27 Moments I Loved in Mongolia

Twenty-seven moments to represent the (nearly) 27 months I have served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia.

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Nostalgia: on my first hike in Mongolia.

1) That first freak-out moment I experienced the first day with my host family when I was sitting in my ger, questioning why I had thought it was a good idea to travel 6,000 miles out of my comfort zone. I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying to me in Mongolian, and I was living in a tent. But after that moment, through learning, spending time with people, and embarrassing myself more than a few times, life in Mongolia became my life.

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My one and only ger.

2) Seeing my host dad’s face when he tried Starbucks instant coffee, which is worlds different from the 90% sugar/milk, 10% instant coffee popular in Mongolia.

 

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A more recent coffee date with my host parents in Darkhan. (Fun fact: I was in the middle of Dengue fever contracted in Bali when this picture was taken but I felt bad about cancelling on them.)

3) Drinking hot milk tea in a kitchen hut in the countryside as gentle summer rain fell outside and my extended host family talked around me about their eternal favorite subjects: their children and their horses.

4) Learning a Mongolian dance and performing it at our Swearing-In Ceremony at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Ulaanbaatar.

5) Teaching English at Laboratory 8th School and sometimes receiving applause just by walking into the room. It kind of goes to your head sometimes.

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A most enthusiastic 4th grade.

6) Getting texts from my Mongolian friends on Thanksgiving, much needed when I was missing being home on a holiday: “Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you so much for helping us to improve our English knowledge.” –My friend Urtaa, a pediatrician at one of the local hospitals

“Happy thanksgiving. I’m thankful u are friend & we met in life. Sunshine smile” -My friend Davaakhuu, a student at Erdenet’s Mongolian National University

7) Arriving by train in the early winter morning in UB. It’s like an old movie, with the Soviet-era train’s smoke transforming the people around you into hazy outlines in the bitter cold air and crunching snow underfoot.

8) Watching thick-bodied wrestlers perform their surprisingly graceful eagle dance before their rounds commence during Naadam, Mongolia’s traditional summer sports festival, occurring every summer since the time of Chinggis Khaan.

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Spotted outside Darkhan last week: a few wrestlers training for this year’s Naadam.

9) Dancing with all my school’s teachers in an awkward dance circle to anything from disco and ABBA to Shakira and Justin Bieber at holiday parties (Teacher’s Day, Soldier’s Day, New Year’s, etc.). Vodka was consumed, hips did not lie, and good times were had by all.

10) Doing absolutely nothing. At times one of the best parts about living in Mongolia was its comparatively slower-paced lifestyle. In the U.S., it can feel like you’re always running from the coffee shop to work to the gym to dinner with friends; you should always be occupied with something. In Mongolia, I tried to shed the American mentality that you should always be checking things off your to-do list. Some weekends, I just sat and watched the snow fall outside my window.

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A moonrise from my apartment balcony.

11) Being in a Red Hat sect monastery while the monks were reading prayers by chanting and using handheld drums. It was all synchronized in rhythm and one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in a house of worship.

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A Monastery in UB

12) Anytime a Mongolian has thanked me for learning their language. Mongolian is really, really hard.

13) Eating Pringles with my site mates and other Peace Corps friends. Pringles are a part of the food pyramid for PCVs in Mongolia.

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My excellent site mates

14) Reading creative writing from my students for a contest we put on 2 years in a row. They wrote about anything from alien boarding schools in space to what a dog would say if it could talk.

15) Riding on a bus or in a car through Mongolia’s huge open spaces. I’ve never been anywhere with so much space before, where the steppe or mountains go on forever and some days the blue sky seems to be reaching down to swallow the earth.

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16) The Erdenet Special Olympics.

17) Introducing my family to Mongolia.

18) Watching horse races in the summer, when children gallop bareback across the finish line, hooting and hollering to encourage their horses to finish the 15, 20, 30 km race.

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A race during Erdenet’s Naadam last summer.

19) Eating horhog, Mongolian traditional barbecue, for which you place hot rocks in a metal container with meat (and, if you’re lucky, vegetables) and let the rocks sear and cook everything. It’s delicious, and my favorite part is afterward, when you toss the piping hot rocks quickly between your hands. I’ve been told many times that to do this is very “healthy.”

20) Experiencing Khovsgul Lake last summer. It’s the most peacefully beautiful place in Mongolia, with rocky pine coasts, refreshingly cold water, and surrounded by tree-covered mountains.

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Khovsgul Lake

21) Visiting a Russian Orthodox Church in Ulaanbaatar. And learning more about Russian culture in general. (I’m also very proud to have finished War and Peace this winter!)

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Russian Orthodox Church in UB

22) Spending a week at Enerel’s (the local orphanage) camp last summer. Our last night there, we had a bonfire, roasted marshmallows/introduced s’mores, and danced to an array of American, European, and K-Pop music.

23) Throwing Halloween parties at my school and the orphanage. Halloween has only become popular in Mongolia in the last few years, but wow do students get into it…

24) Walking to school every morning– sometimes I passed by horses and ambling cows grazing along Erdenet’s sidewalks. Another time I ran into my counterpart’s husband, who asked me if I liked milk, then gave me some milk he had just bought. When am I ever going to live anywhere again where someone stops me on the street and gives me milk?

25) Writing this blog and reflecting on my experiences, always with valuable reactions and feedback from my friends and family!

26) Watching my 6th graders perform their renditions of “The Tortoise and the Hare” at a show for their parents last month. The skits were entirely in English, their costumes were incredibly creative, and they were so expressive!

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The Tortoise and the Hare

27) Making 800 buuz in a day with my English teachers in preparation for Tsagaan Sar.

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Now, two years later, I am weathered by the winds, my eyes have creases from the sun in the blue sky, and my bones have felt the deep winter cold. I leave Mongolia having learned more about living and relationships and nature and communication than I ever thought was possible in just 27 months.

