Outhouse Wolves and Other Stories

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A couple of weekends ago, we headed west of UB with some colleagues from our school to spend the night in the countryside with a herding family. The connection to this family was that the patriarch was the brother of the husband of one of our school’s headmasters, which was great for a couple of reasons. 1) It wasn’t a tourist camp so we had a more authentic experience, and 2) because we were connected, it didn’t feel like we were with total strangers. Our host family was so friendly and hospitable, and we had a great time!

 

crunchyside map

TBH, I’m not exactly sure where we stayed–as is the nature of traveling cross country to an impermanent settlement–but it was somewhere in or around the orange circle on the map. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What was neat about this particular location was that it held a variety of landscapes. We stayed in gers on the steppe, but we were surrounded by mountains and about a 30 minute walk away from where we stayed was a large stretch of sand, including quite a few dunes. We were told this stretch of sand runs from the Gobi up to Lake Khuvsgul in the north. So in a way, we visited the Gobi. 😉

Camels:

crunchyside camelsCamels are one of the five key livestock kept by Mongolian nomads. (The others are horses, cows, sheep, and goats.) The Bactrian camel is native to Central Asia, and they are helpful beasts of burden in addition to providing wool for textiles and milk for dairy products. As you can see in these photos, the camels our host family had were in the process of shedding their thick winter coats and were semi-balding. There were camels that we used for riding, and other camels that were not–mamas and babies. One of the baby camels had been attacked by a wolf recently, so one of its hind legs was wounded. The family had been giving it antibiotics. The morning of our second day, that baby camel was on its feet and nursing. It was certainly favoring the wounded leg, but there’s hope for a full recovery!

Our ride took us a half hour out from camp to the stretch of Gobi sand (then back another half hour). The camels liked crowding each other as we rode, so I have some pretty gnarly bruises above my right ankle from when my camel crushed my leg into the neighboring camel’s metal stirrup, but there was no bolting, biting, or spitting, so I’d count that ride as a win. 😉 On our return walk/ride, one of our colleagues sang us a traditional Mongolian long song. He grew up in the countryside–not the city–so for him, being back where he grew up is always relaxing and nostalgic.

Good Eats:

crunchyside food

One thing that happens whenever we spend extended time with Mongolians is that we eat so. much. food. Personally, I can’t complain because I love eating, but some foreigners feel overwhelmed by how much food they are offered and don’t know if it’s ok to turn it down. (It is, but be nice about it and try to eat something!)

Our hosts served us a variety of traditional foods, including milk tea, khuushuur, and khorkhog. Khuushuur are fried meat pies. Some of the khuushuur were stuffed with mutton, and others were stuffed with “sheep stomach” (which tasted like minced organ meats, and not just tripe). That picture of Z eating a khuushuur in the top left? Sheep stomach! He was also interested in watching the frying process. The top right photo shows how the khorkhog was prepared. One sheep was butchered and the meat and bones were layered with minced onion, hot rocks from the stove, salt, potatoes, and carrots in a giant metal bowl with water on the bottom. The whole thing was covered and cooked for about an hour, turning into the most delectable meal.

In the morning, we had leftover mutton from the khorkhog, boortsog, more milk tea, coffee (!), rice porridge, and fry bread. Sadly, I wasn’t in the ger when they made the dough for the fry bread, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to recreate it at home, but I am definitely interested in trying. Delicious delicious food!

Countryside Living:

crunchyside Zach

When we first got to where we stayed over the weekend, Z was fairly shy, but he warmed up and ended up quite sad when we left. He was particularly enamored with the kids and lambs that stayed around the gers, and very much enjoyed chasing them. I don’t think they minded much, but I did worry that their mothers would be less than thrilled.

I don’t like to be the type of mother who hovers over her children, but there were a number of concerns that I had to balance while we were out of our normal. Z is not around animals enough here in UB to know that some animals are safe and some are not, so I had to corral him away from some of the livestock–like the overprotective camel mama whose baby had been attacked. She was a mama on a mission. I was also worried that Z would wander into the outhouse, which wasn’t deep, but also had no door on it and was exposed on one side and the top to the elements. I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on fishing my toddler out of a toilet. 😉

Wolf

What I pictured happening to me.

Speaking of toilets, I needed to use it during the night. I had somewhat seriously told Eric as we got ready for bed that if I needed to pee before daybreak, I would just pee in one of the unused diapers we had brought along rather than go outside at night because of the wolves. (Ok, maybe just wolf–singular–but apex predator I am not.) Around 3:30am, well, I needed to go, and Eric (who was also awake) convinced me that I shouldn’t use a diaper for my bathroom break. I was still hesitant to use the outhouse–WOLVES, people!–but I decided maybe I could just pee behind the ger. I didn’t want to bring my phone for its flashlight because it’s hard enough to pee outside without peeing all over yourself in a squat without also having to juggle a light source. Anyway, once outside, I realized the moon was bright enough to cast shadows so I opted to use the outhouse. I know, I know. All that fuss for nothing. I was thankful for not needing a flashlight for that trip though because I have a record of losing items down outhouses. (RIP first Fitbit.) For the record, I squatted facing out so that if a wolf decided to take me down while in the outhouse, I’d at least see it coming and know my fate. My tombstone would have read: Here lies Bethany. Dead from outhouse wolves.

