Monthly Archives: September 2010

Show me your ger face

The weather here on the other side of the world has been growing colder day by day, so our awareness of the “last few nice weekends” has also peaked. To take advantage of last weekend, we decided that we would book a night in a ger in Terelj, the National Park not far from UB that we visited a couple of weekends ago. I made a few phonecalls on Friday (there’s nothing like planning ahead), and as luck would have it, Saturday morning we hopped into a car with a Dutch guy (the owner of the ger camp we would stay at) and his two kids. Oh, and the driver. We were in a tiny sedan…six of us…four in the back…it was cozy. Or something like that. Off we headed to Terelj.

Now, we’re quickly learning that nothing really goes as planned…or at least not as uneventfully as planned…so our journey stopped about half a block past our apartment building when the Dutch guy announced he needed to go to the pharmacy for one of his other kids. Okey doke…we’ll wait here. Pharmacy trip complete, we pile back into the car, and – oops! – we need juice! So we stop for juice. And then we need to fill gas containers with gas, so we stop again for gas. I spend the rest of the ride convinced that the gas is spilling all over our stuff because the car simply reeks of gas (lucky for us, I was wrong). Anyways, we make it out of UB, past some cows, past some horses, and into Terelj where we pass some more cows, some more horses, and even some camels! Our wee little sedan finally bounces down a dirt path hill, and before we know it we’re parked next to the Dutch guy’s 4×4 that will take us the rest of the way. But damn…we have a flat tire. Oh…okay…into the truck we go…maybe it’s close and he’ll fix it in a minute? Oh…wait…we’re driving through a river…and another river…and three more rivers…and then he announces that the guy who came last week to fix his truck forgot to rehook-up the 4-wheel drive, so really we’re just plowing through the rivers with as much might as we can, flat tire and all. Lovely.

Anyways, journey complete, we finally arrive here:

The air is fresh, the views beautiful, the scenery pristine. We’re happy. The Dutch guy tells us that lunch won’t be served for another hour or so, we we head off on a nice little walk down by the river:

Back to the ger for lunch, Chris graces me with his first ger face of our adventure:

Not one to be one-upped, I fire back with a ger face of my own:

And then we eat lunch. Delicious, delicious, not Mongolian food lunch. Dutch guy brings us treat after treat, complete with homemade Dutch cheese, tomatoes and herbs, and there I sit, in my own little ger, in love with the world all over again. Yum.

So after our big delicious lunch, we head out for another stroll to the river, and no sooner do we hit the woods than we see our first snowflakes.

Those first flakes are followed right behind by many more flakes, and soon we are in our first Mongolian snowstorm (mind you, it’s September)!

It’s quiet and gentle and just so damn beautiful that there I stand, once again, falling in love with the whole darn world – or at least with our little bit of the world that is Mongolia.

Anyways, no sooner are we snowed upon than the sun comes back out for a brief bit…just long enough to do this to the forest:

There were stripes everywhere…tree shadow stripes of snow…it was so neat – we had never noticed anything like it.

Back to the ger we went, where, still full from lunch, we were greeted by big bowls of soup. Then dinner…steak, potatoes, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, some delicious butter sauce…we felt like king and queen. Big fat full king and queen, but king and queen nonetheless.

Anyways, that brings us to nightfall and full moon rise. I mean…absolutely unbelievably beautiful. Chris was playing soccer in the snow with one of the kiddos from the sedan, and there behind them came the most beautiful full moon, bright and wonderful enough to light up the night sky for us all night long.

Beautiful as the moon was, the night grew quite cold, so we retreated to our ger where we fed the little stove non-stop until we grew weary and fell asleep…for two hours until the stove needed to be fed once again…and then again in two hours…and finally we awoke to a very cold ger but another beautiful day outside (a ger face day).

We also acquired a few guard animals…the dog behind Chris’s ger face, along with this guy (cat on a cold felt roof):

Another beautiful day for us to explore the lovely river just a bit of a walk from our ger. Chris finally got to use the fishing rod he carried halfway around the world. Unfortunately, the fish were nowhere to be found. It was a gorgeous place to spend the morning though…not a bad view at all. He fished, I napped…and all was right with the world.

