Friday, July 31, 2009

CYD Camping & Training

Our weeks keep getting busier and busier. Last week the PST (pre-service training) CYD (community youth development) coordinator and I presented 4 sessions, went to a children's camp for 3 days, and evaluated 2 days of life skills sessions. I can officially say I am worn out!

In order to help the trainees bond with the campers and practice verbal and non-verbal communication as much as possible, we created a scavenger hunt for the first day at camp. Each team consisted of 8-9 Mongolian campers and 2 Americans (each American with a digital camera). To really make the communication happen, we made the scavenger list in Mongolian. The campers needed to find ways to let their Americans know they needed to:

  • Get a picture with the entire team touching one of the yellow rocks (half way up a mountain)
  • Lift one of the campers in the air
  • Know the names of all their Mongolian teammates
  • Sing one verse of a mongolian song
  • Create a team pyramid
  • Take a picture of 4 campers and an american doing a cartwheel simultaneously
  • etc.
A gaggle of teams racing up the mountain to be the first team to the yellow rock.

Carolina & Kara's team make a pyramid.
Molly & Aleta's team's mountain side cartwheel attempt.

My personal favorite part was when the teams returned. The Mongolians had to explain what a "S'more" is based on the desciption their American teammates provided for them with their limited Mongolian skills.

(all in Mongolian)
ME: "What are S'mores?"
MONGOLIAN KID CAMPERS: "*name brand cracker* then chocolate then hot white candy then *name brand cracker."
"like hot bon-bon"
"with fire chocopie" "sweet cracker (miming on top) chocolate (miming on top) white on fire candy (miming on top) more sweet cracker then yum yum tasty"

After each team explained it, we let the campers know that we would be making S'mores the next day during the camp fire. They were all impressed and very pleased with our "jinkhin" (authentic) American camp food. During the camp fire we sang Mongolian and American songs, including both national anthems, as prompted by the campers.

One of the most difficult parts of being a Peace Corps volunteer is learning how to work with a counterpart, and the greatest role of a Peace Corps volunteer is to build the capacity of your counterparts. The process of working with your counterpart and your host country organization to find the needs of the community and work with your counterpart to help them effectively do the work that is necessary is time consuming, frustrating, and typically doesn't work how you want it to. But, what WE want is not the point. This is a hard concept to teach. I know the trainees have been very frustrated by it, and I have been frustrated by trying to teach it. Luckily
, it was a highly successful few days in at the children's camp.

Allison presents on HIV/AIDS asking students to place cards with behaviors in the "high risk" "medium risk" "little risk" and "no risk" catagories.

Megan presented on the topic of Self-esteem asking the campers to write postiive things about each other on papers on their back.

Molly's presentation on friendship went remarkably well as she had to present to teenagers and was able to help facilitate a great conversation the campers brought up about romantic relationships.

One of the most important things to teach as a CYD volunteer is life skills, and counterpart work is essential. Uugana, the PST CYD technica coordinator for the summer, had to work major overtime to work with each of the 8 trainees to help them prepare their life skills sessions. Each trainee was instructed to use Uugana as they would their counterpart at site. Unfortunatley for Uugana, much of the work is supposed to be on the shoulders of the counterpart. Thankfully, she's a good sport, and did an excellent job with the trainees. The trainees & Uugana presented on topics such as:

  • Self esteem
  • Communication
  • Decision making
  • Planning
  • etc.

Though I'm completely pooped (as are the trainees), I feel as though they will be much better prepared to create sustainable work at site! Now to sleep!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Training in the Land of a Hundred Trees

Leslie and I have been trainers in our respective fields for the second half of pre-service training to our the newest round of prospective volunteers. They arrived in the middle of June, had 4 weeks of language, culture and "tech" training (I'm a business volunteer so my tech training is micro to medium business), and now we've embarked on our 5 weeks. During this time we have been out of Bayankhongor, the provincial capital where we've been volunteering for almost a year now. We've been in the country nearly 14 months to date.

Leslie is away at a children's camp all weekend, so I thought I share a little bit about what this tech training is all about.

All the trainers for the different tech areas (English, health, youth development, business) have office hours during the week at the Peace Corps office in UB where we prepare sessions, and then three days a week, we travel to their training site in a nearby provincial capital called "Hundred Trees."

There are some classroom hours spent talking about Mongolia's history, most of the which is introductory topics about the switch from the planned economy from the 1920's to the relatively new free market system that's been in place since the early 1990's. We also talk about how to work with Mongolian counterparts, translators and the expectations of the work ahead of them.

Meet the crew:
Of the seven trainees, we have two women, both with exellent creditials and advanced degrees in business. We also have two married guys with some good experience between them, and whose wives are CYD trainees (youth development), just like Leslie and me. The other guys have business related backgrounds and perhaps more limited experience, but have a lot to offer our program.

