This Is Really Happening!

When the Peace Corps says you won’t get your staging information until one month before staging, they literally mean one month. Our group’s staging is May 29th, but we weren’t given any information about where staging would be until–sure enough–yesterday, April 29th. That email just made this whole thing seem really real!

We got information about our long flight to Mongolia (with a layover in Seoul!), which leaves in the wee hours of the morning on May 30th. And we found out our staging city: San Francisco! Yay! We’d already been told by some of the volunteers currently in country that staging for Mongolia trainees is usually in either San Francisco or Washington, D.C., and I was really hoping we would get SF! I’ve never been to either city, and I’m sure D.C. has some stuff that would be nice to see, but honestly, if I could only visit one of those two cities at some point in my life, I’d much rather it be SF.

Insert obligatory Golden Gate Bridge photo

Insert obligatory Golden Gate Bridge photo

Obviously all of us M25s are scattered around the U.S., and luckily the Peace Corps pays for our flights from wherever we live to the staging city. We just call up the Peace Corps’ travel agency and they book us on a flight for whatever date and time we want. But because I don’t feel like getting to the Atlanta airport at 3am to fly across the whole country to make it to SF in time for 12pm registration for staging (but mostly because I want time to explore the city!), I decided to fly in the day before staging. The only bad thing is, we have to pay for our hotel stay for any extra nights, but they do give us a nice discount!

Anyway, a bunch of us are getting to SF a day early to do as much touristy stuff as we can cram into our short time there. Some of us have already booked tickets for a tour of Alcatraz! And although I’m super excited about visiting California for the first time, all of this also means that I’m into my final month here before I’m off to Mongolia!

Solar-Powered Gers

If the title of this post is a bit confusing, maybe it will help if I explain what a ger is.

It's this

It’s this

A ger is basically a large portable tent made from a wooden frame covered with felt. Some of you may be familiar with the term yurt; the Mongolian ger is the same thing, just a different name. These have traditionally been the homes of Central Asian nomads, but nowadays, families may live in a ger right on the outskirts of a large city without being nomadic.

Now, they might not look like much on the outside, and you could be forgiven for assuming that people who live in gers must have a very rustic lifestyle, what with being “off the grid” and all.

Yes, those are real live lambs. Apparently lambs born in the middle of winter are allowed to live inside until it gets warmer. Y'know, like your average pet cat.

Yes, those are real live lambs. Apparently lambs born in the middle of winter are allowed to live inside until it gets warmer. Y’know, like your average pet cat.

Wait, are those kids playing a video game?! So they must be getting electricity somehow!

When I first learned about gers I assumed that any electricity the inhabitants used must be from diesel generators or something similar. But, as a friend of mine brought to my attention by sending me this article, Mongolia’s nomads are way ahead of the times when it comes to powering their homes with renewable energy.

Ger with Solar Panel

Yep, that would be a solar panel! A recent initiative by the Mongolian government is working to equip the many, many gers out on the open steppe with portable “solar home systems.” Almost 70% of their nomads already have access to electricity thanks to these solar panels! Obviously electricity is beneficial in numerous ways, but the article points out how it has enabled nomads to use cell phones to stay in touch with distant family members, including their children who often attend boarding schools far away in the city.

And now I know that if I end up living in a ger in Mongolia, I have some hope of having electricity! Yay!

(I’m not holding my breath for access to running water, though.)

What I Have to Look Forward To

One of the best things about being a Peace Corps invitee in the age of the internet is that I can easily communicate with my fellow Mongolia invitees and the Peace Corps Volunteers who are already over in Mongolia. They even created a nifty little Facebook group for all of us M25s (those of us in the 25th group to go to Mongolia) and the volunteers over there so we can ask them every burning question under the sun about what to expect, what to pack, etc. It’s been extremely helpful, and I’ve learned that apparently the Peace Corps banishes–er, sends–all the cool kids to Mongolia. I may be a little bit biased, but it seems like our M25 group (and the M22s, M23s, and M24s already in country) are the most awesome, fun, interesting dudes and dudettes, and I can’t wait to meet them all!

One of the current volunteers in Mongolia, Jerome, was even nice enough to write a letter to us about what we can look forward to! You can read his blog post with the letter here.

So now I know that while living in Mongolia, I will be surrounded by drunk people, will probably be proposed to a couple times, and might be able to get away with punching a drunken guy if he proposes to me.

More importantly, Jerome shared what is honestly the most comprehensive description of what our pre-service training will be like that I have yet to receive (the Peace Corps is not exactly great at sharing details with invitees any sooner than the absolute last minute). So although I won’t know where I’ll be living for my two-year service until the end of August, at least now I know where we’ll likely be for our training (unless the Peace Corps decides to change things up with our group…)


Ashol Pan, the 13-Year-Old Eagle Hunter

So, what was the most impressive thing you had accomplished by the time you were 13?

Had you managed to train a golden eagle to hunt for you as you ride horseback across the rugged Mongolian wilderness? If so, you might be Ashol Pan, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl who lives in western Mongolia and is the daughter of an experienced eagle hunter. But it turns out that Ashol knows her way around the art of eagle hunting as well–an art that is generally only practiced by males and is traditionally passed down from father to son.

You can read the article about her here, and I’ll give you a little sneak peak of the amazing photos you’ll see there:

This girl may be my new hero

This girl may be my new hero

I don’t know where I’ll be living in Mongolia, but if I’m assigned to the Bayan-Ölgii Province in the far west of the country where most of the Kazakh minority (who practice eagle hunting) live, you can bet I will try my hardest to go meet this girl! I’ll probably be able to find her kicking butt at the annual Golden Eagle Festival!