Saturday, July 16, 2011

Camp Stories

Hey everyone! I'm back! Hoorah! Dariganga children's camp was a blast and half, mixed with frustration and being exhausted pretty much constantly. Now, my family is here!! And they are all doing well... maybe except for Konrad because his stomach hurts all the time and he complains about jet-lag. Ha. Welcome to my life! :D

Now... onto some camp stories. I tried to write down the more interesting stuff that happened.


The Sharks!
To keep up a competitive spirit, the campers were randomly split into teams of 10-12 kids. The first task they had to do was figure out a team name, which proved to be a little difficult at first. The first session had a theme of “animals” and basically all the teams wanted to be the “lions,” or “tigers”. The second session had a theme of “everything” (we got lazy, so what), so there were still a lot of animal teams, but more interesting ones were noted, such as “Nature”, “Team Blue Sky,” (Tsinker Tinker in Mongolian!) and “The Untouchables.” The last one being Leon’s team, obviously.

The Untouchables!
My teams were “Penguin Team” and “The Sharks”. The Penguin team was hilarious. They did really well, and they had some really insane personalities. Our team flag had a large penguin on it, with pinwheels made of construction paper around him. This is because, “Dariganga is too hot for penguins, so we had to make a freezer for him.” Too cute. Our motto (which every team had one) was “our motto is, just smile, just smile!” My team seemed in it to win it, though. Sarah’s team however was the “Happy Tigers,” and had Tigger as their mascot, which she was none too pleased about and vocalized her angst frequently. Her next team somewhat made up for that- “The Giants”.


Mongolia has a culture that is very homophobic, to the point that it has been said that they didn’t need gay rights passed because it “doesn’t exist.” It cracks me up, however, that cross-dressing and acting extremely feminine is perfectly ok. I suppose because they know they’re faking (they would never to think it as actual homosexuality), and as Alex said one time, being over the top and as far from the norm is the humor here. I suppose so, but still interesting. On Mongolian TV, it’s not to unusual to see a cross-dressing male. We had a Mr/Ms competition, which consisted of the chicks dressing up like dudes, and the dudes dressing up like chicks. The males definitely were WAY more into it. One of my “girls” on my team from first session, and one of the “boys” from my team second session won the competition in their category. Too funny.

Even more hilarious than the little boys (who many of them could have for sure passed as girls in real life), were the PCVs and Mongolian English teachers who participated:

Kaede, me, Carolyn and Sarah. We're some good lookin' dudes.
Soyol... the scariest looking Mongolian man ever. Complete with fake nose thing.
Ooo la la, Bob.


Last year, the PCVs came up with an award system using beads, which went over really well. We wanted to put our own spin on it, so we came up with the idea of using ribbons (in Mongolian, it was pronounced like “totes”). Everyday was a different color, and they were counted up the next morning in their teams.

Andrew and his Strong Tigers!
Sometimes this proved to be a problem, as the kids found out early that if they were caught doing something good, they would get a ribbon. A couple days into camp, we had an awful lot of campers picking up trash on the ground in plain sight of the PCVs. Sometimes the kids would completely shameless and just ask us for one. That was the worst. During hiking day, I had two girls hold my hand and walk with me around Altan Ovoo (one of the most holy mountains in Mongolia), then ask for a ribbon afterwards. For what??, I ask. For talking to me of course, she said. It wasn’t in English, mind you, and even if it was, I wouldn’t have given her one.
Relay day!

The only time we had to take away ribbons was during the second session, when some of the older kids started to get really bratty really fast. Taking away ribbons was for (including, but not limited to) being super late to class, not coming to class at all, or generally being brats about stuff. Luckily, we didn’t have to take many away.

The last full day, we had a relay day after the final English tests. We gave out more ribbons that day, for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, which tipped the scales quite a bit. The relays in both sessions created some upsets for the final ribbon counts.

