Thursday, December 6, 2012

Meet Bilgee

On a recent, impromptu trip to visit Kharkhorin (Mongolia's ancient capital,) I made me a new friend. The 6 hour bus ride seemed ordinary enough, until everyone settled into the monotony and I became aware of the small, six-year old boy sitting on his mother's lap across the row from me. I could feel him staring at me, so I looked over at him and gave him a sly little wink. His face changed instantly. He was entranced by my slick facial gesture coupled with my alienness. I was then assaulted with his back-to-back attempts to return the wink, which turns out he is only able to do with his right eye; his left eye wink effort is essentially just a violent blink. Kid's are hilarious...

Our relationship then evolved in the same way any good relationship does. We discussed our favorite colors. We practiced our winks. We shared nuts, and candy, and gum. We took pictures. We made silly faces. We traced things into the ice encrusted windows. We listened to music. Kid's are fun...

I often find myself most comfortable initiating conversation with children here. They are still in the zone of being exposed to new things, new ideas, and the intricacies of language and communication. They answer your questions and make an effort to understand you. Kid's are patient... 

After the bus pulled off the road to stop for food, I walked into the guanz (small restaurant) to find my little friend had saved me a seat. We ordered our food and since mine was meatless, it came first. By the time everyone else got their food, I was pretty much done. Bilgee commented on this and told me that I eat fast. After a swift smack and glaring eyes from his mother (who thought this was rude,) he clammed right up. But I told him he was right. I was hungry. I did eat fast. Kid's are honest...

After we ate, I took a quick trip to the outhouse. As I was walking back to the bus, I saw my little friend running after me screaming 'Brittany yawlaa' (we're leaving;) he was afraid the bus would leave and I'd be left behind. Kid's are caring...

As we arrived at our destination and got off the bus, he took me by the hand and dragged me over to meet his father who was awaiting his arrival; clearly proud of the new foreign friend he'd made. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, but not before he gave me his last cookie for the walk I had ahead of me. Kid's are kind...

A few days ago, I received a call from Bilgee. He'd stealthily used his mother's cellphone to contact me and hearing his sweet little voice on the other end of the line was enough to make my day. Kid's remember...

Bilgee now appreciates hip-hop

Monday, November 5, 2012

... a few words on integration...

Integration – this word is a big Peace Corps buzzword, one that I’ve almost become desensitized to. Some people define it in different ways, but to me its how well you acclimate yourself to your surroundings. In my circumstance, it’s the degree to which I’m able to immerse myself in Mongolian culture.  Some days are easy. Some days you can’t get enough of the attention, the milk tea, the being pranced around from event to event as the trophied American. But some days are more taxing and really do drain you.  The days you're called upon for another impromptu tutoring sesh with your neighbor on their English homework, when all you wanna do is watch Dexter. Or when you're in a total groove at work and instead the day takes an unforeseen twist and you're getting drunk with your co-workers and celebrating a hair cutting ceremony at 2pm on a Tuesday. (And yes, both happened to me this week.)

But today was a different kind of day. Today Anthony and I did our usual round to the Black Market, our town's large outdoor market (where you can get linoleum AND sheep innards,) to get our groceries for the week. It just so happened that this particular week, we didn’t have much to buy, but it was a nice day and we wanted to get out anyway. The sun was shining, the snow was melting, and the day rocked a friendly feel that was all too eager to invite us out to join.  The first place we stopped into, the shop owner (who I visit practically everyday,) greeted me with a nice, warm 'sain uu naidzaa' (hello my friend) and followed it up with a hug. Whatever happened to grocers just hugging you for no particular reason... ?

As we continued on to the Black Market, we split up and I went looking for some nails as Anth was left with the very important task of nabbing tomato paste. I found some in the ‘hardware aisle’ and picked out 6 or so and asked the woman how much they were. She looked at the nails, looked at me, flashed me a smile, and said I could have them. She asked me all the routine questions, if I lived here, what I did for work, etc. She had a really warm smile and seemed genuinely interested in me. I wandered out of that aisle convinced that the world really is full of good, decent people.

We got the rest of the things we needed and headed out of the market. As we were walking to yet another store one we’ve lovingly dubbed the ‘Cheese Store,’ my friend Boloroo pulled over and asked if we wanted a ride. We hoped in and she dropped us off at the store after telling us that if we ever need a ride, to give her a call. Welp, no cheese was to be had today, BUT a big box full of brown bananas caught my eye. With thoughts of banana bread swirling through my mind, I picked a few up and asked how much and the lady told me that they were bad. I told her I’d still like to buy some and she ended up giving me as many as I could carry. 

