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Expatriatism

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There was an interesting post on The Dish this week about what we can learn by living as an expatriate. I recommend reading it here. At the end of the post, the author asked readers to write in about our experiences. I appreciate the US and our democratic institutions in a whole new way since moving overseas and wrote a fairly long response trying to explain this. The Dish published my whole message in the follow up post below. And in a great sign of how marriage equality has become normal, we are identified as a married gay male couple!

(Click to read the full piece — the reader from Beirut is at the beginning.)

The Dish

by Dish Staff

A reader addresses Jonah’s piece on living abroad for several years in Jordan:

Thank you for sharing your experience. I went to Beirut, Lebanon from my US university as a third-year student in 1974, interested in history and archaeology. During the ten months I spent in Lebanon I was forced to consider all sorts of new experiences: Palestinian dorm-mates, life experiences that were very different from mine; travels to “mysterious” (as it then was) Syria; and finally the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in spring 1975. All of these experiences forced me to think in new ways about the US, about its role in the world, and about the lives of others who (in the US corporate media) were mostly overlooked or dismissed. And the more I began to dig into the causes of the Lebanese war, the more complex (and hitherto unknown to me) this world…

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Summer Travel in Central Mongolia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter leaving this beautiful camp, our base during Naadam, we headed southwest for six days along the “Heartland Circuit.”
10557045_10152622390980746_8288162626551885544_oOne of our first stops was near the Khogno Khaan Natural Reserve, where we hiked up a sacred mountain, respectfully, and saw ruins of the Uvgun Monastery. Mongolia’s monasteries were violently destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930s and many have not been fully restored.
IMG_1390Some parts of Uvgun have been rebuilt, however, and the granddaughter (celibacy was not fully implemented, apparently) now tends the site.
IMG_1401There was time before dinner to get in a quick camel ride, which was great because now I can check that off my list and not do it again.
IMG_1411But we were on the edge of the Gobi desert as the sun was going down, so the light was amazing.
Our next camp was in the Orkhon Valley, next to the river.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe river is lovely, but kayaking in the river was magical, because: horses.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKayaking with me has been likened to “Driving Miss Daisy,” but I was too excited to paddle much — we were often closer than these pictures show, because by the time the very patient husband had the camera set, they’d moved away from us. Summer is a great time for the horses and other livestock as they roam free for months, getting fat and glossy from the grass and fresh air.
We travelled in this very sturdy Soviet-era van, a UAZ, which are still plentiful in Mongolia and beloved for their ease of repair. Drivers work freelance for tour companies (we went with the fabulous Goyo Travel) and own their vehicles; the UAZ is completely mechanical, meaning it has no internal computer systems, so the driver can fix it with basic tools out in the middle of nowhere. They have high clearance and can go anywhere.
1907862_10152622394385746_1176235303637523967_oI mention this because on the next leg we came to a very dodgy looking bridge with a small but persuasive warning sign advising caution.
IMG_1421My feeling about these situations is that we all make our own decisions: we four travellers and the guide made the decision to get out of the van and walk, while the driver made the decision to drive over. We all held our breath, but it was fine and on we went, arriving at the trailhead for a hike to Tovkhon Monastery.
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IMG_1434On the way back we got to see a herder family milking their horses to make airag, the alcoholic drink made from fermented horse milk. (An acquired taste, I think.)
IMG_1436Since we’d crossed in the morning, that bridge had been closed to vehicles. We walked, and the driver went downstream to drive across a shallow bit.
IMG_1459Our next stop was the Erdene Zuu Monastery, which is on the site of the ancient capital of Karakorum.
IMG_1472While Buddhist temples and monasteries have, obviously, much in common wherever they are, the wide-open emptiness of Mongolia makes these particularly stunning. Favorite race horses are honored after they die by becoming part of an ovoo cairn.
IMG_1478We ended our trip with a night at Ogii Lake. The weather had turned cold and cloudy, but we saw plenty of hardy Mongolians swimming. I was happy to get close to the lake just by having fish for dinner.
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(Note: The photos of the camels crossing the road and the UAZ van were taken by our friend with the good camera.)

