Monday, October 24, 2011

My Octember

So the title of this blog is a common error my English students have been making when remembering the date. Its so close, I almost hate correcting them.... yet I must! "October, October, October!" (Apologies for that minor outburst...)

Anyway, so it has been getting pretty cold here (I’m shivering as we speak.) BUT, the business incubator I work in houses a boot maker and dell maker, so as a gift, I got my measurements taken and was given custom fit boots and a beautiful Mongolian dell. I was so excited when I got my boots, that I wore them home.... BIG mistake. Two big mistakes actually, in the form of blisters on both heels! Let's just say they need some more wearing in =(

So, randomn thought, just when I thought I was adjusting well, I woke up the other night and didn’t know where I was. I literally had to say to myself, “you are in Mongolia, this is your apartment.” It was the first time since coming here that this has happened, and it was a crazy feeling. But despite my midnight freak-out, Gobi-Altai is beginning to feel like home and we love it here... still.

Housing Upgrades
So our apartment is amazing. Can’t say it enough, but we were in need of a few things and a few weeks ago we were lucky enough to get everything on our list. Up until now we haven’t had a refrigerator. It’s been a little difficult, but unfortunately it isn’t a Peace Corps requirement for us to have one, so we made due and made a makeshift one out of our window ledge (it gets pretty chilly there.) After a few weeks of this, we decided to suck it up and purchase one, but Anthony’s agency came through for us big time and decided they would buy us one and they could use it after our service was up. Our apartment is also one large room, so not only is there no privacy to speak of, but it’s of course harder to keep such a large, open space warm. So Anthony suggested we make some type of curtain divider (I think he just misses his curtain from home) and fashion something out of a bed sheet and some rope. I mentioned the idea to my director and she took charge of it and got us a beautiful matching curtain and had it properly installed. We were also in need of a second insulation door to keep the cold out. Not to mention that our one and only door doesn’t close at the top and lets in a big draft. So the wood maker I work with built us a beautiful door and had it installed. I think the fact that my regional manager was coming to town to do a housing check, served as a deadline to make all of these things happen in one week’s time. It definitely gives our house a more “homey” feel and we are thrilled we can buy more than 4 eggs at a time now! 

 Our new fridge addition!

Work Update
So at the beginning of the October we had our Regional Manager, Enkhee, come out for a visit and the two of us had a meeting with my director. We all agreed that a tourism project is needed in our town and is something that can benefit everyone. Some ideas that were thrown around were a training on customer service geared toward local restaurant and hotel owners, translation of menus and hotel rate sheets to English, and widening our monthly cooking class to include local chefs. Tourism is something that I am very interested in, so I’m looking forward to working with my counterparts and local business owners on this project. I will keep you posted on my progress…

Halloween Progressive 2011 & Thanksgivings
We are having a Halloween party next weekend and I am so excited! We are going to do it “progressively” and have a different food, beverage, and game at all of my site mates’ houses and hop from house to house, until we finally settle at our house (it’s the most beer pong friendly) and party our little hearts out. We are adding an Olympic factor to it and will have some type of competition at every person’s house, and the person who scores the most points at the end of the night wins.!!

Only 2 short weeks later, all the cool kids residing in the western part of Mongolia will make our way to Hovd for the "Western Thanksgiving." We are going to have a M21 vs. M22 football game and a glorious feast. Our In-Service Training (IST) is coming up at the end of November, so Anth and I will get flown into UB for that and be reunited with at least a portion of our M22 group-also very exciting! All of the non-TEFLers will be at our training and we get to be flown in early to celebrate Thanksgiving together on the 26th. Anthony, of course, is already brainstorming ideas on his dish-to-pass. Typical!

Garbage Man and Gang
So garbage handling in Mongolia is vastly different than that in the US. Littering is extremely common here, and is very painful for this eco-friendly gal to witness.  Gobi-Altai, however, has proved to be the exception and I’ve been very impressed with their garbage “system” here. They have metal bins set up all around town for people to throw their garbage in to. Lucky for us, there is one across the street from our apartment…. YAY! When these bins get full, they either light them on fire, OR the garbage man, who rides around our town on 3 donkeys pulling a flatbed, empties these containers. It is a mystery to me what is done with them after this, but I he is absolutely adorable.

Garbage Man in action (pictured with said donkey)

When we visited Mother Mountain a few weeks back, my co-workers were very good about cleaning up after themselves and not littering. I was even eating an orange and wanted to throw the peel on the ground, and they made me put it in the garbage. Instead of opening up another can of worms with how natural foods decompose quite easily, I gave in and threw it in the trash. I’m trying to be supportive of their habits!

Me and Anthony with Mother Mountain in the background

Cooking Update: Anthony and I have been getting a lot of use out of our Peace Corps Cookbook and have been experimenting with a bunch of tasty dishes. We made BBQ chicken sandwiches (w/ homemade buns… nbd) cookies, sushi, banana pancakes, cal-zones and homemade stuffing. YUMMY!

