I haven’t posted in a while, partly because of how crazy busy I’ve been lately. A lot has happened since February. Spring came and left, and summer is in full swing. I had to take a good, hard look at my service (again) and figure out if the positive outweighs the negative. I ultimately had to request a site change because the difficulties at my HCA (host country agency) spun out of control and became a safety issue. My work has been tremendously rewarding, and the kids in my life are infinitely way cooler than the adults.
Special Olympics in February was wonderful for our 7 athletes who have barely had the opportunity to leave Zavkhan. And since then, I created a Happy Center off of Govi-Altai aimag’s model, which was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished. The Happy Center is a bi-weekly program for children with disabilities to come to interact with other kids, play games, learn life skills and hang out. The idea behind the program was to help socialize children into the community, and while the program was a moderate success, I sometimes felt like I was taking a few steps backwards because so many of my counterparts and locals were confused by the purpose. In those moments I take deep breaths and am glad the children are happy. This is one of those moments where I have to accept “good enough” is better than nothing at all..
The biggest challenge in my work is motivating my colleagues to work on projects, and they were often preoccupied with either grading copious amounts of papers and assignments or scrolling through facebook.. I was essentially mostly doing work outside of my assigned host country agency.
Peace Corps recognized the issues I faced, be it gender, harassment, resistance to change, etc. but I have spent a lot of time questioning their methods, be it the best intention possible. I was disappointed by staff on so many occasions, by the time I hit a tipping point, I was almost afraid to approach them. Mongolia changed country directors, and there was a shift in administrative policies which are confusing and disorganized. During in-service training, a staff member who will remain unnamed, suggested I return to America after a conversation with my counterpart who he tagged as “unmotivated.” I was devastated. I figure he believed that the issues were too complicated to solve. But I did end up telling all his superiors about the unnecessary suggestion he made
that I voluntarily terminate my service. Upon having to report the assault to them, another staff member asked me if the differences were “just cultural.”
But I won’t bother you any further on the shortcomings of the underfunded, understaffed and overworked US Government organization that I happen to work for and depend on..
I am happily tucked away 30 hours from UB, and moved into a new apartment with a new HCA, living in the same city. I have a new director, who unfortunately already discovered I have tattoos and said they were муу, but is the sweetest woman who desperately wanted a volunteer for her school.
I’ve been relocated to the Music and Dance College in town, and have a cute little studio in a house where other teachers from my college reside. The mood is an airy contrast to the shadows of depression in my last HCA. They are impressed by my Mongolian speaking skills, which always makes me shy. I think that when foreigners speak Mongolian, it always comes as a bit of a shock. But in Uliastai, there really in’t a huge presence of English speakers so I don’t always have a choice..
I will write more about my experiences as a female volunteer, and how gender roles in Mongolia affect my daily life as opposed to living in America. Something that has been burning on my mind…