On Saturdays and Sundays we don’t have any sessions, which can be good and bad: good because we can give our brains a little rest from the information overload experienced during the week, but bad because there’s no really much to do here so it doesn’t take much to become bored out of your mind. We are not allowed to leave Dereven (even to go into Darkhan, where there’s actually stuff to do) unless it’s with our host family, our trainers, or for our practicum. But there is not exactly much going on in Dereven. There are tons of hashaas, a bunch of small, family-run shops (mostly selling food items), the one school, and the river. All the internet cafes are in the city. All the bigger markets where you can buy a wider variety of things are in the city. I am not exaggerating when I say there is nothing here.
Not that it’s completely horrible. I usually take the free time to do my laundry by hand in my tumpun:
Or to bathe myself in that same tumpun:
Sometimes we PCTs will get together on the weekends to do something (even if it’s just walk around town aimlessly). For example, the Saturday after our first week of PST in Dereven was an interesting one. It was a gloomy, extremely windy day, and because I had planned to do my laundry but couldn’t due to the weather, I instead read on my Kindle for several hours. Then one of the other PCTs called me to see if I wanted to wander around town with her because she was so bored. So we went to the river, met up with yet another bored Trainee, and proceeded to walk around the entire soum, occasionally stopping in little shops to see if they had anything interesting (we managed to find sour gummy worms and a Nutella knock-off!). After concluding that there was indeed nothing to do in the entire town, a fourth Trainee called to invite us over to his ger for food. He had cooked up some chicken soup, but his host family refused to eat any of it because they don’t like chicken (we, on the other hand, were seriously craving some chicken, which is not exactly a common meat here), so he wanted us to come help him eat it instead. So we went to his ger to eat delicious chicken soup, after eating no meat other than mutton for more than a week. His host father then came into the ger and proceeded to force us to watch several DVDs of music videos for songs from the 70s and 80s. Some were actually Mongolian songs, but when he popped in a DVD of ABBA music videos, I lost it.
I can honestly say I never imagined I’d be singing along to “Dancing Queen” in a ger in the middle of Mongolia, but that’s pretty much how the evening went. At one point we tried to leave to go back to our own host families, but the host dad was not having any of that and forced us to stay longer. We finally had to lie and pretend our families wanted us home for dinner, and we were finally allowed to leave (with “Mamma Mia” stuck in our heads the whole way home).
On another weekend, the Trainees at my site had a Mongolian cooking class with our LCFs. We learned how to make buuz (both meat and veggie-filled) and huushuur (which we filled with potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, but is usually filled with meat) and ate a ton of both. Ours may not be as pretty as our teachers’, but they still tasted great!
After that, a group of us went down to the river.
A few of us (including myself) actually went swimming in the river, which is apparently a huge past time here, despite the fact that hundreds of cows graze right by the river, drink from the river, and definitely poop in the river.
It was a lot of fun, but let’s just say I definitely took a bath as soon as I got home.