As we got home and I emptied my bags, I thought back on our outing and the goodness of the people who helped make my day better. I think that is what integration is all about…

Represent Gobi-Altai... REPRESENT!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkins, Pizza, and Napkins

Just wrapped up our fall site visit. PC staff travels all over the country, to check up on us and make sure we are safe, warm(ish), and our work plans are being carried out. We invited Naraa, our safety and security officer, Mogi, our regional manager program assistant, and Usukhuu, their driver, over for pizza. I always try to invite the staff over for dinner when they are in town since they may not know the area, and also to get to know them a little better. I guess it’s my way of thanking them for traveling to visit each and every one of us and for taking time away from their families. The road in Mongolia is no picnic. 

So last week, I busted out all of my Halloween decorations; my apartment is filled with pumpkins, ghosts, and witches - most of which were made by students last year. Oh, and one of those fancy orange, black, and white ring-chain banners…. classy! So we all sit down to dinner and they can’t stop playing with all my Halloween stuff and I’m being bombarded with questions. “When is Halloween? How do you celebrate?” etc. I then handed out all these fancy Halloween napkins I have, (when else am I going to use them?!) as we enjoyed our dinner. The amazement and reaction I got in relation to those napkins was amazing. They unfolded them, gasped, and Mogi even said she wasn’t going to use hers, but take it home to give to her son. I then watched as Naraa unfolded the napkin she was given and ripped it into 4 squares and passed it out to each of them. I told her I had more and she could use it. Her response, ‘I only need this little piece for my one mouth.’ Sometimes, I prefer the way Mongolians phrase things. 

And it didn’t end there. 

After dinner, they started posing with all of the decorations and were taking pictures and they even opened up the napkin (again!) to create a backdrop for this Halloween scene they had created. I guess this is exactly what it feels like to share my American culture with Mongolians, and I hadn’t even planned on it. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Joyous Homecoming

I'd wanted to be here all summer. But I knew going into it, that all of the things I had planned, all of the visitors, trainings, trips, builds, races, and seminars would keep me in and around UB for the better half of 4 months. That still didn't make it easy. I was broke. And big cities aren't my thing. 

But I made it through and returned to Altai in good spirits on Sunday. I got off the plane and literally couldn't wipe the smile off my face. It was a beautiful day. I was happy to be here. 

In lieu of a taxi, I decided to make the walk from the airport to my apartment, bags in tow, simply because I didn't want to miss a beat. Children waved, recognition set in, and I saw many familiar faces light up at the sight of my return. It's nice to feel missed. 

Before getting to my apartment, I noticed a Mongol Rally vehicle and two guys standing outside of it. I asked them what they were up to and they briefly told me of their road trip from London and how they were almost to their destination -UB, where their journey would end and they would donate their vehicle to Mercy Corps (an annual event.) They asked what I was doing here, and seemed surprised when I told them I live here. I got the feeling Mongolia hadn't exactly impressed them, but it could have been the fatigue of a long journey. But I've gotten used to this. I'm used to foreigners being unable to see Mongolia's charm. But the pride I felt in claiming it as my home is one I've felt many times throughout the summer when meeting new people and describing my role here. 

When it comes down to it, I'm just so happy to live here. I'm so happy that I get to live here. I'm excited to try and give back to my community a fraction of what it's given me over this past year. In some ways, it makes me sad to think I only have a year left to make that happen. 

Glimpsing around my town, it was amazing to see the change 4 months had brought. There were new buildings, fences, businesses, and other signs of progress. Having only my memory to compare it to, I struggled a bit with identifying new buildings versus fancy fresh paint jobs. 

I continued on to my house, walked in and just sighed in relief at the fact that I'd made it home. I felt like a weary traveler looking for a place to rest her head, and I found everything I was looking for in the comforts of my own bed. I spent the remainder of my day walking around my apartment and attempting to transform it back into a habitable space; putting things in their rightful place, cleaning up, finding a home for new summer treasures. It's funny how some places just feel 'lived in,' and after so many months of emptiness, the place just had a deserted, hollowness to it. This became more evident as I walked over to my calender, (that still read May,) and slowly turned each page until I landed on August. I paused to reflect on everything I had done over the summer and how good it felt to have it behind me and be able to return to a routined life. Summer was certainly an adventure, but I think the same can be said for simple living in a place you've come to love...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer Ketchup (.... see what I did there?!)