During this day of training, we got out of the classroom, as we like to do, to visit some working small to medium-sized businesses. The trainees ask questions about the businesses and get an idea of what they're in for.

Mola translates as we visit a family with a small garden of carrots and potatoes and greenhouse with tomatoes and cuccumbers for sale. They are supported by the NGO World Vision. We were excited to see them growing peas and green beans outside, but for now, those are just for personal use.

My counterpart for the summer, Mola, has a great background in business and is a real task master. She makes all the phone calls to set up these visits. In this case, we contacted three NGO's in the area and asked them to connect us to a couple of their clients who'd be willing to talk to us.

Our second visit was to a car repair shop that also has the town's only car wash, operated by the son. Notice the motor on top of the blue metal container.

Mom does the tire repair using a fancy piece of equipment they were able to purchase with a loan, and Dad does most of the welding with an electric torch they recently purchased. He was trained in Russia many years ago and seems to have it all down, though he's not wearing a protective mask, but rather a cheap pair of what appear to be off-the-rack sun glasses. He's making repairs to the ramp he use to elevate the cars.

Mola does all the traslating during these visits and is an intrgal part of our training. She's a real pro, having lived in the Colorado for a while.

The first business was a micro business on a very small scale, the second was a small family business on a larger scale, and the third we visited was a member of the chamber of commerce and a well established dairy farm with a barn, stables and some pretty modern equipment, something I had not seen before. It was a real education for me.

[Left] The indoor stables are not heated in the winter, but provide a great place for the 30+ cattle to while away the -30 degree cold. [Right] A two year old cow stands on some "handy work." Cows aren't fed hormones and only feed off the native grasses during the summer and prepared grass fodder in the winter. We all agreed that a two year-old cow in the States could eat this cow for lunch. The owners were a little surprised.

Leslie and I carpool in the Peace Corps microbus with the health trainers, whose site is on the way. We drop them off, then pick them up on our way home. Each way the trip is about an hour and a half, so after our 3-4 hour sessions, we usually don't get home until after 7:30 in the evening. This particular day, there were some host family issues with one of the health volunteers, so we hung out in the microbus for a few hours while the trainers worked to resolve it.
Mola passes a volleyball back and forth with the school's caretaker while I lounge in the microbus. We made it home by 9 that evening and were back at the grind by 9 the next morning.

Trainees still have until the middle of August in training where they'll set up a community small business syposium attended by local business owners and do some practical consulting with individual businesses. They are up to the challenge, but they are also eagerly looking forward to where they will live out their days as volunteers, which won't be finalized until the middle of August as sites continue to be developed.

Stay tuned for Leslie debriefing of training a the children's camp.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Eagle TV: The Behind-the-Scenes Look at Our TV Debut

As our fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Kevin put it with tongue in cheek, the best part of sharing the celebratory meal afterward, is that no one in the restaurant knew what big stars we were.

For the big summer festival of Naadam, Eagle TV, a Christian TV channel, wanted to do a show about foreigners performing Mongolian music. After seeing our swearing-in videos on youtube, they called Peace Corps. We met to discuss, and this weekend six of us made the magic happen. It will air on cable and streaming on the internet at 8 p.m. (8 a.m. EST in the States) during the third day of Naadam, July 13, 2009.

We were supposed to meet at 8:30 in the morning at the Peace Corps office, but the camera crew didn’t show up until hours later. We weren’t all that surprised because they’d shown up six hours and four hours late for the previous two meetings, but we were nonetheless naively prepared for a reasonably on-time arrival. They did send a handler at about 9:15 to make sure we were all there.

When the camera crew finally arrived, they took a quick shot of us heading out of the office and we headed out of UB to Tereelj National Park. The ride through the winding road included a few random stops along the way like when we parked near some folks selling camel rides to tourists, and when we checked in on an overturned SUV that had recently driven off the road scattering and trapping passengers and gear (everyone seemed miraculously OK).

Our Trailer
We arrived at the consummate countryside oasis complete with a stream, trees and large birds of prey, including a pair of large hawks. For our “trailer” they set us up in a nice ger where we were able to relax and nap for a few hours before our lunch of tsuivan (how Mongolian's do chow mien).

The rest of the crew arrived with costumes soon after, which we got to play around with. These are the finest quality traditional outfits, made by perhaps the finest tailors in UB, according to our producer. No one took our measurements, but everyone's deel fit well with the exception of the boots, which were a few inches too small for the guys.

Julia and Leslie pose in their fancy deels.

Nathan's feet are mostly up in the legs of the boots, high-heel style.

We all got a bit of the "pose fever" in our awesome costumes. Jaime [left] pauses for a moment at least a dozen feet in front of the trained eagle.

