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…

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