Saturday, May 25, 2013

A huge breakthrough with the National Archives

Dancers opened the show
We attend a musical performance on Friday night put on the Music Department at the national university. They honored the 40 year contribution of one of their faculty and performers that evening. 

Notice the location of our seats. The best seats in the Wrestling Palace, just a block from the church offices! For the last concert we would have been somewhere behind the white banner on the left.
A dance with bowls on their heads and in their hands

Our group at the concert - back row: Darlene, Monkhjargal, Sister and Elder Gardner, Elder and Sister Groesbeck
Three diva sopranos with the honoree in center - our church member, Buted, is on the left
The National Archives - background. Elder Cook, the first Mission President to Mongolia, visited Mongolia for the 20th year celebration of the church coming to Mongolia. 
At the end of his trip on the way to the airport he mentioned to President Clark that his friend, Bold, asked him if there was anything he could do to help the church.

President Clark put Elder Cook on the phone with me and we discussed our problems with the National Archives. President Cook gave us contact information and we arranged an appointment with Bold. 

Bold is an influential businessman with strong connections with the national government. He helped arrange a meeting for us with the new Director on the National Archives, Saruul.  

We invited Enkhtuvshin, the first member in Mongolia (a retired University professor), and Gangkhuyag, (East District President and translator) to accompany us to the meeting. At the last minute Bold couldn't make the meeting but was reassuring everything would be OK in his absence.

The first meeting.The meeting went extremely well. Saruul has an academic background at the National University of Mongolia and was a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology there. The former director, Ulziibaatar, has been promoted to another position in the government. Enkhtuvshin has had a personal friendship with Saruul and Saruul's associates in the present in the meeting were Enkhtuvshin's students.  

After our presentation, Saruul asked us about how soon we could draft the paperwork/contract to begin a project. They are closing their Archives for a year beginning June 1 while their new Archives building is being readied for opening next year. Saruul said the next step is ours to take. They are willing to meet with us as soon as possible. We set up a meeting for May 24 at 11:00 am.

May 24 meeting - a rough beginning. There was some miscommunication about the start of the meeting. It started 3 ½ hours later than anticipated. Saruul apologized and also Bold, our liaison who arranged the initial meeting, called to apologize for not transmitting a message that the meeting wouldn’t happen at the scheduled hour.

We were becoming discouraged and imagined that the powers that be had had a change of heart about working with us. Saruul allayed our fears with his apology and we settled into a positive and productive discussion.

We (Danny Chin, Elder and Sister Farmer, Pres. Gangkhuyag – East District President, and Naranstsetseg – church member and avid Mongolian genealogist) were present. Gangkhuyag interpreted and Naranstesteg took notes. We had a standardized International Records Preservation and Digitization contract in English and a copy translated into Mongolian for Saruul.

 Discussion of the contract. Saruul expressed confidence in Family Search and his desire to work with us on a records preservation and digitization project. The reputation of Family Search in doing archival work in other countries was a factor in his being inclined to work with us.

He and Danny Chin went over the contract clause by clause. Saruul raised issues and concerns and Danny took notes on things that needed to be addressed, clarified or negotiated. Danny agreed to put together a list of action steps and a timeline that needed to happen before a contract could be signed between the two parties.

The actions steps will be shared with Saruul in the next two weeks. There were no major points that came up that would threaten the overall intent to execute an agreement.  Danny was pleased at the specificity of Saruul’s concerns and his thoughtful and cautious approach to potential problems or disagreements.

A remarkable step forward. We are pleased and thrilled that meeting produced such a positive beginning to accessing Mongolian records for Family Search. The contract hasn’t been signed yet but there is a strong likelihood that it will be unless something unforeseen spoils the process.

We express our joy that we have reached this point in the process when just a few months ago things looked bleak and we didn’t know how conditions would or could be changed.

The church held a country-wide fast on Feb. 3 and prayed that the hearts of the leaders of Mongolia would be softened and a way prepared for Mongolian records be made available to the church.

Elder Cook’s relationship with Bold, Bold’s friendship with Saruul, the change in government in the last election and Saarul’s subsequent appointment to be the Director of the National Archives provided a simple solution to what seemed to be an intractable problem.

More photography. The rest of the week had its good moments. We will show a few of them to you.

June 1 is a national holiday - Children's Day - children are honored, dressed in national costumes, and given gifts.