It’s bittersweet and I am sad to leave but I am ready.

Монголд баярлалаа.

See you on July 21st, America.

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2 years later, still throwing up the peace sign (What do I do with my hands??)

Playing Catch-up

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Disclaimer: It’s been a long time since I wrote last, maybe because of writer’s block (of a non-writer) or probably just because I’ve been lazy. So here’s a short entry to give you some updates, with lofty goals of more entries to come in the coming months to help me reflect and say goodbye to Mongolia.

I have a plane ticket to return to the U.S. on July 21st, 2016, just 70 days from now. (For some perspective, I’ve been in Mongolia over 700 days).  It’s surreal to think I’ll be leaving Mongolia to go home. Many times, when I have quick conversations in Mongolian with taxi drivers or non-English teachers at school, they ask “And when will you come back to Mongolia?” Honestly I don’t know how to answer that question, but my response is usually “Later. Someday.” As for now, I am too blinded by the imminent comforts of American life and seeing family and friends again to think about how much I will truly miss Mongolia once I leave.

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Jimbaran Bay, Bali, the beach very close to our resort.

Most of you know I took an incredible vacation to Bali in March with my mom. It was the perfect, humid, colorful, fruit- and sun-filled spring escape. Our days were absorbed in the warm Indian Ocean, touring the island’s Hindu temples, drinking tropical cocktails, eating the most perfect grilled seafood, and relaxing on Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence. How lucky I was to get to see my mom twice during these 27 months of Peace Corps. But lucky I was not when I returned from Bali and got a flaming case of Dengue fever, contracted from mosquito bites while in Indonesia. I spent a week convalescing in the PC medical office in UB and now I’m ripe as rain with hopefully a little more immune resistance for future travels.

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Ulun Danu Beratan Temple on a freshwater lake.

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Mama H enjoying the rice terraces.

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One of the many amazing sunsets

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Ganesh and his daily offerings. 

 

Some recent highlights at site include going on a day trip to a camp outside of Erdenet with my two favorite 10th grade classes. I’ve consistently taught them for 2 years and noticed a significant improvement in their English comprehension and speaking. They’re all so creative and smart with wonderful senses of humor. They played team-building games like I used to play on Girl Scout trips and at summer day camps which are always fun to watch. And then I got to ride a camel. Overall a great day.

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With some of my best students!

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“Electric Fence,” when the team must get everyone over the “fence” without touching it or going around it.

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10a class picture

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Living the dream

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Why yes, that is a turkey in Mongolia.

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Spot the white camel!

April ended with our Peace Corps cohort’s Close of Service conference at a small resort in the rocky hills outside of UB. There was a nice sense of closure discussing the successes and challenges of our service, receiving career advice from a panel of young professionals on various international career tracks (State Department, International development, TEFL teachers), as well as some mind-blowing lunch buffets (buffets!!). Ours is the 25th group of Peace Corps Volunteers and this year we are celebrating 25 years of Peace Corps in Mongolia. I’m proud of my peers as all of us move on to successful and interesting paths next year.

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Mongolica, our resort outside of UB. It was by far the best-run hotel I’ve been to here! I even got some time in the sauna.

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We found a nice herd nearby. There was some competition over tree status.

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The M25 cohort going full, non-smiling Mongol in our COS picture.

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The Original Javkhlant crew, est. 2014.

As my last months whittle down to weeks, I’m trying not to look too much toward the future at home in Ann Arbor and then London in September. Rather I’m attempting to appreciate all the quirks and joys of daily life as my Mongolian chapter comes to a close. Hopefully I will have a post about those soon. In the next few weeks, I’ll be finishing up school, visiting my host family in Javkhlant, helping with an English camp in Darkhan, and seeing Mongolia through new eyes again when my friend Ana travels all the way from the U.S. to visit!

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I’ll conclude with a quote that’s kept me going in my second year in Mongolia:

“As you cannot do what you want,

Want what you can do.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Something I’ve struggled with this year is doing what is asked of me even if the activity seems ineffective or even silly. As a PCV, you don’t always pick your work, your co-workers, or even your location. But you should do your best to respond to the needs of the community; it’s not always up to you what is necessary or valuable. So if that means you make certificates or buy cheap medals for every single event you ever do

or you plant trees that you know may not make it past next winter

or you eat that 5th buuz made from sheep’s stomach that you know will give you diarrhea later

or you prepare students for a highly-regarded national English exam full of mistakes in the questions, you do it.

You do all this because it’s important to the culture and the people of the country in which you’re living. It’s valuable to them. If doing these things helped me to build strong, fulfilled relationships that last after I leave, then I ultimately did what I came here to do.

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Our World Map project at the orphanage.

Making Buuz during the 9 Nines of Winter

We celebrated another Tsagaan Sar last week and have now entered the Year of the Monkey! The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday of the year in Mongolia, when families and friends come together to observe a new year’s health, happiness, and dairy products. For more information on Tsagaan Sar, see my entry from last year.

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Drinking airag (fermented mare’s milk) with my English teachers at the Teachers’ Greeting last week.

Of course no Lunar New Year celebration would be complete without buuz (pronounced like “boats”). What are buuz, you ask? They are the Mongolian version of dumplings, chopped meat with onion and salt surrounded by dough, then steamed and usually served plain. In February, Mongolia revolves around buuz, which together with dairy products are the main spread when visiting homes during Tsagaan Sar. And with so many visitors coming and going, families typically make between 1,000 and 1,500 total.

This year, Tsagaan Sar was on the 9th through the 11th of February. So in preparation, a few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday making buuz with two of my English teachers, Khongoroo and Ulziimaa.  I’ve included some photos to help you visualize the process.

