A little catch up (My time in Mongolia) part 1

Well, it seems I have a little catching up to do!

Last time I posted was before I left for Mongolia.  This trip was so amazing that even when I had time to write I was having a hard time trying to write about everything going on.  So, let’s see how things go now that I have a chance to look back on everything.

First, we can start with the fact that God showed up in a huge way at the last minute with the funds to go.  I was getting down to the wire with a total of $1200 left to raise.  Of course the night before the money was due I got notifications that two very large donations had been made.  One for $450 and another for $1500.  No matter how many times God shows up and wows me I am always left in awe at His amazing timing and provision.  So, I had all the funds and reassurance I needed that this trip was Gods will for my life right now.

I met up with my family for a farewell breakfast.  Everyone was there.  My mom, sister, niece, grandmother and even my dad.  My mom and dad haven’t wanted to be in the same place at the same time in years.  Glad to see me going to the other side of the world helped break that issue.  Not even sure if it was ever an issue or if it was just perceived to be an issue so we (my sister and I) never invited them both at the same time to anything.

My emotions where going crazy.  I was excited to leave and a little scared of flying by myself.  I was going to meet up with total strangers and hope we became friends so I wasn’t alone for a month.  So, I got dropped off at the airport and said my last good byes. It was strange and amazingly exciting being on my own.  I mean it’s funny to even think that way. I’m an adult and live on my own and take care of myself.  So, I’m always on my own. But, there is something invigorating about leaving all your safety nets behind and running towards God and the great unknown.  Trusting all will be well.

At this point  I checked my luggage and began the long game of hurry up wait.  Hurry to check in and get through security now wait for boarding.  Hurry to find your seat on the plane, now wait for take off and landing.  Hurry off the plane and grab some lunch in North Carolina and then wait for the flight to Houston.  Hurry to meet up with the people you will call your team for six weeks and then wait and wait and wait as you fly the twelve hours from Houston to Beijing.

Just getting to Mongolia seems like a note worthy adventure.  Another flight transfer and then forty people loading luggage onto a bus, some last minute paper work a slew of directions from a stranger I just met and have no choice but to trust, a short bus ride and there you go.  Your sitting in the U.B. City Hotel in the heart of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia surrounded by strangers, exhausted and full of adrenaline with no where to go and burn it off.

Now what?

Now, we try to sleep…. What time is it?  10pm.  Why is it I still light out?  Because of where Mongolia is.  When does it get dark?  Sometime around 10:45pm.  Are you kidding me? Nope.  So, I wrestle my eyes closed and sleep as soundly as I can with the sun still up.  Five a.m. rolls around and I wake up to use the bathroom and the what do you know?  The sun is peaking out and is already starting to fill the sky with its light.  Did it ever go down?  I feel as though it was always up.  The first week at the hotel I spent most of my time in training.  But, when I wasn’t in training I was trying to catch the sun while it was down, just to prove to myself it actually went all the way down. I was convinced that the sun never sleeps in Mongolia.

So, got together with our teams for a meeting. We got a chance to go exchange some money and get our barrings in the city.  Then we had a pretty free weekend.  We could go any where and do anything. Only real rules, no alcohol of course, no smoking and no motorcycle taxis.

All the other trips I have been on in the past where through my church.  So the rules are similar except you also have to stay with the team, don’t wonder on your own, only use the team transportation and only when the team goes somewhere.  It’s sort of a lock down feeling comparatively.  And for good reason.  The church has a different responsibility then the type of organization I went with this time.

So, needless to say I was excited to feed my wonder-lust and go exploring.  Thankfully, my small team ( only two other guys both about 22) had the same excitement and we went exploring together!  First, we found the food we liked.  Then coffee and the most giant shaved ice with berries I have ever seen, then we started finding the short cuts to make the 45 minute walk to downtown  a more tolerable 35 minute walk.  We eventually got this down to about 25 minutes I think.

