First assignment: Mongolia
By: Dick Hodgetts; Columnist
Sometime around 1195, Genghis Khan united all the warring tribes wandering the plains of Mongolia-an area the size of Alaska. A similar feat would have been merging all the American Indian tribes agreeing to be part of one nation with one leader. The Mongols lived on pasture land where they raised sheep, goats and their beloved ponies. Once Khan got them united he led them to war against China, a victory which made a lasting impression on the Chinese. The stories of the Mongol expertise with the bow, their ability to attack cities and the Great Wall of China, their cruelty towards the defeated, created a legend for the ages.
Advance forward nearly 900 years to the campus of the University of Georgia where an extremely lovely and talented co-ed graduates with a degree in history and journalism. In 1999, Ramsey Nix knows it is a good year to obtain a lucrative job in an expanding economy. Instead she talks to the Peace Corp representative and inquires about positions in Asia. She is accepted.
The old Soviet Union has just broken up, and Mongolia is one of the new independent republics. It looks south and fears the tiger that is called China, and it looks north and sees the Russian bear. Mongolia attempts to establish some form of strategic alliance with the United States. The US Peace Corps is invited to the nation of 2.8 million people and its 28 million sheep. And western mining companies start developing the vast mineral resources of the country.
After three months of intensive Peace Corps training our UGA graduate is ready to be assigned. Mongolia is her destination. She had selected Asia thinking: India, Cambodia, Indonesia, or perhaps Malaya- you know places where one can be fairly close to a beach and have some western amenities while accomplishing an assignment.
But, the need is Mongolia and she heads to her rural location in northern Asia. What a transition! In the winter it drops to 65 degrees below zero. She lives in a round tent (or Ger) that is about the size of a typical American room, but made of sheep skin and lined with felt for insulation. It has a small stove, but no running water. In the morning, you have to crawl out of two sleeping bags (one inside the other) rated below zero degrees and start a fire or one will freeze to death very quickly. You have about six minutes to start the fire, or hypothermia sets in. It is a long way and vastly changed environment from the Chi Omega sorority house in Athens, GA.
She is assigned 50 students and five foreign language teachers to teach English in the local school. Seventy years of Soviet control have changed Mongolia. The Russians bring vodka with them and the Mongols do not have the DNA to handle the distilled spirits. What was once a warrior society evolves into a matriarchal one where the majority of key service positions are held by women. However, there is a need for her skills and the Mongols are multi-lingual as Russian had been required in all the schools. That makes teaching a third language feasible. Further, teachers are held in great esteem giving her an opportunity to earn the respect of her students. And she thrives.
Her parents send her the best rated winter garments made by Patagonia, but it is the native dress made of sheep skin that provides enough warmth to function in the winter. And, she finds the most unlikely surprises: an American Mormon missionary family is also in the nearby district town serving as doctors.
When her two years are up, her family insists she return to Georgia. She has one of those special moments when you know that you have accomplished something. Waiting on her laptop at home is a message from Mongol friends telling their Peace Corps Volunteer what a difference she has made in their lives. The latest news: one of her high school students has moved on to college to study Agriculture.
And where do you find this lovely and talented young woman? Ramsey Nix is the Editor of our sister publication: Lake Oconee Living. And when I take an afternoon to invite her to Four Seasons Farm to see our hunter/jumpers and the Morgan County Equestrian team, she smiles and tells me about the winner of the 25 mile race held in her Mongolian town and the pride of the boy who guided his pony over the course and wins the district race.
Now when I whisper to the pampered horses on our farm as one bites or acts up; I mention that I know a place where they race for twenty five miles and in the winter it is 65 degrees below zero. It would seem that if a Chi Omega from UGA can thrive there one of our horses should be able to adapt. It does seem to have a calming effect on our herd. It is as though our horses whisper to one another: do you think he is kidding us?