BBQ Chicken Sandies w/ Coleslaw
Veg Sushi.... YUM!

Fun Fact: Did you know winter is measured in Mongolia with 9 series of 9 days? According to ancient knowledge, winter in Mongolia actually lasts 81 days or “Nine Nines,” and it is a way for them to gauge their progress through the coldest of winter. The signs of the Nine Nines are familiar to everyone, beginning with the first moon of mid-November, 81 days before the Lunar New Year which brings in the first day of spring.
First nine - shimijn arkhi (mild alcoholic beverage made of milk) freezes
Second nine - arkhi (vodka) freezes
Third nine - tail of three-year-old ox freezes
Fourth - horns of four-year-old ox freeze
Fifth nine - boiled rice doesn’t freeze any more
Sixth nine - roads blacken
Seventh nine - hilltops blacken
Eighth nine - ground becomes damp
Ninth nine - warm days set in

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 100

We did it! We made it 100 days in the Mongolian wilderness. Alright... so we live in an aimag center and have it pretty cushy, but I’m still a little impressed with myself and my newfound skill set. I can see myself in 50 years saying to my grandkids, hand on my hip, shaking a finger, “when I was your age, I walked three quarters of a mile to and from work…” or “I didn’t have a microwave and made all my meals from scratch….” or even “I hand washed all of my clothing….” And don’t think I’m complaining about any of this. I found I’m not taking these things for granted and I actually don’t mind doing any of it. Working hard to prepare a meal makes the food taste better, and clothes I used to classify as "dirty" I've found I can squeeze out a few more wears.

So it’s SNOWING here today!! (Long pause for dramatic effect…..) Even though I prepared myself for Mongolia to be cold, I didn’t expect it to get so cold so fast. I mean where did fall go? I want the leaves to fall from the trees they don’t have here and to tailgate for football games they know nothing about.I guess I should stop daydreaming and move on to more important topics like buying a coat and shoes that adequately cover my feet.

Me trying to keep warm after a dusting of snow.

Hair Cutting Ceremony
A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to be invited to a hair cutting ceremony for the daughter of Anthony’s counterpart Byra. Mongolians consider hair to be sacred and the first cutting of it is quite a big event. It was a lot of fun and in typical Mongolian fashion, there was plenty of food and drinks served. After we’d all eaten the 3 year old girl, Ano, who was wearing her traditional Deel, carried around a platter with scissors on it and went around to everyone in the room and they cut off a piece of her hair and placed the lock on the platter. We pretty much butchered her hair and after a few rounds it started to look like a mullet (no one was going for the back for some reason!) Some people brought her gifts and I was happy to be a part of it.

Cutting in action....

Business Expo
Last Friday and Saturday they had a business expo at the sports stadium in our city and a few of the business owners I work with set up a booth to sell some of their products. In all, there were about 50 vendors set up ranging from farmers, bakers, and boot makers to craft and jewelry tables and bank displays. The Chamber of Commerce and Mercy Corps coordinated it and overall it was a success and a lot of fun to witness. They handed out trophies to the best booths, and one of the business owners I work with, Ornaa, won one and we of course, celebrated yesterday in her ger with plenty of food and drinks.

We’ve been hanging out with our sitemates a lot lately and Alyssa has been sharing all of the goodies she has gotten in her care packages from the states and we have been making yummy comfort food from home; Mexican casserole, homemade pizza, bruschetta, and CAKE! In addition to shoving our faces, we’ve also been brainstorming ideas for community projects and also getting a feel for what they are already doing here that we can get involved in. They have a “Monglish” night every Tuesday for a couple of hours where, you guessed it, we just talk and play games in a combination of English and Mongolian giving everyone a chance to practice their second language. They also host a cooking class once a month where they teach Mongolians how to make American-type food dishes. I'm looking forward to this and the opportunity for me to showcase my Martha-Stewart-of-a-husband. Anthony has turned into quite the cook since we've been here; making homemade bread (even bagels!)and getting pretty fancy with our meals. 

Well they are busting out the vodka again at work, so I'd better wrap this up. Always open for questions and I will update soon!

Fun Fact: Did you know it is not appropriate to whistle inside of a ger? It is considered bad luck and can attract snakes, bad winds, and ghosts.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Our first few days in Govi-Altai have been busy. We share a 2 story house with one of my co-workers and apparently it used to be a store/delguur (throwin a little Mongolian language action your way... get excited.) It is basically one very large room divided into a living room/bedroom area, with mint green walls, deep blue carpet, and loud purple floral furniture, and a kitchen area, that is retro-ed out with orange, yellow, and lime green linoleum and orange sparkle cabinets. We also have a teeny tiny bathroom with a toilet we can sit on =) Our counterparts have been busy showing us around town and introducing us to everyone we will be living and working with for the next 2 years. The city itself is great and has a lot of character. Its population is about 15,000 and the buildings are very colorful. It has sidewalks and across the street from us is a square with a fountain that isn’t always on, but is nice when it is.

