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Roland's Africa Blogs: 2007 | 2008
Roland's Mongolia Blogs: 2007 | 2006 (Part 1) | 2006 (Part 2)

April 29, 2007

What are the ingredients for the Saturday last hurrah in Mongolia? One case of vodka, six salads, a box of chocolates, one case of orange juice , a bag of ice cubes, 4 Americans and 15 Mongolians. Of course as you can see this is no picnic for the faint of heart. After you put away enough Chinngis Gold, so that you start babbling in Russian even though you are from Allentown, then comes wrestling. My first opponent was 30 years younger than me and outweighed me by 25 pounds and was like pushing on a side of beef. I didn't win that match. The second weighed 20 pounds less, was twenty five years old and six foot two inches tall. He took me down to one knee ( which technically he won ) but I ran into him and tackled him everyone cheered. They were probably happy that I made it out alive. Sarah ,( yes Sarah ) did well in her match, she was allowed to wrestle in the Sumo circle instead of the Mongolian National ( drag your opponent all over the field style ) and she won her match. We received the blue "hadag" which is a scarf of respect and an engraved silver bowl filled with vodka that had to be consumed in one gulp. That was right before I took my shirt off and challenged last picnic's heavyweight champion. And so it goes, just two more goodbye lunches to go and then a plane to Greensboro, via Toyko, Japan and by next Saturday night at 6 PM I will be able to go for a Starbucks on Battleground.
See you next Sunday College Park.
Still Having Trouble Focusing,

We managed to buy these today because the packers will be here tomorrow. These were both painted by my students the first is " Horses From a Ger Door" by Erdenbayer who is famous internationally for his "
red horse" paintings. And his niece Nandin and her painting of " Birds ". It will be nice remembrance since they were both students.

April 23, 2007

How often do we find it necessary to say goodbye? When I was a child, my family had a small summer house near a little village called Shimerville, on the outskirts of Allentown. We went there every Sunday in the summer, and I was always a little sad when it was time to go home. In order to lessen the sadness, I would say goodbye to everything, in hopes that I would see it all again soon. Goodbye bungalow, goodbye water pump, goodbye trees, goodbye flowers. Goodbyes are so simple when you are a child , but it is a word that becomes more complicated as the years pass. You say goodbye to pets who never seem to stay with you as long as you would like. Goodbye to children who grow and are off to school, or marriage, or war. Goodbye to relatives whose time has come to leave you. Goodbyes seem endless and unrelenting. And so, the time has come for yet another goodbye. You have all been here in this place with us for two years. You have celebrated our joys and cried with our sorrows. You have supported us with your love, your care packages, and your prayers. You have sent the orphans of Notre Dame toys, clothes, vitamins, valentines and money ($8,500.) In fact, some of you have asked to continue the mission, but in this 3rd World unless someone is right here, somethings aren't feasible. I can assure you that in Africa there will be no shortage of orphans, poverty, or people in need. You have been a blessing to these children but it is now time to move on. Sarah and I went there on Saturday, with a year supply of vitamins and a bag of soccer balls and watched them play for an hour. I think that an hour was all we could manage without falling apart. Without them being told we were leaving, they kept running up to us with open arms, seeming to never get enough hugs and kisses. It was a most difficult hour. We noticed, outside the kitchen, where the children take their meals, is hung the flag that was flown over the NC State Capital Building in honor of Andrew. Every month or so the flag has to be washed and ironed. It seems as though the children always have to touch it as they walk by , no matter how sticky those little fingers get. I think Andrew would have appreciated his flag being left in such a place as this. This will be my last week of teaching English. Saturday will be the Peace Corps Staff farewell picnic and next week I will lunch with the language school staff. The packers will be at our door this Monday to pack all of our things, including this computer, and ship them to our next post. So what is left to say in this place, I should keep it simple...... .goodbye endless blue sky,...... goodbye breathtaking starry nights, .....goodbye children. You will probably not remember us, but we will never forget you.
To be continued in Africa with,
Strength and Honor,

