Into the Black Hole of Mongolia

The Zavkhan group of M25s (minus one*) left for our sites on Sunday, August 17. Zavkhan is what Peace Corps calls a “fly site,” meaning it’s so far away from the PC office in UB that we have to fly back and forth. There are buses and meekers that regularly go to and from Uliastai, but they can take anywhere from 35 to 60 hours depending on road conditions, and generally any site that’s more than a 12-15 hour bus/meeker ride from UB is considered a fly site.

Which brings me to the question I’m sure you’ve all been asking: “Why did you refer to Zavkhan as the black hole of Mongolia?”

Well, I first heard that nickname from one of the Cross-Cultural Trainers who is a PCV out in Khovd, another one of the far west aimags.

mongolian_region_map

Interesting side note: Peace Corps no longer sends PCVs to Bayan-Ulgii and Uvs aimags because of how far removed they are from everything, so those of us in Zavkhan, Khovd, and Gobi-Altai are now the farthest away

That Cross-Cultural session was about transportation in Mongolia, and at one point he referred to Zavkhan as “the black hole” because of how difficult the terrain is for vehicles and how the result is that very few people go into or out of the aimag. Zavkhan is very mountainous and there are very few land routes in and out of it, even to the bordering aimags, making flying the best (but also very expensive) option for travel.

So we were of course flying to Zavkhan (yes, Peace Corps paid for our plane tickets as well as our supervisors’). We each had a small mountain of luggage, so it was fun to see our supervisors’ faces when we dragged it all down from the dorms. It wasn’t so fun when, at the airport, we had to stand in line at the baggage check for about an hour because they had never seen so much luggage before and weren’t sure what to do. Luckily the plane we took (a small propeller plane with a max occupancy of about 40 people) was only half full, or else our luggage probably wouldn’t have fit.

We then went out onto the tarmac to board our itty bitty plane (definitely the smallest one I’ve ever been on).

IMG_1322

It was about a 2 hour flight, and I slept or listened to music pretty much the whole time. There were some great views of the landscape down below, and I could have gotten some nice photos if my camera hadn’t been in my bag up in the overhead compartment and I was too lazy to get up.

A couple hours later we landed on the single, unpaved runway of the Donoi Airport (the only airport in the entire aimag).

Walknig over to the itty bitty airport

Walking over to the itty bitty airport

We waited around while everyone’s luggage was unloaded into a small room, and then we went in separate vehicles with our supervisors to our sites (3 of us to Uliastai and 1 to Aldarkhaan soum). My supervisor had arranged for one of the Uliastai hospital’s ambulances to come pick us up, so I got to enjoy the 40-minute drive from the airport to the city in an authentic Mongolian ambulance (I sincerely hope I never need to use one for its intended purpose). During the ride, I got some photos of the countryside:

IMG_1327

IMG_1330

As you can see, it's absolutely beautiful, so it's a shame it's so hard to get to

As you can see, it’s absolutely beautiful, so it’s a shame it’s so hard to get to

Finally we arrived in Uliastai:

IMG_1340

We went on to the hashaa where I would be living, and my hashaa family and some people from the health department helped bring all my luggage into my ger.

My home for the next 2 years

My home for the next 2 years

They served me suutei tsai and some soup while they talked in Mongolian over my head. After about an hour they left so that I could start unpacking. I wasn’t able to get everything unpacked that first evening, but I did get some photos of the inside of my ger, even though it was still messy and I have since added some new things.

