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Up to Hovsgol at the end of the month!

Session 2!

August 6, 2011

Another round of children— fourteen now– are filling our home and lives. The days are a mix of classes, hikes, ballgames, roughhousing and long conversations.

Session 2 Kids

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July 2, 2011

The days and weeks have sped by, and now session 1 of the Maihan Tolgoi Summer School is drawing to an end. A few pictures from our last week’s nature walks. . .

A wasps nest we found on our walk

A wasps nest we found on our walk

Drawing the wasp nest

Drawing the wasp nest

Making bark pizza and flower soup

Making bark pizza and flower soup

The wasps nest again

The wasps nest again

Long antlers

Long antlers

Drawing flowers on our walk

Drawing flowers on our walk

Bringing teacher bark pizza

Bringing teacher bark pizza

Sunshine and Storms

June 23, 2011

The first few weeks of school were full of sunshine. Basic class-time was indoors, but during nearly all the free hours everyone was outdoors; nature-waking in the forests,  swimming in the creek, climbing trees or braiding flower-crowns.

We had an English ‘midterm’ at the two-week point, halfway through our ‘semester’. The grades ranged from 6 to 95 out of a hundred.  Some tears were shed by those when those who used to think of themselves as above average suddenly were faced with a 34 or 45. But it was a good test, diagnostically, and now everyone knows where they are, and can decide whether or not their grade is one they want to live with, or whether they need to work harder and pay more attention in class during the remaining two weeks.

And I have to figure out if there is any way I can encourage 10-year old Adiya, a little fellow with huge ears, bright eyes and an apparent lack of any aptitude in English, to learn anything at all this month. It was he who got the  six.

But they are, in general, a wonderful group of children.  There are the shy, quiet ones, the show-offs, the perfectionists, the anything-goes group; and  no class would be complete without the class troublemaker. We have two, vying for the title; ten year old Temuujin and 13 year old Nominerdene.

We have grown close in the weeks since school began. And this is good, because one evening, three days ago, we had a rainstorm, and it continued to rain for three days.

It was too much rain for the little tent in which the five of us are spending the summer, and we had to move indoors.  And there were twenty of us in a two room house, and we got to know each other even better.

And the rain went on and on and on, till the remembrances of sunshine and dry warmth, of  hikes and flowerchains and waterfights and ballgames seemed only a dim remembrance. . . .

And then this morning we woke up, and the sky was clear and the sun was shining. And we opened the doors, and we ran down to the little stream, now a roaring river, to wash our hands and faces. And we hung the wet mats and blankets, the wet socks and clothes, out to dry. And we soaked up the warmth of the sun.

Was there any in Ulaanbaatar  gladder of the sun than we were?

June 13, 2011

Today marks the end of the first week of our English/Bible/Computer Camp, an intensive summer school for children up to age 13.

We planned to start with ten children, but somehow, mostly because IA1 is no good at saying no to parents pleading for a place, we ended up with fifteen, four boys and eleven girls. The oldest is 14 year old Purevsuren, the youngest, eight year old Anuka.

As tutiton is minimal the children come from all walks of life. There are those from Gobi villages, others from the Ulaanbaatar’s ger district, and then those from wealthy city families. For some, our simple home is luxury; others have never slept on the floor or used an outhouse. Children are thrust suddenly into an equal, mutually dependent releationships with those they would never otherwise have exchanged a word with, from opposite ends of the social scale, and must learn quickly how to deal with it. We all live together: eat together, sleep together, play together, fight together, and study together. In the words of Anuka “We are a family of twenty.”

The school building, though large and spacious, is just two rooms. Upstairs, a large room with no furniture other than a long, low table and mats along the walls, is the girls dormitory and the schoolroom. The big room downstairs is kitchen, dining room, boys dormitory, and the forum for numerous wrestling matches. The cook/night-house-mother, Nasaa, a widow from the Gobi village in which we spent the summer, sleeps alongside the children and sees that all is well at night. The five of us (IA1, the three AiTs, and I) sleep in a small blue-and-red tent out in the yard. This tent, given by a friend a few days before school began, is our lifesaver, an escape for those times when we need one, a place no one comes but us.

There isn’t much time to spend escaping, though, for life with eighteen children moves fast. My role: teacher, resident nurse, counselor, encourager, peacemaker, surrogate mother.

