December 22, 2002 - Gazette Extra!: RPCV Ken Anclam finds life companion in Peace Corps in Mongolia

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 12 December 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: December 22, 2002 - Gazette Extra!: RPCV Ken Anclam finds life companion in Peace Corps in Mongolia

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, December 23, 2002 - 7:08 pm: Edit Post

RPCV Ken Anclam finds life companion in Peace Corps in Mongolia

Caption: The wild two-humped Bactrian camel, camelus bactrianus ferus, is indigenous to Mongolia. It was domesticated at least three thousand years ago. The camel is one of the tavunhorshoo,'five snouts,' the five domesticated animals of Mongolia on which the country's herding economy depends: horse, cow/yak, sheep, goat, and camel. Camels are raised all over Mongolia, but are found particularly in the four Gobi aimags (provinces) in the south.

As a means of transport, the camel has for centuries been vital for trade across the arid wastes of the country. The camel can carry at least 200 kilos of goods and walks at five kilometers per hour in its peculiar rolling gait. In other words, it is as fast as a packhorse, and has three times the carrying capacity. Unloaded, a camel can outrun a horse. In winter it continues to work through minus-twenty-degree temperatures. Because of the camel, the semi-deserts of the Gobi have not formed a barrier between Mongolia and the south. Even now, camels carry up to thirty percent of the cargo traffic in the Gobi.

Read and comment on this story from the Gazette Extra! on RPCV Ken Anclam who served as a teacher in Mongolia in the Peace Corps and found his life companion during his service at:

Mongolian match: Teacher finds love in a faraway land*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Mongolian match: Teacher finds love in a faraway land

(Published Sunday, December 22, 2002 11:43:01 AM)

By Anna Marie Lux/Gazette Staff

Ken Anclam shyly touches the hand of his new wife, Ulmaa.

Slowly, she sidles next to him on the couch and rests her arm near his.

As the couple glance over photos of Ulmaa's home in the frozen and windswept terrain of Mongolia, they talk warmly of their future.

Ken gazes at Ulmaa and reaches for her again, as if to confirm she's really there. The 51-year-old is still a little awestruck about this woman in his life.

Understandably so.

Many years ago, he divorced and figured he'd never re-marry.

But that was before the desire to help others propelled him to the other side of the world, where love quietly filled his heart and transformed his life.

In 2001, the Janesville teacher volunteered for the Peace Corps. At the time, he taught at Marshall Middle School, where he involved young people in community service projects.

"Ken's vision was that his students not only learn academics, but that they also serve others, as well," Marshall Principal Mike Kuehne says.

"Then, he had the opportunity not only to talk about helping others but to live it."

Ken now teaches special education at Janesville's Franklin Middle School.

In September, he got back from 15 months in Mongolia, a place few Westerners know anything about, apart from high school memories of Ghengis Khan.

He knew that teaching English to children and adults could be a life-altering experience. But he never suspected how dramatically his world would change.

"I went over completely open-minded about what would come out of it," Ken says.

On a sunny Saturday morning in November 2001, before the sudden shift in weather that turns Mongolia into winter, Ken met his future bride.

After one of his classes, he walked with two adult students to the market.

He had never before noticed Ulmaa, with her long dark hair and shy disposition.

With the help of a friend, Ulmaa asked Ken if he would tutor her in English. She wanted to become more proficient to get a better job.

But the Peace Corps rule is not to tutor people individually.

"I was fully prepared to say 'no,"' Ken says.

"But when I looked at her, I said: 'Yes."'

By the second time Ulmaa came for class, Ken was staring more at her than the book.

"I didn't see what was happening, but other Peace Corps workers saw it from the start," Ken says, a little sheepishly.

"It happened quickly and wasn't something either one of us expected."

Four months later, when people shoveled snow off their roofs, Ken asked for Ulmaa's hand in a traditional ceremony.

He depended entirely on a Mongolian friend, Bayarhuu, to speak on his behalf to Ulmaa's parents. The time-honored ritual involved offering a bowl of milk and a colored-silk scarf to the family.

At the proper time, Ken spoke in English, and Bayarhuu interpreted.

Mongolia has a 45 percent unemployment rate, so it's not surprising that Ulmaa's sister-in-law wanted to know how Ken would support her.

"I told them that Ulmaa would always be cared for," Ken says. "I explained that I was a teacher and had a house."

Ulmaa's family gave the couple its blessings.

Then, Ken and 33-year-old Ulmaa got their marriage certificate from a government official with little fanfare.

Now, Ulmaa, who is Buddhist, wants a traditional U.S. wedding. Later this month, the couple will renew their vows at Milton's Congregational Church and have a private reception.

"Everyone here in the United States has been so overwhelmingly supportive," Ken says.

"My family, my friends. I was a little worried how they would react when they found out I was getting married. But the feedback has been absolutely joyous."

Ken's sister-in-law, Chris Anclam, says she and her husband, Bill, are ecstatic for the couple.

"All the nieces and nephews get to learn a whole new culture now," Chris says "To think that Ulmaa left her home 7,000 miles away, that's pretty astonishing."

Chris is impressed with Ulmaa's ability to learn English, a language far different from her native Mongolian. But Ulmaa, who worked as a bank cashier in Mongolia, doesn't mind a challenge. She taught herself Russian when her country was under Soviet rule until 1990.

To help ease her transition, Ulmaa is looking forward to members of her family visiting Wisconsin this summer.

Meanwhile, Ulmaa and Ken bridge the cultural divide every day.

Early in their relationship, Ken thought he offended Ulmaa when he threw his arms around her the first time.

"She went rigid," Ken says.

"I knew I had done something wrong."

Later, he found out that Mongolian couples don't hug.

In spite of their differences, Ken says they share a strong family bond.

"When I was with her family, it was almost like being in mine, except I didn't know the language," Ken says.

He lives within minutes of his mom, brothers and sister and sees them often. "My family has taken to her," Ken says.

"I knew they would see the same things I did: an immediate sense of peace, warmth and intelligence."

While marriage is more than Ken ever hoped for, his good fortune may not end there. He and Ulmaa hope to have a family.

"I asked her if she wanted children," Ken says. "She said, 'Of course.' I asked her if my age bothered her. She said, 'Never."'

Ken struggles for the right words to describe his Mongolian experience.

"There's never been such a peaceful time in my life," he says.

"Every American should leave their country for awhile, and we would realize that we aren't the center of the world. We tend to be very isolated culturally. I was amazed at how well I was treated."

He glances at Ulmaa again.

"Never in my life did I think something like this could happen," he says.


Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Janesville Gazette. She has been writing columns for The Sunday Gazette for years. They also now run Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 754-3311, Ext. 264. Or write to her in care of the Gazette.

More Information about the Peace Corps in Mongolia

Read more about the Peace Corps in Mongolia at:

Patrick served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia from 1996 to 1998.

Jessica's Peace Corps Mongolia Page

Peace Corps Mongolia

Directory of Mongolia RPCVs

Message Center for Mongolia RPCVs

The Peace Corps in Mongolia

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