My second week in Uliastai saw the beginning of several projects. First, Dolgor, the health policy specialist at the Zavkhan governor’s office, contacted me about a dental hygiene project that she had worked on last year with some PCVs. The Volunteer who did a lot of the work with her had just recently finished her service and had left, so when she heard that new PCVs (including a Health Volunteer!) were coming, she wanted to ask for assistance in implementing the program again. This past spring, an amazing NGO called Kids’ International Dental Services sent American dentists to Uliastai to clean children’s teeth and perform any needed dental procedures, absolutely free of charge, and Dolgor wanted to bring them back again next spring. But, being based in the US, the organization didn’t have anyone who spoke Mongolian, so she needed me to help her translate the proposal and other communications with them.
That week, I also started—or, more accurately, I was told I would start—an aerobics class for the staff at the health department. That Monday during lunch, one of the employees told me there would be a dance class in the health department’s gym at 4pm that afternoon. When I asked for more details, she proceeded to tell me that I would be teaching the dance class. Well, that was news to me. I told everyone that I would need more than a couple hours to prepare to teach a fitness class, so they helpfully moved it to the next week.
So that next Monday morning I held our first aerobics class. I may have stolen most of the moves from a Hip Hop Abs video I had gotten on my external hard drive during one of our PC media swaps, but whatever. I am not an aerobics instructor and have never taught group fitness classes before, so I need a little bit of help. Because our gym isn’t big enough to hold everyone who wanted to participate in the aerobics classes, they decided to split it into two groups. And to get maximum benefits of the workout, each group wanted to have the class three times a week, which would mean I would be teaching aerobics classes six times a week (twice a day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). That idea lasted for about half a week until they realized that I could not physically do that either because a) I’m just out of shape, b) I was sick with a cold, and/or c) they were working me to death and I wasn’t getting enough rest in general.
And finally, I started the much anticipated English lessons at the health department. As I am not a TEFL Volunteer and only received one session during PST regarding teaching English, I felt a little unprepared to plan and teach English classes, but I guess they felt like being a native English speaker was enough of a qualification. I knew there were at least two distinct levels of English language skills among the health department staff, so I decided to do two different level classes: beginner and intermediate. I was planning to teach each class once a week, but the HD staff told me I should teach each class twice a week. So in addition to the proposed 6 aerobics classes per week, they wanted me to teach 4 English classes per week.
And work from 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday.
And do additional lesson planning at home.
Let’s just say my third week at site pushed me over the edge. The cold I’d had for a while got worse, I was always sore from aerobics, I wasn’t getting enough sleep or “me-time,” and all of this was making me crabby.
After consulting my PC Regional Manager and some of the M24s I knew, I decided to talk to my supervisor about cutting down on some of my work. I told her that as a PCV I technically wasn’t supposed to be working at my HCA more than 40 hours a week (I was working at least 50 at that point). So she said I could just do 3 aerobics classes per week and I could leave a little early on the days I came in at 8am (the health department technically opens at 9am but she wanted me to come in early to teach classes at 8). Which sounded great, except that Friday, after noticing how tired I looked, she said I could leave at 5 that day, but then proceeded to call me into a meeting at 4:45 that ended up lasting until 6 (seriously, who holds a meeting at 4:45 on a Friday?).
Yeah, to be continued.