The Fridge-Eating Ger

My first Thursday in Uliastai was quite interesting. On Monday I had noticed that my fridge had stopped working (yes, the day after I moved in).

You remember this beauty, right?

You remember this beauty, right?

Luckily I hadn’t put much in it yet, because the next day when the electrician came to fix it, he determined that the motor was broken and would need to be replaced. So on Thursday morning I was told to go back to my ger during lunchtime so that the electrician could fix my fridge—except the power was out (we’ve been having a lot of power outages–supposedly because they’re busy working on the electrical system in town to improve it), so he couldn’t fix it then. So I went back to the health department, where I got to sit in on a 4-hour seminar for doctors in soums throughout Zavkhan. I couldn’t understand most of what was being said, but it was still interesting.

That evening, I received a text message from my supervisor asking if she could come to my ger. I said “sure” because that’s the Mongolian thing to do (actually, stopping by unannounced is the even more Mongolian thing to do, but thankfully she at least gave me some warning). So she stopped by to give me some cleaning supplies (I guess she thinks my ger is a pigsty) and Mongolian yogurt. Then she spent almost an hour scrutinizing my ger (apparently I didn’t hang my hadag in the correct place; why am I sleeping in a sleeping bag? etc.), asking if I needed anything else (why don’t I have more food? Do I have winter boots? Was I able to steal my neighbor’s wifi?), and telling me what she wanted me to work on at the health department the next day.

Then, upon discovering that my water containers were close to empty, she told me how to get more. There’s a well in our hashaa that I had already gotten water from, but I was told that water was just for cleaning laundry. To get water for drinking, cooking, etc., we had to go to a small river right outside town. So my supervisor told my hashaa dad that I needed water, and we headed off. With my supervisor translating, my hashaa dad told me that I was not allowed to go get water alone because it was dangerous (he thinks the stray dogs will eat me, but I see several times more dogs just walking to the health department each day than I did walking to the river). If I ever needed water, I was just supposed to let him know, and he would go get it for me. He also told me to feel free to come to their home and watch TV, learn Mongolian, etc. whenever I wanted.

After our water-fetching adventure, my supervisor and I went back into my ger to talk some more. I was starving by this point as I hadn’t eaten dinner, and just as I was hoping my supervisor would head home soon (I love her and all, but I need to eat! I wouldn’t even have minded cooking dinner for both of us, except she had already eaten before coming over), the electrician and his wife came in. It was almost 9pm, but he was determined to fix my fridge, dammit! While he got started on the fridge, my supervisor hinted that I should offer the electrician’s wife a seat and that I should offer them all candy (in Mongolia, you absolutely must have a bowl of candy always at the ready for when guests drop by, and luckily they had already prepared me one when I moved in). After we determined that my hosting skills are abhorrent (sorry, I’m not actually Mongolian so I don’t have the whole hospitality thing ingrained into every fiber of my being), we sat around for what felt like forever watching the electrician fix my fridge (the motor had to be replaced, so it took a while). My hashaa mom and dad also stopped in, and as time went on, I seriously considered just eating my dinner in front of everyone; I didn’t have enough for the 5 unexpected guests sitting around my ger, but I was starving.

But before I could do anything about my hunger, our attention turned to how freakin’ cold it was in my ger. I had offered to start a fire in my stove earlier, but I was told not to as the electrician would have to move all of his work tools. But as it got colder by the minute, we all agreed that a fire was necessary. Yes, it was August, but it had been rainy and windy all day so it was colder than normal that evening (and, y’know, it’s Mongolia). And my ger isn’t very well insulated yet (they “winterize” the gers usually by October, meaning they add more layers of felt and weatherproof tarps, pile sand up against the outside walls, insulate the door, etc.). So we started a fire and huddled around the stove while the electrician finished up.

Everyone finally left around 10:30, and I immediately shoveled in some food. I had planned to spend the evening writing new blog posts, so I wrote out a few paragraphs before calling it a night.

And then, as the title of this post probably tipped you off, the fridge proceeded to break again two days later! I think the health department gave up on that fridge, because they had their accountant (who was on vacation in UB) pick up a brand new fridge for me. So a few days later the health department’s watchman and driver came with me to my ger to get rid of the old fridge and install the new one. Yay! Brand new fridge! How could this possibly go wrong?

You know how! This brand new fridge also proceeded to break just a couple days after it was installed! By this point I figured there was some issue with the electrical wiring in my ger and maybe random power surges were frying the fridges’ motors. Both fridges had been plugged into an extension cord that was already in my ger (not the one Peace Corps gave me), so my guess is that it didn’t have a surge protector. So after trying to revive it a couple times, they dragged that fridge away too. They said they will try to get it fixed, but so far I still have no fridge. I guess this is what I get for going on about how posh my ger is.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0699

“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!

IMG_0509

*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).