Before we go, here’s a couple more photos of the inside of our ger. The orange paint all over is very traditional…I don’t know why, but I do know that almost all gers share this similar paint (the door, the ger framing, the furniture, all of it). I love it!

We saw goats and we got a plant…amongst other random thoughts

It turns out that we’re settling into life in Mongolia quite nicely. Last week marked our second work week, a week that for one of us was better than the other. That one of us with the better week is not the one currently writing the blog post. Speaking of that one, he has been quite absent recently from this shared blog he insisted upon. Interesting.

Anyways, I had a bit of a frustrating week last week. Work was horribly slow, and I spent much of the week working out of the VSO office in an effort to at least have internet access so I could do some researching…and emailing…and celebrity gossip reading. Isn’t that what all office workers do? The funniest bit is that when I met with my counterpart at the Health Unit this Monday, she admitted to me that she had entirely forgotten about my existence last week. At least it was just for one week. I also have to admit that the admission was a relief to me and a reassurance that hopefully she will not forget about me every week! We shared a good chuckle about that one…which was also nice since my counterpart has a very Mongolian, very emotionless facade (a facade that I will surely crack in no time – you just wait).

So yeah, very little to report on last week.

Nope, wait. A LOT to report on:

We have been going to a British Pub in town every Thursday night for trivia (or pub quiz as the Brits call it). We have a happy little team that proudly shows up each week to compete under the team name “The Short Bus.” Week one we were an embarrassment, although admittedly at that point we were not The Short Bus – we were “Margaret Thatcher Naked on a Cold Day.” How can anyone expect to win at pub quiz at a British Pub with such a blasphemous name? Honestly. So week two we very nearly dethroned the champs – or at least one set of champs. There are two teams that always win (and oddly enough one of them creates the quiz and rotates through as quizmaster each week – is that a conflict of interest?). Well we tied one of them, and the deciding factor was a beer chugging contest. Chris chugged…and we lost by a smidge but in our minds we won because we got a free beer out of it and we tied the quiz making team AND the other guy in the chugging contest had to use his winnings to pay to have his suit dry cleaned (for real, he told us so the next week) – HA! Anyways, onward to week three. We lost horribly, BUT we won the contest to come up with a slogan for the bar, so we won vodka shots. As for week four? WE WON WE WON WE WON! And while sitting in a dreary British Pub in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I, for the first time in my life, sang along enthusiastically and proudly and with a huge heart with the rest of The Short Bus to “We Are the Champions.” And we were the champions! It was really a wonderful moment in Ulaanbaatar. And we got a free pitcher and almost 40,000 tugrug just for being trivia wizzes. And our world was a wonderful, wonderful place for that happy Thursday evening.

Here’s The Short Bus celebrating our victory in the phonebooth at the pub (you can’t see two members of our team – they are little and got into the booth first and are therefore blocked by the big people that climbed in last):

Anyways, enough about pub quiz…at least until Thursday.

We had a nice little weekend – quiet – all to ourselves in UB. Saturday we finally got ourselves some bedding so we could say goodbye to our sleeping bags. I also had a day that would make my mother’s laundry loving heart swoon – I don’t think the washing machine stopped running all day. I do think that Chris got nervous about just how much I reminded him of my mother. ha. I love my mom (hi mom!).

Sunday we went out for a nice little hike just north of the city. That’s where we saw the goats:

They explain how cashmere feels so nice. It takes four goats to produce one sweater in one year. I will purchase four goats before the year is up. And I will brush them. And I will clean and spin their goat hair. And I will make a lovely cashmere sweater.

Or I will just buy one.