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Organic beef, not pre-packaged.

First, Khongoroo’s husband Mungunshagai (his name means Silver Anklebone) cut chunks off a large slab of cow’s leg. Many families make buuz from a whole sheep, goat, or part of a cow. Beef is usually used by more prosperous families.

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Big bowl o’ meat and small bowl of sheep tail fat (yellow bowl).

Ulziimaa, Khongoroo, and I then cut the meat into very small pieces. The meat is left outside to freeze ahead of time and is only slightly thawed when you chop it, so for most people it’s easier, although not for the foreigner of course. My hands ached and eventually everyone felt sorry for me and Mungunshagai relieved me of chopping and I got to sit on the couch and watch Korean soap operas.

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Next, we finely chopped onions and I restored everyone’s faith in my cooking skills and ability to feed myself.

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I came back in the evening for the main event, the buuz “pinching.” There were two men rolling out the small circles of dough, then tossing them to the women. There were four of us spooning a small amount of meat onto each circle, then pinching the dough around the meat in various ways to make sure there were vents for when the buuz are eventually steamed.

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Buuz. A team effort.

My host mom taught me how to make buuz, but it had been a while, so my pinching was ridiculed and a grand source of entertainment at first. The most humiliating moment was when it was proposed that a 6-year-old girl could show me her “easier way” to pinch. As the evening went on, however, it was proclaimed that my buuz were much improved and you could no longer tell the difference between mine and the rest.

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Ready to freeze on the balcony overnight.

We ended the night around 11:30pm, testing some of our buuz from the steamer along the way. We made about 800 total in 3 hours! I have to say that buuz are not really my favorite Mongolian food but I respect their longevity in Mongolian culture. To me, they all pretty much taste the same, but many Mongolians are Buuz Connoisseurs.

How do all these buuz keep? Tsagaan Sar usually takes place during the 4th and 5th “Nines” of Mongolian winter, the coldest time of year. Therefore many people keep buuz and meat outside on their apartment balconies, houses, or gers.

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My CP Lkhagva’s grandmother, aged 93. Imagine all the Mongolian winters she’s seen! You can’t tell from the picture, but she smiles often. She receives many many visitors during Tsagaan Sar, as she’s the eldest in her family.

The 9 Nine-day periods of winter are an interesting way Mongolian herders have kept track of the weather and dates for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. It starts in January and ends in March, but of course Mongolia doesn’t really “warm up” until April or May. It can even snow into June! But the deepest, most frigid part of winter is of course January-March. So the 9 Nines are as follows, according to a Peace Corps weekly update (9*9= 81 days):

1st  9: Vodka distilled from milk freezes.

2nd  9: Normal vodka freezes/congeals.

3rd  9: The horns of a 3-year-old ox freeze and fall off.

4th  9: The horns of a 4-year-old ox freeze and fall off.

5th  9: Boiled rice no longer congeals and freezes.

6th  9: Roads start to become visible through the snow.

7th  9: Hill tops appear from beneath the snow.

8th  9: The ground gets damp.

9th  9: Warmer days have set in.

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During the 2nd Nine, when it was -35F outside on the road back to Erdenet from UB.

So as you can see, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s true! We are now in the 6th Nine and the roads have become visible! We had some delightful days in the 30s last week and some of the snow has started to melt. There will of course be some cold days yet and spring is filled with windy dust storms, but I’m hoping now to be out of the -20 or -30 days of January.

As for you, friends and family, which 9 do you find yourself in in Michigan? Maine? Elsewhere?

Lucky me, I’m off to Bali in a couple weeks where no ox horns or vodka freeze! My dreams until then will be filled with sand, coconut milk, and lots of fruit.

Interview with a Counterpart

Happy New Year! шинэ оны мэнд!

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Mongolian Santa with his snow angels at a school concert in December.

I’ve been MIA on this blog for a while now, but busy with Thanksgiving, 2 weeks of training facilitation in UB for the new group of TEFL Volunteers, ogling my family’s new Golden Retriever puppy from afar, receiving offers from Masters programs (!!), celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in Erdenet, and, as always, teaching English.

In my last 7 or so months of service, I want to post some more focused blog posts. For my first post of 2016, I’ll introduce you to one of my best friends here, my counterpart Ulzii. She’s eloquent and kind, insightful and great with students. I think it’s more valuable for you to hear about Mongolia from a Mongolian, rather than just my opinion over 2 years.

Name: Ulziimaa Nyamaa

Age: 26

Born: Uvs aimag/province

Lives in: Erdenet, Mongolia

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Q: What’s your favorite childhood memory?

A: When I was a little child in Uvs, every summer my family used to go to the lake. For a week or a couple of weeks. And we stayed on the lakeshore. And we swam, ate fish, and collected stones and fish bones. I really liked the smell of the lake, it’s a salt water lake.

Q: How did you learn English so well?

A: When I was in fifth grade, at that time students had a chance to choose from English or Russian. So I chose English. In my high school, I studied English for six years. Then I studied in university in Erdenet to become an English teacher. Movies and songs helped me a lot. Since my childhood, I really like watching movies, especially American English movies. When I was in university, I watched English movies and listened to songs instead of doing my homework.

Q: Do you like being a teacher?

A: I don’t know. Being with children is great but it’s difficult at the same time. Being a teacher in my country is really hard I think. In my opinion, focusing on children in teaching is the first thing. Observing and analyzing their process of learning and behavior. But in Mongolia there are a lot of events [that interfere with teaching] and are unrelated and bureaucratic. I wish that teachers had more time to lesson plan and there was more of a focus on children.

Q: How do you like working with me? Be honest.