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but there’ve been a lot of happenings on my end and people have been asking so consider yourself informed. It’s been quite the summer so far, and I’ve tried to keep this brief, but let’s face it, ima talker!

April-May: Children's with Disabilities Program
This is has been arguably one of the most satisfying things I've been involved with since coming to Mongolia. The program ran for 6 weeks every Friday for a two hour block. The kids color, play games, get to know each other and what Mongolian outing would be complete without tea and snacks?

The children vary greatly in age, appearance, and mental capacity. Some have problems that are more physical, others that are mental. But despite their differences they have a lot in common and are rapidly befriending each other. All of the kids seemed to immediately recognize and love Anthony, so it was natural for them to quickly trust him.

I felt lucky to be able to be a part of their lives, if only for those two hours and I really hope to get to know them better over the coming months. Also really proud of Anth for getting everything set up and working with his Children's Dept on such a cool project; one that he hopes to continue and strengthen in our second year of service.

April 23rd – 28th: The Big Event
This is the schoolwide event I've been yackin about for several months now. It all started when we noticed that the five schools in our town are very divided and don't really work or come together very often, or well... ever. 

In Altai you attend the same school from grades 1-11 (there is no 12th grade.) Coming from the states were friendly(ish) competition has been ingrained in us from a very early age, we thought it appropriate to create a week long school wide competition. In January we had a meeting with Anthony's Children't Department and all of the school directors. They were very interested in working with us and hear our ideas, which was really encouraging.

Monday - Health Day: I wasn't able to attend this day, but heard it was well organized and the kids were into it. Each school had a group of 8 students who were given a health related scenario and had to react to it.

Tuesday - English Competion Day: For me, this was the Mac-Daddy of the event and the only day I could really follow/understand. Each school participated in a group song, an individual song, an English skit, a poem recitation, and a 5 minute speech about what they think can be improved in their community. A group performance of "A Whole New World" literally brought a tear to my eye, but I'm a baby and have a soft spot for Disney so are we surprised? Another standout was a girl who talked about littering and gave an awesome presentation complete with a community survey, graphs, and passed out tips on how we can keep our community clean. She signed out with a very powerful, yet appropriate captain-planet-tribute 'the power is YOURS,' which for me accomplished two things. 1 - an incredible amount of nostalgia for my youth and 2 - the urge to go around collecting trash.

Wednesday - Art Day: The groups were given 2 hours to collectively work on a poster with the theme of Mongolian culture. It was really great to see the teamwork and communication happening within the groups, and all of them came up with some great artwork.

Thursday - Business Day: My director and I were selected as judges as groups of students prepared and presented different crafts they made that day.

Friday - Sports Day: This day consisted of a basketball competish, a relay race, and tug-of-war. Buuut, we got so wrapped up in all the excitement and general madness, we forgot to watch who actually WON the relay race. Chaos ensued, so we just called it a tie – after all, we’re all winners... right?!

Overall 247 students from 5 schools participated and there was a ton of involvement and support from the community. We were able to see what things worked and what didn’t quite pan out, and were left with how to make improvements for next year’s competition. The winning school got a trophy that will be rotated every year to the new winning school. Congrats school #5, HOLLLAAAA!

April 28th: Mongolian Wildebeest Race
Due to lack of planning on my part, we only scrounged up 11 participants for our 5k race around Altai to coincide with the Wildebeest Race that happened in Flushing, MI. It was still really fun to run with Mongolians; I've spent so much time just being stared/pointed/honked at on my runs around town. The course was through the main part of our town so naturally people took notice and even began cheering for us as we passed by, 'sain bain!' On the last leg of the race I heard someone shout my name and glanced behind me to find one of my students Dorj sprinting frantically to try and close the gap between us. I let him catch up to me and thought it would be nice to finish the race together, but he just kept going straight on passed me and threatened to take my podium spot. Well I just wasn't having this... we both pushed it hard for the last block, but poor Dorj didn't have it in him to sprint in the last bit of the race, so I edged him out at the last second. The person who got second place ran in a leather jacket, jeans, and dress shoes...

May 5th: Cinco de Mayo 
And so, with the Big Event behind us, my sitemates and I headed north to the nearby soum of Tashir to spend Cinco de Mayo in a ger camp for one last night of bonding before we all head off in different directions for the summer and the M21s get on with their American lives.