My sink and toiletry area

My sink and toiletry area

My closet and one of my armchairs

My closet and one of my armchairs

My desk and other armchair

My desk and other armchair

My bed

My bed

Shelves and cupboard for household and kitchen supplies

Shelves and cupboard for household and kitchen supplies

Kitchen table and electric stovetop

Kitchen table and electric stove top

Fridge, water container, trashcan, and broom/dustpan

Fridge, water container, trashcan, and broom/dustpan

My stove and fuel bin (which they filled with tree bark and scrap paper prior to my arrival, but will eventually be filled with wood and coal)

My stove and fuel bin (which they filled with tree bark and scrap paper prior to my arrival, but will eventually be filled with wood and coal)

You may notice that I have a pretty sweet setup (or you may be thinking, jeez, who could live in that dump for 2 years?), but apparently my ger is not only larger than the gers most PCVs live in, but it is very nicely furnished. My ger is actually brand new (the health department built it just for me) and they put a lot of nice furnishings in it I guess because they were so excited to finally have a Volunteer and wanted me to be as comfortable as I possibly can be in a ger. So no, most PCVs living in gers don’t have fridges and plush armchairs, I am just very lucky.

The only downside of my ger is that it is filled with spiders (mostly daddy long legs). Now, anyone who knows me personally knows that I have a deathly fear of spiders. I got over that a little living with my host family during PST because, even though my room didn’t have too many spiders, the outhouse was always full of them. But my ger is like a daddy long leg breeding ground or something. I have to kill at least 20 a day, which is definitely helping me get over my fear little by little (or at least I haven’t run screaming out of my ger or set it on fire to kill them all yet). I know it’s just because the ger isn’t completely sealed up like it will be come winter (there are little holes along the bottom of the walls where bugs can easily crawl inside). But if you happen to have a crippling fear of spiders that you’d like to overcome, may I recommend joining the Peace Corps? (It’s much cheaper than therapy!)

*One of the guys placed in Uliastai actually came into town later with his supervisor and his supervisor’s family, who had decided to make a family road trip out of the whole thing and drove from UB to Uliastai, taking the PCV with them.

Advertisements

Swearing-In Ceremony

In Ulaanbaatar (UB), we stayed in university dorms, way up on the 9th and 10th floors, with only one working elevator, making it really fun for all 87 of us PCTs to drag all our luggage (including our winter bags that they decided to give us back at that very moment) to our rooms.

Which at least had a nice view of the city

Which at least had a nice view of the city

Then we split into groups, each lead by one or two current PCVs who knew their way around the city, to go to different restaurants for dinner. My group went to a very yummy Cuban restaurant called Guantanamera. Then we went back to the dorms to try to get some sleep, because we had to wake up early the next morning for the Swearing-In Ceremony.

True to Peace Corps fashion, there was some miscommunication about when exactly we needed to be ready to head over to the PC office, so many of us ended up rushing and not having time to eat breakfast before we had to leave.

Shortly after arriving at the PC office, those of us who were performing dances at the ceremony were taken to the US ambassador’s residence early to prepare. This was the first year the Swearing-In Ceremony was held at the ambassador’s residence, which was a swanky apartment complex with dozens of security guards roaming the premises.

IMG_1301

IMG_1303

We had all put on our deels that morning because we assumed there would be time to change into our costumes before we actually performed, since the cultural performances were the last thing on the schedule. But then we were told that we had to go ahead and put on our costumes and wear them during the ceremony. Well, good thing I spent all that money to get a deel made for Swearing-In…

At least we looked snazzy in our costumes as well

At least we looked snazzy in our costumes as well

Then we were shown the “stage” that we would be performing on, which was much smaller than we were told it would be and had several poles holding up the canopy that we had to maneuver around. Well, we would just need to practice on that stage beforehand, right? Except we weren’t allowed to since people were already arriving. Oh well! Well do it live!

The ceremony consisted of speeches by the PC Mongolia Country Director:

(plus translator)

(plus translator)

The US Ambassador in Mongolia:

(plus translator)

(plus translator)

And Mongolia’s Vice Minister of Health:

(plus English translator)

(plus English translator)

Then we said the oath of service (making us official Peace Corps Volunteers!) and were called one by one to go up and receive our certificates. After everyone had been called, the cultural performances began. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get photos or videos of the performances before ours since I had to stay “backstage.” First was another group’s dance:

Well ,here they are before the ceremony

Well, here they are before the ceremony

Then two people sang a Mongolian song. Finally, our group performed our dance. I’m told people got video of all the performances, so I’ll try to snag those when I can. Overall, I think our performance went well, especially considering our lack of practice with the stage we were given (or at least people said we did very well).

