Friday, June 23, 2006

Monglia 2

I’ve been with the host family for less than a week now and I already feel as comfortable as if I were in my own home. So Mom, you don’t have to worry, they are taking good care of me. Last night my other two siblings came home from UB. Sarachimeg just graduated with a degree in sociology of education, and I don’t know what Munchbaatar was doing there, maybe just hanging out with his older sister. Communication is already getting a little easier, and I’m really hoping that by the end of next week I’ll be able to have decent conversations with them. Even without being able to talk with them, we are all having a good time with each other. We go outside and play volleyball or toss the Frisbee around. They love the light-up Frisbee that I brought with me that we can throw around at night. After that, they put on the disco lights and I put on some hip-hop and we danced and took pictures. I called it disco Tumurbaatar after the dad. They absolutely love taking pictures and like looking at them afterwards even more.

Today is Saturday, the first day that I don’t have language classes in the morning, and the first day that the whole family is all together. If I understand correctly, we are going to spend the day driving around the mountains and then go to the river (Gol of Bayangol, Bayan means rich). We are surrounded by mountains where I am, it is absolutely beautiful. One of the mountains is a holy mountain, which apparently means that men must have a purpose to climb it and women a purpose to walk around it (they aren’t allowed to climb to the peak). There are three different types of holy mountains in Mongolia, and they are named according to what type they are. There is one mountain that is the holiest near UB, and it has all three names.

Tonight, a couple of Peace Corps friends from a different town are coming in to visit one of my friend’s birthday who is here in Bayangol with me. It will be fun to see them, not only to see them, but also to see what life is like for them. We are in one of the biggest soums with 5,200, but they get as small as about 400. I’m sure we will have opportunities to travel to some of the other soums, but for now I have no idea what life here is like except for here and in Darkhan. By the way, its hot here, maybe around 85-90. It’s a real dry heat, so you don’t sweat much, but it adds up when you don’t shower for 3-4 days at a time. It stays light out until about 11 at night, and there has been a full sky of stars just about every night. I have still yet to ride a horse, but I think that is coming soon. Let’s hope.

Oh, and yesterday I had grits and innards for breakfast. Blood sausage, heart, liver, and who knows what else… all from the sheep that we killed the night before. Mongolians kill sheep by making a small incision in the chest and then reaching inside and disconnecting the aorta. After the sheep dies (pretty peacefully actually) they skin it (also very cool to watch how they do it) and take out everything edible (some of which I ate for breakfast). None of my friends here have had any of this kind of experience with their host families (eating sheep’s head or killing), so we are trying to figure out if my dad is just a badass or if the other families are avoiding it because they have heard Americans are squeamish. I know a volunteer last year, who was vegetarian before he got here, actually killed a sheep himself when his family went on a picnic one weekend. So who knows what we have in store for us.

For the time being though, I’m just concentrating on getting my Mongolian as good as possible so I can talk with this wonderful family who has been doing so much for me. Off to the mountains!

Monglia 1

Sain bain uu (San bano) from Bayangol!

So, the cheek meat is the best for the next time those of you decide to eat goat face, but lets talk about that when the time comes. Since I last wrote, I have spent two nights in a ger camp, four nights in Darkhan, and I am about to spend my second night in Bayangol. The ger camp is supposedly the nicest in Mongolia. Its where President Bush and the rest of the important Americans who have been to Mongolia within the last year (which is a lot more than you’d expect) come to see what a ger camp looks like. They treated us real well, and it allowed us to see what living in a ger will be like, minus the doing the work for yourself (ie., they fed us, lit our fires, had toilets and running water, etc). It was in a really nice area between the airport and Ulaan Baatar (UB).

After two nights in the ger camp, we left for Darkhan, where we began orientation. Darkhan is the second largest city in Mongolia with the impressive population of 70,000. Darkhan is where we learned our survival Mongolian language and culture as well as got some shots and learned some other information such as what to do if things go wrong. We learned about gardening, cooking, teaching, communication, and everything else fun that will be going on. We also met our support staff and some current volunteers who we were able to ask questions about what life is going to be like. The fact that they are all alive gives me some hope that I will also be in a year.

