What I’ve Been Up To

So, I realize my last post was about me being sick and then I kinda just dropped off the map for a few weeks, but I’m here to tell you that I am alive and well! I actually started feeling 100% again just a few days after my post about being sick, but I haven’t been online much partly because I’ve been pretty busy (but in a good way) and partly because I haven’t been able to connect to my neighbor’s wifi like I was before (and I am not going to go to them and ask them what the deal is, as they’ve graciously allowed me to steal their wifi for over a month now, with no cost to me). I did get a modem (for free, from one of the PCVs who recently left), but unfortunately it happens to be for the service provider with the slowest internet connection in town, but at least I can still get online.

But life in general is going well. Here are some of the things that have been going on the past few weeks:

  • There was a huge, aimag-wide chess competition going on for several days. And I mean huge! There were a total of 9999 students taking place in the competition (so, basically all the students in the aimag), school was cancelled for days, students from all the different soums throughout Zavkhan came into Uliastai for the final rounds of competition, and there was a fancy “closing ceremony” in the brand new stadium here in town.
Complete with a giant chess board no less

Complete with a giant chess board no less

The ceremony included musical performances by a bunch of students playing the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle),

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announcement of the winners in each age and gender group,

Boys...

Boys…

...and girls

…and girls

and an appearance by the president of the World Chess Federation, a Russian man named Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:

He's the one in the traditional Kalmyk outfit, which, you may notice, is influenced by Mongolian clothing

He’s the one in the traditional Kalmyk outfit, which, you may notice, is influenced by Mongolian clothing

Turns out, he’s kind of a big deal. Along with being the president of the World Chess Federation since 1995, he was the President of the Republic of Kalmykia in Russia from 1993 to 2010 and is a multi-millionaire. So while the whole enormous chess competition thing was pretty amazing by itself, having an important international politician and businessman show up ensured that reporters from all the national news stations in Mongolia were there, which is how I ended up being on Mongolian TV (in the background of course–we just happened to be sitting right behind where the important guy was giving his speech). Oh, and they gave him a horse as a gift, because that’s something that happens in Mongolia.

Did you think I was kidding?

Did you think I was kidding?

  • I went to a concert with some of my coworkers from the health department. The headliner was a relatively famous Mongolian singer, B. Khangal, who also happens to be a doctor, because why the hell not?

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  • I started helping out a couple of the TEFL PCVs here in Uliastai with their English classes for students that take place every Saturday at the local library, which is funded in part by Bookbridge. We have one-hour classes for 3 different age groups (including lots and lots of games), and given the current surge in the number of students coming each week, we may need to create an additional class or two to accommodate all the students.
Notice the kids standing in the back; that's because there were no where near enough seats for the 50-something kids that showed up to one of the classes

Notice the kids standing in the back; that’s because there were nowhere near enough seats for the 50-something kids that showed up to one of the classes

  • My supervisor and I started teaching a seminar on STIs (which are a huge problem in Mongolia) for the high school and college students in Uliastai (ok, she teaches, since it’s all in Mongolian, and I helped plan the seminar, assist with things that don’t require a lot of language skills during the actual seminars, and analyze the results from the pre- and post-tests we give to the students). So far we’ve done the seminar for the college students and high school students from 3 of the 5 schools in the city. The plan is to do this STI seminar at each of the schools, then rotate through the schools again with seminars on other health issues (smoking, alcohol, etc.)
  • I had my first site visit by my Peace Corps Regional Manager. Twice a year, PC staff travel all around the country to visit each and every one of us PCVs to make sure everything is going well with our living conditions and at our HCAs. So the Regional Manager for our good ‘ol Western region came out here to visit each of our homes (note: my ger is still awesome, she informed me) and to sit down and chat with our coworkers at our HCA. Not much else to say about that, since the whole 50-hour work week issue had been resolved already and the people at the health department didn’t appear to be begging her to send a different PCV to replace me, so it was pretty uneventful, but a nice visit nonetheless.
  • Last weekend my site mates, some Mongolian friends, and I celebrated my birthday! On Saturday we taught our regular English classes at the library, followed by some shopping, and then we had “Monglish” night, birthday edition. What is “Monglish” night, you ask? Well, every Saturday evening we PCVs here in Uliastai (and the 2 out in the soums, if they can make it into town) hang out and have dinner with Mongolians we’ve met (whether through our HCA, community projects, or by chance) so that they can practice speaking English with us and we can practice speaking Mongolian with them. So this was another one of those nights, except my supervisor came and brought a birthday cake…
...and her cute nephew who was eying the cake all evening

