January, 2008. Dulaankhan, Selenge region, Mongolia. One of the things that peace Corps really stresses to it’s volunteers is community integration. Two major components to being well integrated into the community are knowing the language and being familiar with the customs. To this end, Peace Corps Volunteers live with host families during their three months of training prior to service.
Many volunteers grow extremely close to their host families, and they often visit them throughout their Peace Corps service. This was certainly the case with me; I would return to Dulaankhan every month or two to reconnect with my family, celebrate birthdays, milk the cows, help slaughter goats and get a heaping helping of Mongolian countryside life. I have a very large Mongolian family, my Mongolian parents have 18 siblings combined, with nearly 120 cousins, aunts, uncles and the like.
To give a glimpse into what my experience was like in Mongolia, I’m going to occasionally post short vignettes on friends and (host) family members that made an impact on my life. It all begins with Enkhtuguldur, but everyone just calls him Tugii.
His mischievous grin says it all; he is the Chinghiss Khaan of five-year-olds. When he was three, I saw him climb a one-meter wooden fence, fall down and smack his head on the other side, only to courageously stand up, approach the very fence from which he had just fallen, and punch it. One night my family and I were slaughtering a goat in the summer shack, cleaning the intestines and organizing the organs when little Tugii confidently strides into the room. He is wearing oversized fake Gucci sunglasses and in his hands is a supersoaker. He sprays everyone in the room and erupts into an ecstatic gleeful giggle. My brothers and I chase him down and we have a tickle party, staining his shirt crimson with the blood of the slaughtered goat. When my HCA (Host Country Agency) moved me into a new apartment in Darkhan, my host mother helped me throw a house warming party. Tugii came along and when I took him to the bathroom, it was the first time he had seen a toilet. He went #1, but was so excited when I helped him flush that he dunked his hands in the bowl and then jumped in!
I took this photo while visiting my host family during Tsagaan Sar, Mongolia’s version of Lunar New Year. I asked tugii to stand in front of a blank wall so that there wouldn’t be any distracting lines in the back ground. As far as light goes, I used the natural early morning light coming through the kitchen window. To compensate for the relatively low light I set the ISO to 800. To show a bit of Mongolian culture, I put both of my Mongolian hats on Tugii’s head, both my warm winter fox fur hat as well as my summer wrestling hat. The photo has a great variety of texture,s a slightly asymmetrical composition and I’m very pleased the end result: a portrait of someone I love that also shows a bit of Mongolian culture in a non-traditional way.