We were joined at the last minute by 2 honorary sitemates and we had a blast camping out by the river and visiting the only hydroelectric dam in Mongolia.

May 15th - June 11thAmurica
In a whirlwind of a trip, I was lucky enough to see one of my best friends get married to an amazing guy, another bestie become a Dr. Bestie,

... got to meet Braden's first grade class at Central (we've been pen-pals with all year,)

.... spend some time at my happy place on Lake Huron with my momma,

... not to mention spend lots of time with family and friends. It was pretty awesome, but I found myself antsy to get back to my Mongolian life, which I’m taking as a good sign.

June 18th – Women’s Business Training
Sooo, after 20 grueling hours of travel back to Mongolia, I had to get my butt on a bus for 40 straight hours to Uvs province. Oh and Anth and I didn’t get lucky enough to nab an actual seat, so we spent those 2 days in the aisle literally perched on top of a bunch of luggage. At one point, I had a Mongolian lying on each shoulder, one across my chest, and another on my stomach, with Anth camped out on my lower body. I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to…

              We squeezed 45 on a bus for 33 for our forty hour trip. People even sat on the stairs...#mongoliansarebadass  <- (that is my first time doing that I promise... and it won't happen again)

My good friend Krissy and I, along with the Business Women’s Association of Uvs, have been working on a training for local business owners for a few months now. 

It went really well and we had 26 participants over the two day training that included sections on Management, Accounting, and Customer Service.

June 25th – 30th: Erdenet Baseball Camp
Two friends of mine, put together a two week youth baseball camp in the city of Erdenet, so we made our way up there for the week to help out. It was really fun learning how to play baseball myself, and seeing the kids learn a thing or two. We ended the week with an American vs Mongolian game, that was off the chiz-ain!

July 2nd – July 7th: Habitat for Humanity Blue Sky Build
For the first week in July, I was lucky enough to be able to build a home with a few other PCVs and alongside of the Mongolian family who will be living there. Even though I only took part building one house, 20 homes were built in all with 100 local volunteers and approximately 150 international volunteers. It was a grueling week, but worth it.
The main construction worker, Jagaa, and Naraa the homeowner.

 I also made a new friend in the translator, Naljaa. She is one sassy lady...

We're either workin hard, or hardly workin....

July 6th: My Birfday
This year I had me one of my best birthdays in recent memory. It started and ended in amazing ways. At 530am, Gracie and I woke up and went on a monster run south of the city until the city ended and nature began. We ran along some mountains near a river and it was really gorgeous. After that, Gracie and I went our separate ways and I ran to the Palace Hotel to meet up for the bus ride out to the Habitat build site; I was greeted by everyone singing me happy birthday and a giant card signed by many friends. The fun continued on the ride, where we literally had ourselves a rowdy 7am dance party in the aisle of the bus. 

My birthday balloon that reads 'Happy Birthday' in 7 languages.... RAD.

After a whole day of building, I met up with 20 or so volunteers for dinner and drinks and then headed off to a foam party….. that’s right, FOAM! Add that to the list of things I never thought I’d do in Mongolia…

July 5th- July 14th: Brother Ben visits Mongolia
We had our first visitor come and check out a little of our lives here and he survived, so the rest of you can come visit now…. We spent the first few days wandering about the capital then headed up north to visit our host families so he could catch a little Nadaam action (yearly Mongolian festival,) and see a little of how we spent last summer. It was really fun having him here…

Awwwwwwww.... Ben's first horse ride

July 22nd: Ulaanbaatar International Half Marathon
I decided last minute to run this race and ended up doing the 10k versus the half marathon since I was still having some issues/pains with my hip. I ended up getting third place out of the female finishers and was awarded a medal, certificate, AND trophy... how typical Mongolia! First place got a horse. Looks like I’ll be pushing a little harder next year…

 Even the losers get lucky sometimes....

Aug 1st: Sunrise to Sunset Marathon
Lake Hovsgol was an amazing and beautiful place to visit. We decided to camp for a few days before the race for a little fun. We found an amazing trail on a mountain cliff right along the water – which is the clearest fresh water lake I’ve ever laid eyes on. Then it literally rained on our parade…. then it rained harder. We decided to give up on the slick path in search of a road, and just as we were crossing a meadow to do so, lightning struck no more than 100 yards in front of us, so we started sprinting. We found a little house and stuck out the storm there and made some food and had some coffee to warm us. We decided to ditch the rest of the hike and hitched a ride to the ger camp from there. Camp Toilogt was awesome and we got to spend the 3 days leading up to the race in awesome company. Gracie’s parents joined us and we partook in some kayakin, sauna sittin, and I mastered my first horse back ride.... like a CHAMP!