After the official ceremony we mingled with our supervisors and the other guests, ate the food being served, and snapped more photos.

Healthies with our certificates

Healthies with our certificates

My director and I

My director and I

I did end up changing back into my deel soon after the performance because I was really hot in the long-sleeve costume and because I bought it for the ceremony dammit!

Oh, and the ceremony was featured on the Mongolian news that evening! And there was also an article about the ceremony on the US Embassy in Mongolia’s website (which is a thing).

Later that day we wandered around UB looking to buy any last minute items we knew we wouldn’t be able to get at our sites. Some people left for their sites that day, but I think most people, including myself, left the next day.

UPDATE: I did finally get a video someone had taken of our dance. It–along with some other videos–are up on my new YouTube channel.

Final Center Days and Site Announcements

Sunday, August 10 was the beginning of Final Center Days, our last group training before becoming official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). It was very sad to pack up everything in my room and leave my host family, and it was made worse when I got really sick the night before and barely got any sleep because I had to keep getting out of bed to barf my guts out. I was still sick in the morning, so my goodbyes to my host family were quite interesting. All of us in Dereven were supposed to meet at the school with all our luggage and take meekers over to the good old Darkhan Hotel, but because the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) had told me she wanted me to lay down and get some rest as quickly as possible and not wait around for the bumpy meeker ride, my host mom just drove me over to the hotel herself (granted, it’s only like a 10-minute drive, unlike the other groups of PCTs who were coming from much farther away). So I checked into the hotel while one of the current PCVs in charge of Final Center Days recruited some big strapping guys to help my mom carry all my luggage upstairs (of course my room was on the fourth floor of a hotel whose elevator doesn’t work). Then I took a much-needed nap, missing the first day’s sessions (which I was told were absolutely riveting).

I did want to go to Site Announcements though, where they would finally reveal where we would each be living and working for the next two years. It was later that afternoon, and since I was feeling a little better, the PCMO said I could go. But she didn’t want me walking all the way to the park where it was being held, so I got a ride in one of the Peace Corps cars with one of their drivers. At the park, we all gathered around a giant map of Mongolia, going insane with anticipation.

IMG_1273

Aimag by aimag, current PCVs announced the PCTs who had been placed in the aimag center and soums. As names were announced, each person received a packet of information about their site, host country agency (HCA), and housing. Then they went over to an even bigger “map” of Mongolia that was made out of concrete lines representing the aimag borders and statues representing each aimag center.

You can't really tell, but we're standing in a giant map of Mongolia

You can’t really tell, but we’re standing in a giant map of Mongolia

As I briefly mentioned in an earlier post, I was placed at the Health Department in Uliastai, the aimag center of Zavkhan province. I am the first Health PCV to be placed in Zavkhan, and apparently the Health Department has been hoping to have a Volunteer for a while now. There are already three M24s in Zavkhan, two of which are also in Uliastai. In addition to myself, four other M25s were placed in Zavkhan (all TEFL Volunteers), three of which are joining me in Uliastai.

I will talk more about Uliastai and Zavkhan in an upcoming post, so for now, back to Final Center Days.

The next two days consisted of more sessions and trainings. But on Wednesday, we got to meet our supervisors from our HCAs (or some other representative of our HCA), who had come in for a Supervisors Conference to learn how to work with PCVs/Americans.

IMG_1281

We all gathered in the gym of a local school, and PC staff one by one announced our names and our HCA, at which point we had to go forward and meet our supervisor for the first time. The director of my health department had come, even though he is not my actual “supervisor” and I won’t be working with him directly very much. Then we had an extremely awkward hour to talk with our supervisors, but luckily my director speaks a fair amount of English. The directors of the schools where the other Zavkhan PCTs will be working also all know each other, so at least we could all awkwardly stand in a circle together. For the rest of that day and the next day, we had some sessions with our supervisors and had to eat lunch with them at the Darkhan Hotel.

