Shooting Film In Mongolia

This past weekend I rolled down to Dornogovi aimag to checkout some monasteries with my coworkers. Knowing I’d come across some good photo ops, I tossed a few rolls in my pack and put the 35 cron on my M6. Since picking it up back in January, I’ve moved away from shooting my M9 and have been working more with film. Thanks to my friend Sandra, I had able to load up on some stock that should last me through the summer until my trip to Korea.

Before getting in country, I only wanted to bring film to Mongolia. My hesitation was knowing whether or not I’d have the resources to get my shots developed and scanned. Plus, knowing I’d be doing some traveling outside of Peace Corps, I was paranoid about my film getting trashed by x-rays all over Asia.

When looking for info on film labs in UB, I came across an analog shooter from Mongolia, Ebb, who’s currently studying in NY. He gave me the skinny on a place called PhotoMan that still sells, scans, and develops film. Thanks to Ebb, I’ve been able to shoot my M6 without a worry.

But why shoot film in the first place? Isn’t it an outdated medium? Why bother with film when the advantages of digital seem endless?

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When trying to shoot film.

The answer, for me anyways, is simple: Shooting digital photos doesn’t compare to working with the physical material of the medium. In most cases, I’d say the same would be true of any other art form. I’m sure there are plenty of sculptors who would love to work in VR, for example, but I’d bet there’d still be people who want the real thing. Ya feel me?

The best thing about shooting film is sharing my negatives with my students. I grew up on disposable cameras, but nowadays, drug store film has been replaced with camera phones and preset filters. When my students look at film negatives, it’s like they’re seeing something magic. Film just isn’t something they can wrap their heads around, and it’s given me an idea for a possible secondary project next year (more on that later).

With my summer full of exciting stuff (Arkhangai, Reindeer Camp, Korea, etc) I’m stoked that I can capture these moments on film.

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But really.

Some of my favorite film stocks:

  • Portra series (160, 400, 800)
  • Iford HP-5 & Delta 3200
  • Ektar 100
  • Superia 400
  • Ektachrome
  • Cinestill 800

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Songs of the week:

  1. Kodachrome by Paul Simon
  2. Photograph by Def Leppard
  3. Camera by R.E.M.
  4. Girls on Film by Duran Duran
  5. Freeze Frame by J. Geils Band
  6.  Sure Shot by The Beastie Boys
  7. Lazaretto by Jack White
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Grab The Bull By The…What?

Since it’s been so long since my last post, I figure I’d come back from my blogging hiatus with a good story.

The other week my CP wanted to take me to the countryside to visit some of his family. According to him, I needed more “countryside experience” with goats, herding, and the like. If only I could’ve known what this meant at the time.

We drove about 20 minutes outside my soum and stopped to meet my CP in-laws. We then walked over to a pen where a bunch of cows and bulls were restlessly trying to mate with each other. Might as well get one last chance before it’s too late, right?

My CP then says, “We only need one bull, so we will…uh, how say you?” and then proceeded to point over at one of the bulls. I tried to look at what he was talking about but was drawing a blank. He then hops the fence, walks over to one of the bulls, and reaches down between its back legs. Curiously, my CP asks, “What is this?” Ah, of course, those would be testicles.

As it turns out, we’d be castrating 7 or so bulls, and I’d get to help wrangle them in. The whole thing consisted of roping a bull by the horns, wrestling him to the ground, and then wrapping your rope around his legs and snout. We’d then rub some kind of tar substance on their necks and proceed to remove of their family jewels. We then kept our prizes in a bowl for later.

I’ve eaten some weird things since coming here (goat head, horse intestines, strange substances out of antifreeze containers), and I’m almost always down to trying something at least once, but boiled cow testicle definitely takes the cake. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t really my thing.

