drunks, but where aren’t there. There might be more in UB, but once again, what city can you go to where there aren’t drunk people that you need to avoid. I also don’t get much unwanted attention at all, but rather kind of celebrity attention. The little kids can’t get enough of any of us, and we play volleyball (no net, just hitting around) for hours at a time. I haven’t ridden a horse yet, but I’m sure I’ll get a chance to soon enough. Lots of people get around on horse; few people own cars except for people who drive for a living. I guess I would say there is someone on horseback for every person who rides a bike. I’m sure there will be much more once I get out to the countryside.

I’ll write more after Naadam, and try to get this post up before I have 4 more written like last time. OK, its now after Naadam.

Naadam was a lot of fun. We had class until 11 on Wednesday, and then we headed over to where Naadam was being held. There were basically three areas: where the horse race finished, an area where you could buy food or little toys, and the wrestling area. I spent most of my time watching wrestling. The adults being wrestling on Wednesday, and finished on Thurs, and the kids and teens started and finished on Thurs. The wrestling was a lot of fun to watch, you should check out their outfits on google because I’m not the best at descriptive writing, but basically a small underwear bottom and a chest-less shirt. The story behind the shirt is that a woman won the event easier one time in the past and no one could tell because of her outfit, and to prevent this in the future they created the shirt they use today. The wrestlers first do an eagle dance, and then pair up to wrestle. The goal is to simply get your opponents body to the ground, kind of like sumo. The winner then soars over the loser (like an eagle) and advances to the next round. I found out on Thursday that I would have been able to wrestle if I had signed up on Thursday, oh well.

The horse racing is done by the age of the horses, and as far as I can tell are all 25km. When someone spots the dust could coming over the mountains, everyone runs over from wherever they are over to where the finish line is. The riders are young little boys and girl, in attempt to test the skill of the horses rather than that of the riders. It is awesome to see the little kids in brightly colored shirt bouncing bareback to the finish line after riding for 25 km. It is good luck to touch the winning horse and wipe its sweat on your forehead and hair. For the final race, we chased the winning horse down in a car so that we could all touch it and bring ourselves good luck in the year to come.

As for the food part, I took it upon myself to eat as many hoshuur as possible. Hoshuur are kinda like pancakes with meat in the middle. They are also made to be like fried dumplings. They cost about $.15 per one, and 5-8 will get you full. I ate about 50 I think, which was 51 short of my goal. I picked 100 because one of the volunteers who has been here for a year told me that he ate 100 last year, although he does have about 75 pounds on me. I also had my first taste of airag, the fermented mare’s milk, there. It really doesn’t taste that bad, especially if you add in a little sugar. I was sitting in a tent with a lot of the town big-shots, and they kept giving me big bowls of the stuff, I guess a combination of me being big and a newcomer. It must be only about 2-3% alcohol because even after drinking that much I couldn’t feel the alcohol at all (and it wasn’t just me, the other trainees agreed). All it did really was taste good, and violently disturb my stomach this morning (Friday).

I will be in Darkhan from Monday until Wednewday for Mid-Center Days, and will have a few opportunities to do some comunticating with the outside world which should be fun. It will also be fun to be in a large group again and here stories from other places that I haven’t heard about yet. Send me some emails and write some comments on these posts so I can see what you think or write about something that I haven’t yet.

-We got a new dog today, a cute little black guy (not good with breeds). I named him Kanga, after kangaroo, because the other dogs name is Dingo. I think they were implying that it is my dog (communication is always a funny thing, getting in situations I don’t know I’m getting into, or simply not knowing how to get out of situations I know I’m in). If it is mine, I wonder if they are expecting me to take it to site with me, and what the logistics of that would be. I think it would be fun, to have a dog of my own to have as a pet rather than just a guard dog (which aren’t treated as pets). If I find out it is mine, good luck figuring out the paper work to get it back to the states for me mama.