Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Month: February, 2010

Flu, dzud and fire from the sky

The latest news from Mongolia:

Flu-like Illness Peaks. While we’re not hearing too much about H1N1 anymore, seasonal flu has become a major problem in Mongolia, and hospitals are being over-crowded. In some cases, small hospital rooms are being crammed with six to ten patients, as well as their caregivers. A large percentage of the flu sufferers are children, and at least one has died being transported between hospitals looking for a vacancy. Some government micro-district hospitals are seeing more than 100 patients a day, and 2,300 patients are currently in public hospitals. Joel has been suffering with a low-grade fever and sore throat lately, so we’re monitoring him closely to be sure that it’s not progressing to pneumonia.

Earlier this week, the new ambassador from the United States Jonathan Addleton declared a disaster in Mongolia due to the effects of the dzud. More than 13,000 people live in locations that are currently inaccessible due to snow and ice blocking the roads. Addleton, a former USAID representative to Mongolia, spent four days touring the hardest-hit provinces, before declaring a disaster and requesting USAID to donate $50,000 to UNICEF to purchase emergency supplies. We’re not directly affected by this in the capital, but this harsh winter will convince even more nomads to give up their lifestyle and move to the city, further exacerbating the problems that mass urbanization is already causing. Food prices will likely also skyrocket as meat becomes more scarce.

Early this week, residents of Tuv province reported a couple of large meteorites crashing to earth. UFO enthusiasts had a different theory, since the fallen items were obviously metal. Further investigation revealed that the items were, in fact, space junk, remains of the liquid fuel tank of a US Delta-2 delivery rocket launched last September. I guess we can be thankful that they landed in Mongolia, the one place on earth where they were least likely to hit somebody.

Teacher with a hangover

A few months ago, a new teacher came to our language school. He is different from the other teachers in a number of ways. He is currently the only male teacher in the school. He is 53 years old and has lived in the countryside most of his life. He is from a minority ethnic group, and he pronounces some words differently from Ulaanbaatar residents. It’s not usually a problem, but one day he kept saying “cool” and I kept saying “what?” Finally, he pointed at his foot and said “cool, cool,” and I finally realized that he was saying хөл (khool), “foot.”

Because he’s older and from the countryside, I thought he might be the ideal person to teach me Mongolian customs and traditions. It’s usually been pretty good, but today was almost more than I could handle. Apparently last night was a class reunion for the teachers’ college class of ’78. As soon as Batkhuu came in to the room, he told me that he had had quite a few beers at the party and that he wasn’t feeling too great. Soon, it became apparent that he was seriously hung over. While I was puzzling over some unknown words in a theme that we were reading, he got up and left for the bathroom. I could hear him emptying his stomach from down the hall. He was doing very little teaching today, just letting me mow my way through 3 times as much material as we usually cover. By the last half hour, I was just trying to keep him awake. He said that he went to bed at midnight last night, but he must not have slept very well. I was telling him about my time in the Navy. He would ask a question and immediately fall asleep. I would ramble on for a while, trying to fill as much time as possible. Eventually, I would trail off, his eyes would pop open, and he would ask me another surprisingly relevant question and fall back asleep.

Even without much instructional input, I think I still managed to learn a few things. The first essay I read was about the worship of the hearth, the second about the honored place of milk, and the third about important colors in Mongolia. The most interesting things were probably about milk and white foods. Milk is considered white, and water is considered black. So you can pour milk on top of water, but you can’t pour water on top of milk. If a mother wants to wish her family traveling safety, she sprinkles milk behind them. If a bad person wants to curse an enemy, he sprinkles water behind them.

Fire Worship

Today it was unseasonably warm. It was well over 10 degrees this morning, so I decided to walk to school. By time, I arrived I was sweating. But I even took our iPod and it didn’t freeze up once!

In my colloquial Mongolian class, I’m slogging through some fairly obscure stuff. It’s basically how to say, “Hey, do something with that thingy over there by you.” I doubt I’ll use it much, but at least maybe I’ll understand when somebody is asking me to do something with some vague object in my vicinity.

In my culture and traditions class, we talked about the tradition of fire worship in Mongolia. A few odd things crept up in that discussion. In Mongolian culture, the youngest son inherits all of the personal belongings of his father, including his hearth. I can’t say that I know of another culture where that is the norm. Another oddity was the custom of a newly married person doing obeisance before their father’s fire. That didn’t strike me too strangely at first, but my teacher explained that the person actually touches their forehead to the stove three times. That’s gonna leave a mark!

On TV again!

Apparently, I’m becoming quite the television star. When I got to school today, I was told that an interview with me was aired last night on Eagle TV.