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Songs of the week:

  1. POWER by Kanye West
  2. Rollout (My Business) by Ludacris
  3. IZZO (H.O.V.A) by JAY Z
  4. Can’t Stop by Red Hot Chili Peppers
  5. Unchained by Van Halen
  6. Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones
  7. When Doves Cry by Prince

Khutul On Film: Khutul Trainees As Film Cameras

Over IST, I had the pleasure of reuniting with all the trainees from Khutul. These were the folks I spent the three months of PST with and they’ve become some of my closest friends. Seeing everyone again gave me the idea to reimagine my fellow trainees as film cameras, and seeing as I fancy myself a photographer, cameras are about 50% of what I spend my time thinking about anyway.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

Alex, Holga 120N: Alex’s natural speaking voice is actually just a laugh. Alex is either making you laugh or laughing herself. Her sense of humor gives her a knack for storytelling and after hanging out with her your bound to have a few of your own. The Holga is a quirky little camera with a lot of personality. Due to it’s 60mm plastic meniscus lens, its images often feature a lot of dramatic vignetting, blurs, and light leaks giving them a unique look. Although production of these cameras recently stopped, the Holga continues to live on as a cult favorite loved by many photographers.

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Amanda, Yashica-Mat 124: “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” As you may have guessed, Amanda hails from the great state of NY. I know this because she was sure to mention it 934 times exactly during PST. On a more serious note, Amanda is one of the most resilient people I know. She has a laugh that can fill a room and that’s how you know the party has started. She’s a great and loyal friend that’ll always have your back.

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The distinctive styling Amanda’s NY personality is one only to be matched by a TLR (twins lens reflex) camera. One lens is used for framing while the other actually takes the photo. Like all TLR cameras, the Yashica has a matte screen on top of the camera which you look down into to frame your image. The classic black look with it’s iconic chrome elements make this a timeless camera.

Ashleigh, Pentax K-1000: If you were ever having a stressful day Ashleigh was sure to give you a hug or massage. This trend became so popular that massages became a regular thing in Khutul and came to surprise some of our cross-cultural trainers. Ashleigh is very kindhearted and looked after everyone at site. She did, however, notice that every animal I touched seemed to died. She wasn’t wrong.

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When I was a photo major at Carroll U this was the camera I shot with. Ironically, this camera was labeled the “students camera” since they were so popular amongst…well, photo students. The K-1000 had one of the longest lifespans I know of, being produced from 1976 until 1997. Something that makes Pentax lenses interesting is their unusual choice in focal lengths such as 31mm, 43mm, and 71mm.

Brain, Canon AE-1: To me, Brain was the glue that held Khutul together. Not that people didn’t get along, but Brian has one of the most positive personalities you’ll ever encounter and that brought everyone together. As a practice teaching partner, he was super easy to work with and I’d imagine many other people would share that same sentiment. If you’re ever feeling down, listening to Brian’s stories would probably change that. He did witness his host family communicating with the dead, after all. Also, he apparently doesn’t know how to brush his teeth.

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The Canon AE-1 is one of the most popular consumer SLR cameras of all time. Hell, I have 3 of them back in the States, and it was the first film camera I ever shot on. Rolled out in 1976, the AE-1 was one of the first affordable cameras to feature TTL metering with autoexposure functions. The cameras popularity was a result of its accessibility, both economically and technically, and its overall value.

Elisha, FED 5: Elisha and I bonded over our mutual love of snacks. Specifically, her love of my snacks. Whether we were dancing to the Spice Girls or buying meat out the the back of a van in the summer heat, we always had a good time. Fun fact: We also co-directed a short film together during one of our technical sessions. Somewhere Elisha is laughing.

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The FED series of rangefinders is Russia’s version of the Leica M. Known for being virtually indestructible, these cameras will probably outlast humanity and still be around after whatever apocalyptic event consumes humanity. These cameras are fully mechanical but still have light meters built into them. The FED 5’s meter has a solar sensor that uses the available light to power itself. Neat stuff.

Eric, Olympus OM-1: Eric is the married man of Khutul group. He was also the only person to live on the east side of town (west side in the HEAZY). Eric fancies himself a man of politics, good drink, Catan, and maybe even some D&D if other PCV’s would stop dragging their feet. Eric is a hospitable man who, along with his host family, was kind enough to host us serval times for get togethers amongst PCT’s throughout PST. His wife, Emily, is a lovely women and the pair make for great company and drinking companions.

