Category Archives: How am I feeling?

This category will include posts sharing how I am feeling so far away from home. Expect to see a rollercoaster. Avoid this section if you hate this kind of stuff.

Mongolian Transplants

Today Mongolians typically eat only boiled meat at every meal, year round, but this was not always true. In the days of Chingis Khaan, I am told that it was illegal to eat animals in the summer. Mongolians ate meat in winter and vegetable and milk products in summer.

When Mongolia was associated with the Soviet Union, they had large irrigated farms and produced enough vegetables for export.  When the Soviet Union dissolved, Mongolia’s agriculture market crashed and individual family herding practice (still seen as the easiest/safest route to self-sufficiency) became nearly the sole occupation.

I worked with herders who lived on lands that were once great farms. You can still see irrigation channels from satellite photos.  I was surprised when they asked me to teach them farming. Surely, people in the community must have once been farmers? It was bewildering. Research into the issue revealed that that the majority of international donor projects teach or fund farming and the requests for teaching are exponential.

My apartment had a large south-facing window, so I started a home vegetable garden with heirloom seeds carried from the USA. I sprouted seeds in egg containers, transferred them to plastic drink bottles, and finally into halved gallon jugs. The soil in Mongolia is exceedingly poor, but my work with the Mongolian Women Farmers Association meant that I had access to beautiful black organic compost that my plants loved.

home window garden

From seed to sprouts in my apartment

When it came time to leave Mongolia, I began searching for a home for these plants and now my green babies are helping care for Mongolia’s babies. The Lotus Children’s Centre is a Buddhist residential and outreach service for abandoned children in Mongolia. The children at Lotus, eat nutritious meals heavy in vegetables. This year Lotus secured money to build greenhouses and teach the children gardening. My little garden of tomatoes, herbs, and flowers is now getting them started.

I just received a letter and this photo from Lotus. They report that my plants have been transplanted outside and are in the ground now.

Tomato plants for Lotus Children's Centre

What color will these become? Pink, purple, striped?

Everything is in fruit and flower now.  The tomatoes are cold weather heirloom varieties from the North America, so the kids are in for a colorful treat soon! If all goes well they can save seeds and continue these works for years to come.

Yeah Mongolian Geospatial Conference!

The GIS and Remote Sensing (RS) conference went beautifully with loads of talks, posters, and a couple workshops.

All the concern that people would not come was silly. There were a hundred people who checked the website in the week before the conference and the bus was full for the star party. Tee shirts sold out before I could get one my size. The star party was wholly Mongolia in flare with traditional singers, traditional culture stories about the stars, karaoke, dancing, and a 3D movie – all in the middle of nowhere Mongolia

If you are interested in what was discussed, the agenda is posted on the website. The conference dealt heavily with climate change and urban development, issues central to Mongolia now. I will also post abstracts to the website by July 2010.

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Бороо brings beauty to everything

I have never loved rain (бороо: borro) as much as I have today.

After many long months where the temperature dropped down to -45C and the sky was black with pollution from burning tires and dirty coal, followed by a month of yellow dust storms that made smiling or opening eyes outside impossible, today is the first day that I have breathed clean air in 8 months.

I have been unable to stay inside. I walked the entire city breathing as deeply as physically possible. My nose and lungs are intoxicated by the smell of wet dirt. Overnight grass has sprung up in wet ditches and there is a damp quiet to the sound of traffic. I am skipping and jumping. Violins and cellos pluck new songs in my head.

This month I have been helping a local women farmers association, while I wait for comments on final reports on GIS maps and policy papers. This NGO teaches the poorest of the poor in Mongolia to farm so so they can afford to send children to school, feed their family, and supplement their income in general.

This month has been a truly happy one for another reason. I accomplished the impossible and my own personal challenge. I was able to teach a Mongolian farmer web design without the use of language. We were both left glowing in excitement. This glow has lasted for days. There are so many ways to communicate that are underappreciated and underutilized. This experience left me feeling that the unspoken ways of communicating are the key to effective teaching. It is these connections that capture the learner. I don’t really think it is the material. When these connections are strong they inspire creativity and the learning capacity that every teacher craves.

Below is the song that has been echoing in my head as I dance in the rain outside falling on the parched Mongolian steppe.