Camp Toilogt. Gracie and her parents rocked the house in teepee #2.

My good pal Gracie and I have been planning this beast of a run for a while, but we still found ourselves sorely unprepared. Not only did we not know we would be tackling this 42.5 km race with a total elevation gain/loss of 2255 meters, but also that we would be doing so with backpacks on, and starting at 430 am…. in the dark. Given all of this, I wasn’t too disappointed when we cartwheeled across the finish line at 6 hrs 16 minutes with smiles on our faces after surviving 26.4 miles, 2 mountain climbs and descents, 1 fall each, and countless stumbles. We ended up being the first and second female finishers for the marathon, and 2nd and 3rd overall (there was also a 100km option for CRAZY people.)

Now I head back to the motherland once more to partake in more wedding festivities and usual shenanigans. In an attempt to save a few bucks, I decided to fly the other way around the world through Turkey. Very excited to catch up with some people on this short little trip; its always good to be home, no matter how brief =) If all of my friends and family don't greet me at the gate with junk food in hand, I will be sorely disappointed. KIDDING! It's perfectly acceptable to meet me at baggage claim; I know airport security can be a pain...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Erkh & the Airport

May 15th,

Erkh picked me up today to go to the airport
He told me he was hungover, I laughed
He had a blue car
He asked me where I was from
We chatted
On the way, I stuffed my face with boov and peanuts
He reached over and wiped the crumbs away from my cheek
He told me he liked Koreans
He called me beautiful
He gave me his phone number and offered his future services to me
He carried my bags into the airport
I told him not to
He did it anyway
I asked him what he'd do that day
He said he'd go home and sleep the day away
He said 'bye hunny' 
Then left

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Thawing of a Country

Mongolia, it seems, is waking up from the long cold slumber known as winter, and everyday is showing signs of its rebirth. It was so cold for so long, I began to doubt if I'd ever feel warmth again. I have, however, been taking full advantage of this nice weather and have been running and hiking as much as physically possible (yes, my Achilles is feeling better, thank you for asking.) It's as if Mongolia's people become more lethargic as the winter weather creeps in and as the temperatures have turned up, so have people's spirits, attitudes, and motivation. I failed to notice how much things slowed down in the winter, and it is only becoming apparent to me while witnessing how quickly things are moving now that spring is upon us.This is not to say that the weather here is constant; its still very volatile. Case in point, today was beautiful, blue skies and sunny and yesterday was snowstorms with a side of wind all the live long day. I'm very much looking forward to summer!

A photo I took of the fab weather on a recent hike

It seems to be a time for transitions for everyone. The M21 group will be having their 'Close of Service conference' next week with many leaving the country in June, and in the not so distant future, a fresh batch of clueless M23s will be dropped off here and our group of M22s will become the seasoned veterans who will bestow our wisdom on the newbies. Funny, I don't FEEL much wiser. Not gonna tell them that though....

I hope everyone's Easter was enjoyable and well spent. It came and went without us even acknowledging it. We seriously didn't even eat any eggs... and we ALWAYS eat eggs. Holidays just aren't the same here. This is probably where I would share a holiday Easter pic, but since no such picture exits... here's a little gem of an adorable 5 year old friend of mine.

Me and one of my students daughters just hanging out.

I'll tell ya what I DID do though, I got to visit a local soum (small town) with my counterpart Naraa last week and it was awesome. The soum was beautiful, really clean (they recycle!) and the people were friendly. It was great to get away for a while and it's always nice to come home after being away for a bit.

Tugruk Soum in all its glory...

On the way there, we stopped by a small stream that emptied into a nearby river. I was told that it contained some very delicious 'mineral water,' so we pulled over to fill several jugs to stock up on nature's miracle. As I assumed the Mongol squat position (see below) to get my water, I noticed several small tadpoles. I then noticed that they were in fact, trying to get these little guys into their jugs and containers. When I asked why, they explained to me that you drink the little fish, and they are good for your stomach.... but of course!

FISH!- it's what's for dinner...

