September 1, 2012
I wonder how long it will be before Namuunaa and I can manage a full conversation, regardless of what language(s) we conduct it in. Every time silence falls between us, one or the other will inevitably ask for new words or review the ones we’ve already taught each other. We’ve already Post It-noted most of the kitchen and both of our rooms with labels in English and Mongolian, and I’ve no doubt that the bathroom’s next. What with the number of word lists on the walls, I’m sure our apartment will look like we wallpapered it with a dictionary before the end of the semester.
Translation can take some creativity; today I explained the difference between a blanket and a duvet using a Venn diagram. I have no idea if they use/teach those in schools here, but when I did an example using red, blue, and purple, she seemed to get the idea quickly enough.
Quite the lively pair we are – Saturday night, and we’re sitting around drinking tea and trading vocabulary words. There’s no alcohol in the house that I’ve seen so far, so I don’t even know if she drinks. A conversation for another time, I guess. It’s really the other end of the spectrum from the kind of stuff we’ve been doing, anyway. We shared the words for facial features today, and I’ll probably teach her “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” as soon as I remember the words for “children” and “song.” The hokey pokey might be fun, too.
In the meantime, we try to find activities that don’t require much language. Cards are always good; I bought some today, and we played a few rounds of a Mongolian game called “heutzer.” I also taught her King’s Corner and Egyptian Rat Screw. The former required only a brief demonstration; the latter I half-explained, half demonstrated as we went. She knows cat’s cradle too, as does her mother – we played when her parents and nieces stopped by yesterday. I also made the older niece an origami swan; she called it a “shoowoo,” which I’m guessing means bird. I need some kind of small toy in case the little girls come back – and this time, maybe I’ll actually learn the older girl’s name. I have a really hard time catching people’s names without seeing them written down, unless they’re exceptionally short.
Well, today didn’t exactly go as planned. I had wanted to wander the city, but Namuunaa wanted to come with me, and exploring quickly turned into shopping. And while there are certainly things I need to buy, I’m not very good at shopping with other people. I really wish I’d bought more at Naraantuul (the “black market” in UB), especially that camel wool sweater I eyed and then decided against. I have so little in the way of professional clothing, and a few cardigans would go a long way in extending my wardrobe possibilities. I’ll have to go back to Naraantuul, and sooner rather than later; I had hoped that clothes here would be cheaper, but from what I’ve seen, food prices are the only ones that are significantly lower than what you’d find in the US.
Nor did I see any more of the city once we left the shopping center; we took a taxi to ter parents’ ger, where we’ve been for the past few hours. Neighbors and their babies trooped in and out, and I’ve held Namuunaa’s youngest niece and went with the older one to buy bread from a nearby food shop. Her mom gave me “bortzak” and “suutei tsah” (frybread and milk tea) when I came in, a gesture I still have mixed feelings about. I certainly appreciate the hospitality, and bortzak is delicious, but I have yet to learn to like warm, salty milk with a few tea leaves thrown in. At least this wasn’t fatty, but I still didn’t manage very much of it before they sent us to get bread. Someone dumped or drank the rest of mine before I returned, for which I was thankful. If I’m asked whether I want tea, I usually decline as politely as possible, but it’s only possible to do so with people you’ve met before. Usually, people don’t ask; they just pour you a bowl, and it’s not like you can refuse that without being extremely rude.
Anyway, I hope we’re heading back soon; classes start tomorrow, and I still have no idea what to expect. I don’t even know what time I’m teaching, or how many classes!