Friday, June 24, 2005

First several weeks

Sunday & Monday June 5th & 6th 2005
The Beginning:
Our trip to Mongolia officially began today Sunday June 5th. Staging was held from Friday to Sunday in the Sheraton Hotel near LAX in Los Angles. Our flight left LAX at 12:30 pm, Korean Air. The flight was around 12.5 hours, and was mostly a smooth flight. We arrived in Seoul Korea around 4:30pm (Korean Time) and had a two-hour layover. The flight from Seoul to Ulaan Baatar was reasonably short, around 4.5 hours
After exiting through customs, and immigration, we were greeted (Mobbed) by current Peace Corps Volunteers here in Mongolia. They were huddled around the immigration exit, and hoot and hollered every time one of us exited. It was crazy. It was really cool, and embarrassing to have 40+ people all screaming at you as you exited, especially after being on very little sleep and on airplanes for over 15 hours. We were quickly ushered out of the airport, where we placed our luggage onto trucks, and boarded one of two buses ourselves, where we were quickly briefed about the next several days. By this time it was past midnight Mongolian time
We then took the dirt roads (If they can even be called that), which was bumpy to a Ger Camp about 20 minutes away. Now a Ger is a traditional Mongolian tent, that is used still today by many Mongolians. We were broken up into different tent units already pre assigned. I am with Gerald, and Jess. The Gerr community is so amazing. So many tents, and a larger event hall. The bathrooms are of low quality but better than what we will be using later on. It is so amazing that we are finally here, Crazy. There are wooden carvings all over the camp, which keep reminding me of Mid-evil Europe.

Tuesday June 7th 2005
Cold Nights & Bumpy Roads
Today began extremely early for me. I woke up at 5am, freezing to death!!! Our fire in our tent went out far too early, causing the tent to freeze so that I could see my breath. After trying to find matches in the dark, I gave up, and decided to take a trip around the tented community. The views were amazing. Since we had arrived way past sunset the night before, this was the first time I saw the rolling hills on all sides of us, with a bright blue sky overhead. Several camels were tethered off to the side, while horses, and cows were herding in the fields. Ben and Jess also were awake, so we decided to hike up one of the mountains to get a better view of the area. The views were beyond belief. We had lunch in the larger Ger tent. The US Ambassador to Mongolia came to eat with us and gave words of encouragement. After waiting around for another hour or so, we began our 4 hour bus ride to Darkhan, which is the second largest city in Mongolia, and where we would be having training for the next several months. The roads were beyond bumby! They were not only made of dirt, but contained many holes, etc on the way. The parts that were paved were not any better. Half way we stopped at a WC, aka outhouse, aka, a wooded box with a hole in the ground with no seat, and a gapping 20 foot hole. Many people, ladies alike were forced to use the hills around. We finally arrived at the Darkhan hotel where we will stay till Sunday when we move in with our host families. Jess and I are again roommates. The building has a communist style sense to it. We decided to take a walk around the city, to get a quick view of the sites. The city has a depressing sense to it. Ugly concrete apartment buildings and trash everywhere. It has the feel of a decaying city. We returned to the hotel for dinner, and where local high school students preformed for us. They danced and sang traditional Mongolian songs,. One girl, a contortionist, was able to bend her body into crazy directions, and a throat singer played a traditional guitar like instrument. I went to bed at 9, with the sky still bright as ever.

