Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 28 – Tosontsengel PDC, Day XIV – Graduation and Act Night


It is a tradition on Rick’s PDC Courses to have an ‘Act Night’ and celebration at the conclusion of Final Design Presentation day. Rick typically underwhelms anyone who has been to one of these events with his repitoire of infamous acts that he draws from: The Snowman Joke, Juggling Without Balls, and of course Monty Pythons’ Cheese Shop Skit to name a few.

Last night he took his acting repitoire to a whole new level.

The night had been progressing well, with my 10-year old fishing buddy Tetch [aka ‘ChoJo’ to the rest of the group] proudly performing MC duties and calling up embaressed classmates at random. Each student would then launch consistently into a haunting, melodic rendition of a Mongolian folk song that the entire class would soon harmonize into… goosebumps during each song.

Then, Bek silently disappears to prepare for his part in Rick’s skit and I am at least able to prepare myself for the shenenigans that are about to ensue.

An announcement is made from the back of the tent, WWF style but in Mongolian, the rough translation: “Ladies and Gentleman, Welcome… to the maaaaaaaaiiiiiin event! …tonight’s championship wrestling bout features the Thunder from Down Under: RICK COOOOOOLEMAAAAAAAAANNNNNN…!!!”

Enter Rick, shirt pulled over his head so that belly and chest are exposed, jocks on snugly and of course blundstone wrestling boots, flying around the room like a madman in his best impersonation of a champion Mongolian Wrestler – albeit a short, round, white one…

Bek continues his announcing: “…and the challenger this evening Ladies and Gentleman, all the way from Aus-tra-li-aaaaaaaa… RICK COOOOOOLEMAAAAAAAAANNNNNN…!!!”
And so begins an odd 3-minute battle between
Rick vs.... well, ummm… Rick! ...circling himself and wrangling for position against his imaginary opponent [himself], before he finally vanquishes, well, ummm… himself. Epic.

The Mongolians are enjoying the show, laughing heartily at the crazy man at the front of the room, while Bek announces the next challenger: “…the Mongoooooooolian Marmot…!!!”

In flies ChoJo, racing around the room flapping his arms like a sparrow-hawk, flexing his skinny arms and playing to the crowd, who roar in delight. This match lasts another 3 minutes, with ChoJo chasing a terrified Coleman round and round the tent before pinning him heroically.

Then, Bek announces the grande [and un-scripted] finale: “…Ladies and Gentleman, this evening’s final challenger, also all the way from Aus-tra-li-aaaaaaaa… MICHELLE AAAAAAABELLLLLLLLLLL…!!!” Nobody escapes Act Night – everyone must perform – especially The Boss…


We are rolling with laughter by this stage, and when Rick finally goes down ungraciously to Michelle’s special long fingernal attack, tears of mirth are being wiped from the audience’s cheeks.

Classic. Epic. Epicly Classic. Classicly Epic.

More epic words to describe the occasion absolutely fail me at this point.

But in true premie-fashion, even this event has a multi-function purpose…

Students have just spent an intense 9-hours presenting and watching other students present, not to mention the long hours put into their teams’ design over the last few days.

It becomes vitally important to everyone that each person does well in the final design task, not only as a review mechanism for instructors, but because students really take on the challenge personally and own the results. As a result, the criticism given during feedback is always constructively framed.

The course - which takes a group of like-minded individuals searching for answers, and in two weeks creates a synergistic collection of permaculturists equipped with a framework to gather information, and fit that into sustainable designs for their farms, businesses, and communities.

Party night is a small but significant reward at the end of the intense conclusion to the PDC. It is often the last time that the group will be together under one roof, and is also an opportunity to share cultures, gifts, and fellowship with new friends and colleagues before we head back out to continue our journeys…

…and I haven’t even started telling you about how the day went!

‘Teach-the-Teacher’ is a bonus section that Rick has built onto the Mongolian PDC in conjunction with ADRA, because it is one thing for students to go back to thir projects and communities with new skills and knowledge, but it is an entirely different thing for students to go back equipped to actually teach and transfer their new skills and knowledge.

This is a challenge for most people working in Overseas Development and Aid.

To illustrate this point, perhaps it is best to quote from an article by Rick entitled ‘The Role of Permaculture in Sustianable Aid’:

“…permaculture is information and imagination intensive, thus lending itself to be followed up even from a distance, by email or internet.

If we design well enough we create spare time and energy. When communities have those, they then have the ability to move quickly.
I believe in any permaculture aid project, training participants in the PDC (Permaculture Design Course) is integral.

Permaculture is not about clay ovens or water management systems [or composting toilets and greenhouse gers –ML-]. These are techniques applied to solve specific problems.

Permaculture is about design systems thinking. If we can introduce this methodology we leave behind an empowered group able to design their own solutions. Successful projects can then host new permaculture volunteers in a mutually beneficial way leading to further training and implementation.

An integrated approach tends to lead to higher uptake and therefore better success rates. …[therefore] permaculture has a major role to play on the world stage. As a design system, permaculture has so much potential to positively impact on aid and development projects around the world. Not only does it address issues of depleting soil, water and energy, but it creates empowered communities who can become more self reliant and less dependant on aid and more able to direct the aid they receive into positive capacity building projects.

In establishing successful permaculture projects around the world, we are also creating skilled designers who prove that permaculture systems work. As change is forced upon the world at an unwelcome rate, it will be crucial to have successful models on the ground.

Through implementing permaculture, aided communities of today have the potential to become the models for sustainable practices for tomorrow.”

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We were treated with yet another special surprise this afternoon during the Certificate Presentations.

After all the certificates had been awarded, the co-operative members who had been sitting silently and elegantly in their colourful traditional diels at the back of th tent, filed to the front, then presented and dressed each of us in our own custom, hand-made traditional silk garment:
  • An ornate, brown-and-gold diel with a bright orange sash for Rick.
  • An intricate, red-and-gold top for Kat.
  • An elegant, white-and-black top for me.

I love this work!

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