Monday, May 29, 2006

Sun-Hat Season

Yeah, it was sunny on this day, and almost hot! But with my trusty hat, it was quite comfortable. This was a pretty good party. I got to play with a balloon for a while, and got lots of attention from other people who came to watch the big show at the neighborhood pre-school. Posted by Picasa

Lady in Waiting

I'm waiting for Maggie to perform in this concert. It sure is sunny today! My friends brought here to sit on this side so I could see the show better. They carry me around if I get too tired.
Next year I might get to be in this concert. I sometimes get to visit Maggie's class, and kindergarten sure does look fun. Posted by Picasa

Kindergarten Concert

Hi! I'm waiting in the wings until its my turn to sing our song with friends from my class. Everyone's parents are here to listen to the big show, just outside my school.
I love my school, and my two teachers; and am glad I got to wear a dress today. This concert is for the end of the year, my first year of school! Will I miss everyone this summer? Yes. But I'll see lots of them on the playground. That's one good thing about living this close to school. My dad wonders if I'll miss the whole class saying my name "Mee-gee" when we walk into class every morning. I don't know, Dad! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Mongolian Funeral

Tikshay, a friend from church told me Saturday that his uncle died. The funeral was held the following Wednesday morning. It was the first Buddhist funeral I’ve ever witnessed.

We got to the family’s house just before 7am. The Monk was already there. Tea was brought to people while we waited. Then everyone filed out of the house. Just as I cleared the front door, I saw the body being carried from the house next door toward the waiting van, a microbus with the seats laid flat.

The body was laid on a pallet like stretcher made of a few new boards fastened together. On top of the body was laid two red shiny cloths - one on the body, the other on the face. Tikshay and other pall-bearers rode with the body in the back of the microbus.

at the gravesite...

The grave was dug and covered with a cloth. The graveyard had hundreds of graves with the same kind of rock and headstone that I had accompanied to the site. We got out of the truck. Some benches were set right beside the new grave. The body was carried out of the micro, and set on the benches. Some incense was lit at the head of the grave.

The Monk sat on a stool at the head of the grave and took out a book and began to read. I wasn’t able to distinguish this because sang the words in Buddhist chant. I asked Tikshay if he could understand the words. He said yes, that it was Mongolian. It was then I noticed that under the head of the body was a large brick of what turned out to be tea.

Little pastries and candy were handed out. Some people ate theirs and some threw them to the birds. (The huge black ravens that stood watch all around appreciated this part, and later one particularly husky mongrel made off with three ‘donut-hole’ sized pastries in one beak, to the cheers of almost everyone – it was the day’s lightest moment) Then the funeral party walked around the grave three times together. This reminded me of the ritual performed at an ovoo (piles of rocks on hilltops) all over Mongolia.

The ride back to the family’s home was like an off road vehicle race. The truck carrying me and Tikshay was going 50-60 km/h toward town, the shortest route to a paved road. This express route got us back in half the time. The procession of cars (four or five) drove through two smoldering dung-fires as it approached the house. We got out of the cars and waited for our turn to go through a kind of washing line before entering the yard.

Inside the house was one long table in an L-shape the length and width of the house (about 20 feet). There were probably 30 people seated on benches on both sides. We ate soup, potato salad and sweet rice with raisins. I passed on the potato salad because the soup was really good and filling. I ate some rice. Then they indicated I needed to eat some food (xool), which was the potato salad. It was good, and my eating it seemed to satisfy everyone that I was full. I guess soup, like bread, doesn’t qualify as food here.

Tikshay said it was time to go. We stood and hovered at the door for about a minute. His cousin, the deceased man’s youngest daughter, thanked me for coming. Someone was handing everyone a porcelain bowl and giant box stick of matches. I thought we were going outside to burn incense to Buddha or something. Tikshay indicated we wouldn’t hang around for whatever was next. So I handed off my matches to someone on the way out the gate. The matches and cup were handed back to me and I humorously learned that the two items were not for a ceremony, but a gift for me to take home as a memento.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Language Blunders

Well, they say that everyone cries at least once during language study. . . My time almost came this past week. Maybe I should have gave in and had it over with. The problem is, we were at the city council building in our city for a meeting with the governer. We had received a call just the day before inviting us to come, although the purpose wasn't disclosed. We showed up to the meeting and joined 25 or so other foriegners, all currently residing in Darhan. They had all shown up with their translators and pens and paper. We did our best to listen and to read the agenda given to us when we entered the room. A collegue had brought his language teacher who speaks very little English, but she translated a little for us. The meeting was a very exciting opportunity for us, to meet the governer, meet others working in the city and to get a little outside-the-classroom experience under our belts. This summer our city will celebrate its 45th anniversary and the country will celebrate its 800th anniversary. The governer was explaining the projects and celebrations planned to mark these special dates. Basically what he wanted from us was our whole-hearted participation. There are currently 18 countries represented in Daarhan with 211 foriegners residing. We (each country) have been given 15 minutes at a celebration next month to share about our country and its traditions. They also want us to make introductions and explain why we are here--create an accurate public awareness. What awesome opportunities!!! Of course, it wouldn't be Mongolian if a competition was absent. The best foreigner to sing a Mongolian song will recieve a prize.
Well, the meeting came to a close and we were asked to introduce ourselves. I began to be nervous. Most everyone else had the translator do the job. We were sitting around a table like you would see in the UN--microphones at each seat. We were asked to turn on the mics and introduce. I wasn't able to sit next to Jeremy for moral support; he, by the way, did terrific. It came to be my turn. . . First my name, then the organization I was representing, finally how long I had been in the country. Now, those of you who are mothers will understand this blunder. Many of my conversations in Mongolian revolve around my children. I am always asked their ages, if they go to school, etc, etc. When it came time for my final sentence, instead of saying I had come to Mongolia almost nine months ago, I bascially said I came to Mongolia as an almost 11 month old!!!!!! Needless to say I am asked an awful lot about my almost 11-month-old, Johanna. At first I hadn't realized what I had done, until the language teacher next to me pointed it out. I was humiliated! I tried to convince myself that no one but me would remember five minutes later, that it was a good experience for me to be reminded of why I am still doing homework and going to class as a 29 year old (that is, of the importance of learning the language). I tried to remind myself of what an awesome opportunity it was to even be invited there. All that said, I also conclude that it is great to be reminded of the greatness of God and the littleness of me. It hurts sometimes, but it ends up being an encouragement in the end. The world does not rest on my shoulders, but on greater ones.
By the way, in a previous out-of-classroom encounter, a recorded interview for listening practice, I was accussed of being a spy come to seek out Mongolian land and resources and take them for my country. These people have had a long history of being trampled on, I pray we in no way contribute to more of the same.