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Meanwhile, In Mongolian SRHR Advocacy…

As noted earlier, July = summer = vacation time here in Mongolia, and we are delighted to have friends visiting and time to (finally) explore the Mongolian countryside. But these past few weeks also have been very busy for me at work. As the lone non-Mongolian on the team, I’m the main point of contact for things to do with international partners, including potential donors, and it’s not been vacation time for them. THREE of our best funding prospects came back to us in July asking for further information, which is, of course, great. But that’s also meant that I’m alternating days here in UB writing frantically, with most of our senior staff out of the office, and days out in remote areas with no internet.

There are lots of fun photos from our trips, but while I’m too busy to sort and post them, here’s a bit of local advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Mongolia. The speaker, Otgonbaatar, is one of Mongolia’s best SRHR advocates and activists, and he’s recently joined the Programme Advisory Committee of the Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW). One of my local heroes:

Because this blog isn’t just about horses.

 

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The Down Side of Naadam

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As is clear by now, I really love the Mongolian horses, and one of the most fun parts of a small-town Naadam was having horses all around us. People just seemed to bring ’em along from wherever they came from and were riding all over town. Horses were tied up by the food tents like a row of parked cars, and The Husband kept goading me into making an offer for this one or that.

But.

Child jockeys.

Horse racing is one of the three Naadam sports, celebrating the tough glory/glorious toughness of traditional Mongolia, and the horse racing now includes a ton of prestige and a whole lot of money. Not only is the prize money high, but people invest and spend huge sums on training and pampering their best horses. It’s no longer the pure, romantic gallop over the steppes, but it’s understandable. The problem is who’s riding those pampered race horses.

Child jockeys.

As young as five years old, little boys ride full-out for 30 or 60 kilometers/18.6 or 37 miles bareback. It’s horrifying. This boy below actually seems old for the sport — the idea is to minimize the weight on the horse in order to maximize speed.

10484217_10152622388285746_5290746835543897710_oHere’s another boy post-race:
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I kept looking for some positive side to this, asking our guide what the jockeys gain by racing, and there’s not much for the boys. Apparently, all the prize money and prestige goes to the horses, so what families value is having a winning horse, not a winning jockey.
To me, this definitely meets the standard of “harmful traditional practices” (though I am aware the term is usually applied to female genital mutilation, child marriage and dowry-related violence) because it’s so shockingly dangerous. The UB Post published a paid message from some of the international NGOs here that talked about how they understand this to be a deeply-held tradition and want to be sensitive to that tradition, but, really, perhaps it’s time to reconsider? Mongolia signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1990, so there are grounds to argue that child jockeys violate an international treaty that Mongolia agreed to uphold. I’m not sure, though, what it will take to stop this. The rights framework is there, and certainly it would be easy enough to set minimum weight standards for jockeys to meet.

We actually saw very little of the race itself. There’s an old belief that following the dust of four-year-old racehorses is lucky (see what I mean about all status accruing to the horse? I guess it’s good that the best luck ISN’T associated with four-year-old jockeys.) and over time too many people were on the course. In their Land Cruisers. So, we watched from a hill above, then went to the finish when the little clouds had passed by.
IMG_1357Hard to see, in more ways than one.

(NB: The two middle photos were taken by our visiting friend with the good camera.)

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Naadam Festival, Ulaanbaatar 2014

For those of you who read Spanish. (A friend points out that this is not written in Spanish, although understandable to a Spanish speaker. Perhaps it is Catalan? My apologies to Ms. Manzanares for the error.) Here is another take on Naadam, this time in Ulaanbaatar.

My sister-whom-I-haven’t-met also has a post in this blog about the difficulty of eating healthily in Mongolia. Hear, hear!

Alba Saura Manzanares


Mongòlia és un país desconegut per a la majoria de nosaltres tot i tenir una història mil.lenària la mar d’interessant i una cultura rica i molt ben conservada al llarg dels segles. Enguany he tingut l’oportunitat de viure a Ulaanbaatar (Улаанбаатар)  la capital, la festivitat del Naadam (Наадам) que significa ‘jocs’ i que és la festa més important que viu el país en tot l’any. El nom original és “эрийн гурван наадам” que significa “els tres jocs dels homes” els quals són la lluita lliure, les carreres de cavalls i el tir amb arc.

Archery

Uns jocs que es duen a terme entre els dies 11 i 16 del mes de juliol al llarg de tot el país i en els quals participen homes i dones, excepte en la lliuta lliure que de moment segueix reservant-se exclusivament al gènere masculí. El festival es desenvolupa majoritàriament al voltant de l’Estadi Nacional de Mongòlia, a Ulaanbaatar…

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