7:45 Our phone alarm goes off a second time! We grumpily dress, brush our teeth, and wash our face with bottled water. There’s no running water at the Birj. We attempt to approach the squat toilet, IF we can’t hold it any longer. Otherwise we wait to use the sit-down toilet at the school.
8:00 Hopefully, our director, Lhagvaa, picks us up for a shower at the public bathhouse to wash ourselves and our dust-covered clothes. Without easy access to coffee, Thantcyn NEEDS a shower every morning!
8:30 We call Lhagvaa’s friend, Munho, to tell him his buddy’s late! Lhagvaa’s mobile is ALWAYS off! One of them arrives ten minutes later, with rap/ techno/ trance music blasting from his car.
8:40 We arrive at the public bathhouse. The wait room is full of grubby, sleepy, mostly sober Mongolians. We catch-up on week-old news from UB, while we wait our turn. Wait time at the bathhouse increases approaching Naadam, as locals start cleaning up for company. After about twenty minutes, we get locked in our own private cell, for a nice sometimes warm shower!
9:30 We walk to school, located around the corner from the bathhouse. Everything’s around the corner in Altai City, EXCEPT for the Birj, which is hanging off the edge of town. We greet students that have been eagerly waiting for us outside, before making our way upstairs to our respective classes. Thantcyn and I split a breakfast of eggs & rice from Lhagvaa’s mom, and hang our laundry to dry on a pipe in my homeroom.
10:00-11:40 ‘Homeroom Class’- Advanced High School/ Adults: Thantcyn and I are the first native-speaking English teachers they’ve had out in Altai City! We see the same pool of students at different points in the day. Students are only charged 1400 tugriks(a little over $1 US) for ten days of English instruction, IF they can afford to pay. Despite what we think of Lhagvaa’s crooked ways, we really respect how he is trying to improve his community, by bringing English instruction to the masses, way out in the middle of nowhere! We teach for ten days straight, with no rest on the weekend!
11:50- 13:30 2nd Class – Intermediate High School/ Adults: Mongolia has an astounding literacy rate of 98%, and our students are wonderful, hardworking, and eager. They also know how to read and write English fairly well. However, they are very shy to speak in class, so their conversational English is lacking, compared to their reading comprehension, and writing skills.
13:30- 14:30 Lunch at Lhagvaa’s! More eggs and rice for me, and mutton for Thantcyn and the others. Lhagvaa’s mom is a kind, sweet lady, and a great cook. She’s a proud winner of the coveted ‘Chinngis Khaan Best Cook Medal’ for Altai City! She cooked a different traditional Mongolian dish for every meal, for Thantcyn and the others, and made my meals a bit more exciting by cleverly arranging sliced fruit around the eggs and rice. After the first week of instruction, Thantcyn started practicing with local wrestlers training for Naadam, after lunch.
14:30-16:00 3rd class – Beginner and Intermediate Elementary and Junior High Students: The teaching resources Lhagvaa expects us to use in class are HORRIBLE! Students get a stapled xerox copy of an English workbook, made in China, with random tidbits of instruction.
16:00- 18:00 ‘English Speaking Club’: We meet in the gym, gather in a huge happy circle, and talk about ANYTHING in English! Many of our students want to come study in the United States, and are really curious about American holidays, lifestyles, and celebrities. We practiced some ‘worldly’ songs in English, like ‘Waving Flag’ , ‘Waka, Waka’, and of course, ‘We Are the World’.
18:00- 20:00 Break: Thantcyn stumbles back after wrestling practice, and we play basketball or volleyball, with our students, on most days. We take another shower after playing, if we are feeling extra-crunchy. Sometimes, if we are REALLY worn out, we stagger back to the Birj for a quick nap.
20:00- 21:30 4th class – Beginner Adult Professionals: This small class consists of doctors, nurses, and policemen, who can’t come to morning classes because of work. Doctors are really busy delivering cute, chubby Mongolian babies. Altai City averages three new citizens per day! WAAAAA!!!
21:30 Dinner: Back to Lhagvaa’s mom for more eggs, rice, and mutton! We take pictures of Lhagvaa’s adorable nieces and nephew, while we wait for dinner.
22:30 Back to the Birj: We converge in our friends’ (Ugi, Nara, Tsagaanaa, & Usukh) room across the hall for some well deserved r & r! We compare Mongolian and American customs, exchange language lessons, and ALWAYS complain about Lhagvaa’s latest lies and antics. We count down how many days we have left at the Birj, by peeling a row of stickers off the wall.
11:30 Sleep: We hit the bed snoring!
3:00 We wake to an interesting, albeit VERY ANNOYING, combo of the following EVERY SINGLE NIGHT: cursing, screaming, shouting, wailing (No, they are not the same! There’s a distinct unpleasantness to each, especially in the dead of night.), shattering vodka bottles, cars swerving in the ‘parking lot’, someone pounding on our door, someone pounding on our neighbors’ doors, and endless doors SLAMMING SUPER HARD! It seems, at least in the countryside, Mongolians take great pride in SLAMMING doors shut!
3:10 Fall back asleep after complaining about Birj and Lhagvaa.
7:30 Phone alarm goes off!