So let’s see… last time I wrote you was in UB, right after finishing practice teaching. Saturday after finishing practice teaching we conducted our community project, which we were to put together as a group in any form that we wanted to. Getting everything organized was pretty much as would be expected, disorganized. At first we wanted to paint a mural on one of the classroom walls, but we didn’t get permission from the school director or funding from PC in time, so we scratched that. However, we did decide to do a variety of other things for the students we had been teaching as well as anyone else who wished to participate.
A few of us had been doing yoga after school for the previous few weeks, and a few students had been doing it with us when they found out we were doing it. So, for the community project day, we held a much larger yoga session, which went over quite well. A few of us led it, and one of the Mongolians who had been participating from the beginning helped explain in Mongolian what we were doing. They had a lot of fun doing the yoga, and Sean, the PCV who lives in Bayangol, decided that he will have a class after school for those who want to show up throughout the school year.
We had two art competitions, one for younger kids and one for older kids. We had a really large turnout for the younger kids competition. We had then use materials they brought or the colored pencils that we supplied to draw a picture of what Mongolia was to them. Most drew pretty similar pictures: hills in the countryside with gers and horses, and the individual members of their family in dels. I don’t think anyone drew UB or naadam, and, more surprisingly, Chingghis Khan. For the older kids, only a few showed up, but those who did drew some pretty outstanding pictures. The winner used watercolors that he brought to draw a bull-rider with an American flag in the background.
Finally, we had a small basketball tournament. There is a small basketball court in the school. The walls are basically the out-of-bounds lines and the goals are about 12 feet high, but we made due. We played 5 on 5 full court, and the 4 teams were the 9th, 10th, 11th grade teams (schools only go up to 11th grade), and us. It was very packed with the spectators on the already small court, but I have a feeling that this is something they might all be used to. I think most of you reading this know how bad I am at basketball, but we gave the 10th graders a run for their turgrigs, losing 10-11 after their 2 point comeback at the very end of the game. The 11th grade team easily cleaned up the whole tournament, beating the 9th graders in the first game, and then the 10th graders in the final game.
After all these events, we hosted a small concert in the cultural center to congratulate the winners as well as practice our “things” for the concert for the swearing-in ceremony. Let me explain this… At swearing-in, we put on a concert that goes on national TV. PCVs go on and play songs they wrote in Mongolia, sing Mongolian songs, dance, play Mongolian instruments, etc. So, I decided to write a speech, get some help translating it into Mongolian, and read that. Also, all 56 of us will be singing one of their national songs (like their version of “America, the Beautiful”). The Wednesday before this community activity day, we went to the cultural center to watch a traditional march/dance. They then asked if anyone would like to learn it. I (with 7 others) volunteered to learn. After going through the routine about 3 or 4 times, they inform us that we aren’t just all messing around, but that we will actually be doing it for swearing in, and we will practice for it on Saturday at the community day party. I don’t have much in terms of previous dance experience, but they decided that I was the one who needs to have the front and center spotlight routine with the Mongolian who was teaching us (who won’t be with me on TV). When we showed up on Thursday at 5 to practice again for the weekend, they throw these lovely dresses on the 4 guys, and some tops and skirts on the girls (the girls were quite upset with the way the outfits fit them, much more upset than I will go into detail here). We do it once, and then they inform us that we will be doing it for a community concert that night. We have maybe done the full thing 5 times, all of us have to watch the Mongolians to know what we are supposed to be doing, and we are on in front of everyone in a little over an hour. And I have a lovely “solo” (I call it that because what I’m doing is not anything like what my Mongolian buddy is doing), with a couple side leg kicks and spins. Well, when the time came, we went out there, and many of us gave our first dance performance. It ended up being recognizable, and the community was more entertained than they ever could have been if we did this thing correctly.
Back to our concert on Saturday evening. We hadn’t practiced again since the surprise concert a few days before, but we went through it once, and actually did much better than we did before. Rob recited a famous Mongolian poem, and Andy played a three-stringed Mongolian instrument called a shans. We also had Eric come up and sing a song that he wrote about Mongolia with some cleverly placed Mongolian words (it’s called “Zugeer, Mongolia” which means, “It’s OK, Mongolia”), including a shans solo by Andy. We gave some prizes to the winning artists and basketball team, sing a song, and said thank you to the community for hosting us for the summer. Afterwards, we put on a couple popular songs and danced for a little while. It was a good end to a good day.