Then on Friday, all of us PCTs, our supervisors, and PC staff got onto buses to head to Ulaanbaatar for the Swearing-In Ceremony (to be discussed in the next post).

Final Day with My Host Family (and Fun Trip!)

On Friday evening (the same day my host family came back from their long trip) they told me that the next day (the last full day with them) we would be going on a trip up to the Russian border. So the next morning at 9:30 all 7 of us (baby included) crammed into the car to head out. We first stopped at the market to pick up food for the picnics they had planned, and then we proceeded to go back home (apparently they had forgot some things). So around 10:30 we finally left Darkhan and headed north up to Sukhbaatar City. Shortly after leaving we passed Tsagaan Nuur (White Lake), and there were camels! I didn’t think there were camels in Mongolia outside the Gobi Desert, but my host mom told me that at one point there were only 7 camels in the Darkhan-Uul aimag, but since then the population has grown to a few hundred. Of course we passed by before I could snap a photo, and they were gone by the time we came back that evening, but I saw camels!

Like this, but with dozens more camels

Like this, but with dozens more camels

Right before we got into Sukhbaatar, we took a detour to Eej Mod (Mother Tree), which is an important spot among adherents of Shamanism. The large tree was struck by lightning a few years ago, but it is still believed to grant wishes to those who visit it. The tree (and many around it) are covered in tons and tons of khadags (silk scarves), and there are a wide variety of offerings placed around the tree (including bricks of tea, matches and incense, cakes, cartons of milk, and bottles of vodka). There were tons of Mongolians there, and I felt very awkward not knowing what to do. So I followed my host family around while they walked in circles and threw rice and spoonfuls of milk all over the place (which turned out to be what they had forgotten at the house and had to come back for). Unfortunately I didn’t get any good photos because I wasn’t sure if it would be disrespectful to be snapping pictures while people were bowing and praying to the sacred tree, but I later found this post by another blogger who did manage to get some nice pictures if you want to check it out.

Then we got back in the car and headed into Sukhbaatar, where we stopped at a shop to get some special bread that’s apparently only available there. We then drove out of the city and even further north up to the Mongolian-Russian border, to a place called Saikhani Khutul.

IMG_1172

It’s basically a park up on a mountain overlooking the border into Siberia.

IMG_1207

The river down there is

The river down there is Selenge Gol, one of the longest rivers in Mongolia, which eventually flows into a lake in Russia.

We ate lunch at one of the pavilions then went around to the many animal statues at the park.

Boloroo, Suuna, and Ochralaa

Boloroo, Suuna, and Ochralaa on a horse

Ochralaa and me

Ochralaa and me on a leopard

Boloroo, Bakana, Suuna, and Ochralaa (hiding behind the reindeer's leg)

Boloroo, Bakana, Suuna, and Ochralaa (hiding behind the reindeer’s leg)

My host siblings and I even ventured over to an eagle statue that required some treacherous climbing to get to:

IMG_1210

IMG_1195

IMG_1202

Then we went over to the main viewing area for more photo ops:

IMG_1224

IMG_1234

As we headed back to the car, we stopped by one more statue, which I think is supposed to symbolize the friendship between Mongolia and Russia:

IMG_1250

On the way back to Darkhan, we stopped at the Orkhon Gol, the longest river in Mongolia, for another picnic and some card games.

IMG_1269

Some horses even stopped by

Some horses even stopped by

We finally had to head back home so I could finish packing, but it was really amazing to get to spend so much quality time with my amazing host family and to see some great sites!

Wrapping Up PST

The last few weeks of PST went by very quickly. Language classes became more difficult as the LCFs started blowing through entire sections of the book in a single lesson, whereas before we would spend at least a couple days on each section. As a result, it was difficult to keep up and I felt like I wasn’t really learning anything in a way that would allow me to remember it in the long-term.

It also really started to sink in that I would be leaving my host family soon, which was made even harden by the fact that most of them had left on a 2 ½ week trip to visit a sick relative, leaving me with just the 2 sisters and an uncle who had come to stay with us. They didn’t come back until two days before I left for Final Center Days.