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What drew me to this camera for Eric was an interesting story about the camera itself. He seems like the sort of guy that would appreciate it. When the OM-1 was initially released in 1972, it was named the “M-1.” Soon after, a complaint from Leica forced Olympus to renamed the camera to the “OM-1” as “M-1” was too close to that of Leica’s iconic line of rangefinders. Those early models dubbed with the “M” logo are now extremely sought after by collectors.

Jenni, Nikon F3HP: Jenni is about as Type-A as they come – she brought an Excel spreadsheet with us on vacation for God’s sake. However, this fact only reinforces one thing: she gets shit done. Jenni is one of the most professional people I’ve worked and is razor-sharp intelligent. She’s always keen to the details and eats up information like she kimchi. Don’t let her Type-A facade fool you though, she’s extremely introspective which always makes for great conversation.

Fotos de Martintoy

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The Nikon F3 is a classic camera. Utilitarian in it’s functions, the F3 was the go-to professional SLR of the 1980’s. It’s known for it’s durability and high level of performance which helped it stay in production even after the release of the F4 and F5. To boot, this beauty was an Italian designed camera by the genius auto designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro. You know, the guy who designed the Delorean. The F3HP (high point) even sports a taller viewfinder making it easier for people with glasses to use.

Logan, Pentax 6×7: Logan’s a big and solid dude with a personality to match. You always knew Logan was in the room when you’d hear a joke about someone getting poisoned. What I loved most about Logan is his ability to given people a hard time. When I first met him, I was fairly quiet to which he commented, “Gosh, Ian, why don’t you just shut up?” I had known him for 5 minutes. It was great.

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The 6×7 is a beast of a camera (it weighs 4 pounds) with a hell of a shutter slap (the sound the mirror makes when flipping up and down to take a photo). Discreet really isn’t a word you’d use to describe this camera. Like Logan, it has a hint of the classics with a fancy wooden handle. And for the money, I’d day it’s one of the best film cameras you can get for under $1000.

Matt, SRT-102: Matt is extremely laid back and chill. Think of him as an air bender from the “Avatar” series. He has an understated personality that when coupled with his calm disposition, gives him the demeanor of a wise old sage. He has a broad range of interests such as archeology, astrology, history, and most notably, “Star Wars.” This is obviously why Matt and I are such good friends.

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The SRT-102 was a camera of simple design and function. While it isn’t a flashy camera, it has a lot of subtle functions one could miss if you weren’t looking. The 102 has a simple trick for taking multiple exposure photos. The camera allows you to press the film rewind while still being able to release the shutter without actually having to advance your film.

Nik, Polaroid 600: You never know what you’re going to get with instant film; the same can be said for king of slime time, Nik.

At Soup Bar ordering our food –

Nik: I’d like a large coffee.
Waitress: We don’t do our drinks by size. Only single shot or double shot. Which would you like?
Nik: Oh. (Long pause) Sugar. (Blink)

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From psychological warfare to shirts with vikings on them, Nik is quite the personality.

Oliva, Bessa R2M: One of the things I like most about Olivia is that if she see’s something she wants, she gets it. I like and respect someone who is willing to get what they want without constantly second guessing themselves. Olivia has a elegant sense of style lends which is probably why I don’t think I have a single bad picture of her. Well, that isn’t entirely true, haha. She’s smart as a whip and I always love having one-on-one convos with her.

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The R2M is apart of a long series of Voigtlander rangefinders featuring an M mount for its lenses. This of course means it can fashion many of the famous Leica lenses. Unlike other rangefinders, the frame line selector lever is located on top of the camera and even has a built in hand grip. A fantastic and beautiful little camera.

