Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Naadam 2011

- Wrestling Match in the stadium. The winner does the eagle dance, described in the blog below.

- The wrestling action

- Archery competition

- Horse-racing

- Group of morin-khuur performers, for the opening ceremonies

What a variety of experiences I had during Mongolia’s summer holiday. Locals dressed up in colorful summer deels or dresses. Meanwhile, cars boasted the Mongolian flag and I was reminded of Easter and Memorial Day at the same time. I enjoyed a traditional concert featuring varied instruments, dances and singing, with throat singing as well. The costumes were quite resplendent in color and variety. This year I had a chance to watch all sporting events: horse racing, wrestling and archery. After each wrestler wins his match he rhythmically saunters to the circular stand holding the 9 helmets of the Kings. He goes around the helmets in the clockwise direction, waving his arms as an eagle does in flight.

I watched the events with Mongolian friends and coworkers, Korean volunteers and an American photojournalist traveling around the country. Another fellow PCV was stranded in my town for 6 days, as the buses that travel to the countryside towns are stopped for over a week during the festivities. The government and most organizations closed for an entire week, mine included.

I was pleased to see trash containers amid the carnival-type set up surrounding the outdoor stadium for the event. They had typical games, food vendors, and screens for special photographs set up. The stadium seating is exceptionally hard to access, 3 feet from the ground within the stadium and no steps to ascend by. The covered seats are divided into 3 sections by metal bars welded from the top to bottom of the seating area. Thus, you must crawl under, over or through to access middle seats or pass by any section. The external access requires entrance into the grandstand area, 2 flights of steps and crossing of a short plank. In America we value convenience, while in Mongolia convenience is harded to come by in so many ways. Yet, life goes on and people celebrate nonetheless.

Since Naadam we are resuming a more normal summer schedule. By summer schedule, I mean a relaxed schedule. In Mongolia people take all of their rest days at one time, usually in the summer. The concept of spreading out time off throughout the year is not considered. Thus, people are gone for a month or more at a time, depending on years worked. Despite this, a coworker and I have put in 4 consecutive days of cooperative work on a project proposal. This diligent preparation, though it only started 6 days ago, is an improvement. We wrapped up the project in time for today’s deadline. I will enjoy getting away from a desk job and back into clinical work in America. At times the current situation is difficult and Justin and I miss each other very much. The diversions of the past weeks have definitely helped me during this difficult time. I’m finding that joy and difficulty can pass together, neither must be tempered by the other, though both are acutely present.

- Written by Ashley (posted by Justin)

Justin's Update:

I have been hanging out in Pittsburgh and Ohio for the past few weeks, trying to spend time with friends and figure out the next steps in my life. I've applied for a few positions and grad school and waiting to hear a response, if any. Right now, I'm visiting my sister in Chicago with my mom. I'm planning to visit friends in TN the next few days, then back to Ohio.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trip to Khovd

-camels with funny faces

-our driver, the SUV and our tent with crystal

I arrived back at site yesterday. Bear got along well with her dog-sitters, but she was also very glad to see me. The town seems even more green then when I left and I always enjoy the new flowers that peak up unexpectedly. Here’s a bit about my trip.

We spent three days traveling to Khovd and drove about 30 hours during this time. We covered at least 1500 kilometers, mainly over dirt or dust roads. We had a diligent, well-prepared driver from World Vision and the

training coordinator with us. We traveled in a Ford Everest SUV. Considering the long road trip, we had the best possible arrangement. We stayed in a hotel the first night and camped on the steppe the second night. Our driver provided a nice 4 person tent that kept us dry during the light rain that evening. We got used to no bathrooms, outhouses, etc. Crystal provided a bag to encourage collection of our trash as we camped. Our driver almost left the bag sitting on the pristine steppe, but with our insistence, it went with us to Khovd for disposal. We stopped at food gers and ate with families along the way, usually one hot meal a day. The towns in the countryside are limited, with

gers scattered sparsely in between. I saw more camels then ever before in Gobi-Altai. We had two flat tires on the way to Khovd, but the driver said they were, “No problem,” and his quick tire changes confirmed this.

The training schedule changed from day 1, as it was scheduled to start at 9, but the coordinator instructed us to meet her there at 9 for set-up. She explained that participants would not come until 10. Thus, we assisted in enabling disregard for schedules in this country. (There were not participants at 9). Tea break scheduled at 11:00 arrived at 10:00 and the call for lunch at 1:00 came at 12:30. No need to worry about having enough presentation material, as the 6 pm end time got moved to 3:30, then 4 with our input. I need this reminder to not worry, as things that are planned for always change, so no need to fret prematurely. The best prepartation is an open mind and flexibility. That said, the participants, both parents and doctors were active and open with discussion and questions. I appreciated the parents’ honesty in sharing their frustrations, fears and challenges caring for their children with disabilities. The difficulties are immense for all families, but the options for these parents are so few. The information is so limited as well. I find their determination gives me great hope and we discussed options for

increased communication with teachers, school directors and social workers to work toward inclusion for their children in schools. Most of these children have no option but staying at home without education or opportunity to build social skills.

One family we visited lives in one small room of a building because they sold their ger to pay for treatment for their son. Their situation is improving, as is their son. His motor development appears nearly normal. His mother, who was at home, has finished college and will be the kindergarten teacher for the rehabilitation center that will open next month. Her son will be with her at this center. His father is also now employed.

Moments of brevity included stopping to talk with a passing driver and noting the large sheep riding in the back seat. We asked for the man with the camel at the river crossing. Apparently you can pay 10,000 togrogs and the camel will guide the car, finding the shallowest places. Unfortunately, the man with the camel was not there that day. A man got in the car to guide us across. At times it seems the vehicle was floating, not driving, but we made it.

The return to primarily Mongolian food required GI transitions, as expected. Visiting families always includes the prompting to “eat, eat” and “drink, drink.” You must actively be doing one or the other, preferably both, at all times. But, one cannot complain about kindness and hospitality. What a great gift to be welcomed openly into the lives and modest homes of these people. Life is difficult, but there is always time to sit with friends and strangers.

-a landscape view with the Khovd mountains

-the Gandan monastery in Khovd at sunset