April 13, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mongolia: Writing - Mongolia: Publishing: Iowa City Press Citizen: RPCV Katie Ives starts a literary magazine as a volunteer featuring the work of Mongolian writers

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mongolia: Peace Corps Mongolia : The Peace Corps in Mongolia: April 13, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mongolia: Writing - Mongolia: Publishing: Iowa City Press Citizen: RPCV Katie Ives starts a literary magazine as a volunteer featuring the work of Mongolian writers

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RPCV Katie Ives starts a literary magazine as a volunteer featuring the work of Mongolian writers

RPCV Katie Ives starts a literary magazine as a volunteer featuring the work of Mongolian writers

Writer comes to UI by way of Mongolia

By Tammara Meester

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Like the Mongolian herders she knew and respected in that country, Katie Ives has been on the move during the past few years. Instead of following yaks, horses or camels, however, she has followed her muse, living in Massachusetts, Mongolia and, finally, coming to Iowa City for the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop last August.

Shortly after graduating from Harvard with a degree in literature, Ives joined the Peace Corps.

"I was so elated when I found out I was going to Mongolia," she said.

She ended up living in Tsenhermandal, a town in the rolling hills of a highly agricultural steppe region. She stayed with a family, living in a guard's house in a former Stalinist prison. When the camp was abandoned in 1951, the buildings were left intact and the locals moved in.

People in the country are largely nomadic, moving two to four times yearly, and the primary residence for more than 50 percent are gers, circular felt tents. While the wife and children in her Mongolian family lived in the house, the husband, a herder, lived with the animals and other family members in the hills, visiting occasionally. The living arrangement is not uncommon, Ives said, as women are more likely to have a college degree and go into a profession while the men remain herders.

Despite the simplicity of daily living there, the people took great care about their appearance, Ives said.

Even in the middle of nowhere, women were wearing make-up," Ives said. "The only complaints about the Peace Corps volunteers were about them wearing dirty blue jeans and not combing their hair."

Certainly moving to Iowa must pale in comparison? Au contraire, Ives said, particularly in light of her acceptance to the workshop.

"It was quite exciting, moving out here," Ives said. "I'd never been to the Midwest before."

Her work for the Peace Corps consisted of teaching English 14 hours a week in a grade school. In her free time, Ives found she personally had much in common with the Mongolian people - a passion for the written word. In her town of 1,900, for example, there were a large number of poets.

So she decided to use her own talents to help them use theirs. She worked to assuage the hunger for the written word that consumed so many of the people, helping to start a literary magazine featuring the work of Mongolian writers. The same longing that led to a proliferation of poets also prompted some to steal books from the local library, so she worked on writing a grant to help buy new books to replace those that had disappeared.

"The town library was in an old unheated building," she remembered. "The door didn't lock, and a lot of the books were stolen."

Some of the most popular writers were Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas and Mark Twain, but the current favorite, she said, was Gabrielle Garcia Marquez' "100 Years of Solitude."

"Everybody was reading it!" Ives said. "It was amazing. People who didn't finish grade school, living out in the countryside, were talking about Dostoyevsky and Pushkin."

To gain admission to the Workshop, Ives submitted a fiction piece based upon a hoof-and-mouth quarantine that lasted over a month while she was in Mongolia.

"There was nothing in or out for a month and a half," Ives said. "We ran out of medical supplies at the hospital, and people started running out of food."

The lessons she learned in Mongolia have made Katie Ives a better writer and teacher. Never politically active before, it also spurred her passion for American politics, particularly when it comes to the debate about peace and war. In October, she joined an on-campus group protesting the impending war in Iraq called Campaign Against War in October.

"I care immensely about America and didn't want to see it get involved in something it shouldn't be," she said. "It made me really scared that the values I think America stands for - justice, democracy and freedom - were in danger."

Her involvement with the group, which went to peace rallies in Washington D.C., Chicago and Des Moines, led to involvement with the on-campus Peace Camp. She stayed in the camp on nights when the wind was howling and the snow blowing.

"It was beautiful to watch the snow fall," she said. "We got extremely cold."

But she stuck it out. She sees the mission of the camp as going far beyond the war debate.

"I think it's become a place on campus for students to come and talk about politics," Ives said.

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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PCOL sits down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Iowa City Press Citizen

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mongolia; Writing - Mongolia; Publishing



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