A: We are happy working together, team-teaching and doing English improvement time. We do a wide range of things. You are really busy with a lot of different things, not just in our school, in the orphanage, hospital and other places. But somehow you can organize and manage your time so it’s something I have to learn. You understand me well. If I talk to you, I don’t have to be afraid of what Kristen is thinking. I can be myself. Most people like my co-workers listen to others not to listen or understand, just to reply. You listen to me to understand.

Q: Where have you traveled?

A: I studied in China, in Inner Mongolia, for half a year. I studied Chinese Philology for a Masters degree. It seemed calm and peaceful there. People are friendly, especially in public places like shops and coffee cafes. They speak Chinese there, not Mongolian. Most people there are Chinese, not Mongolian. Before I went to China, I thought the Chinese language would be difficult but when it came to learning, it was easier than I expected. Memorizing Chinese characters and understanding the logical structure was more important than the grammar.

Last summer I went to Lake Baikal in Russia. It’s the biggest freshwater lake. It’s beautiful, but I was only there for three days. It was early June so it was kind of cold in the evening but I enjoyed it.

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Q: What’s something you wish people around the world knew about Mongolia?

A: Mongolia is a country that not many people know about compared to other big countries like the USA or China. But it’s changing and developing and I heard that many people think there is Chinese Mongolia or Russian Mongolia but we are our own independent country with our own history and traditions. Some people may think that Asians are the same and Europeans are the same. But Mongolians have our own unique qualities.

I’ve heard people expect Mongolia to be like documentaries or movies about Mongolia made by foreigners. But the movies are all about the countryside or horses. So they think all Mongolians are nomads who live in the countryside. But now that’s just part of our country. People live in cities, and have different lifestyles now. I heard some documentaries made by foreigners are about homeless children in Mongolia. I don’t want people to imagine my country like that documentary. Every country has problems. But Mongolia is changing.

Q: What are some great things about Mongolia?

A: It has a rich history, traditions, and customs. It’s nomadic culture so it means we have a nature-friendly style of living. Herders save water. Mongolians are really friendly. Everyone is proud of Chinggis. I am too but in different ways. It doesn’t mean we are better than others, but we have to be proud of [our history]. It’s my homeland so no matter if it’s bad or good, I love my country and I’m proud of it.

Q: Everyone around the world knows Chinggis Khaan. Some people think he was a violent ruthless conqueror, he killed a lot of people, but many people respect him. What would you say to that?

A: We are in a more modern developed society now. But this was almost a thousand years ago so the society must have been different from today. So the killing was part of that time period. But every great thing has negative parts to it. We don’t have to treat Chinggis Khaan as a god, he was a human. But he was a human who used his power for a great range of things.

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Q: What are some things that you want Mongolia to improve?

A: We have to be more united. I think Mongolians tend to criticize each other so we have to support and respect each other.

We need more planning. We have to learn from other countries in some ways. Like planning, organizing things. I think everyone wants to be happy and live well. So every plan should be toward a happy life for Mongolians.

We jump to conclusions. We have to analyze things based on facts not emotion or tradition. We have to be more realistic, not emotional.

Q: What’s your favorite Mongolian holiday?

A: Tsagaan Sar because it’s a holiday that people have a chance to meet their relatives that they haven’t seen recently. And it’s for respecting older people and getting to know their relatives. We celebrate Mongolian customs and eat lots of tasty delicious food. The most respected foods are served. Also it lasts for at least seven days but we celebrate it for a month. It’s like Asian New Year’s Day [Lunar New Year]. Before Tsagaan Sar, we start to prepare 2 or 3 weeks ahead of time. We make buuz, clean our home, prepare gifts. For children it’s a really fun holiday.

Q: If you could be doing anything in five years, what would you be doing?

A: I would be studying in the USA or an English-speaking country. There is a better education system and I could discover myself. I feel like I could fully completely discover myself in the USA. I could find my interests.

Q: What do you do when you go to UB?

A: I see my sister and grandma. She’s my only grandparent. I like to go shopping and eat out at nice places. Most of the time I go to UB during holidays so I can’t stay for a long time.

What’s the most recent book you read or movie you watched?

A: I last read a book about habits making a difference. If you want to change yourself, you have to change your habits.

Q: If you had a million dollars, what would you do?

A: I would use it for change, to change some things in good, sustainable, effective ways. Not just spending it on myself. First I would spend it to travel alone to a peaceful place where I could think and listen to my conscience. I would help my family first, then maybe [spend it] on my education. I don’t want to spend the money in silly ways. Money gives me power, I want to think about effective outcomes.

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Khovsgul Lake, Summer 2015

There you have it. Thank you to Ulzii for providing us with a new perspective on Mongolia. And thanks as always to everyone for reading and supporting me. Time and Winter in Mongolia march on.

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My friend Mrig’s ger in Zuunmod, about 45 minutes outside of UB. Some friends and I stayed there for a night last month.

Success in the Peace Corps

It’s a snowy Sunday morning in October and I’m cruising along through my second year in Mongolia. I’ve been really tired lately, going to school, teaching every day as I apply for Masters programs. My fellow PCVs are pursuing similar paths of graduate school and we all talk about how excited we are for next year. But we’re here now.

25.10.2015 This morning, from my balcony.

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This morning, from my balcony.

As I write these applications, I keep focusing on the word success. In the Peace Corps, we’re surrounded by stories of PCVs in Africa creating women’s business empowerment programs, PCVs in Eastern Europe creating exercise programs for older women. I listen to my friends here talk about their GLOW camps and life skills classes and I think about what it means to have success in the Peace Corps, or development programs in general. When we do our quarterly reporting, we are expected to produce numbers, grants applied for, and skills developed in host country nationals. Every Peace Corps Volunteer wants to go home feeling successful in the two years they spent living somewhere completely different. For some, success means building something or getting a grant for new equipment or getting a student into college in the U.S. Personally, I don’t know if I will make something like that happen and I don’t know if those things represent inherent success for me.