Paul, Fujifilm GF670: The grandpa of the group, we once tried to describe Paul as “ancient” when using adjectives in Mongolian. I mean, come on, the guy wears suspenders, a flat cap, and his wardrobe has the same color pallet as a 70’s motel. Surprisingly, Paul is anything but, and I think this picture captures my point.

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The GF670 resembles a fold out camera from a different age, but, in fact, was just released in 2008. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Renee, Contax S2: Renee speaks very quickly and likes to talk with her hands. This makes her quite expressive at times. She’s an amazing writer (read her blog) and this is probably spurred on by her introverted nature. Renee loves her time alone with a book or music – which is something I can definitely relate with. She might tire of groups quickly but she’s always a joy to have around.

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The S2 is a small, lightweight, mechanical camera that can meet the needs of any user. You also don’t find many cameras that come paired with Zeiss glass (Zeiss makes really good lenses if you’re wondering). This camera has been “rediscovered” so to speak in recent years and prices have started to go up. This isn’t a surprise because, let’s face it, Contax makes some damn good cameras. This one was ahead of its time.

And there you have it!

Songs of the week: All songs are from the live album “All Access Arenas” by Justice.

  1. Genesis
  2. Helix
  3. Phantom
  4. Civilization
  5. DVNO
  6. New Lands
  7. Audio, Video, Disco

Redefining Your Service

A common question PCV’s often ask themselves is “why am I here?” This may seem strange, considering you would imagine one would have thought pretty extensively about the decision to move to the other side of the world; however, the challenges we face upon arriving in country are almost never what we expected them to be. Whether it be socially or professionally, you’re almost guaranteed (lets face it, it’s going to happen) to run into roadblocks that make you look at your service in a new light. In the face of all the chaos that being here entails, you’re forced to find a purpose to it all, and if you can’t…well we won’t talk about that.

Primarily, our goal as PCV’s is professional development through the capacity building of HCN’s (host country nationals). Of course, there’s more to the job than that, but it doesn’t feel to me as if it’s focused on nearly as much. This is probably due to the act that cultural and social exchange typically happens naturally by just being around HCN’s. At work we’re told to expand upon what positive frameworks we see, and provide whatever support we can in the form of knowledge, resources, or otherwise. Often, however, this process can prove to be extremely difficult, if possible at all. Since so much emphasis is placed on our primary projects, and we’re expected to obtain some form of measurable results from said projects, I feel as if it’s easy to lose sight on the bigger picture of what our purpose here is.

The reality is that a lot of what a PCV accomplishes can’t be put into charts or spread sheets with detailed information about our government’s ROI per volunteer. Sometimes, most of the time, the work we do happens on such a small and personal scale that we as volunteers will probably never see the genuine outcomes that we’ve helped to create. Sure, I can tell that I have some level of influence over my students and coworkers. I have a feeling the whole fist bump finger wiggle thing wasn’t really commonplace at my school until I showed up, but I don’t know what lasting impact or impression I’m truly leaving on them.

The important, and often most difficult, thing to acknowledge is that these effects actually occur. Even just showing up, acting friendly, and expressing that you care is enough to influence your community more than you realize. I may not revolutionize the way my CP’s teach, but maybe I’ll motivate a student to pursue their education further than they would have before. I may not improve all my students English proficiency, but I might serve as a positive role model to someone in my community. And I may not be able to completely change my HCA’s view on time management (working on it), but I’ll undoubtably create memorable stories, experiences, and friendships that will last a lifetime. You get the idea.

Being here isn’t easy. In fact, it’s far more difficult than I thought it’d be. With perspective on your service often being difficult to gain, it’s important during our time here to revel in the everyday and seemingly ordinary, because someday, it won’t be. More than ever, I’ve become more cognizant of the need to remain in the present and not let the more grandiose aspects of Peace Corps service subtract from the overall experience.

Obi Wan: “But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.” Qui Gon:“But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living force, my young padawan.”

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Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ginny.

I’ll leave you now with a final quote that I think sums up the Peace Corps experience pretty well, and come on, this blog wouldn’t be complete without both “Star Wars” and “Avatar” references, so here you go.