Green Group: A Good Question

Yesterday, I got to visit a home group from one of our churches. They call it Ge[a]r-ing Group.

The first word is from the Mongolian word for home (Ger), which is pronounced like the english word, Gear. The second word is borrowed like many Russian words heard here if there is no Mongolian equivalent. Together the term means home group, and when said quickly by Mongolians, sounds like Green Group.

Our friend and his wife met us at church on foot and walked us to the group's weekly meeting place. An older lady, near 60, greeted us and showed us into her house. It had two rooms, the smaller of which was the kitchen with a small sheet-metal stove for cooking and heating the house. We met in this room. Outside her home was a fairly large fenced area, where some vegetables were recently planted. She was teased about being wealthy because she had two baby calves and a pig.

About twelve people crowded into a tight circle. Our friends led the group in a couple songs, prayed, and them spoke from their Bible on John Chapter 10. Jesus likens people to sheep, and identifies himself as the Good Shepherd. The passage is read and explained and then questions are invited. One older lady finally asks, "Why does Jesus compare people with this animal, with sheep?" I don't know enough of the culture yet to know whether this seems really odd to Mongolians (like calling someone an old goat in our culture). I know that sheep are one of the 5 respected farm animals of Mongolia. (The others are Camel, Cattle, Goats, and Horses) I suppose it was just a good question Jesus want us to think about. So what do you think?

Mongolia has about 5 times more sheep than people. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Mongolians drawn to one of Jesus's many anaologies involving sheep. An amazing teacher, Jesus often uses the concrete world around us to explaing invisible or abstract things to come. What is God's Kingdom like, Who His Our Father, and how do we find comport, health and healing, in the arms of these mysterious Truths?

Feel free to post your insight to why Jesus compares people to sheep. Or if He entered your world today, what in your concrete world (or your workplace -- He was probably talking to shepherds about about their livlihood: sheep) would he use to lead you to Life abundant?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Renee's Birthday Brings Her to the Perfect Age

Here's Maggie giving her mom the gift she picked out of thin air, or perhaps from her own craving. When asked what she wanted to give mom for her birthday, she immediately said: "Marshmallows". Posted by Picasa

Tough Young Men with Brighter Futures

These two brothers live about 10 miles out of town with about 150 other prisoners. The guy on the left is 20, and leads a Bible Study. His brother, 25, is revered as the toughest guy in the prison.

On the day I visited, there was a wrestling tournament. These guys are really talented, and it seems a healthy activity. Outside of prison, they will need more than physical strength to get ahead.

There is a plan materializing to help guys like these find work when they get out. This is the dream of our friend from church who every month brings the hope of the gospel into this prison to men in need of it most. Posted by Picasa

A Spring Southerly View

This is Darhan, from a hill on the north side, facing south. Those buildings are mostly apartments. Ours is on the far right, slightly out of view. This picture was taken April 30th, and the grass is short and barely turning light yellowish-green. Sometimes the sheer size of the fenceless space is oceanic, staggering, and almost scary. Still, the space is beautiful, full of wonder and fresh air. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Friday Game Night

Ever play Guestures? Its a version of Charades with a time twist to keep it interesting. After dinner Friday night we played it with our friends. It was their first time. Equal credit was given for guessing the word in Mongolian or English. Posted by Picasa

Snow Like Manna on April 28th

When people charge out into the night in celebration and stand in the snow and rain, at the end of might be in Mongolia.
It happened to us the other night. We looked out to see that the harsh wind that had blown sand around all day finally produced some precipitiation. It was our first in months. With the rain and snow came hope that the moisture would keep the dirt and dust where it belongs for a few days. And it has helped turn the grass on the hills a yellowish shade of green. Posted by Picasa

Johanna's New Development

Our youngest has teeth! We figure with every new one, we're closer to a night's sleep without intermission(s). Posted by Picasa

At Play on a Spring Day

The girls get frequent visitor from their new friends. We think their toy collection is fairly renowned among girls Sara's age. She is eight.
Now that the weather is getting nicer, Maggie and Lydia go outside and play with neighborhood kids. But there are still days or parts of days (like today) when its too cold or windy to be outside for long. Posted by Picasa