Every day after classes are done for the day AiT3 goes in the frontcarrier and we all head out for a two-hour hike/learning session. The first day we climbed up the hill behind our house, and for many it was a first experience in any sort of forest. There were those who had insect-phobias to deal with: the forest floor crawls with little critters of all kinds, and there are anthills taller than a nine-year old. And then there where those who had never walked anywhere to speak of, and were quite sure their legs would give out after the first five minutes. But they learned fast, and yesterday, when IA1 suggested taking the lot of them on a green-onion picking expedition in the more-distant hills, they were ready for the challenge.

It is Sunday morning now as I write. Having taking full advantage of a once-a-week license to sleep in, the children are only now getting up, but as they do, the house begins filling with a sort of mad disorder. Out on the porch, an English song is being memorized. Teeth are being brushed, beds being made, and one of the older ones is busy chopping up some of yesterday’s green onions. A ball game is being organized and breakfast is being prepared.

Anuka, our youngest, on her first hike

Anuka, our youngest, on her first hike

Blowing dandelions

Blowing dandelions

By the Fire

By the Fire

Day 1

Day 1

Green onion picking expedition

Green onion picking expedition

Wild Onions

May 29, 2011

Children enrolled in our 30-day summer program pay a minimum tuition toward room and board, but it’s not quite enough to cover all the program costs— rent, food, notebooks and school supplies, and a salary for the cook.

So. . . we are heading back to the hills again today, this time for a much longer workparty. There are five of us on the expedition, as well as the three Adventurers-in-Training, and over the next week we will be gathering great quantities of the wild green onions, haliur, that grow far up in the hillcountry, and then salting them, packing them into jars, and bringing them into town to sell as a fundraiser.

Work-day at Maihan Tolghoi

May 28, 2011

Friday was clean-up fix-up day at the lager building where, beginning one week from now, this summer’s English/Computer/Bible camp will take place.
For me and the three small ones it was the first sight of what will be our home for the next few months of summer, and for all of us it was love at first sight. Tucked up on the grassy side of a hill just below the treeline, in a spacious yard sprinkled with yellow and white flowers, with untamed forests 20 yards away and a stream bubbling away 300 meters down in the valley, it looked like a kind of heaven to our concrete-tired eyes. I wanted to bring all the air-hungry, beauty-starved city children out here, not just ten.
The house itself –well, shall we say it has character? Its general appearance suggests it might have been built by someone with slightly eclectic taste; or perhaps it was just that his dreams went beyond the available material; he desperately wanted a castle but somehow couldn’t get far beyond the ordinary. The house is white brick, the porch yellow, and the roof— a distinguishing feature, visible from the distance— half red and half brown, as if the roofer had argued with his wife over which materials to use and they finally reached a compromise. Or perhaps it was all the left over pieces of roofing from his other jobs.
There are no room partitions. Inside, the front door opens into a large room with four windows and an open fireplace; it has the feel of a farm kitchen; this is headquarters, kitchen, computer lab, and family living space. Upstairs another large, well-lighted room will become classroom and dormitory.
I have never cleaned a place anything near as dirty as that house was. I have also never had nearly as much fun cleaning; there is something almost magical about turning a dump into a lovely house that is sparkling clean. I filled up a trash bag in an initial sweep the lower floor, and that doesn’t count all the larger junk, left by some previous tenant, that was moved out. An industrious helper cleaned the upstairs windows, removing something over 600 dead flies. Countertops, tables and the fireplace were thoroughly scrubbed. IA1 went about with a hammer and repaired all the loose boarding, and an electrician friend put in lights, lightswitches and outlets.
Then the carpets and curtains were hauled down to the stream for a thorough wash. The small people had lots of fun, and AiT3 felt cold river water on his feet for the first time ever. He wasn’t quite sure he liked it.
There were three very sound asleep in the car ride back. They were exhausted, but they were dreaming good dreams, and the house was beautifully clean.
The three are very eager to get back, and we are expecting to make the move tomorrow or Monday, so as to have a week to prepare before the children move in.

Greetings, World!

May 27, 2011

Thank you for visiting the blog/website of Manna Traveling School, a non-incorporated, non-registered project-thing based out of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!
We’ll try to keep this updated with pictures and commentary from our “traveling school” as we teach English, Computers, and Bible throughout the Mongolian countryside. Feel free to browse around the site for more info. You may want to start with our about page.
IA2