The business training in action

In other news, I've started a weekly running club in my town on Saturday mornings and it's been going well. We will also host a 5k on April 28th to coincide with the 'Run Like A Wildebeest' run taking place in MI on the same day in honor of my friend Greg Flint and his family. It's been exciting planning the events to coincide with one another and hopefully we get a good turnout. All of my peeps should sign up for that race if you're in the Flushing area! Want more info? Check it:

Along with running, I'm still teaching English 3x a week to the staff in my building and I love it. It's really rewarding to be able to observe their progress. After a lesson on baking, I invited them all over to my house to make pizza. The ONE male who came is dead set on finding an American wife, for the sole purpose of her inherent pizza making abilities. Yes, I'll be accepting names of potential single applicants...

My director and some students enjoying pizza making

So other than that, I'm just reeaaally excited to be going home and seeing all of my family and friends in May. Not gonna lie, eating American food is a CLOSE third. Looking forward to gaining a minimum of 5 pounds and hanging out at Gina's until closing time. See all you fine folks in 32 days and much love always!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Great Britain

So once upon a time when we first got to site, Anthony's director had trouble saying my name and started calling me 'Britain.' I decided to forgive easy since foreign names can be difficult and I STILL haven't gotten down many Mongolian names of people who attend my classes.... (should proooobably get on that.) Anyway, we've come too far and it's been waaay too long for me to all of a sudden correct her now, so in her eyes, I AM BRITAIN. And since she is the boss, several of Anth's OTHER counterparts are jumping on board so, I guess  my transformation to Britain is complete... tell your friends.

So what's Britain been up to lately you might ask? Well, lots. We just got back from 10 days in the capital which was both great and draining. Of course I managed to injure myself, but what was confusing to me, was that no actual injury occurred, but here I sit left with Achilles tendinopathy. Basically the insane pace in which I walk coupled with the frequency I was walking around the city, and the fashion boots I was sporting, resulted in an inflamed Achilles. Bad timing considering I had juuuust started training for a marathon I'm running later this summer. But I'm choosing NOT to take this as any type of sign....

The training we attended was a project design and management seminar. We got to bring a counterpart from our community that is involved in our project. When I originally applied, the person I wanted to bring ended up having too much experience, as she'd been to a training of that nature in the past. So we moved on and found someone from the Agriculture Department in my town, met with him, and caught him up to speed on our greenhouse project. Two days before we left, we found out that he had a seminar of his own to go to that was both work related and mandatory - therefore taking precedence over OUR seminar. After scrambling to find someone, we landed on my original counterpart's husband Nayanbuu.  We were scheduled to meet up at the PC office promptly at 7:50 on Monday morning, and I still hadn't met this person face to face. Luckily it all worked out and we were able to spend 3 solid days working on the finer details of our project and planned where to go from here.

So our big idea is to construct a greenhouse using solar technology that will be able to operate year-round. Going along with that, I'd like to have a training to teach people in our community about new and different types of vegetables and seasonings and how to incorporate them into their diet. 

I think the biggest thing I've walked away from this training with, is that nothing bad will happen if I fail. It won't be an ideal situation, but ultimately I'll only have to deal with my own disappointment, if this doesn't all turn out the way I plan it to; the process is just as, if not more important, than the end result in this case. Going out and building a greenhouse isn't what I'm trying to accomplish. What I'm trying to do, is motivate and guide my Mongolian counterparts to recognize needs in our community and make changes based on those needs. At the end of the day, if my work here isn't sustainable to some degree, I will not have done my job. This whole concept has been somewhat difficult for me to grasp since it goes against everything I have ever known volunteer work to be. In the US we often define volunteer work as the giving of our time and energy for someone or some cause that we deem 'worthy.' In the context of PC, that is the exact opposite of what they want us to do here. While doing things is great, they instead want us to develop the skills of the Mongolians we live and work with so that they can keep on keepin on after I'm removed from this equation. At first, this task seemed extremely daunting to me, but I'm beginning to find ways to reach this end result day by day, and being patient with myself when things don't go my way, or I don't feel as if I'm accomplishing anything, is a tough balance to strike.

On a lighter side note, and yet still related due to the titular nature of this blog, I have been practicing my British accent lately (or as of late, as they might say in England.) The reasoning for this is two-fold. One, who DOESN'T want to brush up on their accents... I mean, reeeeaally? And two, I'm reading 'Lord of the Rings' and I'm finding extreme amounts of pleasure in reading out loud (to myself) in my British accent, and I just can't deny myself this little gift at the end of my days.