Success: giving a TV interview for International Teachers Day.

Success: giving a TV interview for International Teachers Day.

I’m writing applications now for Masters programs in International Development/Development Studies. I have six programs in mind, mostly in the UK and one in France. Development as a career means constantly reflecting on success: social, economic, political. Luckily I came into Peace Corps with realistic expectations: that I would not, in fact, change a whole country or even a community. I would, however, make relationships and hopefully, confidence. I hoped I would gain a new perspective and valuable experiences and I can truthfully say now that I will come home in nine months a very different person. I have learned a new language, a new style of living, an appreciation for patience and empathy. I have woken up to see a colorful sunrise over the hills and I have seen a classroom of sixth graders lose their minds (in a good way) playing a game of Flyswatter while learning the months in English.

Success: my students won an English competition the other day because of their creativity and effort.

Success: my students won an English competition the other day because of their creativity and effort.

Is that success? I think so. Everyone has their own definition of success. For many Mongolians, it’s winning a competition. The other day my 10th graders won an English competition and I was so happy. Not so much because they got first place, but because they spent time preparing for it and writing a skit that was one of the most creative examples of English I’ve seen my students produce. Some Peace Corps Volunteers build a new community complex or start a community garden and I think that is also success. But assigning a value to success in Peace Corps puts you in danger of trivializing your effort and perseverance.

Success: Close friendships with my foreign language teacher counterparts, pictured here on Teachers Day.

Success: Close friendships with my foreign language teacher counterparts, pictured here on Teachers Day.

I leave in nine months and I don’t know if I will leave with tangible buildings or awards or sustainable programs. When I continue into the development field as a career, I will be expected to produce numbers and results and pictures of success for sponsors. But when I leave Mongolia, I won’t necessarily leave lots of numbers or a new community center behind. I will leave friends, family, students, and people who taught me more in 2 years than I’ve learned in 10 in the U.S.

But I’m here now.

Sunset, October.

Sunset, October.

Saying “баяртай” to Another Summer

A new school year has started again and it’s been a while since my last entry. It was really fun coming back to work and greeting teachers, making a firm work plan, and starting to develop more community projects. I feel so much more integrated into my community and slightly wiser in my second and last year, which is a good feeling.

For lack of time, I’m doing what I did last summer and showing you July and August through pictures.

My good friend Jonathan came to visit Mongolia in July!

My good friend Jonathan came to visit Mongolia in July!

Erdenet in Summer

Erdenet in Summer

Naadam festivities, a bird's-eye view from the Erdenet ferris wheel.

Naadam festivities, a bird’s-eye view from the Erdenet ferris wheel.

Although Naadam celebrates the "Three Manly Sports," women compete in archery and horse racing.

Although Naadam celebrates the “Three Manly Sports,” women compete in archery and horse racing.

I finally rode a camel.

I finally rode a camel.

Wrestling at Erdenet Naadam

Wrestling at Erdenet Naadam

Out at the horse races with Khongoroo, my neighbor and one of my teachers.

Out at the horse races with Khongoroo, my neighbor and teacher.

Horse races took place outside Erdenet in the countryside where we took my family in June.

Horse races took place outside Erdenet in the countryside where we took my family in June.

We visited Lake Khuvsgul in July and it was the most beautiful place I've seen in Mongolia!

We visited Lake Khuvsgul in July and it was the most beautiful place I’ve seen in Mongolia!

We stayed at a ger camp in the pine forests, right on the shore. The nights are really cool in July and the days fresh and sunny.

We stayed at a ger camp in the pine forests, right on the shore. The nights are really cool in July and the days fresh and sunny.

Baby yaks!

Baby yaks!

The lake reminded me of lakes in Northern Michigan. Khuvsgul is one of Mongolia's largest lakes and thousands of people, Mongolian and foreign, visit every year.

The lake reminded me of lakes in Northern Michigan. Khuvsgul is one of Mongolia’s largest lakes and thousands of people, Mongolian and foreign, visit every year.

The Sukhbaatar III, Mongolia's only naval vessel. We took a 2-hour ride on it and it was so fun to be on a boat in landlocked Mongolia.

The Sukhbaatar III, Mongolia’s only naval vessel. We took a 2-hour ride on it and it was so fun to be on a boat in landlocked Mongolia.

I visited my host family in Javkhlant later in the summer. Michelle, Anu-Ujin, and I.

I visited my host family in Javkhlant later in the summer. Michelle, Anu-Ujin, and I.

I visited my host family in Javkhlant later in the summer. Michelle and her cousin, riding a horse in the countryside.

Michelle and her cousin, riding a horse in the countryside.

Anu-Ujin has gotten so big! This shirt was amazing too, but hard to translate into Mongolian for my host mom.

Anu-Ujin has gotten so big! This shirt was amazing too, but hard to translate into Mongolian for my host mom.

My cousin Zaya and I. Zaya will be in 12th grade this year and wants to go to university to be a doctor.She is so sweet and has so many responsibilities in her family, like most teenage girls in the countryside.

My cousin Zaya and I. Zaya will be in 12th grade this year and wants to go to university to be a doctor.She is so sweet and has so many responsibilities in her family, like most teenage girls in the countryside.

I'm standing between my host parents, and the others are my host dad's sister and brother and their families.

I’m standing between my host parents, and the others are my host dad’s sister and brother and their families.

My beautiful, wonderful host siblings! Michelle, Bat-Erdene, and Anuka.

My beautiful, wonderful host siblings! Michelle, Bat-Erdene, and Anuka.

In August we went to work at Enerel Tuv's camp (the orphanage we've been working at in Erdenet). We did English and Healthy living activities. Here's the Human Knot!

In August we went to work at Enerel Tuv’s camp (the orphanage we’ve been working at in Erdenet). We did English and Healthy living activities. Here’s the Human Knot!

