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!

First Weekend with My Host Family

As my Mongolian language skills at this point amounted to saying hello, goodbye, thank you, and giving my name, the first weekend was pretty awkward. My host mom speaks a little bit of English, but she was gone all of Saturday and most of Sunday on a trip with her coworkers at her school. The daughters know a tiny bit of English, but not enough to communicate effectively. So pantomiming it is!

I really didn’t know what to do for those first few days, as our PST classes didn’t start until the following Monday, there is no internet access in our house*, and I can’t communicate well enough to ask what to do. So I mostly stayed in my room napping, studying Mongolian, or writing blog posts to actually post later when I could find an internet café or something. I would come out of my room every now and then to play with or watch the daughters play with the baby, which at least gave us something to share some laughs over.

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“I’m adorable, come play with me!”

They’ve been feeding me very well so far. As soon as we got to the house on Friday, my host mom served me some buuz (steamed meat dumplings, yummy!) and coffee. They continued to give me instant coffee about 3 more times throughout the day. One of the daughters brought me some little scone-like things later in the afternoon, and for dinner we had rice with mutton, potatoes, carrots, and onions. For breakfast the next morning they gave me bread with some kind of cream/cheese/something dairy-ish to spread on it, along with butter and sugar. For lunch we had more buuz. For dinner we had noodles with mutton, potatoes, carrots, onions, and bell peppers. Breakfast Sunday morning consisted of ul boov, a kind of traditional hard-as-rock pastry thing and bread with a fried egg on top. Lunch was noodle soup with—you guessed it!—mutton, potatoes, carrots, and onions. I’m sensing a pattern here…

The older daughter showed me how to cook using their stove, and I learned that all my food’s been cooked using cow dung as fuel! Yay! I got to watch my host dad and the older daughter milk their cows while the younger daughter and I played with the baby. Then on Sunday I helped the older daughter fetch water. The homes out here have no running water, so we have to fill giant jugs with water from a communal water house (which gets water brought in from a giant truck), then bring them back home to fill an even bigger barrel. All of the water they use for cooking, cleaning, washing, and doing laundry comes from that barrel. The drinking water does too, but they have electric kettles to boil the water first, so all the drinks are served very hot. The Peace Corps also provides all of us with a water filter so that we can drink colder water without dying. Several weeks into my stay, my host family also bought me my own electric kettle to keep in my room so that I can make coffee whenever I want it!

And it's pink!

And it’s pink!

They also gave me a stash of coffee, creamer, sugar, and a mug and spoon that are “only for me.” So now I have my own little coffee corner in my room, and an electric kettle, which will also come in handy at my permanent site!

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*About halfway through the summer my host family did get wifi, but I think it’s a hotspot on the sister’s laptop, so I can only use it when she’s also on her computer. But it’s still nice to get access every now and then (or else I would still be waiting to put up these blog posts).