Jaime Ly
Once we were in costume, the real filming began. First was Jaime Ly performing her traditional Mongolian dance about nature and animals while the rest of us enthusiastically watched. Jaime, whose parents are Vietnamese, hails from Washington, D.C. She had some costuming problems because the outfit that was appropriate for that ethnic group was not the dance outfit, and there were no dancing shoes for her. No problem, though. Take after take using the cassette tape deck in the mini-van as her accompaniment, and despite having no formal dance training, she made do with what she had and put on quite a show.

Jaime performs her dance beautifully
in the afternoon sun as the crew rehearses how they'll film it.

Leslie and Nathan
Next, they set the two of us up with some creative direction. All in Mongolian, the producer pulled Nathan aside and described how the shot would work. He would sneak up from behind Leslie, pick a flower and hand it to her as a surprise before the music began. In two takes, with no accompaniment, we sang our love song. We haven’t seen the footage yet, but we felt the second take was about as well as we could do it. Fingers crossed!

You'd never know that the microphone is under that pile of leaves on that tree trunk.

It only took us two takes to get our performance on film. Hopefully they were the right two. We were a little nervous.

Julia Cannon

Despite delays, once the shooting began, there was no stopping – they moved right into shooting Julia’s “Ankhni Hair” (First Love). You might remember Julia from our Bayankhongor concert from a few months ago. Julia is from Winston-Salem, NC, and has a theater degree. For her performance, she and the crew crossed the stream, and she was set up in a bright little clearing. It took several takes for them to get what they were looking for because they started with her walking, but because there was just a boom microphone (that captures all sounds in the immediate area), they were picking up the crunching of twigs and leaves beneath her feet. She sang quietly seated a few times, and that seemed to do the trick.

No pole for the boom mic? No problem as long as you have a ger and mailing tape nearby.

Julia and the crew had to cross the stream for this shot. I was no problem once the shoes came off.

Amber Book

Next, for Amber Book, they went to a new location with fewer trees and more mountains because Amber has been volunteering in the far West in Hovd that has a different landscape. This region is heavily comprised of ethnic Kazaks, so though Amber learned a little Mongolian two years ago during her Peace Corps’ Pre-service Training, she has primarily been speaking Kazak since she went to site. Amber sang, “Tulan Jer”, a Kazak song about missing ones homeland. Amber, who’s from Pittsburgh, PA, and has a vocal performance degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The Eagle
In the Kazak region, eagle training and hunting using eagles is a big deal, culminating with the annual Eagle Festival in October. On the way through Tereelj National Park, we saw a guy with a trained eagle sitting next to the road, so the camera crew stopped and hired it and the trainer for the day. This thing was huge, standing about two and a half feet high with a wing span of over a few yards. At one point, one of the hawks that lives in this area was swooping down trying to provoke the competing bird. Thankfully, it was blinded with a leather mask because I would not want to get on its bad side.

The handler moves the eagle. What an impressive wingspan.

Julia, Jaime and we take turns posing
with the blinded eagle from a safe distance.

Kevin Johnstone
We took a moment to enjoy a specially prepared horhog, then the final sequence began with Kevin Johnstone from Cleveland, OH. He’s been playing guitar for about 16 years. He is mostly self taught with some intermittent formal education smattered in, and he recorded an original album in his ger this past winter. He’s been in Selenge Province (the same where Leslie and I trained) in a small village for about two years, and just like Jaime, Julia and Amber, he’s an English teacher. He’s set to leave in August after he finishes helping a monastery develop marketing materials.

Kevin entertained us and flawlessly performed a more modern selection, "Cetgeliin Jiguuree" (Wings of My Heart), on Leslie’s Martin guitar. We all stood by and cheered him on, dancing and acting a fool to finish the filming day.

Kevin's performance was the final of the day.

Deep in the trees, it began to get dark pretty early.

After some van problems, we finally made it back to UB after midnight, 15 hours after the day began. We Americans agreed that in the States, the amount of filming we did probably would have been done in just a five or six hours including travel, but we also all agreed that the day was a resounding success.

The next day, we made it back to the Peace Corps office by 10 a.m. to meet the camera crew that was also supposed to meet us there at that time. When they showed up after noon, our collective patience was a little frayed, but we sucked it up nonetheless for a ride out the airport. One shot of us coming out of the airport, and we headed for the studio.

In the studio, we each sat down with a reported who asked us various questions about our backgrounds. Five out of the six of us conducted the interview in Mongolian, but they asked Nathan to do his in English for the English speaking audience.

Finally, with our fates sealed in the hands of the editors, we all went out for hamburgers, salads and a cold drink to celebrate the making of our first music video in Mongolia.

Broadcasting – When, Where, How
To check out our performance live on cable and internet July 13, 2009, tune in to:

Streaming video at 8 p.m. in Mongolia (8 a.m. EST)


Eagle TV in UB on cable and terrestrial broadcast at 8 p.m.