People:

crunchyside Talitha

We are just so flippin’ blessed to have the relationships that we do with Mongolians. Over the years, we’ve worked alongside educators, administrators, students, business folk, and more. Our children have been loved by all. We’ve written numerous recommendation letters, proofread so many essays and applications, and coached and encouraged and been coached and encouraged in return. Mongolian doctors have delivered both of our babies and been invested in their growth. Whenever folks ask me what my favorite part of living in Mongolia is, I tell them it’s the people, and this weekend reminded me again as to why.

Beth sig

PS. I had the bulk of this post written the night we came back from the countryside, but then things got really crazy so I only just finished wrapping it up.

School Days: Milk Tea and Morin Khuur

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Currently, I’m sitting on our divan wearing flannel jammies and sipping instant milk tea–I’m not brave enough to try making it on my own yet. We are wrapping up our sixth week of teaching, and things are chugging along well. Our students are a delightful challenge. They are so much fun, and I just want to do my best to teach them the skills they need to succeed. I have already learned a lot about and from my students, and I look forward to learning more with them throughout the rest of the year.

Eric and I are both teaching three different kinds of classes with a variety of students. Eric is teaching an English math keywords to our tenth graders as they prepare for their IGCSE exams. He is also teaching oral English to 9th and 10th graders, and two afternoons a week, he is teaching classes for the Mongolian teachers at our school. My classes are 10th grade IGCSE, 11th grade TOEFL, and 12th grade SAT. In these classes, my focus in teaching has circled around essay writing, especially for the upperclassmen. Occasionally, I have good ideas, so as we have been working through essay structures, I have tasked my students with writing about Mongolia. This serves three purposes: first of all, my students get to write about something that excites them; secondly, my students are eager to defend their positions because of their topics; and thirdly, I get to learn a lot about Mongolian culture, history, and current events through my students’ words. It is a win/win situation in my book!

Because there is so much more to talk about, let me just include some brief anecdotes and accompanying pictures to bring you, gentle readers, up to date. 🙂

Training in Terelj

The week before school started, we joined the rest of our language institute’s teachers and staff for training in Terelj National Park. We stayed at a hotel in the countryside and spent the week getting to know one another better, getting excited for the school year, and bonding within our smaller teams. We also enjoyed a variety of Mongolian meals at the hotel and managed to fit in some local sightseeing around our various sessions. We even built a ger. Of course, what I mean by “we built a ger” is that three skilled Mongolians directed about 30 teachers over the course of several hours in how to unbuild and then rebuild a ger. I think if they didn’t have us around, they could have done it all by themselves much faster. 😉 Unfortunately, Eric picked up a stomach bug during training and missed a lot. (Fortunately, he was back to normal by the time school started!)

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Our School

The academic year started on September 1, and we were in for a few wonderful surprises. To begin with, Mongolian schools hold opening ceremonies that include speeches, performances, and a ceremonial ringing of the first bell of the school year. Because our school is technically bilingual, these ceremonies included both English and Mongolian, so we weren’t totally clueless. Later in the day, our students had a welcoming ceremony for Eric and me, which was very touching. It was short and sweet, but we felt very honored by the students’ well wishes and musical performances.

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Teacher’s Day

In early October, there is an international teacher’s day. On this day, none of the teachers taught, and there was a special schedule drawn up to include classes for all the different teachers. Students taught from our lesson plans, and we were able to attend a few of these classes as students. I will say that by and large, our students are a confident group of public speakers! There were more performances on Teacher’s Day that included skits, songs, and dances. Everyone in our school really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, and I smiled and laughed so much that my face hurt. That evening, the faculty from our school joined with the faculties of our two sister schools to enjoy a banquet, even more musical performances, a lottery for prizes, and a lot of dancing. For someone who grew up not dancing in public, I sure am glad that our coworkers encouraged me to join in the fun. Even Eric–who does not like drawing attention to himself in crowds–got up and cut a rug or two. Teacher’s Day was easily the most memorable day of our time in Mongolia thus far and is one of the most memorable days of my life. It was simply wonderful. 🙂

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There is more to say than this, but I will resist writing more at this point to keep from overwhelming you all! I hope to update more frequently now that we are starting to get into something of a routine here in UB.

Love you all!

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