We were in a beautiful spot outside Erdenet, surrounded by tree-covered hills and wildflowers. The second day it rained the most I've ever seen it rain in Mongolia: over 24 hours straight.

We were in a beautiful spot outside Erdenet, surrounded by tree-covered hills and wildflowers. The second day it rained the most I’ve ever seen it rain in Mongolia: over 24 hours straight.

During an English "class."

During an English “class.”

Playing basketball

Playing basketball

My site mate Dan teaching some Mongolian sign language to teachers and older children.

My site mate Dan teaching some Mongolian sign language to teachers and older children.

Singing English songs with the younger kids!

Singing English songs with the younger kids and Munguu, one of our volunteer teachers.

The last night we were there, we had a fire, made s'mores, and had a dance party.

The last night we were there, we had a fire, made s’mores, and had a dance party.

These wonderful girls.

These wonderful girls.

The Enerel Camp was one of the best parts of my summer. I can't wait to continue to work with the kids and teachers there this year!

The Enerel Camp was one of the best parts of my summer. I can’t wait to continue to work with the kids and teachers there this year!

I hope to post something more focused and themed soon. In the meantime, I’m teaching, training, learning, planning, eating, yoga-ing, writing, and applying!

Impressions of China

Dragons and clouds.

Dragons and clouds.

Taking off on the plane to Beijing was a strange feeling: I’d been in Mongolia for over a year and it was so surreal to be leaving, just for a while, for a new view in a different country and culture. Mongolia is a proud land with traditions dating back a long time, but because of its nomadic history, it doesn’t have the same consistent permanence in our world’s memory as the Chinese civilization. Tea, paper, fireworks, printing, the compass all came from thousands of years of Chinese intellectuals and inventors, and its powerful presence in the world is just as fiercely significant today. About one-fifth of the world’s population resides in China, which became extremely evident to me after only a few hours in the country. (This link provides a fun perspective). After all the empty spaces in Mongolia, it was a bit of a shock to suddenly be surrounded by over a billion people.

The entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing.

The entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing.

I spent 12 days in China seeing the colorful majesty and sprawling reaches of Beijing, the historical strength and chaotic narrow streets of Xi’an, the lean haunting peaks and misty sunrises and sunsets of Huangshan, as well as the bursting development and Old World charm of Shanghai.

Beijing

We were in Beijing the longest during our trip because there was so much to admire and experience including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall at Mutianyu, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, as well as shopping in the hutong districts and seeing shows.

One of my favorite memories there: Sitting on a swing bench in the peaceful courtyard of our hutong hotel the first night and enjoying the warm breeze and the sound it made moving through the bamboo leaves.

The first sip of Chinese tea did not disappoint.

The first sip of Chinese tea did not disappoint.

Soldiers marching in Tiananmen Square.

Some of the soldier presence in Tiananmen Square. Chinese students don’t learn anything about the protests in school. According to our guide: “We don’t know what happened there.”

In the Forbidden City.

In the Forbidden City.

A night at the tourist's Beijing Opera.

A night at the tourist’s Beijing Opera.

The Great Wall, built to defend against marauding (I love that word) Mongolian war lords. Mongolians are proud of this fact, rightly so in my opinion.

The Great Wall, built to defend against marauding (I love that word) Mongolian war lords. Mongolians are proud of this fact, rightly so in my opinion.

Standing on the Great Wall.

Standing on the Great Wall.

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The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven

A smoggy day at the Summer Palace

A smoggy day at the Summer Palace

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Everyone remembers the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Apparently the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place here, making Beijing the first city to host both Winter and Summer Games.

Everyone remembers the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Apparently the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place here, making Beijing the first city to host both Winter and Summer Games.

Xi’an

We took the overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an, the capital of the Chinese empire until the end of the Tang Dynasty. Xi’an boasts impressive historical sights, most astounding being the Terracotta soldiers. However, Xi’an was my least favorite of the places we visited because overpopulation seemed most evident there. The streets were constricted with cars and mopeds with the city wall looming in the center, an edifice since 1370. Our guide Jessica (all of our guides went by Anglicized names) told us that when her grandmother was growing up, the city was still contained by the Old wall but has since then swelled to over 9 million inhabitants.

One of my favorite memories there: The necropolis of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, guarded by over 8,000 terracotta soldiers, was found by a farmer digging a well on his land in 1974. This was truly the most amazing archeological collection I’ve ever seen because you can see the statues in their original placement where they were buried 2,000 years ago. True, there are beautiful things to see in museums all over the world, but all of them were removed from their original placement location. The terracotta soldiers were restored on site and displayed there to give you the formidable impression they were intended to invoke as guardians of their emperor in the afterlife. The actual tomb of the Emperor, located a few kilometers away, is still closed until scientists possess the right technology to open it without destroying the ancient artifacts within.

Our sleeper compartment on the overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an.

Our sleeper compartment on the overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an.

One of the pits containing the reconstructed Terracotta warriors.

One of the pits containing the reconstructed Terracotta warriors.

A closer look.

A closer look.

My mom and I at the Wild Goose Pagoda.

My mom and I at the Wild Goose Pagoda.

The City Wall, standing since 1370.

The City Wall, standing since 1370.

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower

In the Muslim Quarter

In the Muslim Quarter

A small lily pond in the courtyard of the Mosque.

A small lily pond in the courtyard of the Mosque.

Huangshan

A famous tea-growing region and popular tourist destination for Chinese people, Huangshan was a welcome rural respite from a week of crowded cities. After we landed from our domestic flight, we visited a thousand-year-old village tucked into the foothills of green mountains. The following morning we took a cable car up the “Yellow Mountain,” hiked along the paved paths, and shivered in the misty evening and morning as we traced the sun’s colorful progress through the low thick clouds.