Our new home

Yesterday we had dinner with my landlord/co-worker Moogi and her family. They don’t speak any English so it’s been hard but fun getting to know them. They have a 13-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old son, and a 10-month-old baby girl and the five of them occupy the upstairs and 2/3rds of the main floor, leaving us with the other 1/3. Its divided up so that we get the front door, and some of the townspeople still don’t know the store is closed and keep barging in our front door, and then get very confused and leave… but no complaints. Overall, we are diggin the town and really like it here so far.

I am working for a government agency that works with small businesses to get them up and running. The building we occupy is a business incubator, meaning it is shared with several business owners including a baker, a seamstress, a boot maker, and 2 electronic repairmen. I will help support these incumbents and give business trainings as well as improve staff English. The address I will be using is my business address and here it is:

Brittany Pimentel                                                           
Small and Medium Enterprise Development Center
Altai, Gobi-Altai Aimag
Mongolia (via China)

I’m excited to get into a groove here and figure out my new definition of “daily life.” We are taking our time unpacking our things and making this new place a home. Anthony’s counterpart Bayra (an English speaker!!) has been nice enough to take us under her wing and show us the sights and sounds of Altai, as well as introduce us to several shop owners and let them know not to rip us off. She’s a sweetheart, and she has the most adorable 3-year-old daughter, Ano. 

So there were 3 M22 volunteers placed here and 1 in a small town 3 hours east of us; Me, Anth, and our friends Chris and Eric who are both English teacher volunteers. In addition to the 4 of us, there are 3 M21 volunteers, Blain, Kevin & Alyssa, who have been living in Altai for the past year. They are currently in UB for a mid-service training, but will be back on Monday. It will be nice to meet up with them and obtain all of their infinite wisdom about surviving here as a PCV.

We bought a modem and an Internet service plan, so we are ready to rock. My skype name is bpimente, for those of you who don’t have it, and I am open for business!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Govi-Altai Here We Come!

So we finally got our placements in Govi-Altai which is way the heck out west. Our flight leaves from the capital UB tomorrow at 11:30am. From what I hear, it's a 3 hour flight and I'm so ready to finally find a place to call home! I'm a little nervous about getting all of our stuff to site... we have a lot of stuff; we picked up our winter bags, and PC has given us even more fun/oddly shaped stuff to lug around, so we'll see how that goes.

Swearing In
So on Friday we had our amazing swearing in ceremony. It was a lot of fun and just a great time in general. All the volunteer wore our formal Mongolian dells and everyone looked really spiffy. There were speeches from our Country Director and the US Ambassador and I didn't realize that not only are we here for PC's 50th anniversary, but it also happens to be the 20th anniversary of PC being in Mongolia. We all stood up and took the PC oath, which is the same one the Vice President of the US takes, and then individually went up and walked across the stage and got our certificates. After "officially" swearing in, we transitioned from being Peace Corps Trainees to Peace Corps Volunteers AND we got a PC pin with both American & Mongolian flags on it.... how legit is that? About 1/2 of our group took part in our cultural performances (myself included,) and they were a combination of speeches, Mongolian singing performances, and Mongolian style dancing performances. It was awesome.... I have some really talented sitemates. I did a group performance with my CED group, and during it, my host mom came up on stage and presented me with flowers and a big kiss DURING my song... it was hilarious. The entire ceremony was taped so hopefully I can get my hands on that and pass it along. But then again, I just asked an M20 volunteer and she said it took them a year an a half to get theirs, so don't hold your breath!

So immediately after our ceremony, we had to load onto 3 buses and drive to the capital UB. Of course there was an overflow of luggage, so there were a few extra meekers packed full of bags. Anthony and I found room in the front of one of these meekers. The 3 1/2 hour trip took about 5 hours. It was a long day. One of the meekers we caravanned with blew a tire, so we pulled over for that. Then the car overheated and we had to stop and feed it water. When we got here, all of the M21 volunteers greeted us and were so excited to meet us and take us out. We are staying in dorms and as soon as we threw our bags in the rooms, we got dragged out for dinner and drinks and then to a club that was reserved just for us PC volunteers to meet and mingle. Last night they took us to a salsa club where we learned some steps and had a ball. We are going to see Harry Potter in a few minutes here and I'm SOO EXCITED!

So I was very excited to meet my M21 sitemates who are currently living in Govi-Altai. Alyssa and Kevin are in town and we got to spend a few days with them (all of the M21s have a training next week here in UB.) Blain is flying in Monday and we won't get to meet him until next week when they get back from training. Alyssa was nice enough to take us around for a tour of UB and help answer all of our questions and try to paint a picture of what Govi-Altai is like. In addition to Anth and me, there is 1 other M22 placed in our aimag center and 1 M22 placed in a small soum (town) a few hours away. We have a really good mix of people and I'm excited to get to know them better and have a little community of Americans there.

