What could be better reason to stay up a wee bit later than usual to skype a classroom of eager seven students from your old school? One of my highlights last week was just such a thing! The year I was in grade 12 I had the opportunity to be the teacher’s assistant for many of these students during their Grade 4 year.
This was certainly no microwave-cleaning and spelling list marking endeavour either – I was under direct supervision of an incredibly hands-on teacher who had no fears about handing me a lesson plan and saying”You’re teaching science tomorrow, complete with outdoor activity. Any questions?” I loved it, as well as the kids I got to work with for those five months.
As it so happens, this year that class is paired up with yet another great teacher, who is totally onboard for in-class skype sessions! I still keep in touch with a few of these kids so I sent some letters explaining what TREK was all about and asked for them to pray for me this year. I love sending them updates and am so encouraged when they send me emails saying they’re praying for me, along with the score on their latest math tests.
Really. They are awesome.
And, to top it all off, they ask good questions too!
Unfortunately, sometimes I answer questions better after I’ve had some time to think about them, and since I keep coming up with better examples of things we talked about, I figured I might as well share a few of them with the world!
So here we are: a skype date revisited:
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to eat?
A: Well actually, I haven’t had to eat anything TOO strange yet. The boys have had to eat stranger foods than I because of attending some cultural holidays, like some really dried out, potent-y fish things, but I’m not even sure what that was! I’ve been pretty lucky on the food-scale so far.
Answer, Revisited: I actually forgot that horse meat is not normal in North American households. We eat it all the time, mixed with ground beef. I’m not sure if that makes it ground borse or ground heef…
It took a while to get used to the milk tea. It’s hot milk with a tiny bit of tea in it, and SALT. It’s served everywhere. Adele had to eat bodz (meatball wrapped in steamed dough) with some kind of innards once. We’re not really sure what was in that…
Also, my hamburger last week had replaced the ketchup with a slice of cucumber and pickle! And one of the regular pizza’s around the corner has a pizza with pickles and broccoli on it too!
Q: Do boys wear skater shoes?
A: Yep! I never thought to look at their shoes much, but I think that’s because they’re not much different from North America. They mostly wear typical runners (tennis shoes/sneakers, for my American readers) or basketball shoes. Young people dress very similar to those in western cultures, but fancier. We (Canadians) are very laid back in our dress. Here, the girls are almost always in heels, tights, and have nice jackets and things. I guess I don’t pay much attention to the boys..
Additional Observations: Boys wear a lot of jeans, hoodies and tshirts, like in Canada. However, I think they are a little bit more particular about their hair. One surprising hairstyle I frequently see is where the sides of the head are shaved and hair (like a mohawk) is left in the middle and kept long and french braided down their back. Or, especially with younger boys, I will see a head all shaved but for a small piece in the back that is held in a ponytail.
Q: You’ve said the spiritual climate there is very different – there’s a lot of shamanism and Buddhism there. What are some examples of where you see the some differences between Mongolia and Canada?
A: Mongolia is primarily a a Buddhist nation but Shamanism is also widely practiced and definitely on the rise! That being said, the spirit wold is much more recognized than in North America. In Canada, most people don’t even believe in a spirit world. Here, it’s the opposite. People believe in many gods and spirits and their power.
There are some things that I have noticed that show how strongly people’s beliefs affect day to day life and culture here, including people’s names! It is not uncommon for a person to be names “worthless,” “nameless,” “not this one” or even “not human!” This is done to protect the child from, hoping to confuse evil spirits so the kids will not be stolen or harmed by them. Similarly, young boys will also be dressed in pink or as girls to avoid the same thing.
People are continually doing things for ‘merit’, so that the gods look at them with favour or maybe they will have more favour in the next life. One day when I was staying at the foster home, a neighbour invited us and the other home’s children all over for a meal – maybe 16 of us in all. When we thanked her for this she said that it was good to do things for the children. Being kind to children will bring them good things. Giving gifts is a big deal here for reasons just like that.
We ride the bus with monks. We pass them on the street. I’m sure we do the same with Shamans every week, maybe every day – but they are people too so I don’t recognize them without their whole get up on. I see people with round wooden prayer beads around their wrists and as necklaces. Often I will see sellers in the market or stores take the money from their first ‘sell’ of the day and tap everything on their table with it, to bring good luck for the rest of the day’s sales.
Last week there was some sort of Shaman ritual happening in the apartment above one of the foster homes. They last for hours and have a lot of drumming and incense. In previous years there have been groups of shamans all dressed up (similar to some North American costumes and rituals), chanting and marching on the road in front of our kids club. Most of the time you’ll have no idea what they are saying – when they are ‘blessing’ or putting on a curse or what the effects of either are.
Q: Have you seen any dangerous animals? What about snakes?
A: One of the great things about Mongolia is no dangerous snakes, weird bugs, or scary animals at all! Unless you count lice, bedbugs, and some of the dogs – most dogs in the ger district are first and foremost watchdogs. Stay clear of those!
Q: What’s your favourite thing to do there?
A: My favourite thing to do is hang out with the kids in our youth group. They are an incredible mix of kids from all over the world with very unique stories, but at the end of the day they’re all just kids! I like to sit at the coffee shop and read, write and recharge, but also to meet with people there and hear their stories and spend time together. I like to pray with people and give encouragement and share life with people. Even if it’s eating a cinnamon bun and talking about what movies are coming out next!
So I guess that means…my favourite thing to do here is be a friend.