One of my favorite memories: After we came down from the mountain, we went to a traditional family-run tea house. They welcomed us with excitement (foreigners aren’t as common there) and the owner, a women who sings opera, showed us a tea ceremony and told us through her English-speaking daughter-in-law that the tea house has been in her family for over 100 years. She taught us about the different tea varieties grown and sold in the region: green, oolong, jasmine, lychee black, and chrysanthemum.

Driving through the tea region of Huangshan.

Driving through the tea region of Huangshan.

An ancient village.

An ancient village.

Up on the mountain, the Sea of Clouds.

Up on the mountain, the Sea of Clouds.

A misty hike

A misty hike

5am sunrise

5am sunrise

The tea ceremony

The tea ceremony

Shanghai

Shanghai is often called the Paris of the East and after seeing its elegant international quarters and signs of breakneck speed development, I can see why. It reminded me a lot of New York and Chicago with its highways crisscrossing through the city at various levels, breathtaking skyscrapers, and status as China’s financial hub. In my last few days in China, I drank lots of Starbucks coffee, blended juice, and ate at McDonald’s to curb my craving for the quintessentially American that I can’t get in Mongolia.

One of my favorite memories: At an acrobatics show, I saw 8 tassel-wearing men driving motorcycles around and around a sphere cage. Check that off my bucket list.

Men staring at goldfish.

Men Who Stare at Goldfish.

In the Chinese Quarter of Shanghai.

In the Chinese Quarter of Shanghai.

By day

Smoggy by day

Bright by night

Bright by night

Dragon ladies during the weekend of the Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon ladies during the weekend of the Dragon Boat Festival

In Tongli canal town. The fishermen use cormorants like these ones to catch fish for them by tying a string around their throats so they can't swallow the fish. The birds can count, and once they reach 5 fish, they  won't catch any more until they can eat one. Clever.

In Tongli canal town. The fishermen use cormorants like these ones to catch fish for them by tying a string around their throats so they can’t swallow the fish. The birds can count, and once they reach 5 fish, they won’t catch any more until they can eat one. Clever.

A gardenia on a rainy day. It smelled magnificent.

A gardenia on a rainy day. It smelled magnificent.

Comparisons: China and Mongolia

-One city in China usually contains more people than the entire population of Mongolia.

-Chinese food was a welcome diverse flavor-filled contrast to Mongolia’s standard dishes of meat surrounded by flour and various dairy products. That being said, China has a lot more availability of different foods and ethnicities contributing to their myriad cuisines.

Being foreigners in both Mongolia and China, we got a lot of stares. In Mongolia, sometimes it’s hostile, other times it’s just curiosity or kids excited to see someone different. In China, people were either indifferent, shouted in English “Welcome to China!” or wanted to take pictures with us like we were celebrities. Either way, I’ve become used to walking down the street and attracting a lot of staring, but for my family it was definitely something new.

-In all the places I went in China, every available piece of undeveloped land in cities and towns is cultivated and landscaped. Due to Mongolia’s dry climate and lack of funding for such things, I don’t see many (or any) landscaped parks or gardens, so China’s green spaces were a feast for my eyes!

-After reading Peter Hessler’s River Town a few months before my trip, it’s interesting to consider the Peace Corps experience in China. I share many of the same experiences he describes, like the fishbowl effect, language challenges, and other daily triumphs and frustrations. But there are some key differences that I don’t mind missing out on such as government control and politics, internet censorship, and crowded towns and cities. It’s a wonderful book and I recommend it to any past or current Peace Corps Volunteers or people who have been or are traveling to China.

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As I wrote this, I brewed a pot of jasmine green tea that I bought at the tea house in Huangshan. Taste evokes memories and I remember driving through the peaked mountains and lush green rows of terraced tea plants, seeing the lily pads and water buffaloes. I miss the green spaces and flowers and wet smell of China, but Mongolia’s wide open summer steppes dotted with white gers and patches of purple and yellow wildflowers had the effect of a homecoming for me when I returned.

It was harder than I thought it would be to say goodbye to my family for another year, but returning to Mongolia with friends waiting for me was much easier than flying out of Detroit into the unknown a year ago.

A Family Reunion in Mongolia

When I last left off, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my family in Mongolia. Lots has happened since then in my second Mongolian summer: China, horse races, visiting with friends, Khovsgul Lake, and lazy days reading. I was originally planning on writing about both my family’s visit to Mongolia and our China trip in one entry, but alas, it proved to be too much. So I’ll start at the beginning: June, when my family arrived in UB!

Together again!

Together again!

All Peace Corps Volunteers speculate about what it would be like to have your friends or family live a few days in your shoes wherever you live in the world, whether it’s a remote village or a chaotic, sprawling city. I have been lucky enough to have both this summer! My family came in June and my good friend Jonathan is here now for the month of July. My parents, my sister, and my friend have been able to see Mongolia through car, bus, and mikr van windows, go grocery shopping with me, meet many of my Mongolian friends and teachers, as well as visit the countryside and eat in a herder’s ger or see the Naadam midsummer horse races. It’s been incredible to share Mongolia with my people in person rather than trying to explain through pictures or Skype conversations.

Erdenet Naadam horse races, July 2015

Erdenet Naadam horse races, July 2015

While my family was here we spent a few days in Erdenet, where we met many of my teachers, saw my school and other important places around town, ate out with some of my site mates, toured the big Mongolian-Russian copper mine, and went to the countryside to see horses. It was interesting to hear my parents’ and sister’s impressions of my home for 2 years. They loved seeing the countryside and they think Mongolia is truly beautiful and the people welcoming and generous. They were shocked by the driving (fast, not many traffic laws), wandering animals (dogs, trash cows, etc.), and huge amount of undeveloped land and space in Mongolia. After being out of the U.S. for over a year, Mongolia and its characteristics have become normal for me, so I was brought back to the American perspective of things by their observations.