The Saturday before our last week in Dereven, we had Host Family Appreciation Day. We had a picnic by the river with our host families and LCFs.

IMG_1135

Each host family brought a Mongolian dish to share, and we PCTs planned to share some American food culture with our families by having a hotdog roast and s’mores. Except we couldn’t exactly find all the needed ingredients in any of the stores in Darkhan: hotdog buns, graham crackers, and regular old marshmallows do not exist here. So we improvised with cut-in-half hamburger buns, Mongolian crackers that were as close to graham crackers as we were going to get, and Haribo Chamallows.

Eh, close enough

Eh, close enough

Our attempt at Mongolian s’mores actually turned out better than expected, and our host families seemed to like them.

IMG_1137

The hot dog roast didn’t go as well since “hot dogs” here are not exactly Oscar Meyer franks and don’t do so well when removed from their casing and put on a stick over a fire.

IMG_1136

Oh well. We also bought a cake, and everyone loves cake!

Even if it's a birthday cake at a non-birthday event

Even if it’s a birthday cake at a non-birthday event

On our last Tuesday in Dereven, we had our final LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) and TAP (Trainee Assessment Packet). I was nervous for the LPI, because even though I had done well on my practice LPI back in July, I knew I hadn’t been grasping the more recent material as quickly. I tried to balance studying with not stressing myself out too much, and by the time Tuesday came around, I just wanted to get it over with. We didn’t have class that day because we all had 30-minute slots for the LPI and for the TAP scattered throughout the day. My TAP wasn’t until 1:30, which meant I got to sleep in, but after I woke up and studied for another hour, I was just so ready to get it over with.

Unlike our practice LPI, where the interviewer was one of our LCFs, this time we were interviewed by a Mongolian lady we had never met before but had apparently been a Peace Corps language tester for 10 years. It’s hard enough to understand when someone speaks Mongolian to me, but then when it’s someone who I’ve never talked to before and whose accent is completely new to me, it’s almost impossible (and it doesn’t help that so many Mongolian women speak so softly that I can barely hear them even when they’re speaking English). She started the interview by asking me to introduce myself. Then she asked me to talk about my Mongolian host family, my American family, and a friend. The interview was 30 minutes long, so I was trying to eat up as much time as possible by babbling on about my family members, but my limited vocabulary prevented me from talking about that for too long. Then she asked me some other random questions, and had me ask her a bunch of questions. Finally, we did a dialogue where I had to pretend to be a teacher and she was the director at my school and I had a headache and needed to ask if I could leave early to see a doctor. Overall I think it went pretty well. We found out the first day of Final Center Days how we did, and I ended up getting Intermediate Low! Novice High is considered passing, so I did even better than I needed to! I’m not exactly sure how the scoring works though, because the two guys in our group who have amazing Mongolian (and make the rest of us look like losers) also got Intermediate Low, so who knows.

After that I had my TAP, which was much less stressful. They told me that my LCFs, technical trainers, and host family only had positive things to say about me, that I had done very well during PST, and that they thought I would be a very successful Peace Corps Volunteer. Yay!

Learning a Traditional Mongolian Dance

Near the end of July, our Cross-Cultural trainers told us that Peace Corps would be selecting a few cultural performances by PCTs for the Swearing-In Ceremony at the US ambassador’s compound, so a few of us in my group decided to learn a traditional Mongolian dance. It turns out that one of the students who had just graduated from the school where we have our classes is a dancer who had performed during our Orientation and during the opening ceremony at Naadam. Our LCFs knew her and were able to convince her to teach us that dance. The only problem was that she was on vacation with her family almost the entire week before the audition videos were due, so we couldn’t get her to come teach us until the day before we had to turn in the video (yes, Peace Corps was only going to give us a week and a half to throw together a cultural performance). So a group of 5 of us (including myself) stayed after class that Thursday to quickly learn the beginning of the dance.

