Sunday, October 23, 2011

Work Updates OR "So what DO you do in Peace Corps?"

A post... about work? Timo! (Really!)

I still get asked all the time about what I do. To this day, I'm maybe still not sure. As the second year here goes on, more and more projects have come about. Non-TEFLs have the hardest time with figuring out "what we do," but perhaps the most flexibility in that sense.

So these are some of the projects I've been doing:
Seminars! (Nursing skills)
Grant writing! (I had to take pictures for the water distiller project... we're getting drinking water for the patients)
English club! (Check out my awesome drawing skills)
Nursing skill practicing! (Yes, that is my old water filter being used as an amputation stump)
Children's art therapy! (They're just happy to get out of the unit!)
Stroke rehabilitation therapy! (This one is a lot of fun!)
And teaching Mika how to keep his tongue in this mouth while he sleeps! (This is perhaps my most failed project so far)

Not pictured: Mongolish Club and the hours I spend on making power point presentations. Whee.

Let's play some ball!
A bonus 3x1 picture from my family trip. Should have brought a basketball to the middle of nowhere!

Peace and love, ya'all. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Of Competition and Rivalry

Interesting theme this week. Not just because of the MSU/UM game (go State!!), Red Wing games, Tigers or Lions (and bears, oh my!), but of conversations had this weekend. Oh, also I'm sorry that Michigan fans got such a bruised ego... it's been nice to be on the winning side for once (or 4 times). :)

Mongolia has an addiction. An addiction that many people don't know about, unless you have lived here for a while. This addiction is one seen frequently, but rarely questioned, unlike the obvious addition to alcohol. That addiction is competition.

This weekend it seemed that competition and rivalry were a constant topic of conversation (it IS that time of year). I sat down with Jessica and her CP for lunch, and I finally asked the question a lot of the PCVs want to ask- "why, exactly, do schools have so many competitions?" Jessica's CP couldn't answer. She didn't like it as much as we did, but it was something they had always done. Jessica and I suggested she could be the voice of change, the starter of the revolution, the organizer of "Occupy Baruun-Urt" (hah). She said that she really couldn't- as much as she would maybe want it, she could lose her job trying to reduce the number of competitions.

I guess I should specify what kind of competitions they have. They have the usual stuff for the kids, which is what we generally agree with- basketball, volleyball, English, singing competitions, etc. Those are fun and good for getting kids involved in extra-curriculars. The ones that PCVs have trouble with are the teacher competitions- sports (which I think are generally fine if used sparingly) and teaching competitions. Teaching. Competitions.

I'm not a TEFL PCV, but I've heard so many of my TEFL friends talk about these competitions it's like I've witnessed them myself (and, my hospital HAS done something similar so I need to work on them too). They go like this: teacher make awesome insanely cool lesson plans with props and handouts and visuals (maybe including videos, etc). They spend hours upon hours making them. They present it to a class of their teaching peers, NOT actually in front of students (?!?!?! they usually cancel other classes too, so that the teachers can observe other teachers). The lesson plan goes in a binder, never to see the light of day again.

Now, why don't teachers do this for every lesson, I ask. It doesn't have to be flashy. It seems that if you prepared lessons that engage the children in learning, it would be better for them instead of reading straight out of a book.

It's too much work, Jessica's CP replies. We don't have time.

We then discussed possible solutions to this problem. Have Jessica and the training manager sit in on lessons and give feedback. Instead of wasting time making lessons they'll never teach, have a seminar on how to make better lessons. Have less competitions so teachers can focus on making engaging lessons. Share lesson plans. The possibilities are endless.

I remember Todd saying similar things last year, when he was frustrated that teachers would cancel classes to prepare for the teacher's volleyball competitions. During one of the most recent competitions, I heard of an incident that really ticked me off. One of the teachers ended up teaching the grammar point wrong and tried to blame it on the PCV for teaching them wrong (?! why would we do that). What's more frustrating than that, was that the PCV had to go and teach one of the teacher's classes on the fly because the teachers were arguing so much about points and who was supposed to win, that they didn't go to class to do their job.

I really don't need to point out how many things are wrong with that. And that's why we're here. We're here to suggest better ways to teach, more efficient ways of teaching. But if this society has this tradition so well engrained in their culture, can we really do anything about it? Maybe. Going back to what Jess's CP said- she's afraid to make that kind of change because she could lose her job. The working environment here is sometimes so interesting. It's the wonderful thing about being a PCV- you can literally go almost anywhere you want, when you want, and speak to whomever you want. Americans are weird, new, and people generally want to hear what we have to say. The change could be amazing.

Enough chat. Picture time. Jess invited me to the singing competition for her school- "Universe Best Song" is a Mongolian singing competition on TV that is much like American Idol, only you have to sing songs that aren't in the Mongolian language. So many of the kids did pop English songs and traditional Russian folk songs, with a little Korean pop mixed in.

Picture of Disappointment
This boy was getting chewed out by the Russian teacher (who was sitting next to me) for messing up the pronunciation of whatever folk song he was singing. The judging was either a "yes" or a "no", just like in American Idol. There's none of that "every child is a special rainbow" American bullshit here!
These girls went to camp :) they were so good!
Deliberations begin...
And finally...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Here comes the light of an autumn moon

A couple things. I'm almost done with Mad Men season 4, and I've developed a girl-crush:

How could you not? I think it's the red hair and/or the attitude. You just want to BE her. She makes the show, and she's probably one of the most "moral" characters (surprisingly?). I guess after this I'm going to have to try out that "game of thrones" show all the boys have been talking about for ages.

Secondly. It's October, so that means Kate switches to her October play list (I have songs for every month that I usually don't listen to other times of the year):

"October" by Broken Bells - if you like the Shins, try this band, the lead singer is the same. Good stuff.

"Waiting for October" by Polaris - remember Pete and Pete? This was that band that played the theme song and other music in the series. The whole album brings be back.

"Strange and Beautiful" album by Aqualung - Reminds me of the fall before nursing school... that weird transitional period where I was a psych major for a semester.

Thirdly. I've become a cooking fiend. My favorite meals as of late:
1) Chicken, onion and mayo sandwiches
2) Banana bread! I think I've finally gotten it down
3) Hot chicken wings (yumm)
4) Toast, used in any way possible

Basically anything with chicken is a good meal. The meat is expensive, but fruit is more so. I've been counting up what I've been spending this month and I spend more on fruit, veggies and candy (sigh) then I do chicken. Also paper towels. Those are freaking expensive (like 5 bucks for two small rolls), so never again.

And thirdly is where it ends, I suppose... time for more Mad Men.

Mongol Rap
Taken at the TEDxUlaanbaatar conference in August. He was really good.