Looks like the mailing address is going to be to my agency's address. Unfortunately it is packed and I can't get to it right now. It will be coming soon I promise.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This is What's Up

So here we are again; back in Darkhan for our “Final Center Days,” before all the volunteers are swept off and sprinkled across Mongolia to our sites. The big unveiling of our site placement took place today at 4 and the anticipation was built up heavily. We took a mini field trip and walked over to the local Children’s Park, where there is a giant map of Mongolia painted on the ground with all of the 21 aimags (provinces). One by one they called us up and announced our placement and we walked over and stood on the map and waited for them to reveal our other site mates. Anth and I were placed in the Govi-Altai aimag center in the southwest region of Mongolia. I will be working for a government agency and Anthony will be working for a youth development center. We are both really excited to get there, but its pretty far out. We have to take a plane to get there, or a 60 hour bus ride, so flying it is. The rest of the week will get us acquainted with our new work supervisors and we will get yet more training on how to integrate into our agency and become a successful volunteer.

Javkhlant & the LPI
Leaving Javkhlant was harder than I imagined. We’ve been kept really busy this summer, so it really flew by, especially towards the end. Last Thursday we had our language proficiency interview (LPI), which was nerve racking to prepare for. We are required to be at the “Novice High” ranking, so the test consisted of a one-on-one interview for 30 minutes with a native Mongolian speaker. They audio recorded each of us and today we got our results and I ranked Novice High. Not that it means much, but I’m glad that its over and I’m where I need to be. I spent a lot of time with my business site mates and I’m really going to miss them along with my host family. Before I left I presented my host family with a parting gift, which consisted of about 10 pictures I had printed out over the summer with all of us, in a photo album I bought for them. They immediately took 2 pictures out and put them in frames so that was really awesome! They were really sweet and got me two matching Mongolian dolls, or as they referred to them, "Brittany & Anthony" dolls. They went all out and made a bunch of food. They even got me a cake, made sushi, and attempted American style pizza. Ketchup was used as the sauce and they topped it with pickles..... its official, they now get all my love FOREVER!! They also got me a dream catcher type thing with a really pretty picture of 4 animals on it that respresent my 4 Mongolian sibling's animals on the lunar calendar. Don't know if that is a coincidence or not, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Amarbaysgalant Monastery
A few weekends ago, we all celebrated Host Family Appreciation Day. It was amazing and very eventful and one I won’t soon be forgetting. To celebrate we each got to bring one family member for an overnight camping trip to a nearby monastery. Now I may be playing it fast and loose with the word “nearby;” it was a very uncomfortable 3 ½ hour trip each way in a meeker with all 18 of us, all of our bags, sleeping bags, tents, and food for 2 days, but we made it. The monastery was amazing and one of the largest and most important in Mongolia. After touring it we set up camp near a river/stream and some mountains with incredible views. Our teachers got to come with us and one of them brought her two adorable daughters, who are 5 & 11, and we became fast friends. Five of us business volunteers brought our teenage sisters, and they all got along great. I brought along my sister Zaya, who spends a lot of her time cooking my meals and cleaning the house, so I was happy to let her have a break from that and visit the monastery, which she had never been to before. They taught us some Mongolian games and we taught them how to throw a football and play catch. We cooked dinner and continued to play as the sun went down. We had a bonfire and played music and talked and sang and joked with each other. It was a great bonding experience with our families and teachers, and also my site mates. To me it was perfect. My teacher Baigalaa gave me the nicest compliment I think I’ve ever gotten. She is my age and always really happy and positive. She said she had been watching me all day and she thought that I was funny. She said that I “give smile gifts to everyone,” and that made my heart melt. As night grew nearer, our sisters said they all wanted to sleep in the same tent, and asked me if I would kick Marty out of his tent so we could overtake it. He agreed and 4 of our sisters and I piled into one tent. We goofed off and acted silly and they talked about boys. Just as we were starting to fall asleep, it started to rain lightly. A few hours later as the rain picked up, our driver came and knocked on everyone’s tents that we should all go inside the meeker and it was dangerous and the river could flood. After about a ½ hour of figuring out what we should do, myself and the other volunteers refused to sleep in a meeker with 18 people, so we restructured ourselves into the dry tents, and the Mongolians slept in the meeker at their insistence.

This is us and all of my sitemates at the monastery with our one family member we got to bring with us.

We will be staying in Darkhan until Friday, then off to UB until we can get a flight out to our site. Mongolian address to follow soon =)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Takin Care of Business

So I just realized I've been too busy talking about festivities, day-to-day living, and embarrassing moments, and haven't really touched on what I am doing here work-wise... my apologies. Throughout the summer, me and my fellow business volunteers have spent our afternoons learning about the business culture in Mongolia, and what types of jobs we could potentially be doing over our time of service here. For CEDs specifically, our trainers thought it would be a good idea to show us rather than talk about it, so we've taken a lot of field trips over the past few weeks. Here is a little taste of what we've been up to.

