When my friend Cass first got her kitten, we decided to name her “Omheezaya.” Zaya means “destiny.” Many women, and a few men, bear this sonorous word in their names. But Omhee? That means “putrid” or “smelly.”

So why would we name the cat “Putrid Destiny?”

In Mongolia, if a child has suffered sickness or bad luck, the parents might take the child to a Buddhist lama. The lama will give the child a new name. Sometimes a “bad name” can ward off wicked spirits. So children might go by Nergui (No name), Bibish (Not me), or Muunohoi (Bad Dog!)

And our poor little Omhee had a tough early life. We found her in the Anna home, a home for former street children. But most Mongolian kids don’t know how to care for kittens. So they threw her around and caught her like a Koosh ball. So, when we “rescued” the cat, we gave her a funny name. Putrid? It’s love. We want to ensure only good luck will come her way from now on.

kenny, me, and jasmine with Omhii

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In a testament to Mongolians’ eager participation in elections, during the July 2000 parliamentary election, officials in some rural areas rode on horseback, carrying ballot boxes from ger to ger, some of which served as official polling stations. (From the aforementioned PCV Politics guide.)

June 29, 2008 — Will we see poll boxes in gers? Not in a city like Darkhan. But Mongolia’s favorite nomadic national symbol still plays a big part in elections here. The inexpensive, easily movable ger makes an ideal campaign HQ. Like gigantic mushrooms, the campaign gers pop up every six apartment blocks. By day, they blare out Mongolian folk tunes from Chinese-imported CD players. By night, the gers glow with red neon. Ponytailed girls, in garish orange jerseys, wander out of the painted doors to press glossy calendars into the hands of passersby.

A ger from Ardchilsan nam candidate Tuvdendorj

True, I’ve only run across gers from the Democratic party. (Perhaps the Dems can’t afford office space like the MPRP. Or is it because the Dems seek the rural herder vote this time around)?

One Democratic Party candidate has stolen my heart – Kh. Temuujin.

Temuujinphoto

Like his namesake, Temuujin kicks ass… well, at least he did on a “Development Debates” reality TV show. Moreover, this Temuujin has sublime taste in political cartoons.

(Yes, Mongolia does have reality TV shows about development. Imagine Mongolian Idol, complete with viewers’ real-time text-messaged votes. But instead of warbling “Country Roads,” contestants argue over things like disability education. It’s quite suspenseful. When squaring off against two distinguished authorities, young Temuujin started off shaky – but he shot from 15% of the vote to 60% within the course of an hour.)

Here’s the MPRP’s “Ardiin Khuu” (Son of the People). J. Sukhbaatar. Lots of billboards show him clowning around with these two Olympic wrestling heroes, Kh. Tsagaanbaatar and B. Naranbaatar. Despite my protests that I can’t vote, I still got this cool calendar from his twelve-year-old minions.

But who knows who to trust? As we say here, “Snake has spots on the outside, human has spots on the inside.”

That’s the name of our latest class. Credit for the title goes to Doug, one of my three awesome co-teachers, who agree that we must subject our 65 students to a crash course on Mongolian political cartoons. This summer, I’ve returned to Darkhan. I’m training our new volunteers in cross-culture and community development.

We geeks feel especially alive — Mongolia will hold a parliamentary election on June 29. Back in 1990, the Mongolian Politburo resigned in a bloodless revolution. Ever since then, Mongolians have participated in free, fair, contested elections.

In 18 years of democracy, though, the MPRP – aka Old Commies – have tenaciously clung to both the parliament and presidency. While the Democrats held the presidency in 1993-97, and Parliament in 1996-2000, their shock therapy economic policies spooked people out dreadfully.

On that election day in 1997, a 62-year-old voter, Baljinnyam told the Associated Press: “I cherish the democracy that we now have, but I voted for Bagabandi [the MPRP candidate] because capitalism is coming too fast to Mongolia and leaving too many people without jobs. (Quote borrowed from an excellent guide to Mongolian politics written by a team of current PCV’s.)

But today, one week before the parliamentary election, only a knife’s edge of a margin separates the two main parties; the MPRP polls at 38%, and the Democratic Party clocks in at 37%.