March 10, 2007

Chinguetti Mosquee and Flag of Mauritania

On May 4th our time in Mongolia will come to an end and we will be able to go back to the US and spend some time with family and friends.This has been a great adventure. Although it has been two years wrought with trials and tragedy, we will leave here with the memories of new friends and a unique culture that has been an unforgettable experience. By the way Eubert is still in Chicago where he underwent successful eye surgery and Leopold received corrective surgery on his spine. On June 10th we trade in our Mongolian tugregs for the Mauritanian ougulyas and start a new adventure in West Africa. (we knew you were tired of hearing me complain about the cold) Mauritania is located on the Sahara Desert, its people come from the Moors and the Berbers who are mostly a nomadic tribal people. The city we will live in is Nouakchott and we will trade in the mutton sandwiches for goat sandwiches. (mmmmmmm is there a big difference?). The religion is Muslim and the languages are Arabic and French. Sarah has already been told about the dress codes. I have already started to watch the old Pink Panther Inspector Clouseau movies to further develop my French accent "Is that your dooug". Sarah will be working with a Mauritanian nurse to care for 160 Peace Corps volunteers and I will herd goats, catch fish, or take part in desert tribal warfare thus the necessity for watching " Lawrence of Arabia". So send me your goat recipes if you have them and keep remembering,"all the good stuff hasn't been found, don't do anything stupid, and never stop exploring."
Strength and Honor,

March 2, 2007
Once upon a time on the anniversary of my father's death, I was talking to my mother on the phone. I talked to her about how much I missed him and I got emotional. She said to me "come on Rolly show some backbone I didn't raise you like that." My mother had a hard life. She was a "factory girl" and for many years she worked in the silk mills of Allentown. She never had much, but what she had, she always shared with her own. She was a rock to her family, and lived her life with incredible grit. The past two years were too much for her to endure. She lost her son, her grandson, her grandniece and finally one month ago her sister. Three weeks ago she decided she had enough and wanted to join those that she missed so much. When Andrew was in Iraq the first time, she would light a candle every day and say that it was lit so he could find his way home.
Now, somewhere on the other side, Andrew has lit a candle, and his Grandma need only follow the light to find her way. Rest in peace Ma, rest in peace.
Corinne Blanche Russoli: Born January 4, 1911 Died March 2, 2007

Sihanoukville: Cambodian beaches are beautiful and the water is like stepping into a warm bathtub. Guesthouses in Cambodia are around $20 a night, and the food ( fish of all kinds ) is inexpensive. Vendors walk along the beach selling souvenirs and trays with foot long prawns and tons of spring rolls.

Temples of Ankor

All of the walls, corridors, doorways inside and out are covered with carvings. It is the most amazing amount of artwork on acres and acres of temples.

The Killing Fields of Cambodia

Saigon Flower Market

The Great Wall

The digital duck counter is probably where McDonalds got the idea. It is a shame this computer doesn't share the food smells of the street.