During primary Darlene was mystified noticed by the adults working on cards and then came the open-faced sandwiches and beautifully decorated cakes. They were celebrating Children's Day. Next Saturday the children will be dressed up  in their finest and taken to Sukhbaatar Square. It will be a great day for photography.   
Young dancers preparing for a performance at the Chinggis Khan Hotel

Dolls at an Asian restaurant where we ate dinner with Danny Chin

Summer comes to downtown Ulaanbaatar


Car repair shop along a main road

A ceremony honoring Polish dignitaries on a high wind, dusty day. This is our view from our English classroom.

The dust settles a little

The Mongolian National Orchestra

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Records preservation, a visit to Narantuya's family and training

Achka (short name) holding up family photo album
May in Mongolia has a little summer, a little winter, stiff breezes and it changes day-to-day. We never know what to expect. We layer up and layer down depending on the day.  
Spring brings out the chess players
We took some pictures of chess players in the park close by Sukhbaatar Square.  There was chess players everywhere, some with several  onlookers taking in the action.
An enjoyable game with onlookers taking in the action

We know one thing, summer traffic has returned with a vengeance. We’ve been caught in a couple a traffic jams where cars didn’t move for ten to 15 minutes and the only way out is to turn around (almost impossible) and go the opposite direction.
Whites on the attack

Even our extra skilled driver Baatar was exasperated when our lane was blocked by cars coming the opposite direction hoping to gain a few car lengths. Baatar drives us to our English classes and on a once a month shopping trip (this was the week we went).
No matter how long you’ve been in Mongolia, each day is an adventure on the streets of Ulaanbaatar. Baatar is an aggressive driver (a matter of inches) who pulls some fantastic maneuvers but on occasion he is stymied by poor drivers and traffic that is "myy" (bad).  

The National Archives. We had a breakthrough meeting with the Director of the National Archives this week. We have another meeting scheduled for this Friday where we hope to negotiate an agreement with the National Archives for a records preservation and digitizing project. Danny Chin is coming in from Hong Kong to do the negotiations.

The dark line on the right side bisecting Mongolia is a branch of the Trans-Siberian Railroad that connects to Beijing
On the premise of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” we will describe how this came about in next week’s blog. Needless to say we are thrilled at these new developments.

What exactly are you doing?

Presentations, teaching and training.  We taught our three English classes – a positive experience - but a lot of preparation work is required to make that happen.  I taught the Service Center staff (about 25 in attendance) a 2 hour class on communication skills.
Family History Consultant training

We finished our last marriage class on Saturday night.  This fall we will shift to making a series of videotapes in Mongolian on principles for a successful marriage. That and having my book translated into Mongolian should leave permanent tools for helping members with marital issues.
Darlene and Selenge, our translator

We had our monthly meeting for Family History Consultants in Ulaanbaatar on Saturday. Darlene taught piano beforehand and afterward trained for four hours with the Family History Director from Erdenet who came down UB for the meeting.
Grandmother starting to tear up looking at the photo album

A visit to Narantuya’s family. The three photo albums put together by our daughter, Tassa, and granddaughter, Maren, didn’t arrive before our daughters’ trip to Mongolia.

Achka and grandmother with books
These albums had all the family photographs of Narantuya and her family. She passed away in February and the thing they wanted most was to preserve their pictures in a book.
Achka with his aunt, Narantuya's sister

I made a face at Achka and he made one back

We went with two missionaries, Sisters Javsanpagama and Matthews, on a super-crowded bus where we had to stand and be jerked around for hour before we arrived at our destination. Maybe the $8.00 taxi ride would have been better after all.

         Darlene comforting Narantuya's mother. 
Sisters Mathews and Javsanpagma, Enkhjin and Darlene
Enkhjin was still at school when we made the visit but we did see her at her bus stop when she got off the bus.

Delightful girls at the bus stop
Some schoolgirls in uniform were having fun talking to us in English.
A regular chore for all families living in the Ger District
They agreed to pose for us as did some boys hauling water for their family. 
It was satisfying to finish up visiting the family and seeing how they are doing. I think we (our daughters, Maren,  ourselves) and all those contributed to this project can know we eased their pain and created some good memories in the midst of their sorrow.

Enkhjin is happier and more friendly than when we first met her
Helping this family and the other charitable work our daughters did while in Mongolia was one of the highlights of their trip.

Camel carpet from the State Department Store

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Darkhan, Darkhan and a bit more

First flowers of spring
This past week was a bit of a blur. The weather turned warm and then it turned a bit chilly. We should have known that summer wasn’t here to stay. Yet.  

Ulaanbaatar West Stake choir performing at the beginning of conference
Stake Conference. On Sunday, Mother’s Day, we returned from Darkhan the night before so we could attend Stake Conference. It was held in a downtown theater with a capacity for 1000 patrons.