Anyways, here’s a view of the hike too. You can see the ridge we hiked along, the neighborhood we came up through on the right side, and the city of UB in the distance. Kinda cool how close such pretty hikes are to the city:

The end of our weekend culminated in Tom. We went to buy a nice little house plant for our apartment, and the flower shop girls came up with this guy:

They kept telling us – and motioning – “tom…tom…” Tom means big in Mongolian, so evidently this little guy – who we appropriately named Tom – will grow up to be a nice big houseplant…we hope.

As for work this week, things have been going well. I have started my FGP (family group practice) visits. There are 24 in total that I need to visit, and I have made it to two so far. More tomorrow, but two today, and it felt great. Progress at long last. I’ll try and take some photos of them, because I do think it would be surprising to see what can house a clinic…

For now off I go. It’s time to make dinner.

The weekend we worked for

So here’s part two of the last post. Turns out I’ve got a lot on my mind tonight.

Let’s start here: our weekend was a doozie. We earned it after our first work week in Ulaanbaatar. Friday night I met up with Chris and some of his new teacher friends after their parent/teacher social at school. A Friday night beer was in store, and it was a beautiful night, so we were pleased when we discovered a lovely little patio just across the way from our apartment. We had ourselves a seat, ordered some beers, and then had an odd feeling about what we had just discovered.

The back story is this:

The rest of the story is that the same news article was broadcast on BBC here in Mongolia this week. It’s about Mongolian Nationalists that have adopted the Nazi Swastika as a symbol of the “pure race” they wish to maintain in Mongolia. The irony is that Chinggis Khan, hero extraordinaire, used to attack villages, kill the men, take the women as wives, procreate with them, and effectively dilute his race. It is quite evident today as you walk down the street – Mongolian people are a diverse group despite the fact that they all have dark hair. Anyways, back to the Nationalists. Part of the BBC news clip on TV was filmed in a bar in UB that is pegged as a Nationalist hangout.

Back to us. You can see where this is heading. So the odd feeling about what we had just discovered may have come from the giant Swastika tile just inside the entryway, which may have led to us recalling the BBC news piece we saw, which in turn just might have reminded us that the bar at which we sat not only possessed a big old Swastika tile in the entryway, but also an entire interior decor that paid homage to Nazi Germany – complete with mannequins dressed up in Nazi uniforms carrying giant guns. It was entirely surreal. And no, we did not take pictures. We did, however, order schnitzel for dinner which turned out to be chicken cordon bleu, and – to our dismay – was delicious.

Anyways, enough about that adventure. On to the next:

So Saturday morning we chartered a pink bus…

Which took us here (Hello, 4.1 million dollar statue of Chinggis built by the Minister of Tourism – is that a conflict of interest? Oh, nice paved road leading to it too…hmm?)…

And Chris made a friend:

And then we made a whole bus load of friends while standing on Chiggis’ horse’s head:

And then I got all dressed up nice and pretty like a good Mongolian woman should, and some creep came along and wouldn’t stop checking me out:

So we left and took the pink bus here to hang out by a river and enjoy a beautiful Mongolia Saturday:

And then we headed off towards Terelj, a National Park not too far from the river we had enjoyed. It was odd though – I had never seen astroturf in a National Park before:

(That’s the green of a golf course in the park…and it’s made of astroturf. There are even multiple holes cut in the green – just one pin though. We’re determined to go and play soon)

And then we passed a big rock shaped like a turtle (it’s not the mountain in the background – look down):

And then there were some cars stuck in the river (the photo shows one, but I promise you it is car one of three that we watched submerge itself, be towed out, and go back for another try):

And then finally we ended our day with a reminder that fall comes early in Mongolia:

Exhausted, we had a nice leisurely night Saturday night. Sunday we headed north of the city for a 5 mile hike…it was beautiful…more fall colors too. We also found the Bayanzurkh Market – a nice market that sells just about anything and everything (except for canned diced tomatoes which is a bummer when chili is on the docket). I’ll leave that for another time though since the market in and of itself is quite a treat – especially the meat room.

On that note, off I go. Good night from Mongolia!

