Adjusting To Life Abroad: Mongolia

Classes are in full swing now, and I’ve tried to give myself some sort of routine, despite not really having a schedule.  Its been almost a full month since I arrived here in Omnodelger, and things are finally getting more social for me.  After class Friday, I was strolling home, when two of my 11th grade students ran to catch up with me.  The two boys flanked either side of me and asked where I was going.  I said I was going home.  They exchanged looks with each other then one of the boys chimed in “Can we come too?”  So I hosted my two students, gave them coffee, and boov (its like a nugget of bread) and we played a Mongolian card came.  I won twice, afterwards they insisted I play guitar, so i went through a quick verse of a tune when one of the boys spotted the shagai set Moogi gave me.  I’d never turn down a game of shagai, so we moved my coffee table and the three of us played the traditional Mongolian game of flicking sheep bones so they connect with the same corresponding way that other bones are lying.  I lost, (which is rare, I used to beat Moogi, quite often.)  After the game was done, they thanked me for having them and left.

Now for a note on some cultural mores in Mongolia that conflict with some of our norms.  In Mongolia the concept of knocking doesn’t exist.  You want to see how your friend is doing?  Think you might drop by and say hey to a relative?  Sure thing, come on in!  Your presence is announced by the straining of the door on its hinges as you step into the room giving a cheerful greeting.  This concept has even irritatingly carried over to the school as well.  Standing teaching a class, people are constantly popping their heads in, a student looking for a friend, a teacher checking to see if the room is empty, a school staff member looking for a bucket.  Glaring at them seems to have no effect either, in time I’ll figure something out.  The concept back home in my ger doesn’t bother me so much, my haasha family will frequently just come in to say hey, see if I’m hungry, or get confirmation that yes it is in fact getting cold out.  The hard adjustment for me, to this concept is the reverse.  Growing up at home in the US, knocking has always been the polite, respectful way of entering a closed room.  As a result I struggle entering rooms.  Part of me wants to knock softly and ask permission to enter, the other half of me wants to take advantage and run around town busting through doors Kramer style.  The hybrid result is me nervously knocking softly then immediately entering.  No problems so far.

So Friday night, I had my first random visitor.  One of the men who helped set up my ger, who does some kind of repair work at the school dropped by.  He wanted to play cards.  So we did, we played about four hands and I lost every one of them.  I still had a lot of fun, he knows no English but he was very patient with my Mongolian and corrected me when I needed it.  He left saying we would play again soon, then rubbed his two fingers together and exclaimed “Maybe, for money?”  Then he laughed and said he was kidding, I apparently need to get better first.

Just when I thought my day had been social enough, my door swung open yet again and in walked an entire Mongolian family, father, mother, and a teenage boy.  I recognized the boy from one of my other 11th grade classes but I’d never seen his parents before.  They quickly sat down around my coffee table, I stopped what I was doing and scrambled up to get them coffee and tea.  We sat and I chatted with them the best I could, what I did that day, did I work a lot, the weather, commending my fire making skills.  The visit was all well and nice but I was still left wondering what compelled them to come into my ger.  Just as I was finishing this thought the mother nudged her son on the shoulder.  Both parents looked expectedly at him as if saying, “Go on.”  The son who had been quiet through the whole conversation looked at me nervously, then started in English, “I want…”  He shook his head frustrated, and produced a slip of paper from his pocket.  He gazed at it for a second then read the question he had prepared, “I….want…to learn….the guitar.”  Taken by surprise, I quickly did the translation of what I wanted to say in Mongolian in my head.  Taking my hesitation for a possible refusal I could see anxiety in his eyes.  Finally I came out with it, “No problem, I will teach you, is tomorrow okay?”  Both parents smiled and nodded.  His face lit up.

Categories: Mongolia | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Adjusting To Life Abroad: Mongolia

  1. My face hurts from smiling so much. You did a great and entertaining job contrasting the social customs. I look forward to hearing how the guitar lessons go.

  2. Justin!!! you get to teach some guitar! i'm so happy for you, i hope they don't walk in on you in the bathroom…waittttt do you have a bathroom in the ger? i really like reading these, so keep them coming. btw, two letters will be coming soon. talk to you soon!

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