February 19, 2007
Tonight at 6:00 PM, we watched the sunset from the top of a Hindu temple in Cambodia that was built over one thousand years ago. A thousand years ago, not Columbus nor Chinngis Khan had been born yet and Europe was still in the Dark Ages, but a Khyber king named Yasovarman built a temple dedicated to Shiva (The Destroyer) built of green sandstone, carved with gods and dancing girls, trimmed with lacquerd woods and it must have been magnificent. This has been an interesting trip. We started in Beijing, China and did what all good tourists are suppose to do. We ate our fill of Peking (or Beijing in the Roman Alphabet) Duck and climbed the Great Wall of China (after a week my calves have fnally stopped hurting). In all three countries, we stayed in guesthouses and hostels that usually went for $14 to $20 a night and in some cases included meals. All very clean, except for the dead rat in the kitchen of  a Phnom Penh guesthouse. Asia has a quaintness about it that is evident especially when walking through the markets. You can purchase silk dresses and scarfs, teak Buddha's, buy live eels and fish swimming in buckets or look at mountains of fruits and vegetables heaped three feet high. The smells of everything imaginable frying on outdoor grills are enough to knock you over, and all lite at night by Chinese lanterns from another time. From Beijing, we took a night flight to Saigon (well, Ho Chi Minh City to the purists). After forty one years I felt a little uneasy going back to a place I was so happy to leave.At  the Independence Palace we watched a movie telling us about the " American Imperialists" , the loss of millions of their men. and the rape and abuse of their women and children who were placed into American concentration camps. I believe their is a quote " history is written by the victors ". Well they did win and Anti-American propaganda flowed like the Mekong River. Our defeat there still gives me a bad many men............such a waste......we should have won.
The next day we were on a bus , and in five hours drove across the border headed toward Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The first thing that you see as you cross the border is a gambling casino, which the Vietnamese frequent. I guess " Uncle Ho" never did approve of this western decadence. The Cambodians are wonderful and gentle people and are still trying to come to terms with the horrors that they had to endure. From 1975 to 1979 a true homicidal maniac named Pol Pot ran the country with his Communist minions known as the Khymer Rouge. Inspired buy Chairman Mao his goal was to take Cambodia back to the Year Zero by making it a strict farming and peasant society. He rounded up all of the teachers, lawyers, doctors and other educated professionals and their familes and tortured and killed them all. He closed schools, burned libraries, destroyed hospitals  and when it was finally over he managed to murder two million people. There is a "stupa" memorial that holds 9,000 skulls of the 20,000 killed at that site. I will mark these photos "the killing fields" when I send the trip photos so you are for warned. In 1998 Pol Pot died in his sleep in a jungle hideaway. May he and his minions burn in hell forever. Two days later, we boarded a boat which took us, in eight hours, up the Tonle Sap River to Siem Reap which means "Siamese defeated" from when the Khymer (Cambodians) beat the Thai army back to Thailand.
Siam Reap is the gateway to the temples of Angkor. There are hundreds of temples at this enormous site all built of stone and built from the 9th to the 13th Century. You can spend all day exploring temples and possibly be the only people on the site. Some of the temples are four stories high and are accessible only by climbing an extremely steep staircase with worn stone steps six inches wide. There are always signs that warn "climbing at your own risk". As we climbed one particularly steep and scary incline I was happy that I had worn jeans and had on some really sturdy boots. I looked ahead at Sarah climbing and remembered a great quote about women. "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did and she did it backwards and in heels." Sarah was climbing in a long summer dress with sandals with a purse over her shoulder and climbing ahead of me. Well I need to turn in now, for we have yet another temple to see by the dawns early light. We must stay here an additional day because we cannot get a visa to get back into Vietnam until after the Chinese New Year. (Never been foiled by the Lunar Calendar before). Then it is back to Phonm Penh and on to Da Nang (the beach), then Saigon, then Beijing then home to Mongolia. We will have definitely covered some ground in two and a half weeks bu it has been a great adventure.

I hope this note finds you all well, "Never stop exploring"
Strength and Honor, Roland

February 4, 2007
When Joel, ( the French dogsledder ) hooked up four teams of dogs( four each) to sleds and then said "ok whose going first" several of us looked at him like he was crazy. We thought that someone who actually knew what they were doing was going to drive the dogsled and we were going to sit and enjoy the ride. Joel went on to tell us at least nine different ways that we might turn over the dogsleds, for example" when you hit ice your sled might slide and turn over , sometimes the dogs come to a rock and one goes right and the other goes left and your sled hits the rock and you will turn over, sometimes the dog's think its funny to make quick moves and will try to make your sled turn over." "When any of these things happen just roll quickly out of the way because the next sled will be coming up behind you and might roll over you." I will see you fall and come back for you after I stop your sled." All comforting thoughts. It was a beautiful day, but you really couldn't look at the scenery, because as much as you think you are driving you are not. The dogs are crazy about running and the only thing you can do is watch for rocks, clear ice, cracking ice, tree branches, and running into the sled in front of you, which requires you to put your foot on the break, which digs into the ice or snow, and slows up the dogs, who at times seem insane barking and howling and barking and howling......goodness. I hit an ice patch (most of the path is covered with snow) and the sled went over and since I was the last sled running, (and Joel didn't look like he was watching me) rather than roll, I just held on. The dogs dragged me about fifteen feet and then I managed to turn the sled upright and hop back on the two inch wide skids again. Sarah also experienced turning over as did most of our companions. You don't need a whip and you don't need to yell " mush ", you just need to hang on for dear life. It was a fun day and well worth the bumps and bruises which we enjoyed with two Advil the next day.
Sore but still smiling, Roland