Studies have shown that pictures are directly correlated to people's interest in certain subject matter, so going along with that, even though these pictures are completely unrelated, perhaps it has helped  subliminally to keep your interest... Njoi!

My friend Krissy and I and our counterparts working on our projects at the PDM seminar. Did I mention I'm also working on a Business Women's Training with her in her province in June?

Just some cattle headin into work...

A monastery we visited while in UB. The birds were quite active this particular day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Welcome to Camp Destiny

So while settling into my sleeping bag last night, (my nightly routine,) I came to the realization that I have technically been 'camping' for the past 200 or so nights. Every night Anthony and I fold down our futon couch, bust out our sweet PC issued sleeping bags, and transform our living room into our bedroom. I initially called dibs on what is known as the 'sitting' portion of the couch... big mistake. It's quite uncomfortable since over time, two prominent ass grooves have been permanently imprinted into the cushioning to making laying down on it an interesting experience. Anthony gets the back side which is essentially just plywood. When we first took stock of things, I laid down, then stood back up and we realized quickly that there is no support for the backside of the futon, as Anthony went flying off and the whole 'bed' tottered to one side. After solving this problem with reinforcements (luggage,) I can now get up safely to go to the bathroom and Anthony won't plummet to an early death. Although sometimes I still pull a fast one on him and remove the luggage and get up, if nothing else just to keep him on his toes... or face. Before you go judging me, remember that we don't have as much to do out here in Mongolia, and I find great joy in this leisure activity. I'm hoping none of this is coming off as a complaint, because it's definitely not meant to; just trying to show what our arrangements are like to those who have asked and don't know.  

This is an action shot of Anth all tuckered out after he stayed up til 5 am helping his co-workers decorate the gym for a performance. I was in the room talking to him... went into the kitchen, and came back (still talking my face off,) and found him like this. Cracks me up every time... LIGHTS OUT!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tsagaan Sar - The Gist

Tsagaan Sar or TS since yes, I'm THAT lazy....

In my previous post, I talked a bit about this holiday and if you need more brushing up, JFGI (you can google THAT too if you're not up to snuff on your common chat acronyms.) Anyway, it was a lot of fun to be a part of this traditional holiday and overall Anthony and I visited 10 homes of our Mongolian friends and counterparts. Wait... hold it. Literally juuust got another invitation as I'm typing this, better bring that total up to 11; guess this holiday has yet to officially declare itself as over! I think people just continue to host until the buuz run out and the vodka runs dry. Let me briefly break some of the traditional celebrations down into phases for you. 

Phase 1: The greeting - TS has its own greeting which I really enjoyed. You greet your elders first and go in for a face kiss/sniff of each cheek as you place your arms under their arms to show respect, while saying ' ta amar sain uu?' Then snuff bottles are exchanged, typically by the males, and you reach for it with your right hand, left hand under right elbow, give it a quick sniff, and hand it back. Of course everyone is dressed to impress in their deels and looking fab.

Phase 2: The appetizers - Milk tea is served, mayo salad is consumed, then out comes the sausage and pickle plate. I'm always surprised at how creative they get with their salads, and equally surprised of the person that dreamed up pairing fruit with mayo - but it's actually not too bad!

Phase 3: The vodka - You are offered vodka and candy at several points throughout the meal. At Anthony's director's house, we were offered a honey pepper vodka in lieu of standard vodka. Not only did the pepper add more heat to my throat that was already on fire from several shots, but the honey did nothing to soften the blow, and they didn't stop at 3 shots, but instead decided to drink until the bottle was empty. Hmmm vodka for breakfast.

Phase 4: The buuz -During this phase, the famous buuz make their appearance. They urge you to 'id, id!' which conveniently, sounds like 'eat, eat' and has the same meaning, so one point Mongolia for clarity on that one! Since I'm a vegetarian (sort of,) I basically am force fed plates and plates of mayo salad (back to phase 2.) Many of our friends had competitions of who could consume the most buuz. Since I am a non-mutton eating individual, I decided to keep my own tally and guestimate at how many cups of mayonnaise I've consumed. I wanna say maybe 3?!? Gross.

Phase 5: The gifts - Small gifts are given out to you at every house visited, and since we didn't host at our house, Anthony and I decided to give all of our hosts a crisp $1 bill and a bag of caramel popcorn - gotta represent Amuurica! This is also when it would be a safe bet that you can be dismissed to leave and move onto the next house to do it all over again! 

