Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Choi Boy!

I currently live in the outskirts of Choibalsan, the capital of Dornod Aimag (province). The Aimag is in eastern Mongolia and borders China. Upon arrival, you will notice a marked absence of mountains that is oh so pervasive in other regions of the Mongolia. What we have instead is low flatland as far as the eyes can see, as it is home to the steppes of the country. There is no doubt that of its beauty, but when it is pockmarked with Soviet ruins and abandoned buildings, there is definitely a sense of loss of the natural wonder.

As I mentioned earlier, I live in the outskirts of the Aimag center. It’s a 10-15 minute mikro (sounds like meeker) ride on dirt roads for 7-8 km. I will write more about mikros another time because it deserves its own entry. For now, I’ll explain my living situation. I am in an apartment, which in Mongolia is a coveted living arrangement because of one particular amenity: hot showers. Though I didn’t specifically ask for an apartment, I’m glad that I have one. Sure, living in a ger would be fun and something to talk about, but the novelty will wear off when you have to haul your own water, cut your own wood, and make your own fire in -40 degree weather.

In the apartment there is one big bedroom, one kitchen, and one bathroom. Minimal standards to the typical American, but when you know that there is a family of 10 next door living in the same style apt., it gives you a better perspective of what you really need in life. I’m happy with what I have, and I’m thankful for that.

In my little town, there are four general food stores that stock the basic needs like bread, eggs, butter, and some vegetables (potatoes and onions, that’s all for veggies.) As for "landmarks", there is a kindergarten, a secondary school, and a train station. And that’s basically all the public infrastructure that we have.

In the Aimag center, I get most of the major food supplies; meat and other foodstuff that I can’t find at the local store. Oh, and there is also the all-knowing, all-powerful internet. The source of news and knowledge in an otherwise closed out world. It’s always fun to be in the 4th largest "city" in Mongolia because there are PCVs and other volunteers (VSO, French) from other countries in the area. We occasionally have dinner together, go out for some drinks, a time to relax and speak English at the normal pace.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Beginning of Something New...

As the name suggests, Final Center Days were the last of our training exercises before our actual field work as a Peace Corps Volunteer. As with all our training sessions, the days were packed with information and training materials. But there was much anticipation going into it because our LPI scores and site placements were to be announced.

The training kept us busy from morning til 6 @ night everyday. Some sessions were useful, while others were nothing more than snore fests. One of the highlights was when we me our director/supervisor for the first time. We were announced pair by pair, up to the point when there were a couple of volunteers left, but no supervisors around. Because of the unreliability of the transportation system, people coming in late were by no means an odd occurrence.

I did finally meet my director when she came in for an impromptu Peace Corps talent show at the hotel we were staying at. She is a tiny lady in her forties, but beautiful and showed no sign of aging beyond her years that afflicts so many other Mongolians. She is really easy to talk to, and so energetic. I think we will work well together.

The FCDs culminated with the all important swearing in ceremony. 59 Peace Corps Trainees became Peace Corps Volunteers after being sworn in by Ambassador Minton. As typical of most PC ceremonies worldwide, there was also a host culture performance by the new PC group, the M19s. Dances, songs, and instruments were played. All the performances were spectacular, it far exceeded my expectations.

After the ceremony, the good byes quickly followed, and of course the tears started flowing. For the people that were living close by, they had to leave the same day, which in my opinion is quite shitty. For those of us that had to travel further away, we loaded our goods and headed to UB, the capital. Logistically, the whole experience was a nightmare. But we did get to the city and I finally had the chance to indulge myself with delicious Korean food! After three months of mutton and fat, bulgolgi was nothing less than foodgasm.

I had one night in UB, well not even a night since I had to get up by 4 to catch my 6 o’clock plane for Choibalsan. So a group of us just decided to stay up. Had crappy Reisling, followed by some beer, conversation and music, and finally goodbyes @ 4. I couldn’t as for a better night and send off.