Anyway, on to training week.  We spent the first week learning what not to do.  With every culture there are dos and don’ts.  So here are few in case you ever find your self in Mongolia.  Don’t give people money with your left hand and never hand it with the money between your fingers.  This is a huge insult. Never write a name in red and even worse don’t ever write a box around it.  Death announcements are written like this.  Don’t point with a finger use your whole hand to direct attention to something but on the flip side staring is totally o.k. If you give out prizes in class don’t throw them to students.  We think this is fun they get extremely offended.  Bumping into people by mistake doesn’t faze anyone and no apology is needed but if someone steps in your foot they will grab your hand and squeeze it.  (This is something I have gotten so used to I find myself doing it still). Any car is a taxi, this I found weird.  If you need a ride stick your hand out and someone will pick you up.  Sometimes it’s a taxi sometimes it’s someone going that way that could use a few extra bucks.  All seem fairly safe to get into,as long as you can tell them where to go. We learned to always have toilet paper with you, public bathrooms don’t always have it. That is if you can find a public bathroom.  And public drunkenness is not taboo and you will see many drunk people walking around.  It is not against the law.  We then learned better ways to do things, more cultural differences, lesson planning and team building.  We learned where we would be going for the next three weeks and learned more about our individual towns.  Ours was the farthest city east, and we discovered it would be a 12.5 hour bus ride to get there. I was less then enthusiastic about this.  I get bus sick and had heard stories of how the “rest stops” consist of the driver pulling over and men going on one side of the bus and woman on the other.  Just, find a spot and let it loose.  I mean I have been camping before and have used nature as a toilet many times.  But, it’s usually hiding behind a bush or a tree.  Not, lined up in a flat grassy plain with sheep wondering past.  Needless to say, I waited for hours till we arrived at the stop with “actual toilets”….

What?!…. This isn’t a toilet.  Are these 2x4s over a deep hole full of *#}t?!  Oh my gosh!!!! What have I gotten myself into?  The first time I used what my team mates and I affectionately nick named The Hole, I was mortified.  It’s a deep deep hole about 10 feet deep about 5 feet wide and then depending on how many “stalls” long.  First, stop had no doors but did have sides and a roof and partisans between each Hole to make stalls. There are no seats, no nothing.  Just stand on the 2x4s squat low enough over the huge gap between them and try not to pee on your pants or your own feet.  Also, pray to God everyone before you had good aim.  Never mind the people walking right past you as you awkwardly take care of business.  Oh, and don’t drop anything!  This is not the time to check email or scroll through your Facebook feed.  Not that you would have service out there anyway.  So, my first encounter with the hole left me feeling less then excited to be on this journey.  Back into the bus for the second leg of the trip.  Dusty roads all around, the bus driver honking to get the herds of the road.  Sometimes sheep, sometimes cows or horses.  This journey was a true test of my endurance.  Every muscle aching and my brain working overtime to process what was happening.  I prayed very diligently during that journey trying not to have expectations about the final destination.  Also, praying I would make it there and adjust well to my new home.  Thankfully, I did make it.  One lady kept getting sick on the bus and all though I felt bad for her, I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Home sweet home!

The Royal Palace Hotel… Breakfast included every morning, no gym but my room was on the fourth floor and no elevator so that counts.  The upside to being the only girl on this three person team was I got my own room! Beautiful room, very nice bathroom, A/C, and a pretty view.  Oooohhhh WiFi! Now I’m getting excited!

Flip on the A/C and lets get my things settled into place and make this place home.  Turn on the hot water and see how the shower works.  Turn on the hot water, wait turn ON the hot water…….. Are you kidding?  O.k, minor issue no hot water.  We can just wait it out and see if it works later.  Thankfully my team leader was with us and my room was changed quickly. So, we packed up all the things I had found a home for and we wheeled them down a few doors.  No problem. Can I sit still yet? Can I lay flat and stretch out? What a marvelous feeling to finally be “home.”

Monday morning

My first day of teaching class ever!  Turns out my intro students are brilliant and learn really fast.  We blasted through my lesson plan (mind you this was my first lesson plan and I worked on it longer then it took me to teach it).  We finished what I planned in about an hour! I started to sweat.  What am I going to do for the next five hours?!  Thankfully we ran out of things to do in time for our first break.  So, I dismissed my class and headed for the bathroom….