Sunday June 12th 2005
Today was moving day! Early this morning we broke off into groups of 6 and headed to our home stay villages. Each village only has 6 Americans, so I had to say good bye to 45 Peace Corps volunteers who I wont see for awhile. As we were packing up our stuff into the minivans, several homeless children were straying way to close to our belongings, and it was obvious that they were trying to steal our bags. The trip by minivan was uneventful, but crowded, since there were 8 people plus all our bags crammed into this van. The ride was around 30 mins, and took place over almost all dirt roads. We arrived at Salkhit’s school. The town is really tiny about 1,000 people and is out in the middle of nowhere. The families that are hosting us were all there to greet us. They are as excited and nervous as us. I am introduced to my Mongol father who takes me around the side of the school to where his apartment is. The outside is run down, but once you enter, it is beautiful. It is a 2 bedroom, 1 living room, and 1 kitchen apartment, which is big for Mongolians. I meet his son and daughter, and several other girls. Other cousins, and brothers come to by visit. Conversation is really hard and tiring. I am fed rice ham, and some type of meat that I don’t even want to know what it was. I then go take a nap for 3 hours(lol nap) and wake up to have meat dumplings. At 8pm we go back to the school to meet the other Peace Corps peeps, and are given a tour of the town, which is the school, the store, the post office, and the train station. I come back home and play cards although I have no clue how to play the game. We also watch tv, American movies dubbed into Mongolian, “You Got Mail.” It is pretty hard to have a conversation when you cant speak to each other. It is hard. I showed them pictures of home, which made me a little homesick. My host father is the mayor of some sort of the town, so has clout here. Right now I am watching an ox walk past my window, which is amazing in itself.

Monday June 13th 2005
Today was my first full day here in Salkhit. It was defiantly the beginning of a long uphill roller costar. I could never imagine how hard this would be and I am only a week into the program. I woke up around 9am, and had breakfast with my host family. Breakfast was good: consisting of some sort of French Toast, and egg. At 10 I met the other 5 Peace Corps Trainees at the school, because our Language teacher (LCF) was taking us by a minibus to the next town over to open bank accounts, since Salkhit doesn’t have a bank that is acceptable by Peace Corps standards. To get to the next town, we had to take dirt roads through the hills for about 15 miles. As stated before, these roads are filled with many holes and bumps, and driving on them is always an adventure in itself. While in the next town over, we were awestruck by a dog with 6 legs. After opening our accounts, our teacher took us to the school in this town, as there is another group of 6 Peace Corps Trainees living here and they were in class at the school. After saying our “hellos” we headed back to Salkhit, where we had lunch with our host families. When I arrived home, there were 3 men and 1 woman visiting my family. I was informed they were my host father’s brothers who were all herders. For lunch I was fed meat dumplings of some sort. They gave me 12 of these and I ate 3, although they tried to get me to eat more. I learned the way to please them somewhat. If I planed to originally eat 3, only eat 2, so that when they try to convince you that you need to eat more you can pretend like they convinced you to eat another one. My host father got out his snuff, which I tried along with him to be culturally sensitive. He then brought out his bottle of vodka, which he passed shots around to each person. I tried to just take a sip, hoping to please him, like we were trained to do in training, but that defiantly didn’t please him, so I ended up taking the entire shot. The rounds of shots go around two more times, but these second two times, I am able to get away with taking a very small sip. After lunch we began our first language lesson here on site. We spent an hour learning the alphabet, which is amazingly difficult for there are more vowels that I can count on two hands. After class, we played Frisbee and ball with many little kids on the grassy yard. The children love to play with us. Jess, one of the 6 Peace Corps Trainees living here in Silkhit, is living in a ger (felt tent) for the summer, so we all decided to go check it out. I have the fortune of living in an apartment. Jess’ host father sees us all here, and decides that he needs to offer us food, which we all feel bad about, as money, and food is tight here for these people. The food was good for the most part, dried cheese, and dried fruits, etc. It was appetizing until I found bugs in the cheesy bread substance. Around 5pm, I went home and took a 3 hour nap. My host family woke me for dinner, which was noodles with meat. After which, I went outside to play Frisbee with my host siblings. After heading back inside, I finally was able to have my first scrub down, which was with a bucket and freezing water. Although really cold, it was extremely satisfying. I then had tea and cookies with my family, and am now going to bed. My brain is filled with so many emotions, from excitement, to fear. Like the Mongolian Peace Corps Director told us, we each need to set small goals which helps to ease the stress that we are all feeling. My current goal is to get to shot day, which is this coming Wednesday, when we head into Darkhan to get more shots to make us super humans, and go shopping. After that, my next goal is to get to UB day, our trip to Ulan Bator. If not for these small goals, the stress levels would sky rocket, for there is so much that I have to accomplish this summer and the next two years, that it is crazy to think I will be able to get it all down, such as scoring a Novell high in Mongolian, and learning everything there is, or lack of Mongolian Health care system. It will be great, but hard.

