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Mongolian Newsletter #3 - July 4th, 2003

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  • Nikita Desai
    Mongolian Newsletter #3 – July 3rd 2003 Culture Shock Phase {Here we go again..:) } These past couple of weeks have reminded me of my childhood growing up in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2003

      Mongolian Newsletter #3 � July 3rd 2003


      Culture Shock Phase {Here we go again..:) }


      These past couple of weeks have reminded me of my childhood growing up in India.  The kids here in the neighborhood remind me of my youth and the way we used to just play out in the street and were so creative and inventive with our games.  We didn�t have tons of toys like most children in America and so we kept it going with hopscotch and tag and racing with each other. 


      I feel lately that I can really identify with the kids in my town because of my experience growing up for 10 years in India.  How small experiences here and there will bring me back to Bombay but then at the same time how small occurrences will also bring me back to New York/New Jersey.  Never before the Peace Corps had I ever considered myself sooo �American� as I do now.  From the time I arrived in the US up to the time I left for Mongolia.  I considered myself a South Asian American. Since I have been in Mongolia, I have been the �Indian� from America.  Not only this, but my behavior and the small annoyances that I have faced since I have been here have really made me realize how American I have become.


      For example, I arrived home on Wednesday night last week after spending some time talking with other volunteers to a loud and chaotic house atmosphere at midnight.  There were about 10 people hanging out in the living room drinking vodka, there were 4 kids running around on a racer in the house and my little brothers both playing computer games.  My host dad was passed out on the floor, so inebriated that he couldn�t even walk and had to be dragged to the bathroom by my host mother.  I went into my room and expressed my discomfort of the whole situation in my journal while I listened to the party sing Mongolian Songs till about 2 A.M.  I think the party finally left and I was able to sleep.  The next morning I woke up for breakfast and saw the governor sleeping when I left for class, still sleeping when I came back for lunch and then still sleeping when I left at 4 in the evening for my review session. 


      This is just a glimpse of a big Alcoholism problem in Mongolia.  Offering vodka to guests is a very old tradition and this tradition has really contributed so much to the drinking problem among this population.  You may refuse alcohol and all of us do but it is harder to refuse if you are a male.  Mark�s house is also pretty chaotic every night, to the point where there was a drunken man that apparently slept in his living room floor for two days and then ended up puking in the stairwell which everyone sort of just ignored.  It�s really sad.  No one says anything to reprimand these behaviors and we have heard from our language instructors that women in the household can not always �put the smack down� on their husbands in fear of domestic abuse.   Mark is always called out of his room even when he is trying to study and my door is knocked on anytime there is a party.  There is a lack of personal space here with most volunteers, and this is where I realize how American I have become.  How I need my privacy and �personal� space when in India, my whole extended family would all sleep in one room together.  Then I didn�t think Privacy and personal space was such a big issue. 



      Not only are we expected to sort of hang out at these occasions, its mostly also because we are the �foreigners� and �Americans� and our host families like to show us off to guests that come over and kind of joke around and talk about us.  My dad likes to comment to everyone how my Mongolian is the best out of all the other volunteers (hardly true) but all of us get compared quite a lot. He also likes to do an imitation Indian dance to crack a joke about me, I find it very funny.  


      Apparently the first 2 � 4 weeks is the right time frame of the �culture shock� period but we are all dealing with it at a good pace.  The best way that we approach this is just talk to each other about our experiences and vent to each other.  This really helps us bond with one another and eases up the pressure in the household.  We also go on hikes in the mountains to keep active and to focus on the positive aspects of where we are and what we are doing. 


      The five of us from our Soum met up with 7 of Erdernet City Volunteers and had a really nice trip out to the countryside.  This one family living in a Ger out in the countryside was kind enough to let us borrow their Ger to cook in.  We learned how to make hosher (dumplings).  We made meat ones and vegetarian ones which was great for me..:-)  It was really nice to get a chance to compare experiences with the people living in Erdernet and how their family lives are going.  This one very young married couple, the Murray�s are getting really fed up with the meat that they get served every now and then.  Well apparently last week all they ate was dried meat and sheep organs, I feel for them.  They said that they might just turn into vegetarians after the horrible food experience they have had with their families.  I stopped by John�s house one day and his cousin next door had walked in a live sheep into his house the night before and had it for breakfast the day after. 

