August 31, 2012
Well, I have now moved into my new apartment and met with my new coworkers, and to be honest, I’m more than a little dismayed. The apartment is in fairly dismal condition: the stairwell is dark and dingy and smells of excrement; the outer doorknob is broken, though still usable; the window frames have been so sloppily painted that the windows no longer close; the kitchen is small, awkward, and at present, equipped only with a hot plate, a rice cooker, and an ancient refrigerator. Its only advantage over our dorm in Zaisan is the availability of hot water; we don’t even have Internet, though I’ve been promised that will be remedied on Monday.
The weather is rainy today, as it has been more often than not in the three weeks we’ve been here – land of the blue skies, my foot – and since I can’t completely close the windows and have no control over the heat, the apartment is cold and damp. I’m told this won’t be an issue in the winter, however, as they will turn on the heat on September 15, at which point the apartment will be very hot for the rest of the winter. I’m not sure that’s an improvement.
I’d take a hot shower to warm my spirits, but the sink and shower are connected, and I’m not sure how to divert the flow from one spigot to the other. I’ll have to ask my roommate later this evening.
Yes, you read that correctly – unbeknownst to me or even the Embassy, I have a Mongolian roommate. My school evidently decided that it would be safer and easier for me to live with another teacher from the school. I agree with them, but I do wish they’d seen fit to let us know in advance, or to equip the apartment with another bed and wardrobe. We’ll each have our own bedrooms once hers actually has a bed; at present, she’s sleeping on the floor in the TV room.
Lack of preparations aside, I like what I know of her so far. Her name is Намүүнаа (Namuna in Roman script); she’s twenty-six and has taught communications at this school for three years. She speaks marginally more English than I do Mongolian, which is to say that most of our communication at the moment consists of pointing and gesturing. But once I have more of the basics down, I’m hoping that I will learn Mongolian much faster because of her.
We have an easier time communicating when my co-teacher is around, but not by much; her English is so limited that I wonder how she can possibly have earned a degree in English teaching. I have no idea what teaching with her will be like, or what she plans on teaching the students, but I guess I’ll learn more about that later today; she’s preparing her lesson plans now, and we’re to go over them this afternoon.
At least the teachers have all been very welcoming. I’ve caught very few of their names, so I hope they will be patient with me as I try to learn them. No one here can say my name either, so after fighting to go by my full name my entire life, I have suddenly and inadvertently acquired a nickname: Катя. I’ve never been “Kate” or “Katie” to anyone except the relatives who decided on those terms of address long before I was old enough to protest, and certainly not to myself – so “Katya” it was.
That’s about all I’ve got for now. Maybe I’ll have a brighter outlook once I’ve had some soup and started on my next project: Post-It Note-ing the house with the names of all the furnishings in English and Mongolian. No time like the present to start breaking down that communication barrier.
A much happier account of the wonderful time we spent in the countryside will be forthcoming once I’ve had a chance to type and post it.