Tuesday June 14th 2005
Today was another ordinary day in my cozy little sourm. We had our first 4 hour language class, which at times was quite difficult. After class I had a lunch break, then 3 hours of Health Profession training, which was quite interesting. We were taught about the Health Care structure of Mongolia, and a lady who works at the regional Health Care program spoke to us through a translator. After our lecture, we visited the local doctor’s office, which was nothing more than one room. This evening, I hung out with the Peace Corps folks, and visited Ben’s and Kristen’s homes, both of which live in wooden houses on top of the hill. Jess and I went to the town dance, which had some famous Mongolian singers at. They were filming the dance, as a promotion to create a local TV network of some sorts. After dancing with the locals, which was quite fun, Mongolian Pop, and hip hop, I decided to venture home at around midnight, as I was scared my host parents would be worried. I find out that they are actually still out socializing themselves. I talked with Kristen today, another Peace Corps Volunteer here in Salkhit, and she informed me that she is seriously contemplating ET’ing tomorrow when we head into Darkhan for shots. ET’ing means early termination, which in PC (Peace Corps) lingo means getting the hell out of here. LOL. I told the others, even though she told me not too, because I wanted them to be supportive tomorrow, and maybe she will decide not to take the plunge. Well only she can decide what is best for her, but I am going to stick it out.

Wednesday June 15th 2005
Shot Day
Today was our group’s first goal marker. Ken, the Director, had previously stated that making small time frame goals makes the summer go by easier. We left for Darkhan this morning to receive our shots at the Peace Corps satellite office. Rabies, and Jap. Encephalitis. We went to the Darkhan hospital, to see what an average hospital is like. There were many differences from an American hospital. Everything seemed a little more dingy. There were no metal walls in the x-ray room and people were walking about that room. Our group had its first ET and it happens to be a girl from our village, which had 6 Peace Corps volunteers. It is sad to see Kristen go, but whatever is best for her. It was nice to be in Darkhan and shop, use the internet, and phone. After returning home, Susanne, Ben, Julie and I went to the river to do our laundry, and swim around. What an adventure that was, do our laundry by hand in water that was muddy and filled with what most likely was manure. LOL, I also clogged the toilet tonight.

Thursday June 16th 2005
Another day in da’ Villa
More classes!!! Yay, I spent from 9-1 learning more Mongolian. Today we actually learned tons of verbs. I had a hour off for lunch, then back to the classroom to learn about the Health system of Mongolia, and the 8 new programs introduced by the government. Tonight we were taught how to make a fire by our teacher and several others at Jess’ Ger. We each had to cut up the wood, and they showed us how to place the cow dung (summer) and coal (winter) in the fire. I then went home to study. The English teacher came by (I think by request of my host parents) because they were worried about me. They wanted to know why I wasn’t eating!!! The funny thing is that I have been, but that they give me portions that are way way way to big. All the Americans have been saying that their families are trying to feed them too much. I guess my host parents killed a sheep today, and I wasn’t eating the meat which made them sad, but I had 3 dumplings, that were each giant, and filled with meat!!!!! They also told me they were scared of me swimming in the river because it is dangerous, cause I could drown. The river is only 3 feet deep. I am from Maine!!! I can swim. Ugh. After I showered up, my host dad called for me, and made me take shots of vodka with him and the guest, which I think are their relatives. I tried to say no, but he refused. So I took the two shots and am now off to bed. For afternoon training, two Peace Corps Trainees from another town come to train with us, since they too are Health Volunteers, it took them 4 hours to get a ride back to their town. We were told that the transportation system is rickety!!! LOL. Oh yay, still having diarrhea for 5 days straight. Peace Corps informed us, that nowhere else will you find that one will talk about their stool so much.

