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.