January 30, 2007
Sarah is in Bangkok,Thailand , gone for the week picking up a delivery of serum for her volunteers. One week of waiting for the serum while possibly sitting at the pool of the Siam City Hotel, sipping Pina Colatas with little Thai umbrellas, whistling "Margaretaville". I, on the other hand am swathed in corduroy and animal skins still in 10 below temperatures not able to whistle anything because my lips are froze shut. So, when the graduating class of the Elementary Course came to the school bearing gifts of cake, chocolates, and a bottle of Champagne, I looked up from my desk to find six women ages twenty-five to thirty-five all saying " Teacher you are coming with us". Now I admit to you as much as most men say that this is an occurrence that they are familiar with, it was my first such encounter. The ladies told me that they were taking me to a karaoke bar ( my first)and they said it was right across the street. They asked " Do you need taxi ?" Me indignantly " I think I can make it across the street." About seven city blocks later temps. now hitting minus 14 my eyes were beginning to blur, as we walked down at least five zigzag alleys to the karaoke.
If you have never been to such a place, it is an interesting experience. When you hear old songs on the radio and you sing along, you have the benefit of the singer knowing the lyrics and the tune and the beat of how they all fit together, so you confidently sing through with the wrong words and slurring through the rest.

In karaoke, you get the back up music and the words flash on the screen, so the music and lyrics are yours to pretty much put together. The ladies started with three Mongolian songs and one round of beers. I countered with Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark". They did two Russian songs , I struggled through the Righteous Brother's" Unchained Melody " with six Mongolian backup singers doing do wa's. They followed with three Japanese songs and I, still sticking with English ( what else?) sang falsetto with Abba's " Dancing Queen". We sang for three hours straight with three rounds of beer to wet our whistles. They easily alternated between Mongolian, Japanese, and Russian, so I finished with none other than the Lizard King himself, Jim Morrison of the Doors and "Light My Fire ", which I am sure the casual observer doesn't realize that there is in fact, a ten minute sequence of just instrumentals, which when you are standing in front of a screen with revolving colored lights flashing around the room requires dancing or some type of movement.
Now last night, I got tired of trimming and combing, so I took my hair clippers and took my hair down to the scalp and shaved off all but the mustache. So it was somewhere between Col, Kurtz (chubby Marlon Brando) from "Apocalypse Now" and G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate, trying to move like the Lizard King, who usually was wearing skintight black leather pants and was high as a kite. Ok, now that you have that image in your head you might want to burn out your eyes with copper coins. As we walked out into the now dark alley, I checked the knife in my pocket and the one in my boot to make sure they were still there. ( People get mugged all the time at night in such places ) The ladies went into an immediate " guard the teacher mode " with three on one side three on the other, all of us arm in arm walking seven across down the street. They walked me the entire seven blocks down to the school and waiting taxi's. The ladies all shook my hand and thanked me for teaching them English. Before we left the bar, they said they wanted to sing a song in my honor. They sang "American Boy" , a Russian song, yep thats me.
We all raised our glasses one last time and said,"Budi Zdorow" which is Russian for " Cheers".
Hope your day starts with the same toast " Budi Zdorow" and Strength and Honor, Roland

January 1, 2007
As we drove over to the train station at 5:00 AM, we encountered many party goers who were still on their way home either staggering on the road or waving trying to catch rides. The Mongolian tradition, for those not wanting to spend the entire evening in bars, is to travel two and a half hours east of the city to greet the first sunrise of the year. We left Ulaanbaatar, by train, at 6:00 AM New Years Day. It was warmer this year it only hit about 20 degrees below 0 (global warming ?), but still required more than shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and sandals. As you can see the dining car of this train is mixed cultures, very Mongol designs and still a hint of the Russians with the stag heads on the wall. They again served mushroom soup, ham, bread and Russian champagne. The Russians know how to make vodka but unlike the French, they missed the class on making champagne. At least one hundred and fifty people were out on this desolate plain waiting for the sun to come up. People from the countryside readily joined in the ritual riding in on camels and horses mostly in the traditional dress or (dells) which in winter are lined with fur. They always have a huge bonfire in the center of the festivities which does take the chill off as long as you are standing two feet from the flames.

The frost on the camel's face and the steam coming from the horses nostrils reminds us that these riders and thousands like them live and work out in this cold desolation every day of their very difficult lives.

So why would one hundred and fifty people ride all this way to watch the sun come up ? I guess it means something different to each of us.
For the Mongolians, it is the Year of the Golden Boar and it is suppose to be a year of spiritual prosperity. Each road we take, affects the outcome of our journey. We each are looking for something different than we have had before. A new start, a second chance, hope for the future , maybe even redemption. For this New Year, I wish for you, that your path lead you to your hearts desire.
We both wish you the very best, for as our friends that is what you have given to us.

Love, Strength, and Honor
Roland and Sarah

Go to the 2006 Blog (Part One, Part Two)


College Park Baptist Church
1601 Walker Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27403