…and her cute nephew who was eying the cake all evening

A couple of our Mongolian friends also brought a bottle of wine, because we’re classy (and they know I don’t like beer or vodka, which are the only other drinks available here). There was a huge group of kindergarten teachers at the tables next to us, and they, on the other hand, were enjoying a couple (or twelve) bottles of vodka. The restaurant we were at also plays music  later in the evening, and these teachers started going on to the dance floor and dancing the standard awkward Mongolian circle dance (imagine a bunch of preteens at a middle school dance, and you’ve pretty much got the idea). And then they started coming over to our table and literally dragging us onto the dance floor. Eventually we managed to escape, but it was a quite memorable first birthday in Mongolia.

On Sunday, my site mates and I hung out at one girl’s apartment, eating food (including another cake!), drinking more wine, and playing games. Overall, a very good birthday weekend!

Birthday gifts!

Birthday gifts!

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Being Sick in Mongolia

You know what’s never fun? Being sick.

You know what’s even less fun? Being sick in a foreign country, in a new city, far far away from family and friends, without running water or a toilet, and with my doctor and all the potentially helpful medicines he could prescribe on the other side of the country.

In case I haven’t mentioned before (I have), I’ve had a cold for over 4 weeks now. I started having some mild symptoms right before coming out to Uliastai, but with the immediate start to work, adjustment to living in a completely new setting, and insane busy-ness in general, my immune system has not been able to fight it off.

I already told you about my maybe-not-so-wise decision to go hiking with my coworkers, after which my symptoms got much worse. The following week at work, I had to go home early after lunch on both Monday and Tuesday because I felt so bad and everyone could tell. In addition to the cold symptoms, I also had really bad stomach cramps. When I went home on Tuesday I laid down for a really long nap, and then that evening my supervisor came to check on me and bring me something for dinner. By then my stomach cramps were so bad I could barely move, and being in any position other than laying down felt horrible (not that lying down didn’t hurt too). My supervisor freaked out and told me to call the PCMO, which I did. The Peace Corps doctor told me I was probably just really dehydrated, which was what was causing the cramps. So he told me to drink a bunch of warm water, but slowly, and then take some medicine.

So I did just that, and promptly vomited. Where do you puke when you don’t have a toilet? When I felt it coming on (you know the feeling), I made my way to the door to head to the outhouse, but my supervisor stopped me and indicated I should just throw up in my “dry sink”…

This thing

This thing

…which just drains into a bucket underneath that I have to empty every few days. So, basically just vomiting into a bucket. By this point my supervisor still hadn’t abandoned me in my diseased state, but proceeded to cook up what she called “rice juice,” which she said is what Mongolians drink/eat to coat their digestive system and ease cramps. I tried to drink some more water while it was cooking, and when it was done I had two bites before throwing up again. I called the PCMO again to tell him I had thrown up twice in the past 30 minutes, making it kind of hard to get hydrated, and he told me to stop trying to ingest anything and just go to bed. So my supervisor reluctantly left to let me sleep.

I had the rest of the week off from work while I tried to rest up and finally get better. My supervisor was insanely helpful, bringing me lunch and dinner all three days I missed work. The thing about working with a bunch of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health professionals is that they know how to take care of you when you’re sick. My supervisor is a pharmacist, so she was checking over all the medications I was taking. The director of the health department is a doctor (specifically a surgeon), and he even came over to my ger the day after my stomach cramp/vomiting ordeal to check on me (and joke about maybe needing to do an emergency surgery). Thankfully my stomach problems went away the very next day, but my cold symptoms are still with me, even a week later (it’s been almost 5 weeks now total). I’ve been taking plenty of medicine, and the PCMO even sent me some additional medicine from UB, but nothing provides more than temporary relief for my symptoms. A few people have suggested that maybe it’s just due to the seasons changing and the weird weather patterns (constantly alternating freezing temperatures with rather balmy ones). Whatever it is, I hope it resolves soon, because winter will not be fun if I’m already sick.