Lovely bruised knee from the very first day of practice (there's a few parts where I have to do kneeling stuff), which still hasn't healed almost a month later because it kept getting worse every time we practiced

Lovely bruised knee from the very first day of practice (there’s a few parts where I have to do kneeling stuff), which still hasn’t healed almost a month later because it kept getting worse every time we practiced

I was chosen to be the lead female dancer who dances with the guy, and unfortunately most of our parts were different from the other 3 girls’ parts, so we had to take turns with the teacher showing us the steps, which definitely slowed us down. After almost 3 hours, we had learned the first third of the dance, which we videotaped us performing to show the judges that we were at least learning something. The next day we tried to turn in the video to our Technical trainers, but they told us that Peace Corps had decided to extend the video deadline for another week (nice of them to realize at the very last minute that we were not given enough notice of the whole cultural performance thing).

So we practiced literally every day that week for 2 to 3 hours, as we soon found out there were other groups learning dances too, and that competition would be fierce because they didn’t want just any old fools to perform in front of the ambassador. The dance teacher was even able to get us costumes to rent for the video and (if we were chosen) for the actual performance.

Dress rehearsal with our dance teacher

Dress rehearsal with our dance teacher

We did have to pay 5,000 tugriks each (which is less than $3—really breaking the bank there!) to rent the costumes, and we decided to each give the teacher 5,000 tugriks for taking so much of her time to teach us. We finally managed to learn the entire 3 ½ minute dance, but then the day we were supposed to videotape it, one of the girls was sick, so she couldn’t come. But the video was due the next day, so we had to do it without her, which required us to change around the formations a lot at the last minute. After a few practice runs, we finally started to videotape, but we could not get a single shot where none of us messed up at least once. We did at least 5 takes, and on each one, we did some parts perfectly and at least one part we screwed up horribly, but it was different parts each time. If only we could have stitched together the good parts from each of the videos, we would have had a solid performance. But after nearly 3 hours, we were exhausted, sweaty (it was like 90 degrees in the freakin’ gym we were dancing in, and we were wearing costumes with long sleeves), and losing daylight. We decided to go with the final take because it had the least mistakes, and submitted it the next day.

On Wednesday of the next week (the week before Final Center Days), we found out that we had been chosen to perform! Yay! So we got back into our routine of practicing every day, because now that we were set to perform at the Swearing-In Ceremony, they wanted us to be perfect. The girl who hadn’t been able to make it to the videotaping session ended up dropping out of the whole dance, so that was a bummer. And then Peace Corps told us that we needed to cut down the time of our dance to between 2 and 3 minutes, so we ended up just cutting out the first section of the dance where just the other girls perform, which they were happy about as it lessened their stress about the whole thing.

Note: The Swearing-In Ceremony, including our dance performance, was earlier today, but I will have a whole post later on about that ceremony.

 

Getting a Deel

I had heard rumors that most of the PCTs at the other sites had been given deels (traditional Mongolian robes/dresses) by their host families and were planning to wear them for our Swearing-In Ceremony.

There are tons and tons of different kinds of deels. These are more like winter deels, whereas we got summer deels that are shorter and more modern

There are tons and tons of different kinds of deels. These are more like winter deels, whereas we got summer deels that are generally shorter and more modern

With past groups of Mongolia PCTs, the Peace Corps had provided each host family with money for them to buy their Trainee a deel, but because our group is so big (about twice as big as the previous group), they didn’t do that this year. But almost all of the other host community sites have had PCTs before, and some of their host families had even had Trainees during previous years, so the families at these sites probably assumed they were expected to give us deels. But my host community of Dereven has never had PCTs before, so none of our families were aware of the previous years’ tradition, although a couple of the PCTs here in Dereven were given deels by their family right before Naadam. Regardless, I did want a deel to wear to the Swearing-In Ceremony (and just to have one!), especially if most of the other Trainees would be wearing them, so I asked my host sister one day if she would take me to the market to get one made (I would pay for it of course).