The main church building in Ulaanbaatar is home to the Bayanzurgkh Branch of the East District and the Songin Ward so it wasn’t available on Sunday. The choir performed Darlene’s song, “Have your ever heard such a prayer?” beautifully in English. It had us both in tears. 

Friday night baptism service. Friday nights are regularly scheduled baptism services throughout Mongolia. We attended a baptism service at the Bayanzurgkh Branch and witnessed these two young women joining the church.


Our trip to Darkhan. After the baptism service, one of our former translators from Darkhan, Marta, stopped in at our office. She and her fiance were getting ready for a trip to the Hong Kong temple to be married. They needed to clear their housing arrangements at the temple with the temple coordinator, Sister Stewart, for their arrival on Monday. 
Marta and Charlie in our office

It was fun to see her again and to meet her fiancé, Charlie. Urunchimeg, her sister who was with them, needed a ride to Darkhan and jumped at the chance to travel with us.
Marta, Urunchimeg and Charlie

 As they were waiting in our office, Darlene checked her email and found out that a key trainee and translator would not be attending the training the next morning. Marta and Charlie quickly nominated Urunchimeg to be our translator the next day. This was a blessing for us as she was happy to help us. 

A quick trip to Darkhan. Despite no electricity or hot water in our apartment the day before and our translator canceling on us, we plunged ahead with our trip to Darkhan. 

We had made arrangements with Zorgeo, our taxi driver when our daughters were here, to pick us up at 6:00 am Saturday morning. 
On the way coming and going to Darkhan we stopped and took pictures of some of the sights en route.
Buddha just north of Ulaanbaatar
The northern province of Selenge welcomes you - Darkhan sits in the middle of Selenge - a hard 3 three hour drive from Ulaanbaatar
We watched the herds start their day grazing. On the way home we watched them being gathered up by the herdsmen.
Stupas (Buddhist shrines) with cattle grazing in the foreground


F H Training in Darkhan - Urunchimeg, Darlene, Bayansaa, Kuhlan
The training went well and we felt satisfied with our day there despite the rough beginnings the day before. 
Young men and women of Darkhan - missionaries in the back
Urunchimeg was our translator for most of Saturday until she had to leave us to fulfill another church YW calling. A young man preparing for a mission on May 24 stepped in and finished up our day by translating for us.  It seems the Lord provides a way for his work to continue if we are willing to work at it. 

After training we took the opportunity to visit the newest attraction in Darkhan - three parks connected over the main highway by a pedestrian walkway/bridge. 
Suspension bridge connecting three parks in Darkhan
A new Buddha park and statue in Darkhan

Skyline of Darkhan rooftops taken from the Buddha park
A bridge goes from the Buddha park across the road to another park with a statue of a Horseman playing a Mongolian fiddle

Horsewoman barely hanging on
Darkhan, the city the Russians built and the Mongolians are beautifying - see next picture
Pedestrian walkway intersecting with the bridge and leading to a third park

English class. We had some tests to prepare for our regular English class and for two sets of engineers where we work at TelecoMongolia. It was something extra but we try to keep our sponsor happy. Our English class is getting a little better attendance lately.
Part of the engineer group being tested for English skills
Our students are keenly aware of tests. The day we gave the test, 15 students showed up – some of whom we hadn’t seen in two weeks.  It was gratifying to see the regular attendees score better than those who hadn’t been there.

El Seis de Mayo. We went all out for a Cinco de Mayo dinner on May 6.
Elders Muldowney, Boyd, Neuberger, and Odd
Two sets of Elders came over for Pico de Gallo Salsa, chips, enchiladas and flan. They asked how I proposed and that led to a discussion of our honeymoon through Mexico to Central America. They were fun memories to share and stayed with the theme of the night. 

Lots of information in old graveyards

Cyrillic language - easy to index compared to old Mongolian script (left side)

Mongolian Funeral Association. We had a productive meeting with two representatives of the Mongolian Funeral Association on Thursday. We had previously met with them last November about helping them photograph gravestones in the Seven Hills Cemetery. They wanted to update us on their progress and had specific questions about how we might be able to help them.
Seven Hills Cemetery with a Ger District on adjoining hillside

Coming attractions. Next week will be busy and eventful. It will be our last marriage class for the spring. We will be meeting at the Central Archives with government officials about archived Mongolian records.

I will teach the Service Center staff on communications and problem-solving on Friday. We should hear back on the viability of our records acquisition project in Choibalsan early in the week. 

Darkhan (80,000) is the second largest city in Mongolia, Erdenet (75,000) a close third, and then Choibalsan (40,000).