Sunday, July 2, 2017

Last Ger Standing

So last fall I wrote about revisiting Tsenkher Hot Spring with Engrish and Five, and how it was one of those things I wanted to do again before I left.  I imagined going on several more ger camps before my last flight out, but after our dogsledding weekend it never happened.  Once we started working on the musical, it seemed like time sped up, and wrecked me in all sorts of ways.
I would have liked to camp one last time with Engrish and Five, but my actual last ger camp, as it turned out, was a pretty kickass substitute.  One of my colleagues decided that the end-of-school activities for our middle schoolers should be camping trips, and since this was a thing, I volunteered pretty quickly to accompany my nerds out to Gun Galuut, a nature preserve that I hadn't yet visited...mostly because I'm not a fan of "tenting" and the only ger camp - Steppe Nomads - is pretty pricey.  Fortunately, the previously mentioned colleague has a Mongolian wife whose family runs it, so they gave us a great price.

So I was going to a new place with a great group of kids, and my fellow chaperones were four of my favorite colleagues (albeit obvs neither Five nor Engrish, who actually would have come if she weren't so busy).  So far, it was a pretty sweet set-up.  Bonus: I got to see the Chinggis Colossus one last time along the way.
Now, lest you are a new reader, or else have forgotten exactly what camping in the wilds of Mongolia is like, here's a little breakdown: you drive way the hell out into the middle of nowhere, on roads that back home we would optimistically classify as "B-Grade", to stay in a tent made of felt, and possibly burn dried animal poop for warmth in the cold, cold night.   This time we had wood fires, but that didn't keep me from telling the kids on the way out that their first task would be to collect dung for their fire for the night, and suggest that if they didn't want to touch it, they could turn a plastic bag inside out.  LOL
If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: whoever said getting there was half the fun ought to be dragged out into the street and shot.  The Voice and I were in the bus with most of the boys,  and they were pretty quiet.  The chaperones in the bus with most of the girls, on the other hand...they suffered.  And then we went off-roading in school buses - always a fun time, especially when your intended route takes you under train tracks, but the clearance isn't high enough for a school bus.  We had to try three underpasses before we were able to break on through to the other side.  Luckily nobody got carsick, and we'd stopped for snacks and the bathroom along the way.  In the end, our supposedly 2-hour ride ended up being over 4, but we got there in the end.
Once we got the kids assigned to their gers and the buses unpacked, we went on a hike.  And by hike, I mean a really long walk.  I counted myself fortunate to be with the kids who were done pretty quickly, and when they wanted to stop and chill and play in the water, I was happy to oblige.  One of my hardcore nerds decided to try "fishing" by stabbing at minnows with the stick he'd been carrying around.  (Apparently reading Hatchet in fifth grade had a huge impact, because they could tell me all about it).  Another of my nerds joined him, and their third technique - using a handkerchief for a net - was a success!  They were disappointed that I wouldn't actually let them eat their catch, but hey, responsible-type adult person here.

The hike back to the camp took about twice as long.  Possibly because at one point I turned around and realized that the other two chaperones and I were together with a big group, and there were quite a few stragglers spread out across the distance, so I went back to fish shoes out of the mud and tell them that no, they could not walk back to camp in their muddy socks while carrying their shoes.
We had some down time before dinner, and afterwards organized a game of capture the flag.  The space really wasn't big enough, but we didn't want to annoy the other guests and had to give the kids at least some cover to work with.  Since they didn't grow up with fairly hardcore Mutrux relatives who demanded perfection in their survivalist games, the kids didn't really care - they got to run around and chase each other, so they were happy.
We were pretty disappointed, though, that we couldn't have a campfire.  It was too windy, and a lack of rain meant that we were liable to burn down the steppe if we tried.  Instead, the camp let us use the...actually, I have no idea what to call it.  Common room?  An enclosed space where we could make a little noise without bothering others and being exposed to the elements.  Sadly, there was no fire, so the s'mores ingredients I brought didn't get used, but The Voice had an awesome game called Musical Charades that he led the kids in, where you speak/sing/act as many songs or musicians as you can in a minute.  My ghost stories had to wait for the ride back, and if it was not as satisfying as telling them around the fire, at least by the time "Tailybones" was giving them nightmares they were somebody else's problem.
I brought my flute and The Voice brought his morin khuur, so we were able to finish the night with some music, and since both of us are decent musicians...

Okay, fine.  I'm a decent musician who can play by ear.  He is a highly trained professional who basically kicks ass on whatever instrument he picks up.  I could take him in a dance off or pictionary, though...

Anyways, between the two of us we were able to take requests, and it was a nice way to end the night.  In fact, it put me in such a restful mood that two hours later I slept through my alarm and missed my turn on watch.  Oops. After breakfast the next day we had just enough time for a safari before we had to get ready to go back to UB.  A change in the students on each bus meant that mine was a little livelier, but since I got the group that wanted to tell ghost stories and talk nerdy, I didn't really mind.  When we got back to the school, I found it to be a disappointment more than anything, because it meant that everything was over, and these kids that I absolutely loved weren't mine much longer.  But I couldn't be sad for too long - I was in the middle of finally interviewing with a school I actually wanted to work for, and I had the last interview the next morning.  More on that later.

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