Wait… Where is the bathroom….. Oh my goodness you have to be kidding me! Its a Hole! I thought I was done with these things.  No running water at the school and the electrical was questionable so we never turned on the classroom lights.  To the hole I went, trying to gather my thoughts about how to make it through the day with no more lesson plan.  Then God reminded me I just have to get through till lunch and He would help me.  I hated the Hole but the nice little walk to the Hole gave me many moments of good solid prayer between breaks.  All though I found my self avoiding water in the beginning hoping I would avoid the Hole.  I later learned how dehydration effects your mood and gave up on this plan. Started drinking almost 3 liters of water a day just to feel normal.  I eventually conquered The Hole and lost all my hesitation in using it. This is a story for a later time.

Back to the dreaded “failed” lesson plan.  Turns out I work pretty well with no plan.  My students and I worked through the book.  A bunch of fun activities and games came to mind as we worked and we all had fun and they learned.  After the first few days we found a groove and the class room time seemed to flow most days.  I could tell when they needed more practice or a break or a fun game.  And they learned they could ask me to go over and over things if needed.  My tiny little class became its own little community and we started to grow closer to each other and learned to understand each other better.  We had a huge language barrier but despite that fact we had inside jokes that only our class would laugh at and funny little things the ladies would tease each other about.  It’s amazing to me that we can hardly understand each other, yet understand each other perfectly.

Naadam Festival!

For a few months I researched Mongolia and looked at amazing photos of mountains and white fluffy clouds and horses and Naadam.  Everyone dressed in bright colorful traditional Mongolian clothing beautiful horses racing across country . And here I was on the other side of the world in the back seat of a car racing down a dirt road to see the first horse race of the day.  We dipped and bobbed and weaved our way through a maze of dirt and grass.  Followed by others doing the same.  Some to our left and some to our right.  It seemed like a race all on its own.  We got to the location got out of the car and headed for the excitement.  Then we wait and wait and wait.  The horses had left earlier for their 40km run out and we where waiting for them to return.  It was hot and the sun was beating down. The stands where lined with colorful umbrellas and every moment you look up the crowd multiplies.  We took pictures with our students and stood and talked in the heat as we melted into the sand.  We found out that most of the riders are under 7 years old! And occasionally horse and rider leave in the morning and only the horse makes it back.  The child is obviously hunted down and returned to safety later.

So, after what felt like eternity in the scorching Mongolia sun we saw a tiny spec in the distance.  The crowd started yelling.  We got our cameras ready and the owners of the horses rode out to great their hopefully winning horses.  There are only 5 top horses per race.  Once the winner arrives the horse is taken to a large pen to be paraded around as people on foot and horse back attempt to wipe their hands and hats on the winning  horse. The winning sweat brings good luck and prosperity all year.  There was so much chaos I just  joined in and will have to remember the moment as photographing everything going on was proving to be difficult and not worth missing out on the action just to snap a shot.

I do have a lot of pictures, but I discovered that sometimes life is best lived and documented later.  Back to the chaos.  The first horse of the Naadam is back sweat has been slathered on all who wanted it and just as fast as it started it ended. Men on horse back ride away in a hurry and spectators return to there vehicles.  Cars and motorcycles race back to the arena for the opening ceremony.  My team and I laughing bouncing all over the back seat as we race back over the dirt roads we raced in on. Wondering why you would have a race before opening ceremonies and giggling as we sat in traffic.  This was the first time I saw a goat being carried on a motorcycle. That I did get a picture of.

Once we returned to the stadium we could see all the people that had been specs under umbrellas.  Everyone was wearing their traditional clothing.  It’s so beautiful.  The feel in the air was one of excitement and joy that they where celebrating.  I will not go into every detail of the day right now.  Perhaps I will sum this up with the lessons I learned while at Naadam. One,it is a fantastic and beautiful event full of love and pride for country and I was blessed to be invited.  Two, there is always a worse Hole I will spare you the details but this was like nothing I had seen before.  Three, Hosher always smells good (not sure what it tastes like since I can’t eat the crispy golden dough meat pockets).  Four, burgers in Mongolia no matter how tasty they look are is still Mutton (my arch nemesis) even when they look like a beautiful burger from the U.S. we will discuss this later as well.  Five, archery is more exciting when your the one doing it.  Six, the first day of wrestling at Naadam leaves you wanting more.  And seven, if your students ask enough horsemen if their English teachers can sit on their horse one will eventually say yes.