Earlier in the summer, our trainers set us up for an afternoon to visit several micro-businesses in our small town. One of my sitemate's host mother is our town baker, so we visited his house, where she does all of her baking, and got to see what she did on a day to day basis. We also visited a farmer out in the country who grows several different kinds of vegetables, so it was cool to see that up close and personal. Mongolians face a big challenge with their winters being so cold, they really have to make the summers count. A lot of families who rely on agricultural jobs to survive are really hit hard when there is a harsh winter or "zud." 

Last week we were lucky enough to spend 2 days in the capital city of UB. It was a long 2 days but totally worth it. Our group all met at our school at 6 am and shoved into the meeker (Russian microbus) and took off on our 3 1/2 hr road trip. Going to UB is a pretty big deal here; over half of Mongolia's population lives there and it is a literally a whole new world. They have restaurants, coffee shops, and shopping isn't too bad either. We started the day off by visiting a meat packing factory. We got a nice tour and got to ask questions about how their business operates, and what challenges they face. We tried out our rusty Mongolian, but we had a translater answer the more difficult questions. Next we were off to Mercy Corps, which is an international NGO who's focus in Mongolia is economic developement for rural businesses, support for traditional herders, support of local organizations, and access to commercial financial services. Afterwards, we visited a business incubator, which is a program that offers developmental support to local entreprenurial businesses. This particular incubator specialized in art. They offered work studios to local artists at reasonable rates, set up exhibitions for them to have their work on display, and helped them to secure loans. It was really cool and interesting to see the different types of Mongolian paintings and sculptures. We visited a few more businesses throughout the two days, and enjoyed all the luxuries and spoils of UB living; HOT running water, toilets, and internet access to name a few. All in all it was a great trip, and we were the envy of all of the other PC sites.

Work Practicum
For the past 7 weeks, each of the business volunteers have partnered with an different NGO in Darkhan to volunteer with for a few hours every Thursday, and learn more about the organization and try to add to its capacity in some way. I got partnered with World Vision, which is an international Christian based NGO. They work a lot with youth in the area, sponsoring children and providing them with better education, safety, food, and medical care. My visits there typically include an hour on English tutoring, and assistance with whatever the staff is working on that day. Overall its been a great experience.

On August 15th, Anthony and I will get our site placements, along with a new address for sending letters and packages. Thank you to all who have sent cards and letters so far; it warms my heart reading them and truly makes my day =)

Friday, July 29, 2011


I can't believe we are down to the last 2 weeks in our towns before our Pre-Service Training (PST) is over. It seems like just yesterday we were dropped off at our front doors with all of our luggage in tow (well MOST of our luggage.... I had to run after the van because I left my purse and coat on it; some things haven't changed.) As much as I'm looking forward to going to site, I will miss my little town and all of its simplicity and charm. It's driving us all crazy not knowing where we are placed yet. Come August when our site placements are announced I guess its a pretty big reveal party. We all stand on a map as they call us up and tell us where we are going. I was kind of hoping there was a hat Harry Potter-style that we put on and it would scream out our province name, but I'm thinking not so much. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell some funny stories over the summer months I've spent here so far. Grab some popcorn?!?

Mongolian Lantern Party~
As I said, I'm visiting Anthony this weekend. Last night we went for a walk and noticed these balloon type things sprinkled across the sky, so we walked over to see what it was all about. There were a lot of people gathered and they all had these lantern-type things made out of colorful paper. At the base was a flame and once the hot air filled up the lantern, they released them into the sky. It was really pretty to watch, they looked like tiny little hot air balloons dancing across the sunset. It was also a great opportunity to discuss fire safety with Mongolians..... if only we had more language knowledge! There were some who let go of their apparatus prematurely and instead of it floating away into the sky, floated into a group of people.... YIKES. But it was fun to people watch and be a part of such a cool event, even though we had no idea what was going on or why, but sometimes we don't need answers to those questions to still enjoy ourselves.

The Bucket~
One of my favorite stories so far was the first night I arrived at my host family. They brought in a bucket (which they have never done since) and basically motioned to me that if I had to use the bathroom during the night, I should do so in the said bucket, instead of walking across the yard to the outhouse. They pointed at my Toumpin (bathing/laundry bowl) and gave me a thumbs down, and to the bucket and gave me a thumbs up. Rough translation - pee in bucket, not Toumpin.... got it! So as I was settling in, I became parched and grabbed my aluminum water bottle for a drink. I got a piece of paper along with my swig of agua and noticed that there was a price tag in the bottom of my "new" water bottle (why would it be in the inside?!?!) But nonetheless, it needed out. But the bottle was too narrow to reach in. So I went over to my Toumpin and began to pour the water out in hopes of pouring the price tag out. It took a few attempts but I finally did it.... mission accomplished. The next morning my sister came in to get me for breakfast and looked horrified as she saw liquid, and what she could only assume was pee, in my Toumpin. Ironically enough, it did look like the perfect amount for a midnight tinkle. She pointed from the Toumpin to the bucket and her face said it all, "I gave you specific instructions and you messed up!" Again this was day one, so I knew practically zero Mongolian so I ran over to the Toumpin and started splashing my hand in the water and screaming the only noun I had learned yet, thank God, "WATER,WATER." She looked even more horrified when she saw me splashing around what she still thought was my own urine, but finally got that it was water, gave me a weird look and left.