After a few days there, we split up into smaller groups and headed for our host families. I got sent to Bayangol, a town of 5,200 between UB and Darkhan. I was greated by my host mother and father, Tumurbaatar and Urjinsuren. I have yet to meet my 3 siblings, Saranchimeg, Khurelbaatar, and Munkhbaatar, because they are on vacation in UB for the time being. I cant really understand when they are coming back, either on Friday, or they left on Friday… communication is a difficult thing around here. After exhausting all of my Mongolian phrases, and got tired of playing charades and pointing to words in my phrasebook, my dad brought me outside and told me to sit by the stove. He walks away, and come back carrying two sheep’s heads, with a big old smile on his face. We spend the next two hours singeing all the hair off of the head with hot metal rods. After getting every last hair off, we tear away the jaw, split it, and throw the whole thing in the boiler. An hour later, I’m slicing off different pieces of face meat to chew on. The skin is my least favorite part, followed by pure fat, and then tongue. Once you get to jaw, eyeball, and cheek, it actually starts to get good. Once all the goodies were gone, we threw the rest in the pot, and boiled it up to make whatever we were going to have for dinner.

Mongolian life is pretty cool. The shitting situation isn’t the best (a floor board missing over a hole), but everything else is simple and frankly, pretty nice. People come and go as they choose, they only say hello once a day at the max, and they find it hilarious that I say hello every time I walk in the room. Goodbye is the same way, which still leaves me wondering where people have gone. They slurp their tea (lemon or milk) and soup, they spit out fat if they aren’t the type who eats it, and fart when they feel necessary. The food is surprisingly good, although I either have a different taste in food or the other moms aren’t as blessed as my mom. The other 11 that are in my Soum (village) don’t mind the food, but they also aren’t raving about it like I am either. All the people in the village are excited to see us and wave when we walk by. We have a one eyed guard dog named Dingo, and although tiny, he gets the job done when cows or pigs come into the hasha (yard). I’ve been spending the time that I’m not in language class talking to little kids and playing basketball on 9 foot goals, which as you can imagine is great for me.

All in all, I am quite happy here, and am excited about my next 3 months here. I’ll try to keep everyone updated as much as possible, but I don’t know how often I’ll be somewhere with internet or how often something notable will happen worth writing about. My group is in the process of making a group blog, however, to put pictures and funny stories on, and I will let you all know what the site is once it is up and running. Also, I am going to get a SIM card here, and when I do, anyone will be able to call me if they want to. I’ll get that number to you as soon as possible. Hope all is well wherever you are reading this.



This is the second post of the day, so make sure you read the one below this first. Most of this was just taken from the email that I'm assuming you received (how else would you know about this website?).

I am sitting on a plane currently, en route to Korea. 57 of us to-be volunteers are on the flight as well, and there is a steady buzz of excitement about being in Mongolia soon. After a two hour layover in Seoul, we will be on a 3.5 hour flight to Ulaan Baator. We will be spending two days there, and hopefully I will be able to send this email out to you all from there somewhere. After the two days there, we will be travelling to a smaller city about 4 hours away to being training. They told us that communication will be infrequent at best, but please continue to write me or even each other through this list even if it takes me a while to respond. I will get all the emails eventually, and Ill have plenty of time to respond to them before the next time I get computer access.

So I arrived in LA two days ago after a busy day of packing after two weeks of rugby tour in Argentina. Although doing all this in such a short period of time before Peace Corps staging made things a little stressful, I am very glad I did so that I didn't have the idle time to start worrying about what the 27 of life ahead of me is going to be like. The two days in LA were a lot of fun. I have really never felt so comfortable with such a large group of strangers so quickly. We obviously have a lot in common and a lot to gain by being nice and friendly to each other, and this combination made the two days very fun and interesting. It was quite strange however, to be in such a large gathering and not run into 33% Jews and 50% Californians. The number of people from non-coast States really surprised me as well: Iowa, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, etc are all represented much greater than one would imagine.

Staging was really just a welcome to the Peace Corps and an introduction to our fellow volunteers. There was not much Mongolia specific information shared, however there was someone there who knew about Mongolia who filled us in on a little information when it was applicable. It was mostly talking about effective volunteering methods, safety infomation, policy, and other broad topics. I am very glad that staging occured though, because I might have been getting a little nervous if I was sitting on this flight alone. Speaking of the flight, Korean Air is a very friendly airline. The food has been excellent, I have my own TV screen from which I can choose from maybe 25 movies among other things to watch, there is WiFi available for a smaller fee than on Semester at Sea ($10 an hour or $27 for the whole flight, but I'm not getting it becuase it would be too much of a hastle to find my card at the moment). They also took my 80 pound bag and didnt charge me for it!

