Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Category: language school

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!

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Losing It

Today, in my language class, we talked about some of the many meanings and applications of the word алдах, which means “to lose.” These include: to have successes and failures, to drop, to give away a secret, to lose one’s life, to be nervous, to be careless, to accidentally set fire, to lose the paunch, to shout, to behave improperly, to lose one’s way, to become a mess, to be afraid of, to burst out laughing, to lose faith, to lose money, to lose sleep, to lose color, to sigh, to miss hardening (horse), to be uncomfortable, to leave water running accidentally, to lose consciousness, to let something out, to lose one’s footing, to be stolen, to lose one’s strength, to measure incorrectly, to lose time, to look weak or sick, to lose blood, to urinate, and to be in a muddle.

I guess, in English, we have quite a few expressions about losing things too. The loss by which I’ve been most beset the past couple of days is loss of balance. Yesterday, after dropping Elijah off at kindergarten, I headed to the bus stop to catch a micro to school. The ground was a sheet of ice, and when I stepped on the top step of a set of concrete stairs, I found myself momentarily flying through the air and subsequently flying down the steps on my rear end. Stunned but apparently unhurt, I made my way to the bus stop and on to school, marveling at the sight of Mongolians who seem to be able to use the icy ground to their advantage, fearlessly skiing down both steep and gentle slopes. I made it safely to right in front of the school, where I again хөл алдсан, i.e. lost my foot.

My in-laws kindly bought me some nice snow spikes for my shoes which do an excellent job of keeping me upright, and they work well with my dress shoes and probably with my tennis shoes. Unfortunately, however, on these -40 temperature days, I prefer to wear the boots my brother-in-law gave me. They do an admirable job of keeping my feet warm, but they are so bulky that the spikes tend to slip off of them. I have twice had to backtrack a block or two to track down a missing set of spikes. So, it’s a choice of warmth or sure footing.

However, just a few minutes ago, my stocking feet slipped on our parquet floors and left me lying in the middle of the living room. So perhaps I should be worried more about some inner ear infection and less about what kind of shoes I’ll wear tomorrow.

I guess sometimes losing isn’t all bad, though. Check out this classic song from Steve Taylor:

A few years ago, I chose the theme “Jesus is for Losers” for our youth retreat at Harmony Hill Youth Camp. I believed it then, but I think I’m growing in my understanding of what that means. Until we begin to realize how seriously we have lost our way, we can’t really comprehend how much we need a Savior.

Elijah reads a book!

Today was a landmark day for Elijah. He read a book by himself for the first time. Elijah reading "Pam"Granted, the book had a very limited vocabulary, carefully selected from a very limited group of letters, but it’s still a milestone. I hope that someday he has the passion for reading that I had as a child. (I wonder whatever happened to that.)

In history today, we studied foods from the Age of Exploration. We decided that the sailors’ diet of rotten crackers and beer was probably something best left to history. It was a good reminder to us to keep up our intake of fruit and vegetables, though. Fruit, especially, is expensive here, but Tiffany does a wonderful job of making sure we have a well-balanced diet.

In science, we finally left earth science and moved on to biology. I’m not sure I would have known the six characteristics that distinguish living organisms from non-living items, but I do now! Elijah did a little work identifying those characteristics, and then sorting some pictures into living and non-living categories. We also checked out some of the diversity of living things at EcoKids.

In math, we worked on “number between” in the 30 to 40 range, as well as reviewing counting to 70, counting pennies and dimes, simple addition, and writing the 40s.

We also started a new read-aloud book tonight The Light at Tern Rock. It’s recommended for ages 8-12, so I think some of it’s going over Elijah’s head, but it’s short, so we’ll read it this week and then move on.

In my language studies, I finished a book with Ariunbolor today. We’ve been reading the miracles of Jesus. Now, I think we may try a book that has a number of cultural and historical readings in it. Ariunbolor had never seen the book before, but I showed it to her and she seemed willing to give it a try. I feel like I usually have to direct the classes that she teaches, because she doesn’t come loaded with teaching ideas.

In my class with Yendii today, we worked through part of a page in a dictionary. That usually goes pretty slowly, as each word sends us off on some tangential conversation. I’ll think of some example from the Bible and share it with her, or she’ll give some anecdote somehow related to the word. (Yendii asked today how I could remember where so many things were in the Bible. Having a search engine helps, but I told her that I had read the Bible through for the first time when I was 7 years old, and then a number of times after that. She was flabbergasted.) For homework, I used each word that we studied in a sentence, and then started reading the next theme in our book. It had a very long sentence near the beginning, and I got so bogged down on it that I never got the rest of the theme read. It seems that it has something to do with the seasons, and a couple of girls in the countryside. All very beautifully written, just mostly unintelligible.

