We had been in Khovd for just forty-seven hours, and the first forty-five had gone pretty well. But for the previous two hours a communication error with Judy and the fact that we had only one key and one phone between us meant that I was locked out of our apartment, and rather than sit down in an unlit and unheated hallway, I stood outside in the rain, dressed in creased pants, a sports coat, and a brand new raincoat. (Although it never happened to me, I imagined myself as a little kid on the first day of school, getting lost on the way home.) As I took in all things Mongolian that walked by—people, dogs, cows—along came a woman wearing a fleece hat and a knapsack. (At least at this time of year, Mongolians do not wear hats unless they are also wearing traditional clothing... or unless it is a baseball hat.) "Hello," she said in English. "Hello," I said back, in what was becoming an an ever more foreign language.
Sarah Brooke, I learned when we had moved inside out of the rain, is a British PhD student in bio-anthropology, studying the relationship between herders in the country and snow leopards. In short order, I got the names of several Peace Corps volunteers, a couple of English language consultants, and a few handy Mongolian words. (Sarah's Mongolian is very impressive to me, but you should not take my word for it. Native speakers understand her.) I learned the best options for connecting to the internet, which has allowed me to post these notebooks. And we also learned (by now Judy had located me) about Mongo-lish night, at the restaurant where we were now having tea, on Wednesday nights. Mongo-lish is an opportunity for Mongolians who want to improve their English to meet native English speakers willing to share their "expertise" as well as learn a lot about Mongolians and their culture. We were to consider ourselves invited!
After classes on Wednesday Oyun Bold, my colleague in the Department of Chinese/English, asked if I liked sports, and if I would like to come to teacher's night at the university's gym to play basketball. I accepted his invitation, and on Thursday, I played basketball for the first time in decades. While catching my breath, I learned that Oyun Bold had also been a wrestler, and that he is fifty-two years old. "We are the same age," he said when I told him I just turned sixty.
On Friday I finished classes by noon, then set off to see the Buyant River—see Nomadic
below— and arrived back home at four, when Judy's classes are finished. After stopping at Homahc
* for a bottle of wine to celebrate our first week of teaching, I took my shoes off and started to unload images from the cards I had shot that afternoon, and I waited for Judy. And waited. And waited some more. At about the time I was ready to hike back to school to see if I could find her, there was a knock at the door and Puje explained that there was a celebration in progress, that they had neglected to mention it to me, and that I was expected to be there. Judy was there already (had been for an hour and a half) so could I please hurry, and find a thousand tugriks for the taxi. I asked if I needed to change my clothes. "Wear something warm," he said. It's getting cold.
What followed was a celebration hosted by the PhD recipient, to which the entire university faculty was invited. There were speeches and awards of money, music and dancing, (traditional and contemporary) food and drink—lots of drink. I arrived too late for anything but vodka, but for that there was no shortage. Since we were seated by department, Judy's experience of the event varies from mine, but only in the details.
*I am planning a notebook to teach you a little Mongolian, but for now, H = N, C = S, so Homahc
is pronounced Knowman's
. I have been told by a Peace Corps volunteer that there are several Homahc
in the area, and that this one is the largest grocer in town. It does not carry fresh vegetables, so for a salad lover, that would make this Homahc
land, except for the amazing social network.