      Unfortunately, I won�t be able to email quite as often as I have been able to in the past.  We have been prohibited to leave our host communities for the remainder of Pre Service Training.  Our Director said that they want us to integrate into our communities as much as possible, apparently the countryside people (us) cannot go to the cities unless it�s with our families or it�s for a �cross cultural experience�.  The Erdernet City people were shocked to find out that we didn�t shower everyday.  They couldn�t believe that we didn�t have running hot water here.  It�s really interesting to see how every volunteer�s experience is so different.  Gabrielle�s parents are much older and so �hanging out� in her house is like desecrating a church.  Her parents are very strict and don�t talk very much.  The great thing about that is that they do not drink but then are very strict when it comes to curfews and Gabrielle being 29 years old is having some trouble dealing with that.  I�ve really learned that we all have our addictions and our flaws, and all host families are complex in their own ways.  You just have to adapt yourself the best way you can to the culture without sacrificing your own beliefs.


      I was looking out of the window of my room the other day and had a feeling of disbelief.  I really wish I had a digital image of the view from the window of my Upper East Side high-rise apartment building so that I could match it next to the view I have of my room in Mongolia. I think it would be an appropriate representation of how I feel right now.  I am a believer of the saying that everything happens for a reason and the reason that I did not end up going to China was so that I could be introduced to how beautiful nature can be here in Mongolia.  The other volunteers are sort of surprised to see me part of the group because they consider me too �cosmopolitan� to be here.  After seeing the mountains here and going for a hike at least twice a week, I would now seriously consider applying to University of Denver International Studies program.  It was recommended to me by one of my most esteemed Mentors and Professors but I was hesitant of the rural location.  After Mongolia, I think I�ll be ready for a state like Colorado, even though at this time I cant even imagine being back in the States.  I feel so absolutely removed from what�s going on the world.  We received an older edition of Newsweek from Peace Corps folks who visited us a couple of weeks ago and all of our eyes lit up like it was gold.  I have my shortwave radio which I listen to and was ecstatic when I found an Indian Broadcast along with BBC radio and Voice of America.


      This weekend is July 4th weekend, so Happy Independence Day everyone!  We are going to have a celebration of our own in Darkhan City.  All 54 of us (we were 55 but this kid Mike Early Terminated) will be meeting in Darkhan for Center Days where we will find out our permanent sites.  I am apprehensive and anxious to find out where I will be placed.  We had our �interviews� last week where the Technical Directors asked us of our preferences and I asked to be placed in an Aimag Center so that I could have regular access to fruits and vegetables during the winter because of my diet.  I also asked to be placed where I could really get my hands dirty with a Non Governmental Project.  I informed them of how I had established a Non-profit dance company in New York and that in college I had been a founder and president of Model United Nations and that In the future I would like to study sustainable development.  He said that more and more the towns here are starting NGO projects and agencies that would like to work with more and more Soums and Aimag Centers.   HE said that he cannot promise anything because our preferences are considered last when making site decisions and that he would try his best to either place me at an Aimag Center or place me in a Soum closest to the Aimag Center.  Some of the other volunteers asked to be placed out in �the middle of nowhere.�  I would have really liked to say that I want to �rough and tough it� but I had to be realistic about my needs.  If I was a meat eater, I would have probably liked to be placed near the Gobi or near the Altai Mountains.  In any case, I love Mongolia so far and am really happy to be here regardless of where they put me.  I am sorry if these Newsletters tend to get too long.  Please email me and let me know if they are and I�ll try to be more concise in my next one, whenever that might be.  I am including my mailing address that will be valid for the next two months.  Please write to me, I would love to hear from you!  After December of this year, I will be gladly taking any visitors that would like to venture out here.  Believe me its breathtaking!  I am also including some pictures from what I�ve talked about thus far in my letters (there is a great shot of a small picnic my family and Zorga�s [my dad�s good friend) family arranged, we had cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, Mongolian Ondag (imitation soda) and some great eggs with scallions and bread and wine and yes the other volunteers were sooooo jealous!).  Until next time. . .


      All mail and packages go to the following address until August 23rd:


      Nikita Desai, PCT

      Post Office Box 1036

      Central Post Office

      Ulaanbaatar 13

      Mongolia (via China)


      Saain Bayerlarrai! (Have a nice holiday!)



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