Longing for biscuits

By Johnny Baltzersen 

– Of course, kids are homesick sometimes. This is mostly among six and seven year olds. For older students, it’s more variable. Many of them often prefer to stay at school, even if they can go home on weekends. At home, they have to get up early and go out in the cold to fetch water, tend sheep or participate in other hard labor. Here they can hang out with their friends, play games, play sports in the gym, read books in the library and sing songs with us, the kitchen ladies and the janitors. We even have a coffee shop that the kids love to hang out in and chat with their friends,” says Shuree from the village school in Saintsagaan in Dundgovi aimag, south of Ulaanbaatar.

We’re doing another round on zoom, where conditions in Mongolian village schools are up for debate. This time, the ‘boarding school team’ at the Mongolian State University of Education in Ulaanbaatar has prepared the questions for the ten schools participating in the interview. The focus is especially on what is done to make the children feel comfortable in the boarding department, what to do when someone is homesick, how everyday life is organized and how leisure time is used.

– Can you give some examples of how you deal with special requests or homesickness among students living at the school, asks Enkhtuya, who leads the team from the University of Ulaanbaatar.

The question is the start of a long list of examples ranging from recreation rooms built like a Mongolian ger, to accommodating siblings in the same room, special care even from the oldest students towards the youngest and from kitchen staff and janitors. There are examples of caretakers with good singing voices who take the time to sing to and with the youngest students.

Of course, not everything is pink. We’ll have more detailed and problematizing reports later, but for now, let’s move on to longing for klejner, which is a translation of Mongolian boortsog*.

– We don’t do it perfectly, but we do our best. Many of us, including kitchen staff, janitors and teachers, have the same background as the children who live at the school. We also lived at the school for many of the years we were in school. Let me tell you about a small incident that says a lot about how we do things here at the school.

The episode is narrated by Konghorzul from Bayan-Undor village school in Bayangkhongor province.

– Some time ago, I was talking to one of our young students, a 6-year-old boy. He had said he wanted to tell me about something he missed. When we sat down to talk, however, he couldn’t remember what it was. I reminded him that we had a clear agreement that he should tell me if he missed his parents or his siblings or anything else at home.

But he insisted that it wasn’t mom and dad or siblings he missed. It was something at home, but he couldn’t quite remember what it was. He would tell you when he remembered.

A few days later, he came running. Bagsh, bagsh, now I know. I miss boortsog.

Since that episode, we make sure that freshly made boortsog is served every weekend.

*Bortsog is a very popular dessert food in Mongolia. It is reminiscent of biscuits and is best eaten with honey or dipped in tea. And where the English have scones with clotted cream, the Mongolians have boorts and with urumIt’snot hard to get addicted. Or long for.

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