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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

The man in Mongolia -- life in a ger

Thursday, October 2, 2008

(Editor's note: Cherokee Washington High and Iowa State University graduate Brett Campbell is serving a two-year stint with the Peace Corps

teaching English in Mongolia. From time to time, he will be sharing his unique experiences in this "third world" country with our readers. We hope you enjoy Brett's writings and perspective as much as we do!)

MONGOLIA - It came over a year ago. A quiet voice in the back of my head that said, "Brett, drop everything you're doing and move to a developing country to teach English."

I had just graduated from college and was trying my best to find a job at the time, but luck had not been on my side and neither had my Philosophy degree. "Brett, move to a developing country to teach English."

As I sent out each resume and received no answers back, the voice became louder and louder. "DEVELOPING COUNTRY! TEACH ENGLISH!" At this point because I couldn't sleep at night I began to pay attention and started thinking, "Maybe I should move to a developing country to teach English!"

By the way, to give you a little background on myself, my name is Brett Campbell and I am a 2002 graduate of Cherokee Washington High School. Now, back to the story.

Mike Meloy, a friend of mine from high school, had recently joined the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a program that was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and its purpose is to promote world peace and friendship through the service of American volunteers abroad. After doing some serious thinking, I decided that Mike and I were probably following that same different drummer, so I applied to the Peace Corps, too. After a lengthy application process I was accepted and received an invitation to teach English for the Peace Corps in...Mongolia.

Like most of you, I had no idea where Mongolia was when I read what countries the Peace Corps worked with. I only knew two things about Mongolia - it is the coldest Peace Corps country, and I didn't want to go there. There were so many beautiful island countries that I had pictured myself serving in. To tell you the truth the images in my mind were of me teaching children English, but I would be lounging in a hammock hung between two palm trees, sucking on a margarita (a guy can dream).

After getting over the initial shock of my placement I calmed down and began some deeper research into Mongolia. But when I started reading, I began hyperventilating.

The first thing I read about was the living conditions for a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would be living in a ger (pronounced "gare"), which is a one-room tent. Think of a teepee, only rounder and flatter. The next thing I read was that I could be two or more hours away from the nearest Peace Corps Volunteer. My mind started racing, "How am I going to survive in a tent in the middle of winter?" "How am I going to survive the loneliness in the middle of winter?" "HOW AM I GOING TO SURVIVE THE MIDDLE OF WINTER!?"

I decided to email Mike to tell him about my placement and ask him some questions about what I was getting myself into. I told him I would be going to Mongolia and to my surprise, he was excited for me (because he wasn't the one who had to live in a ger).

However, after some back and forth with Mike, I had an epiphany. I wasn't joining the Peace Corps to go on a two-year vacation where I could lounge on the beach all day and watch girls in bikinis (as much as I desperately wanted that). No, I was joining the Peace Corps to help a people who weren't nearly as fortunate as I have been in my life. I realized that I couldn't expect these people to respect me and what I am there to do if I can't even respect their lifestyle which might not be as comfortable as mine, but a lifestyle they have all the pride in the world in.

After this insight I had an eager excitement welling up in my stomach for almost five months before I was able to leave for a country that I was almost fond of before I had even arrived.

And now back to the present. I have been living in Mongolia for over three months now, and it would be an understatement to say that I have had some new experiences. I have had to learn a new language and the subtleties of a historically rich culture. I have also tried a multitude of new foods (including goat innards and fermented horse's milk), learned new songs and games, and oh yeah, learned to use an outhouse (yes, you do have to learn to use an outhouse). As weird as it may sound, I have had to learn to walk and talk all over again, but it has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

Mongolia is a beautiful country with the sweetest people to match and I get to live here for the next two years of my life. In those two years I plan on experiencing as much as I possibly can of the culture and its people.

I would also like to share my experiences with the readers of The Chronicle Times. In the coming months I will be writing articles having to do with my experiences involving the food, culture, life in my ger, and any other interesting and entertaining experiences I am sure to have. So, I hope you enjoyed this and will enjoy the articles to come

(Editor's note: Our interest in a Cherokee grad serving in the Peace Corps and sharing his "third-world" experiences with us and our readers is a no-brainer. To grasp the surprising, untapped journalistic talents of Brett Campbell is a special bonus. We eagerly anticipate Brett's next installment from his ger.)

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