Uncle Iroh: “Sometimes life is life this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving, you will come to a better place.”

Although we don’t always know what we’re doing, or why we are here, the important thing is that we are.

I’ll be heading to Japan here soon with Jenni and will be shooting a lot of film. I’ll also get to see the new “Star Wars” movie and am STOKED. And now for some IST and Shin Jill photos that have been sitting on my computer. Happy 2016, everyone.

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Beatles statue in UB.

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The State Department Store all light up for the holidays.

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Jenni.

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Nik, the master of psychological warfare.

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Logan.

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The party closet.

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First night of IST with Matt and Jenni.

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Celebrating produce.

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Back in the States, Jenni was a fencer. There’s a fencing club in UB, so I tagged along one night to watch.

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Mongol face tequila sunrise.

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Olivia, Brian, and Noah.

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Photos with the new US ambassador to Mongolia.

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Lee Cole Cards.

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Brian and Noah.

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Jenni, Alex, and Pow.

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Sister Amanda, sharing her sacred experience with the great Lee Cole.

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View from the front of our hotel.

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Mikey.

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Peace Corps seminars are serious business.

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Udval, haha.

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IST wouldn’t be complete without a selfie.

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Dorm students Shin Jill party.

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My schools Shin Jill party.

Songs of the week:

  1. Good Vibrations by Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch
  2. My Prerogative by Bobby Brown
  3. Happy Together by The Turtles
  4. Higher Love by Steve Winwood
  5. Woman by Wolfmother
  6. Feel Your Love Tonight by Van Halen
  7. Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) by Stevie Wonder

IST

*In-Service Training

As I sit in the lobby of the Park Hotel I’m left to reflect on this past whirlwind of a week. I’m the only volunteer still in the hotel, and I have no idea when I’ll actually be heading back to site. Such is life.

This was my first time seeing a lot of the other volunteers in the past 4 months. Jenni said it was like coming back from summer vacation and seeing all your old school friends again. To be honest, the entire week I was swelling with mixed feelings about being around everyone again. One of the M25 trainers, Tyler, mentioned what he calls “soum anxiety” which is essentially the feeling of being overwhelmed by the presence of so many Americans again. I’m not sure if it was, that or something else, but this week was difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing everyone, but sorting through all those emotions is going to take time.

Your relationship with other PCV’s is strange. You spend 3 months growing extremely close with this group of people only to be shipped off all around the country. You might only see some of those people 2-3 more times over then next 2 years, and yet, they’re still your best friends. Hell, you might never even talk to them while at site but there’s still this unspoken understanding of each other. It’s hard to explain.

What was nice was how productive this week was for my counterpart. Although she’s a bit shy, she got really into all the sessions and seemed to learn a lot. This week definitely broadened her professional horizons, and I’m excited to see how it all translates back at site. It seems that to many CP’s and HCA’s that Peace Corps is this distant entity that they don’t really interact with or know much about. I think this training helped in making Peace Corps seem a bit more human and real to them.

As Mikey and I were packing up our stuff this morning we had our classic jam session that’s become a tradition since staging. Mikey put on “What A Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers and I turned to him and said, “If we ever had a movie together this would be the song they’d play at the end of the movie that leads into the credits.” He laughed. When I was rooming with Mikey for the first time at staging he asked me, “Do you like The Doobie Brothers?” to which I, of course, answered yes. For some reason that moment felt like the true beginning of my Peace Corps experience; not just because it was, in fact, the actual first day we all got to San Francisco, but more because it marked my first connection with a friend in my cohort. The rest is history and that song has grown to become my favorite of all time.

Although this post was super unorganized and disjointed, and wasn’t all that much about IST, it hopefully gave some insights into what it feels like to be here. And speaking of favorite songs, here are my top 10 favorite songs of all time in order. Have a happy holidays everyone.