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Well it has been a busy week since I last wrote. Work started last Monday, and there’s nothing like day 1 of work in Mongolia to remind you that you’re living in a different world…a world in which they speak Mongolian. Whoever came up with the phrase “it might as well have been in Chinese…” they were wrong. It might as well have been in Mongolian. And it left me feeling like this (which is a bit of a stretch since we took this picture on our layover in Vancouver a month ago – I was probably feeling the same way at that point too though):

So anyways, I’m working at the Bayanzurkh District Health Unit as a National Volunteer Management Advisor. Bayanzurkh is the largest district of UB; it contains 280,000 people, which doesn’t seem massive until you consider that 280,000 is 1/10 the entire population of Mongolia. It’s a big number. There are 24 khoroos (sub-districts) within Bayanzurkh, and each of those has its own Family Group Practice or FGP (small health clinic). Within these 24 khoroos resides a rather diverse population. Some sub-districts are comprised entirely of apartment buildings, some entirely of gers, and some any combination of the two. Apartment vs ger is a casual way to determine the socio-economic status of the people living in the community – and the services they will have access to, and the quality that those services will be.

So that will be my community. As for my job? I am tasked with creating and implementing a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) program in the district. Currently some of the FGPs claim to have some active CHVs…but active is a term that can be used loosely. When pressed about one “active” volunteer as to when they had last been seen by the clinic staff, my co-worker was informed that said “active” volunteer had died last year. Active. I suppose it’s all semantics in the end anyway.

I spent my week in a bit of a daze as I journeyed from one office to another, meeting new folks (through an interpreter), and instantly forgetting their name, their job, pretty much everything about them. It’s hard when you’re speaking through another person…who is then relaying to you what the other person said…and then back and forth all over again. It removes pretty much all of the personality from the discussion, although I did manage to break a few smiles from my new friends. There’s nothing like a well uttered “oglooni mend” (good morning) to make the Mongolians snicker. Funny American with a horrible accent. That’s me.

Anyways, work is work…it’s daunting and overwhelming and pretty much everything I have been looking for since I finished grad school…except it comes in a Mongolian package and that means that it is slow and inefficient and on a VERY flexible timeframe. All of these things work in my favor in terms of coming to terms with the daunting and overwhelming bits. At least they are slow daunting and overwhelming bits. It could be worse.

Work aside, everything else is good. We had a wonderful weekend that left me feeling utterly Mongolian. I’ll explain that in the next post though, as this one is getting a bit wordy…

That is a sweet orange couch.

So it turns out that this whole “we’re moving to Mongolia” thing wasn’t a joke. We spent our first three weeks here staying at the guesthouse and living out of a suitcase, but now it has actually happened:

We moved into our new home!

And yep, that orange beauty is all ours.

So yeah…we have an apartment…in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia…to call our own. It’s somewhat surreal, but also wonderfully wonderful. It’s in a new building – not one that looks like a Communist Block apartment building. Everything is fairly new, and the elevator works like a dream. We have yet to experience a power outage at our new home (they happen from time to time in various neighborhoods), but our fingers are crossed that when we do, we will not be in the dreamy elevator. We can hope.

Better yet, the apartment is located directly behind the wrestling palace and – we found out last night – a DELICIOUS Indian restaurant. We’re home.

Speaking of the wrestling palace, Chris and a bunch of friends went yesterday to see a competition (I’ll let him cover that one in his own post though). When I asked, I was given “wrestlemania” and “bird dance” to describe the sights. It sounds cool.

So yeah…I spent my day yesterday in meetings for the project I will work on here. It was a long day…overwhelming on just about every level I could think of…but also incredibly exciting. I start on Tuesday. My partner (the co-worker I will work most closely with) does not speak English. I have a part-time interpreter. I live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I also work in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

When did all of this happen?

Sometimes I just laugh. With myself or at myself I am not certain, but it’s laughter nonetheless.

Oh, and here’s wishing Colin and Carey a wonderful adventure of their own – I wish I could have been there to share in the day yesterday! XOXOX and heaps of love to you both.

That is all for now from this side of the globe.