Disclaimer: In this post I talk about going on a Mongolian picnic, which means I took some pictures of people preparing meat carcasses. If you’re at all queasy, just scroll quickly past the third set of pictures. Yay, Mongolia!
This past week ended with the International Teachers Day celebration on Friday. At my school, the older students taught all the classes that day. Most teachers took the time to help the kids lesson plan, or at least show them the correct page out of the book they were supposed to teach. So the 12th grade class pretty much ran the school for the day and did a good job. At least the school didn’t burn to the ground. Of course with little responsibility that day , there was some shady activities happening in the teachers canteen I had a newbie moment when a social studies teacher came up to me, with what I thought was green tea, but ended up being stale beer. I should have known better , but it was only 10 am! Also drinking on school campuses is very illegal… on paper. I never really seen that rule enforced. Or really any rule. Now that I think of it.
The day continued on with the appropriate amount of ceremonies and more ceremonies, both at my school and the local theater. The ceremony at the theater was particularly plush, with what seemed like a million teachers getting plaques. Of course any opportunity like that allows you to see a wide array of dresses and attire. Snake skin boots are in, people. In cause you were wondering. After the last awards were given out , the theater company put on dances and songs for us. The local theater has a troop of dancers , actors and singers which perform regularly – although after seeing a variety of shows last year, I started to notice repeats of choreography, dances and costumes. Overall it was a good time, but it was nice to emerge out, into the harsh Mongolian sunlight, even with a little headache. Mongolia likes their concerts loud.
The next day I woke up early to go to school for a 8:30 meet time – which I was optimistically on time for. I sat and said the holiday greetings to my teachers as we slowly assembled. My school had rented out school mini buses to take us out to a camp about 10 km away. They finally arrived at 9:30 and we all got on to start our adventure in the countryside!
We all headed out to a ger camp about 15 minutes away from town. The camp itself was built in honor of Zavkhans 90th anniversary and it was gorgeous. My school rented two gers that were placed on a river bank and most of my teachers proceeded to spend the rest of their day socializing, drinking , eating food and more drinking. I had a beer shortly after arriving , but to escape the incessant vodka shots, I went on a hike.
Going on a hike reminds me why I love the opportunity to go out to the country side. The landscape makes it all worth while. Those days where you are frustrated, and annoyed at the world – I can just go to the mountains and I’m fascinated all over again. I don’t want to say I fall in love with it, cause that indicates more of a commitment then I really want to put in 😛 But I do feel enamored. You breath the cold mountain air and just see how this country’s valleys and hills just go on and on. It pretty much is a sea of land, a never ending remote expanse that does all it can to make you feel small and insignificant. Life here is hard. Its uncertain. These people are tough. Me… I’m only here two years. A blink of an eye compared to my counterparts who consider their heritage and culture to be as old as time. Those worries I put myself under , lackluster projects and rough living, are miniscule compared to the landscape around me.
Basically hikes with me are deep. It did help that my hiking buddy was taking frequent pauses to get energy from the sun. Because that is a thing here.
After arriving back an hour later I found most people were on their 7th shot, and I wasn’t about to play catch-up. Instead I hung out with some teachers that were assigned khorkhog duty, the closest thing you can get to Mongolian barbeque. It’s a lengthy process, with people starting food prep at noon and the food finally hitting the coals at 5:30.
Steps for making khorkhog are these – get a sheep. Kill said sheep. Once you have arrived at the site where you will eat and consume the meat, prepare the carcass. Usually by hacking it into smaller pieces. The more meat the better. Literally you want a pile of meat. I cannot emphasize enough how much meat you will need. Look at the pictures. Oh some veggies are acceptable. But not necessary. Veggies are for the weak. Arrrrrrr Mongolia!
Proceed to put hot river rocks in a milk can with a top you can seal. Put all of your meat and those unnecessary veggies in there, along with a little bit of the broth you have from when you cooked those intestines earlier that day. Seal the sucker up and put it over a hot fire. Cook until the metal can is on the verge of exploding. You will need to find a way to unseal the milk can with a large stick (good luck with that). Proceed to eat said meat – and some veggies, but more meat!
In all seriousness, I do prefer the meat in khorkhog to any other meal you can find in Mongolia. The pressure cooking makes the meat nice a tender, and juices make the veggies nice and savoury. My love for veggies did pay off though, and as no one wanted to eat them, so I got first pick on the potatoes, carrots and yellow turnips. See! I have a role here !
I also should mention that Mongolians have a super power where there is always a consistent availability of vodka. Always. Basically they’re vodka fairies. I’m not a big fan of vodka shots so I spent most of my afternoon hiding from inebriated adults, hanging out with some kids that got pulled along by their parents on the trip. Two in particular, Miga and Sanchir became my card playing buddies. I tell you , you wanna make kids love you, teach them some games. I taught them classics like War, Spoons and Go Fish. Wins every time. Not the game, just their hearts 😛
As the day was winding down, and it came time to head home, I started to get increasingly more frustrated. The buses came back for us at 6, and at that point we had just finished cooking up the khorkhog and were scrambling to eat it. Half of us wanted to go back to town filling up one of the buses. However the other half, the proverbial cats in this equation wanted to stay longer at the ger camp… presumably it would have been too much for the teachers to continue the party back in town, or to transport the extra vodka back. Anyways, we were able to convince on driver that the full bus should go back to town and the other bus would stay and wait. That was around 8:30. Driving back was slow at night and was in a considerably bad mood, as tends to happen during points in your Peace Corps Service. I didn’t have much more patience for some of my teachers that were incredibly inebriated, and I didn’t feel like speaking in Mongolian anymore. I had made plans my evening which I had missed, got slammed with a bunch of texts asking where I was and felt even more out of control then usual. I was set for a dejected walk home.
But , I was surprised. The teachers on the bus directed the driver close to my house, and some disembarked with me to walk me home . “You live alone. We will walk together” one teacher slurred as we walked arm in arm, and the group took me to my door. As tends to happen during points of your Peace Corps Service, you have company when its dark , cold and have had a long day. In Peace Corps, you never walk alone 🙂
Sorry , I had to end with something corny in there 😛
Till next time, V.