Barack Obama and George Bush, BFFs

Not actually the two campers, but my CPs, Togsoo and Degii!
Helping me out with the life skill lessons...
and all the campers boo-boos.
An unlikely duo in real life, at camp, they were the best of friends. Within the first few days of the first session, the campers took to figuring out their English names. When I sat at their table for lunch, the boys excitedly told me their names… William, Andrew, Matthew… pretty standard, until I got to the end- Barack, George, and LeBron James. Basketball is a huge thing here, side note. Barack tended to be one of my love/hate relationships- he was a smart kid, but he would just talk talk talk in class. Grr. I did get to use him well in my volunteering lesson, ha.


I found towards the end of camp, I was bringing to get a short fuse with the kids, the teenagers in particular. As I learned from Claire, enforcing rules and having them stick to it was a huge deal. The campers did pretty good the first 6-7 days of camp… then things got real. It started with one of Leon’s team members skipping out on a life skills lesson- a huge no-no. They had a ton of breaks during camp, so there was really no reason for them to be skipping stuff. So anyway, Leon took care of it and took a ribbon away from him, and we had a talking with everyone during morning announcements.

We thought that would remind the students to at least semi-good, but alas- on the last day of English classes, Leon discovered that one of the kids who had been previously making a ruckus in his life skills class, was missing. Looking in the usual spots (kitchen, basketball court, and his room) came up short, and I started to get worried. We went to the councilor’s room and asked if they’d seen him. We followed them back to his room, where they lifted a blanket… and there he was- sleeping under his bed with his headphones on. I was pretty darn livid. I mean, really?

After lunch, some of the teachers and I had a talk with him and another kid who had apparently skipped life skills the day before. After chewing him out pretty good and having the teachers translate, Aldarma turned to me and imparted some wisdom: “When I first became a teacher, I was always so angry when students disrespected me… like you are angry. Now… I don’t care.”

Poop is raining from the ceiling… POOP!” and “HOW DID I WET MYSELF?”

So blue :)
Sarah and I, not being able to spend one minute away from each other, were roommates during the entire camp. We had two rooms. The first room was in the dorm the closest to the toilets and the kitchen, which was nice. What was not so nice was the fact we were the only ones who didn’t have electricity (Sarah: “Well, considering you’re rooming with me, it’s not a surprise we have electrical problems.”), and we had a weird bat infestation problem. Each morning when we woke up, there were more and more black pellets on the ground in the middle of the room. The looked speciously like the pieces of poop that Dwight found in the bat episode of the Office. It was confirmed the next night when we heard squeaking in the ceiling, above where the poop was landing.

Our second room (Maggie and Claire’s old room) was much nicer- electricity, a desk, an extra nightstand, and even an electric plug! The novelty wore off fast when it started raining- inside the room. Sarah woke up in the early morning and wondered if she had actually peed the bed. In fact, it was just leaking from the ceiling. Maybe the ceilings just really hate us.

Wait… what kind of horrig?

The food at camp was actually surprisingly really good. I don’t eat a lot of Mongolian food, so this was the best I could have hoped for. I do wish there were more vegetables, but that’s a different story.

So one night, we decided to have an “American dinner,” because frankly we were pretty sick of all the kids at that point. Usually we would sit at a different table and practice English with them. Anyway, the waitress lady hands out our food, and right away we smell something… off. It smelled so familiar to me, so it took a couple minutes. Was it…? Yes, it was liver stir-fry (horrig, in Mongolian). My host family had given it to me a couple times, once in a huushuur. It wasn’t my favorite meal. Anyway, no matter how hard we tried and how much chili-ketchup we put on, none of us (save Maggie) was able to stomach (ha) it.
Our dining hall!

It was quickly noticed by the cooks, to which we had to explain that we’re just really not used to eating geddis (the word for intestines) and such. They in turn felt bad, and wanted to cook us something different. We quickly protested, because we decided it would be a good night for ramen and snickers bars since we were thinking about having that anyway one of the days. Later that night after the evening activity, the cooks surprised us anyway, with about 10 plates of kimbop (it’s like sushi… without fish). Mongolian hospitality!

And now, for some other pictures!

Altaa watches the class as they take the final exam.
Penguin reunion after camp in Sukhbaatar square!
Life skills lessons!
Me and some of the campers... I'm so tan now!
Finally, a semi-creepy wall mural inside one of the cabins.