  • 10. Baba O’Riley by The Who
  • 9. Gimme All Your Lovin’ by ZZ Top
  • 8. September by Earth Wind & Fire
  • 7. Somebody To Love by Queen
  • 6. Foreplay / Long Time by Boston
  • 5. Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC
  • 4. Jump by Van Halen
  • 3. Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones
  • 2. Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) by Elton John
  • 1. What A Fool Believes by The Doobie Brothers

Clash of Cultures

One of the biggest challenges of being a PCV is getting your bearings in a new culture, and as one could imagine, Mongolian culture is a lot different from what we’re used to back in the States. Before arriving in country, I thought I’d handle the process well without major incident, but after being here for just over six months that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Currently, time management is my most frustrating hangup. On Monday I was supposed to teach an English class to all the workers in my school at 3. When I got to the school it was pretty much empty, and no one ended up showing up for the lesson. I eventually went home and wasn’t all that surprised, seeing as how these sorts of things happen all the time here. The next day I was asked by my CP if I had taught my lesson the day before to which I told him I hadn’t. When asked why I explained that no one showed up and didn’t see anyone. My next lesson would be on Wednesday, and I figured since everyone had missed the lesson on Monday, people would be a bit more sensitive about showing up this time. Each lesson is 40 minutes and we were supposed to start at 2. At 2:35 teachers started to roll in as I was leaving the school. They all looked at me confused as to why I wasn’t getting ready to teacher. I explained to them that the lesson started at 2 and it was nearly 2:40 already. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they didn’t understand.

Now, sure, I could have taught that lesson even though people showed up late. I didn’t have anything to do and was going home to make grilled cheese sandwiches, but at what point do you have to put your foot down and make a point? During PST we did an activity where we were given different scenarios and had to choose whether or not they were worth fighting for. The point was you had to pick your battles, and for me, this is is one of those battles. Here’s an excerpt from my friend Jenni’s blog that help makes my point.

“More than anything, this week has been about deciding what matters and what doesn’t. In American workplaces, it’s all about that Outlook/Google calendar, cancelling or rescheduling appointments with notice, and sharing agendas before meetings begin. We operate on timelines, deadlines, check-ins, and follow-ups.  Through college and the few years I worked/interned in D.C., I learned that this was the way things got done.”

And she’s right. If we’re ever truly going to get things done and get things  on the right track at school we need to develop better habits concerning time management. It’ll take time and patience but will make a world of difference in the long run.

My other biggest frustration is personal space and privacy. In Mongolia if something isn’t locked and put away it’s fair game to anybody. I’ve had people come into my home, open up all my drawers, shift through my fridge, and even start to rearrange my furniture all without saying a word. At school teachers will pick up my camera without asking and starting messing around with it without a thought. I’ve had a lady come up to me and pull out my headphones and start trying to talk at me. I even had student once reach over me and across my desk to try and grab some chips I had sitting next to me. The list goes on.

I can’t lie, I usually have a hard time dealing with this; especially so when people come into my home. Like everything else, it’s an adjustment that’ll take time. I usually try to these these moments as opportunities to explain and discuss American culture, but it’s hard to tell what sticks.

Also, I need to brag about my students for a second – two of them in particular. Last week I didn’t have class with my 5th graders because for one I was alone and the other was cancelled. When we came back for class this Tuesday, two of my students showed me homework they had made up themselves and wanted me to check. I was blown away. Students don’t start learning English here until 5th grade and these two girls are already trying so hard. And look at this girls notebook.

 She did this all on her own, and I seriously can’t find the words to express how proud I am. She even made color coordinated flash cards that I unfortunately forgot to take pictures of. These girls are the future of this country.

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Номинэрдэнэ (Nom-ing-ear-dun) and Номиндарь (Nom-ing-dare). My two favorite students!

On a different note, I had my leave request approved by Peace Corps staff, and I’ll be heading to Japan with fellow volunteers Jenni and Sandra this January. We’ll be snowboarding the days away and eating a lot of good food. I seriously couldn’t be more excited. Hope everyone is doing well back home, and now for some photos!

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I don’t mind when this lady uses my camera.

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My favorite table.

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Some of my coworkers with out soums flag.

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