At the end of Saturday we returned to the Rehab Center to be part of the graduation ceremony. We found the students and trainers sitting in a circle and sharing the impact of the week of hard work. Our trainers were sitting each next to a translator so they could follow the heartfelt words from the participants. It was very moving to hear how people had been affected and obscured all the hassles and frustrations of the week (and believe me, there were a few).

Since Maggie had done the speechifying at the beginning, I got to do this at the end. It is always easier because the group has bonded and I could talk about the difference I had witnessed and do some exhorting which now made sense to everyone. The institute’s general director handed out the certificates, we applauded a lot, made the group photo, exchanged contact information and cleaned up the room to set up for Monday’s managers workshop. This is an important part of the package because these newly trained providers will need a lot of management support to apply what they learned.

We treated ourselves to a dinner at Modern Nomad, a chain of Mongolian restaurants in the region. The UB restaurant featured a daily show of traditional music and dancing which we didn’t want to miss. It was also the last evening here in UB for our Indian trainer who was leaving the next morning.

The first thing that struck me when the players entered was their ‘indian-ness’ (as in Native American Indian): the woman’s headdress with the dangling turquoise and silver beads, the rain tube, the fringed skirts and shirts, the animal symbols, the throaty songs and of course the facial features. The instruments, especially a one by five feet lap harp with many strings, the felt boots, the fur coats and the drum made from a Chinese tea box indicated that we were in a cold place near China.

But now (urban) Mongolians dress in North Face and drink coffee (lattes) which the Russian introduced quite successfully, taken out from Starbuck-look-alikes in paper cups. Their music comes out of their smart phones through ear buds. A large Times-Square-size TV screen on the main drag advertises for shades and blinds that are controlled by an app from one’s iPhone. I was asked whether Mongolia was connected to the world. Urban Mongolia clearly is, but there are 1000s of miles in each direction where nomads still roam and life is probably the way it has been for ever. Although I have a suspicion that they may have iPhones with an app that tells them the weather and where the grass is greener.

The cousins who traveled across the Bering Straits millions of years ago must have dropped some of the habits and clothing traditions as they moved closer and closer to the equator and beyond. I wondered whether the rain tube, which I associate with the Amazon Indians, travelled south or if not, how and when did it get here?

The musical instruments were variations on traditional Western string instruments but more angular, with the strings being made from bunches of silk strands, the bows not that different. The cello had a bull’s head at the top; later I also saw them with horse heads. Like the Native Americans, animals feature prominently in the traditional lives of Mongolians.




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June 2014
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