Next time I post to this I will be able to write all about Mongolia and UB and everything else that I have been anxiously awaiting since I found out I was going to Mongolia a few months ago. Horses, horse milk, mutton, wrestling, archery, steppes!!! Oh Man!

Pre Mongolia

School, Spring Break, Graduation, and Rugby Tour

So, been quite a while since I updated this thing.... Even though I am writing them all at the same time, I'm going to write a few different entries that will probably all be posted at the same time. I'm just doing it to keep the length of them down.

This entry will be pre-Peace Corps. I think the last thing I posted was finishing up living in Prague for the summer. If I didn't talk about my running with the bulls and Slovenia/Croatia trip, I will do so later (but I think I did). Senior year was fine, and nothing too big really stands out to me. I did my senior thesis on language and thought, a pretty interesting topic which I hope to continue doing some research on while in Mongolia. I started playing rugby this year and really enjoyed it while I was uninjured and able to play. A injured shoulder has kept me from playing second semester, but I've gotten really good at being a fan. One nice thing about rugby is that its a sport that you can continue playing when you are older, so I hope to play again in the future (maybe they'll even have it in UB).

For Spring Break, Rob Joe Isaac and I went to Costa Rica which was definately the correct thing to do. We rented a car and just Dihatsu'ed our way around the country. We visited some great mountains, volcanos, reserves, and beaches. We hiked, walked, swam, relaxed, and partied to the fullest every day. The sun was always shining, the food was delicious and cheap, and the people were friendly. We decided that most of the country were professional "chillers" that simply have the time to relax and chat with anyone who comes by and wants to talk with them. We spent 10 days there and had a blast.

My Birthday, May 1st, was also my last day of college. A few days later, as is tradition, all of the seniors travelled down to Mission Beach, San Diego, where we all have houses rented for what is called Senior Week. Seniors either don't have to take finals or they take them early, but then we all get off campus and celebrate down in San Diego so that we don't bother all of the other students who do have to take those finals. 10 of us rented the house that sleeps 8 together, but as always, underclassmen come in droves to see us off on the days that they don't have finals. On the most crowded day I believe we had about 18 people sleeping in the house. It was a fun week though, and it was nice to be able to celebrate our completion of college on such a nice beach with everyone.

May 14th, I graduated! The weekend was busy with entertaining and packing, but it ended up being a delight. I met all of my friends families and families met other families and everyone enjoyed each other's company. Graduation itself was a little boring, as most graduations are, but the feeling I got walking across that stage was unforgettable.

The next morning (15th) I left with the rugby team for Argentina. We had a very busy itinerary, but it was all worth it. We flew to Buenos Aires through Atlanta, and arrived on the morning of the 16th, we immediately headed off for Montevideo, Uruguay. A beautiful city sitting right on the water. After a nice city tour and a lost rugby game blamed on the lack of sleep due to travelling, we headed back to BA for a few days. BA is a huge city with tons to do. The beautiful people of Argentina like to party until dawn, and who are we to not do what the Romans do. The tour also took us to Cordoba and Mendoza. Everywhere we went had a rich history and a very different feel to it difficult to describe in such a short space as here. In rugby news, we won in BA and Cordoba in some really outstanding rugby matches, but were beat in Mendoza. Unfortunately, I had to leave the team ealry to make it back to make it to Peace Corps on time, but I still had a great time down there with the team. Cheers!

I left Mendoza on the 30th on a 16 hour overnight bus. After a day at the airport rather then hike around the city with a huge pack on my back for a few extra hours, I got on an overnight flight to Altanta. From Atlanta to LA, and finally from LA to San Jose arriving on the 31st. The 1st was spend doing last minute shopping and packing, and at 9.30am on the 2nd I was on a plane back to LA to begin PC staging. Although I believe it is currently the 5th because of the date-line, the 57 of us boarded a flight on the 4th from LA to Seoul, Korea, and from Seoul we will be flying to Ulaan Baator, or final flight destination. In two days we will be boarding a bus to being training for the next several weeks, and then finally all of this travel will come to an end. Its worth every minute of it though, and I can't wait to step foot in Mongolia!