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 =)