Sometimes it really is the little things in life that make you happy and in Mongolia that often involves candy. Mongolians LOVE candy. When I “moved” into my home for the next 11 weeks there was a huge container of delicious Hazelnut flavored chocolate candy waiting for me. Just now, my host sister walked into my “house” to offer me some jelly candies. Last night, when 4 of my training group members and I were drinking on my porch, my host Mom & Dad left for a short while and came back with huge Twix bars for us. On random days, my host sister will send me off to school with NIPS, which are chocolate covered peanuts and way better than Peanut M&Ms. So much candy!
A part of our initial training includes learning about Mongolian culture; everything from traditional Mongolian songs to Mongolian cooking. During our first week of training we were given a book of Mongolian songs that at one point we will be learning. One night, my host sister came into my house and while I was doing homework and listening to some music on iTunes she asked about some various American pop stars and whether I had learned any Mongolian songs yet. I had not, but I handed over my Mongolian song book for her to see. Next thing I know, she is singing away and it was something else being serenaded by my host sister in Mongolian. She has a beautiful voice and it was quite a nighttime treat!
Mongolians are big on hospitality. As I shared previously, Mongolians have very intricate ways in which they do something as small as passing around a bottle of snuff or a knife. When you come into someone else’s home you are immediately served tea (or milk tea), candy and probably some kind of food item. In addition to learning this through my host family, my first encounter was visiting a fellow training members ger. While we were visiting his ger and talking about the day, his host mom graced us with sliced oranges, a bowl of apples, a huge bottle of Coke and of course candy. Fruit in Mongolia is a rare commodity so this was a huge treat! On a walk around our village one night with another Peace Corps trainee we stopped off at her host family’s house where within seconds of entering her home, I was offered the plush chair to sit in, tea, candy, and a type of fried dough with jam. This was particularly interesting and funny because although my fellow trainee lives her, she had never been offered fruit flavored tea before and suddenly, as a guest I was offered the better than normal tea. Additionally, the two smaller children (ages 4 & 7) were watching a children’s show, but since I was visiting they changed the channel to BBC so we could watching something in English. The two little girls also sang a Mongolian song for me which was adorable and totally one of those surreal moments, where you take in the fact that you are in another country, in another culture, and are being sung to in another language. To top it all off, they all walked me back to my hashaa (family’s fence/property) at the end of the night, but not without first running into a herder who had lost her cow. I am still baffled as to how you lose a cow…
One day my host sister told me the following day, we would be going to what I thought was the local Hot Springs. Lost in translation… the Hot Springs turned out to be a bathhouse, which actually turned out to be a shower in a dilapidated concrete building. My host sister “picked me up” from school with a Grape Fanta & a bag of chips for the walk to the Bathhouse. I felt as if we were on our way to the beach, except well not really as we walked through town on the dirt roads and finally arrived at our destination. Turns out the Bathhouse was a concrete building, completely falling apart and I was very skeptical of entering said building. Although, the bathhouse isn’t exactly something to brag home about, taking an actual shower was definitely a highlight. In a country where running water is a foreign concept and people “bathe” in buckets, I’ll take what I can get!
In addition to candy, I have been gifted with a lot of presents. One morning before school, in addition to being sent off with a bag of NIPS I was also given an orange Fanta to my delight. This last week I was sent with a Coke to my fellow PCT’s envy. One morning, I was given an entire box of cookies and occasionally, an ice cold bottle of water. The best “present” yet was showing up to school one morning where one of our language teacher’s had invited one of her students to come play the Mongolian M…., an instrument similar to a violin. We were gifted with this special treat because one of our TEFL trainers had praised our Mongolian from the previous day and this was our prize. No need for birthdays or holidays around here to receive a present!