So the Sunday before my last week in Dereven I went with my sister to one of the markets in Darkhan to get a deel. And I am so glad I brought my sister with me, because I never would have been able to do it without her! The first shop we went to didn’t have a huge selection and was (according to my sister) overpriced, but the second one we went to was overwhelming with choices. There were literally thousands of different fabrics to choose from and tons of styles on display. I already knew that I wanted a two-piece deel, with the top and skirt separate so I could wear them together or separately for more versatility, and that I wanted it to be teal (a word for which does not exist in Mongolian, so I had to get my point across by calling one of my hands “khokh” [dark blue] and the other “nogoon” [green] and interlocking the fingers of both my hands). There were a fair amount of teal fabrics, but most of them had designs that I didn’t like so much. I finally found one that I really liked, and then was confused when the shopkeeper kept showing me other fabrics (some of which weren’t even close to teal, like a bright pink one). I don’t know why they kept trying to get me to pick a different fabric, but finally they accepted that I really wanted the teal one. Then my sister had to explain to the lady that I wanted a two-piece deel. They didn’t have any of those on display, but the shopkeeper had a book with photos of women in different styles of deels. There were 2 two-piece styles to choose from, and my sister and the shopkeeper (plus the tailor who works with the shopkeeper) kept going back and forth between which one I should get (I quickly learned that my input had little value in this conversation because what the hell did I know about deels). They finally settled on one of the styles, but then I had to explain to the shopkeeper again that I wanted the teal fabric (the style of the deel I was getting was a white one in the photo, but white looks horrible on my pasty, pale skin, so I shot that down immediately). Even after deciding on the fabric and style, my sister then helped me choose the length of the skirt, the length of the sleeves, the kind of collar, and the type/color of the stitching. After spending what felt like an hour (but I later discovered had only been about 30 minutes), the shopkeeper cut off the pieces of fabric I needed for my deel (which I paid for then), and then the tailor took us upstairs to a giant room full of cubicles for all the deel tailors. She proceeded to take my measurements and to sketch out what my deel would look like. She said it would be ready in 3 or 4 days, and I paid her half up front and would pay the other half when it was done.

Three days later, my host sister called me to tell me my deel was ready and to meet her at the market at 6 that evening to go get it. But when we went to see the tailor, it turned out that she was not yet finished with my deel, she just needed to put the fabric (which she had put into roughly shirt and skirt shapes) on me to pin it and make sure it would fit correctly. No problem, except—God forbid—I was wearing a different bra than I had been wearing the day she took my measurements. I had had dance practice (more on that in a future post) right before this, so I was wearing a sports bra, but I had been wearing a regular bra when she took my measurements. So I’m standing there in my bra with the tailor pushing my boobs around to how they would be if I were wearing a regular bra with more “oomph” (deels, particularly summer fashion deels like the one I was getting, are not stretchy at all, so they have to fit perfectly to your body or they won’t lay right). After the tailor and my sister finish touching and talking about my boobs, the tailor drew lines on the fabric with chalk to mark where she needed to take it in and add the sleeves and collar. Then we did the same thing with the skirt, which was much easier. After the tailor finished, my sister told me we would need to come back in a couple days, when I’m wearing a regular bra, for the tailor to get a better fit for the top. Good lord! Obviously something got lost in translation, because I was told I was getting my deel that day; if I had known I was just going in for sizing stuff, maybe I would have thought to wear a regular bra, because apparently it’s a huge deal. At least now I know that I won’t be able to wear a sports bra under my deel or it will look horrible!

But then on the day I was supposed to go back for more sizing, my deel was actually already finished! I had planned to meet my sister at the market again, but when I called her she said she had already picked it up (so much for getting the sizing perfectly right). When she came home I tried it on, and it looked great!

IMG_1293

My deel ended up being relatively expensive compared to the prices I had heard from some other people, but I think that’s because the two-piece style costs more to make and the fabric I picked out may have been kind of expensive. But it was still just under 100,000 tugriks (a little under 40,000 for the fabric, and 60,000 for actually making it), which is approximately $55 (USD). Not bad for an authentic, custom-made deel.