Off to the museum!

Our students took us to their museum.  It is in an old soviet building and the museum has room after room of their history and Art.  It was very interesting and I felt honored that they shared with me.

The rest of our time in this city we built on these friendships and became very close with our students.  Each one of them was special in their own way.  We shared time with them at the beach with their families and I got to swim with cows for the first time.

We went out to karaoke clubs and a dance club a few nights.  We had a wildly amazing time completely sober dancing like maniacs.  Or students had a blast learning our horrible dance moves and we learned theirs.

We had a student who went through surgery while we where there and my team mate (her teacher) had his class make get well cards and we went on an adventure to buy her flowers.  She was so touched because no one had ever done something like that for her before.  Then a week later I was sick and taking antibiotics for a tooth. I missed school and the four ladies from my class showed up at my hotel room with juice and sat with me for a while. It was so nice to have that type of community that far away from home.  That time while I was sick could have been devastating to my spirit and really could have knocked me into a negative place.  But, God provided the comfort I needed to help me through.

We finished out our three weeks in Choibalson we went on the great cake expedition to find a cake to celebrate our closing ceremonies at the school.  There is no Giant Eagle to wonder into and order a cake in Choibalson.  You have to find a baker. It’s not always the easiest task.  My team and our students found one on the other side of town in a basement.  The cake turned out beautiful and the means of getting it and transporting it made it even more special. We handed out certificates, we took millions of student teacher selfies, we received gifts from our students and we cooked for them.  We told our winning students they where invited to camp and said sad good byes to those not coming. We cleaned out our classrooms and bid farewell to The Hole.

Back, on the bus two days later we had 12 hours of bumping and bouncing to process what we had just accomplished.  I honestly slept a ton on the way back but I did reflect.

It is strange when your sole purpose in going somewhere has such a subtle presence.  I went to share God and the hope of Christ with these students.  But, the way you share on these types of trips is so different. It really does help me see how every day living and actions show people where Christ is in your life.  You can be well read and know the Bible inside and out, you can have intellect and be able to talk a good game and be persuasive with your words.  You could be an amazing story teller and captivate people with Gods goodness.  But, only if those people understand the language you are speaking.

But, the actions you take everyday being gracious when invited.  Being interested and involved and letting people into your life.  Getting down at a dance club and having fun and not judging someone’s lifestyle.  These things show love no matter what language is being spoken.

We did have times to share our faith verbally.  Through cultural lessons we shared the Christmas story and shared about Easter.  We even shared about mental, physical and spiritual health. And many other times we had opportunities to share while teaching.  But, nothing can replace playing cards in our hotel room and walks home from school.  Time at the most terrifying amusement park ever and all the other time we spent with our students.

One of the last nights we where in Choibalson one of the girls found an iPad!  She was so excited and thrilled she found it.  It was better then hers and you could tell she really wanted it.  But, she paused and then you could see the look on her face go from joy to confusion. Something in her was telling her to return it or at least try.  That’s something I don’t know if she would have thought a few weeks earlier.  She did end up returning it for an award. But, I remember her saying, we don’t return things when they are found here.  But, I know you’re Christians and you would try to return it.

Something we did while we where there let her know these facts.  I never said I would return it.  Not till after she did.  But God showed through us in ways we aren’t even aware of.  It is an amazing reminder that it isn’t us!  We aren’t the ones winning souls  It’s the Lord. We just need to be available for Him to shine through.

My adventure in Mongolia does not end here. There is still more to come. But, it is time now for vacation. All though we had a blast in Mongolia and my photos if you have seen any make it look like I was on a month long vacation. I assure you the time spent there was some of the hardest work I have done. The travel alone takes a toll on your body and every system in it. So, for the next week I will be enjoying another adventure that the Lord has blessed me with. I will be in Algonquin Canada! enjoying Gods majestic beauty, with 23 other people as we paddle our canoes through the back country. Completely cut off from technology and totally tuned into Gods presence. I’m sure this adventure will get a blog post all its own when I return. So stay tuned for that adventure and Part two of My Time in Mongolia.

May God bless you and His Holy Spirit inspire you.

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