                                      Me and my friend Bryce with our Toumpin hats

My Host Family Assumes I Have a Hair Fetish~

So not too long after I arrive in Mongolia, I get labeled a hair cutting expert and begin giving several of my fellow volunteers haircuts. During training, using borrowed scissors, I cut quite a bit of hair off my first two victims at their insistence. To make it a quick cleanup, I used one of their Toumpins to catch all of the hair (there are so many uses for that thing!) Afterward, I was the one left cleaning everything up and since there is always a lack of trash recepticles in Mongolia, we put all of the hair into a ziplock bag. (I think there was talk by one of the girls, to use it for some type of prank later, but that never panned out.) So anyway, I'm not sure how, but that bag of women's hair got into my bag. Of course the first thing my host family pulls out when they begin helping me unpack is a bag full of human hair. I got a lot of weird stares, and let's face it, there's hardly a way to explain that even in English so I didn't even bother trying. I learned in our culture class a week later that Mongolians consider hair to be sacred and keeping it to be extreme bad luck. They even have hair cutting ceremonies and its a pretty big deal. Since then I have cut all of my sitemates hair at our house, so I hope they at least get it and don't think I'm a total weirdo. Now I just need to find someone to cut MY hair...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Naadam and Such

Got to hangout in Darkhan this week for Mid-Center Days which means I've been reunited with the other 65 volunteers who are still here (2 people recently bit the dust, but for their own just reasons.) I guess we are here at a good time too because it is the anniversary of the city we are in, which means a randomn, AMAZING fireworks show at 10 pm on a Tuesday night. It was really special to watch, since there were no fireworks to be found on the 4th!

We have been here for 3 days and its been great to see everyone from all of the different sites. Anthony got to come visit my town last weekend, so we've enjoyed 5 precious days in a row together =) They really crunch a lot of sessions into the little time that we have here in Darkhan, but the evenings are ours. The trainers coordinated a group dodgeball tournament yesterday with all of the sites. There were a few tough calls, but my team (the non-TEFLs) came out on top..... (was there ever any doubt?) It was a huge success because there were no injuries and a cash prize =)

So what have I been up to lately? Celebrating Naadam and taking part in festivities has been a big deal for us this month. It is essentially the equivalent to the Mongolian Independence Day. Its common to wear the traditional Mongolian formal wear which is a "dell" and both men and women wear them. My family bought me a top which is red and gold and really beautiful. They gave it to me for my birthday and also CHOCOLATE CAKE! It was really special. So Naadam consists of the 3 "manly sports" which is wrestling, archery, and horseracing and takes place over 2 days (different in each town.) There was unfortunately no archery at our site but it was really fun to watch the horseraces and wrestling matches. There were also dancing and singing performances, which my host sister participated in and I loved every minute of it. Each night everyone gathered at the school to celebrate and dance and it was very much like a high school dance. But there was a strobe light and my brother DJed, so me and my other sitemates had a pretty intense dance party.

In addition to that, its been pretty low key here. Just really trying to get the most out of my language classes and learn more about what my job will be like come August. We have the vocabulary of 4 year olds and know all of our colors, most body parts, food, family, professions, and how to describe our basic needs. They are currently working on our placements and we will find out that info August 14th. Its been pretty inspiring learning about all of the community development project options we could choose to explore at site and see what passed volunteers have done. I'm really looking forward to our training coming to an end and getting settled in here and actually implementing some of the things we've been learning about.

Will be visiting Anthony the last weekend in July, so will have internet access! Until then...

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Day in the Life

So a few people have expressed general wonderment about what my accomodations have been like here in Mongolia so here it goes.

I thank my lucky stars everyday that I made the decision to check the "vegetarian" box on my Host Family Questionairre. Mongolians have a lot of meat in their diet and I'm pretty picky in that department, so I'm thankful that my family is considerate of my dietary needs. They feed me what they call White Food, which I initially thought meant American food, but I now know simply means food without meat. My oldest sister Batsetseg is a pretty great cook and she prepares most of my meals which are made up mostly of dehydrated soy meat (tofu), rice, potatoes, and some veggies flavored with soy sauce and seasoning. Its pretty tasty in my book. Aside from the heavy oil its prepared in, I haven't minded it at all; my plate is usually glistening when I'm finished with my food and its safe to say there is a puddle of oil leftover at most meals.