Some of our Tsagaan Sar SWAG... I can practically feel the cavities.

The Oyuna Situation

Soooo THIS is a funny story of what I hope has happened to someone other than me. But I got a text this past weekend and just for fun, I'll give you the play-by-play of exactly what it said and is not at all atypical of texts I get from my Mongolian friends. "Hello. I am inviting yuo and Antony at 7.10pm at my home. Oyunchimeg." My friend Alyssa was also invited, but didn't know where she lived, so we decided to go together since I knew the way. So we make the 20 minute trek across town (leaving AT 7 because it's Mongolia,) and arrive at her ger. We walk in and start giving out the traditional TS greetings, when I notice Alyssa freak out as the realization hits her that this is NOT the Oyuna who texted us and I had confused her with another Oyuna (whose full name happens to be Oyunstesteg,) but we know from the same circle. We quickly and embarrassingly explained the situation and trotted off back to where we came and finally arrived at the correct Oyuna'shouse, which conveniently was only a quick 5 minute walk from my apartment... go figure! We ended up being 45 minutes late and her daughter met us outside and lectured us for being late, talk about irony!

My site mates and I at our friend Tonga's home with the typical spread.

Glad our first TS has come and gone and looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. Anthony and I will head to the UB on March 8th to participate in a Project Design and Management seminar with a Mongolian counterpart. Anth will be working on a resource room for children with disabilities in our town and I will be working on building a greenhouse that can operate year round. Stay tuned folks, there's always more to come!

Fun Fact: When going around town to the local delguur (store,) you will quickly realize that none of the stores have cash registers. Cash and change is usually kept in a small box that they dig through and just keep out. Often they don't have the correct amount of change to give you, so they offer you a piece of candy, gum, or instant coffee packet in exchange depending on how much they owe you. Bartering - 60% of the time, it works EVERY time...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Camels.... Two Humps

A few weeks back we got invited to visit the countryside with a friend of ours, who comes to our weekly English Club, and ride her camels, or timee. She is a really sweet woman and has a great family; When our kitchen chair broke, her husband fixed it, when she sees me walking around town, she pulls over to give me a lift. She is a natural at our monthly cooking class (like so many others,) and I could watch her cut and peel for days. So when she extended the offer, I didn't hesitate and plans were set. 

Tone and I, along with our site mates Chris and Eric, met up at their ger at 9am one Saturday morning to head off on the little adventure that awaited us 25 km away. We were immediately served fish and potato hushuur, which was bomb. Her son and 3 year old grandson, Jamka, accompanied us on the trip and soon we were off. When we arrived, they had 15 or so camels waiting for us, and before we were even invited inside, they were saddling them up for a little ride. I never before realized how TALL camels are, but it was a ton of fun riding around on them for a bit, and we all had a blast. They tied all of our camels together, so we traveled as a pack (do camels ride in packs? herds!?!) It was a bumpy ride at times, but definitely something I can check off of my Mongolian Bucket List and hope to do again.

 Chris, Eric, and I gettin our ride on

Making friends through dry humping....

Tsagaan Sar:
Tsagaan Sar is all we've been hearing about lately.... the apparent Super Bowl of all Mongolian holidays. It literally means 'white food' or 'white month' and is the lunar New Year. Most always in February, but varies based on the moon?... I'm kind of guessing as I go here.. ya caught me! Alright I googled it, and the White Month holiday is celebrated two months after the first new moon following the winter solstice... BOOM. From what I've gathered, it's basically back-to-back-to-back food eating contests, an opportunity to dress up all fancy-like in our deels, and learn a little something about fellow Mongolians, but regardless, it should be a good time had by all and something I'm really looking forward to. The traditional food served is buuz, which are steamed mutton filled dumplings, and each family literally makes thousands of them, to be served and consumed over the course of the week-ish long holiday. More updates to come post-Tsagaan Sar. 


Doesn't everyone enjoy a good before and after? No.... just me? Well this is one of the filtration candles that lives in my water filter. I clean them every few months, or whenever I remember, but its crazy to think of all the impurities these bad boys suck out. I've been told that Gobi-Altai's water supply is on the dirtier side, and most of the people who live here also use some sort of filter on a consistent basis or boil their water.

Fun Fact: If you step on, or kick a Mongolian's foot, you must immediately shake their hand. It's more like a grab n' squeeze situation, but this clumsy girl does it OFTEN.