Saturday June 18th 2005
The Weekend!
Friday morning was spent in class for 4 hours, but we had the afternoon off, so we decided to take a hike to the woods, that we can see far off in the valley. Our Mongolian Language Teacher comes with us, Inkbah. Inkbah is great, besides the fact she knows no English! The hike is great. We run into a herd of horses out in the woods, and watch them for a while. We then discover a sand hill, that is a almost a vertical drop, great for making great leaps downwards, since it is sand. We have fun doing that for awhile, but running/climbing back up because quickly exhausting. On the way home, Jess, Ben and I take a quick swim/scrub down in the river. We all meet up at 9 to chill at Ben’s with the O-Jay. Saturday, I woke up at 11 when Susie shows up to study. Ben also comes by. After several hours of studying, we decide to take a walk, but first recruit Jess to come along. We follow the dirt road that one takes to get to our town. We cover about 7 miles in our 2 hour walk, not nearly close to making it to the main road, and the next town over, where 6 other Peace Corps volunteers are located. I come back home and study some more, my host father helps out, and I return to Ben’s at 8 to study more.
What a fun day!

Sunday June 19th 2005
Sunburned Sundays
I woke up at 8:45 today, and ran with Jess and Ben. After coming home an hour later, I found out that my family had planed a trip to the countryside (lol, like we are not in the countryside already) We took the car and headed towards the mountains, passing over the river and through the woods to the other side of the valley. We went to my host mom’s mother’s tent. It was fun to be at a real Ger tent out in the countryside. They had tons of animals, from a watchdog to tons of goats sheep and horses. I rode one of the horses. Our car broke down I think twice on the way there. I spent half the day swimming in the river, and now I am sunburned badly. I think this is the worst sunburn I have ever had. I cant touch anywhere on my upper body with out the worst sensation ever. We headed home around 5, and broke down 2 or so more times. Once I got home I went to Ben’s and studied till 8, and then came home and had fish for dinner. A wind storm blew through. From my window you could see the wind go from 0 to hurricane weather in .5 seconds. Crazy.. It this thunder and lighting, which were both loud and crazy also. Watched a movie on my laptop and now off to bed

Monday June 20th 2005
Sunburned to hell
Today was another normal day out on the range. Class from 9-1 (Mongolian Language) and then lunch which was noodles with meat. We went back to the cultural center for Culture class but we were misunderstanding and actually had no afternoon class, therefore we went to the river and swam till 5pm. My sunburn is bad, and I wore a T-shirt in the river. I went home and crashed, slept till 8 and was awaking to dinner, rice, egg, potatoes, cabbage, and MEAT. I went to Ben’s after dinner and studied till 11ish and came home, my family was eating the meat off of the goat’s head in the living room. They wanted me to try but turned down the offer. Another day down.

Thursday June 23th 2005
Same Old, Same Old
Ok, Been several days since I wrote. Life is the same. Language from 9am-1pm, lunch, then Health Profession, and Community Development classes from 2-5. Tuesday the weather was bad. We had another sand storm. I couldn’t really even open my eyes outside. Wednesday and Thursday are mostly uneventful, except Mongolian language is so so hard. Incase you have never heard Mongolian before, I can tell you where you can here it. The EWOKS in Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, are actually speaking Mongolian. Isn’t that crazy!! friend is sending the movie so we can listen to it, and see if we can understand them speak. I like to think that I am learning EWOKian, and not Mongolian! We have been talking in class about our projects coming up. In Several weeks we have our first language test. We then get to go to the city for several days. We also are going to celebrate Ben and Susan’s birthdays in July. The famous Mongolian holiday, Naadaam is held for a week. It is the holiday of the three manly sports, Archery, wrestling, and horsemanship. We then have to give 2 30 minute presentations to the others in our group. Learn to teach English, and plan a lesson, and implement it solely to the locals. Create and implement a community development project here in our town, and plan and implement a Health related project here in our town, then head to UB (the capital) for several days! July will go by quick. Each day is still a roller coaster, although not as bad as it was at first. I played Uno with my family many times, and we have been bonding over it. Tomorrow night, Friday is relaxation time. We are going to watch a movie at Ben’s on my laptop! Yay. That’s it for now. Love you all so much.


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