Food preparation has been a different experience. There are just different standards when it comes to cleanliness and food preparation compared to the US. For instance its not uncommon to find a bug in my food. Its usually a small fly or something, since our "summer kitchen" is outside, its no wonder things fly/fall in my food. There is also a minimum of one hair in my meals as well, but I've sort of stopped looking. I did get sick a few weeks ago, which I'm thinking was some type of food poisoning, or perhaps my body just adjusting to the heavy oils, but I'm better now. It was really sweet how my host family took care of me. Turns out soup is the go-to sick food in Mongolia as well.

With no running water in my village, we have an outhouse scenario. They painted it bright blue in case I can't find it in my yard, which was nice. The inside is basically just a small room with a 2x4 missing in the flooring. They fancied it up a bit with orange linoleum and they even have a plant in the corner! My biggest fear right now is losing a flip flop into the abyss, but I'm trying to be real careful. Our outhouse doubles as a trash can and is where most of our garbage goes that they don't decide to burn. All in all not so bad.... its amazing what you get used to.

Shower: My family doesn't have a shower, and most don't in my village. Peace Corps issued us a toumpin which is basically just a big plastic bowl. Its gets kind of tricky, but basically we just use this bin to bathe ourselves. Its a process and having a game plan is always a good thing. I like to wash my hair first, then limbs, and finally torso. I haven't really nailed it yet and I get a lot of water on the floor but its a work in progress.

Communication & Host Family:
The family that I am living with for the summer is great. My mom is a kindergarten teacher and my dad is a driver. They have 4 kids, 2 boys and 2 girls. The oldest brother lives with his wife in the top of the store that they own in town. My sisters are Batsetseg, who is 24 and has a 4-month old baby boy, and Batszaya, who they call Zaya and is 18 and basically takes care of me. The other son Batnyham is 16 and pretty shy. He hardly looks at me let alone talks to me and is always playing American hip hop music from his cellphone, which I find pretty funny. The house we live in has 3 rooms and I occupy the only one with a door, so they all sleep in the family room on the floor and couch and don't have much privacy. This made me feel bad at first, but they don't seem to mind it and they all rarely stay there at once.

I am their 4th PC volunteer so they sort of know the drill. When we arrived 3 weeks ago, we knew about 10 words and phrases in Mongolian so it was very difficult to communicate but we're finding a rhythym. Zaya knows a little English and my Mongolian is getting stronger everyday.

Before I forget, if anyone would like to send letters, the address for both me and Anthony until August 19th is:

PCV Name
Peace Corps
Central Post Office
PO BOX 1036
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
15160 (via China)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Life in the Countryside ~Brit

Mongolia is full of wonderful surprises. Its so difficult  to put into words how the last two weeks have unfolded, but I'll give it a shot. After spending last week in Darkham with all 66 volunteers, we were all broken up into groups based on sector. CED - Community Economic Development (which is what I'm doing), CYD - Community Youth Development (which is what Anth is doing), TEFL - Teaching English as a Foreign Language (which is what most people are doing), and Health (hopefully you can figure that one out.) There are 7 business volunteers including myself, so we are all in the same little town.

Two days ago we met our host families. Mine are amazing and one of the daughters has a 4 month old baby and he is the cutest. They are really patient and helpful in showing me the "Mongolian" way. As far as communication goes, its basically a big game of charads and a lot of nodding and smiling on my part. I just hope I'm not accidentally offending anyone. We go to school everyday, which is broken down into 4 hours of Mongolian training, and 3 hours of job based training. Mongolian is hard, but I'm getting there. At school yesterday, we walked around outside on a break, and just as I was really feeling a world away, they started blasting a Rihana song on the speaker system. Mongolians really love their hip hop.

The town I'm staying in is a very small town surrounded by mountains on all sides. There are only 40 houses or so, a school, maybe 2 stores, a gas station, and a pharmacy. Its so crazy beautiful everywhere you look. I keep thinking the scenery looks fake because its so perfect. It looks like it could be the backdrop out of some low-dudget Hollywood movie, but I know its real. Daily life is a lot different here. I could get bored, but I'm choosing not to. Let's just say I ironed my underwear yesterday. There is always more to learn and more to see here. I love finding out how they do things and what their "normal" is.

So in short, Mongolia is beautiful and I'm very happy here. Not doing so bad with home sickness, but we'll see what happens. I wish I could be in better contact with everyone. The busy schedule, combined with the time change, and limited internet access are all factors, but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.