Visa Affidavit

Just last night, I was telling Tiffany that we probably ought to check our passports to see whether our student visas expired after one year or two. Then today, the director of our school came to us and started explaining to us the hoops we would have to jump through to get our second year student visa. She explained in Mongolian, of course, which was extremely helpful. Later, she came in and gave me a sample letter that I needed to write out by hand, filling in all the appropriate blanks. It is basically a request saying that it takes a long time to learn Mongolian, and that I need to study for another year. It’s a tad ironic, because I have to write it in perfect Mongolian, which tends to give the lie to the idea that I need to study for another year. I asked the director if I had to handwrite it, and she indicated that I did. If I typed it on the computer, she said, they would just think she wrote it. (Which, of course, she did. I just copied it.)

I have seen these handwritten affidavits on several other occasions. Once, for example, I signed my name to a handwritten full page, having no idea what it said, just that a friend had written it. That was just to get some boxes out of customs. I think that, in America, most bureaucrats would look askance at handwritten document, especially those created by foreigners who are still relatively new to writing with a different symbol set. Here, though, it seems to be the mark of authenticity.

By the way, in Mongolia, almost everyone writes in cursive, which is not, of course, the first symbol set you study. So, for the first several months, you can read nothing that anyone writes. Then, you start to learn cursive. I can do a reasonable job at it now, although I still make a few errors. I almost never write in cursive in English, so it was a bit of a learning curve for me.

Of Oyu Tolgoi and Sudden Departures

Well, it’s finally happened. After a decade of bickering and 2-steps-forward-3-steps-back negotiations, Mongolia today signed an agreement to allow Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto to exploit Oyu Tolgoi, ostensibly one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world. There has been surprisingly little fanfare over an event that has the potential to significantly change the lives of the average Mongolian. Here are a few of the highlights from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

  • The nation’s employment rate is tipped to jump more than 10 percent. The mine will employ as many as 3,000 workers, with thousands more finding jobs along the supply chain.
  • Oyu Tolgoi is expected to produce 450,000 tons of copper and 330,000 ounces of gold annually over 35 years.
  • Per capita disposable income is expected to rise by 11.5 percent.
  • The project could boost Mongolia’s per capita GDP, at about 1,800 US dollars in 2008, to 15,000 US dollars by 2015.

If you haven’t bought stock in one of these mining companies, you may have already missed the boat, but hopefully Mongolians will be able to keep corrupt politicians from pocketing the bulk of this windfall.

On a more mundane topic, I started classes with a new teacher today. My former teacher, Nyamaa, has been working on a deal to go to Japan for a few weeks. On Thursday, she told me dejectedly that they were not going to allow her to come to Japan unless she had a translator (since she speaks no Japanese or English) and overcame some other insuperable obstacle. The next afternoon, she walked into my classroom and showed me her visa to go to Japan and informed me that she was leaving Saturday morning at 6 a.m. So… she’s in Japan. It seemed a little sudden, but that seems to be how Mongolians roll.

New teacher and blessings

On Monday, we started a new term at our language school, so schedules and teachers got moved around a little bit. I was somewhat nervous about what the new arrangements would be. Last term, I had two main teachers–Aijan and Uranchimeg. Aijan is a Kazakh believer who speaks English relatively well. This is a great help when I get stuck on some new grammar or trying to figure out some unfamiliar word. Uranchimeg is the owner of the school. She also speaks English well, although she usually waits longer to let me puzzle things out in Mongolian. Because Uranchimeg has other responsibilities at the school, I often had substitute teachers during last term. I knew, then, that it was unlikely that I would have her as a regular teacher during this trimester.

When the new schedule came out, I still had Aijan for five lessons a week, for which I was very thankful. My new teacher was Tonga, who I believe had been away from the school for a month or three. She is an older teacher, also a believer and she speaks English quite well. She teaches me four times a week. That leaves one lesson in limbo. As far as I can tell, that means I will always have a substitute teacher for my first class on Thursdays.

This morning, I had my first experience with this. I can’t remember the name of my teacher, but she spoke hardly any English and never showed much recognition to anything I said in English. I assumed then that she would review old grammar, run me through a few review exercises or maybe just give me a test. But, no… Her assignment for the day was to teach me blessings (ёрөөл бэлгийн үг) for various occasions, such as what to say when someone is playing chess or shearing sheep or boiling water or reading a book. Because she spoke no English and I speak little Mongolian, this presented a huge challenge. Here are a few guesses of what some of those blessings are.

When someone is milking an animal, say “full container.”
When someone is churning the fermented mare’s milk, say “oil ride high.”
When someone is shearing sheep, say “sharp scissors shear sheep very well” (surprisingly, that’s not a tongue twister in Mongolian).
When your children give you something, hold it high and say “Grow as tall as this.” Okay, that was a total guess based on my teacher’s pantomime.
When someone is sewing, say, “Every action.” What?!?
When someone sneezes, say, “God grace/favor/mercy.” Hmm, sounds familiar.