Peace & Love

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Just the Beginning ~Brit

Its really hard to believe its only been 5 days since I got on a plane in San Francisco. Every single part of my "normal" has been given new meaning. We are here in Mongolia at our traning site and getting ready to meet our host families and face more change. The flight took a lot out of me and I have a lot of dizziness and the feeling that I have been on a boat for the past few days. In addition to that, Anthony gave me his cold which was a little miserable for a while. The 12 hour time change was a lot to handle and despite my efforts, I wake up at 5:30/6:00 every morning. Yesterday I had enough time to take a little run  around my school and I found a Buddah statue and the view was crazy beautiful. It was straight out of a movie, there were birds flying, sun shining, and I was exuding happiness. As I ran back I came upon a group yoga sesh lead by one of my awesome fellow volunteers. I love all of the people I'm here with and want to know everything about them all. Our days have been filled with our first Mongolian lessons (in which we crashed and burned,) cultural sessions (which have been interesting to say the least,) and health and safety briefings. At night we have free time to walk around and grab dinner. We took a Meeker to an old part of the city we were in and went to a market and I got a pair of new shoes. I love Mongolia and the people are lovely.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

San Fran, Spicy chicken with cheese source, Soju and the KGB ~By Tone

San Fran
First things first, thank you Sarah Calkins! Our time in San Francisco was amazing; we were able to fit so many things into such little time. Chris and Lisa were able to come out so they could be with us for our last few hours in the U.S., not to mention have a quick little vacation in San Francisco. Our last meal was spent at a wonderful sushi restaurant called Ichi. The owners were friends of friends and they were excellent hosts. For me sushi was a perfect last meal along with the saki.  Our goodbyes were tough and easy at the same time, but the flight from San Fran to Seoul was very very long.

After we got to our hotel in Seoul we were able to wind down and even get a workout in which was nice after several airplane meals which were, well, airplane meals. I don't know if the entire country is the same as the airport and our hotel, but if it is South Korea definitely takes pride in its cleanliness. 

Spicy chicken with cheese source and Soju
It was time for dinner and we were able to catch up with the other Peace Corps Volunteers. As we walked up they were just getting done and had some left overs and of course I took full advantage and didn't have to pay for a meal. This is where the Spicy chicken with cheese source came into play. My man Jordan from D.C. had ordered this and offered the rest up to me. It looked questionable, but to be honest it was quite delicious. The chicken was definitely spicy and the cheese 'source' was an oblong almost noodle like stick of cheese. Putting the two together was the best way to eat this tasty dish and it did my body good. Everyone was able to get a decent meal in their bellies, which was good thing because the Soju and KGB was about to takeover. 

Soju and the KGB
Soju is a 19.5 proof vodka-ish drink. It was meant to be sipped straight and we all had our share. It was actually quite smooth and went straight to our heads. The soju was only $3 a bottle so we had plenty and I think most everyone acquired a nice little buzz. After the soju we decided to head around the corner where there was a bar called 'KGB Bar'. We walk into about a 15'x20' room with one bar, 12 seats, and mood lighting that rivaled any bar I've ever been. The glow was a nice fusion of red and blue. So the bar was ran by a young Russian woman and two other women from Uzbekistan. They were decent hosts and most definitely had an eye for business. When our mates were asking what advice on what to drink, of course they insisted on a Russian vodka which was the most expensive thing in the bar. Before the night was out several of the other volunteers had way too much to drink, but we all made it back to the hotel safely and today we had a great breakfast at the hotel and here we sit in the Incheon airport waiting for our flight to Ulan bator. tonight we are staying in a ger camp specifically set up for tourists. We imagine it will be a great time. All of the volunteers are awesome, we are meeting great people and I'm sure we will create some great friendships. There is one other person from Michigan and his name is Marty; he's a great guy and will be keeping an eye on Brit while they are in training. Hopefully we will be able to update the blog and keep in touch, but we believe internet is going to be a little more difficult to come by. Until next time. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting There ~By Brit

We are weeks away from leaving life as we know it in Michigan, for our Mongolian adventure with the Peace Corps. I knew this day would come, but at the same time I kind of got used to the fact that it was somewhere in my future. I've had this crazy little idea brewing in my mind for about five years now and its strange for me to think its finally coming to fruition. Welp.... the future is NOW. Am I ready? In some ways. Am I excited? EXTREMELY. I'm bubbling up and over with excitement and anticipation everytime I think about how different my daily life will become on the other side of our planet in 28 days (but who's counting?)

On June 1st, Anthony and I will be headed to San Francisco for our brief but intense, shove-everything-into-one-day staging event, which will get us up to speed on what we'll be doing. We leave for Mongolia at 11 am the next morning, stopping in Seoul, South Korea before final destination-ing it in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia on June 4th.

So much to do between now and then. We have been slowly but surely accumulating a "pile" of necessities, but we need to cut the fat and make sure everything we will need for two years falls below the yellow line and is under 100 lbs. In addition to that we have not one, but two going away parties to help plan, last minute financials to finalize, my car to sell, eating at all of our favorite restaurants, and spending every last precious second with friends and family to squeeze in somewhere. Come to think of it, I should probably stop writing and get on that!