My parents and I with my school's Director, Training Manager, and one of my English teachers, Ulzii.

My parents and I with my school’s Director, Training Manager, and one of my English teachers, Ulzii.

The famous Mongolian-Russian copper mine. This is their current open pit.

The famous Mongolian-Russian copper mine. This is their current open pit, which they’ve been working in for 35 years.

Our mining crew.

Our mining crew.

Our Michigan alumni picture.

Our Michigan alumni picture.

A herder herding horses. Alliteration.

A herder herding horses. Alliteration.

Dinner with all of my English teachers

Dinner with all of my English teachers

We returned to UB for a couple days, where we stayed at the Ramada (luxurious in my eyes), ate at some of my favorite restaurants, and went on a day trip to the Chinggis Khaan statue and Terelj National Park about an hour outside of the city. UB is not usually a visitor’s favorite part of Mongolia, so it was nice to see the famous CK statue and its accompanying Khaan artifacts museum as well as the rolling hills, yaks, and beauty of Terelj.

The famous Chinggis Khaan statue.

The famous Chinggis Khaan statue.

Posing together

Posing together

At Terelj

At Terelj

When I spun the large prayer wheel at the temple in Terelj, I got number 122 and this was my quote.

When I spun the large prayer wheel at the temple in Terelj, I got number 122 and this was my quote.

On the way to the temple.

On the way to the temple.

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View from the temple

View from the temple

And then we went to China.

The First Special Olympics in Erdenet

Let me win. But if I cannot win,

Let me be brave in the attempt.

Ялалт байгуулахад минь туслаач…

Хэрэв би ялж чадахгүй бол, ялалт авчрах оролдлогыг минь зоригжуулаач.

-Special Olympics oath

Some athletes with PCVs Will and Michelle after a soccer game.

Some athletes with PCVs Will and Michelle after a soccer game.

This was the quote written on our certificates on May 15th when 77 athletes from around Erdenet and Orkhon aimag participated in the city’s first Special Olympics! It’s hard for me to put those 3 days into words because it was honestly one of my favorite experiences in Peace Corps and in Mongolia so far.

The Special Olympics started as a non-profit in Mongolia just last year and the first event took place in UB last fall. It is entirely a Mongolian initiative motivated by the international organization that reminds us: “People with intellectual disabilities are the most discriminated against people on earth. 250 million people with intellectual disabilities, in country after country, are forgotten, hidden, and institutionalized” (Tim Shriver, director of the Special Olympics). For that reason, organizations in Erdenet that teach and support students with intellectual disabilities came together to empower their students and athletes through sports and physical exercise.

Athletes and volunteers.

Athletes and volunteers.

The Special Olympics in Erdenet was the result of a year’s work by my site mate Tom and his Mongolian counterpart, Lkhagva, a social worker at the local Children’s Organization. They met with the provincial governor as well as different organizations, schools, teachers, volunteers, and coaches who support students and young adults with disabilities. We had at least 77 athletes and over 30 volunteers, coaches and teachers during the months of preparation and 3-day Olympics. The athletes competed in table tennis, basketball, volleyball, swimming, football, and track and field.

Practicing basketball on the first day.

Practicing basketball on the first day.

Some of our younger athletes in their badass tracksuits.

Some of our younger athletes in their bada$$ tracksuits.

The first day was dedicated to registration and practicing. It was wonderful that morning to meet many of the athletes and see the parents and family members who encourage and care for them. Everyone was excited to be there and it was fun to see the kids’ enthusiasm as they greeted their friends and teachers. We PCVs worked with our Mongolian volunteers to help register athletes and help parents and athletes decide in which events to participate. The afternoon was devoted to running around the gym (younger kids) and practicing half-court basketball and volleyball circles (older kids).

PCVs learn some Mongolian sign language from one of our athletes.

PCVs learn some Mongolian sign language from one of our athletes.

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My amazing CPs Ulziimaa and Monkhbolor, who volunteered all three days. They were so helpful with translating, running events, and filling out certificates.

My amazing CPs (counterparts) Ulziimaa and Monkhbolor, who volunteered all three days. They were so helpful with translating, running events, and filling out certificates.

The morning of May 14th, the second day, was sunny and warm and we observed the opening ceremony out on the track of the Erdenet Sports Complex. Officials from the governor’s office and the Sports Complex made speeches to open the competition and there was an adorable dance performance by some local kindergarteners, as well as 2 songs performed by 2 of our athletes. There were many reporters there to cover the ceremony and some of my Mongolian friends informed me later that they saw us on TV! Check that off my Peace Corps bucket list.

Special Olympics Erdenet advertisement

Special Olympics Erdenet advertisement

Athletes assembled on the field for the opening ceremony.

Athletes assembled on the field for the opening ceremony.

Athlete Enkhsaikhan and Volunteer Tuvshuu carry the torch to start the Olympics!

Athlete Enkhsaikhan and Volunteer Tuvshuu carry the torch to start the Olympics!

One of our athletes sings a song during the ceremony.

One of our athletes singing a song during the ceremony.

The kindergarteners in their flashy costumes.

The kindergarteners in their flashy costumes.

Elisa being interviewed by reporters.

Elisa being interviewed by reporters after the ceremony.

We moved inside to begin playing basketball, volleyball, and table tennis. Volunteers (PCVs and Mongolian) were assigned to each event to referee, run the clock, keep score, and give results. Our athletes were aged between 7 and 27. We even had a swimming event in the afternoon in Mongolia’s biggest swimming pool (located in Erdenet)!

Table tennis

Table tennis

A basketball game (we played half-court so multiple games could go on at once).

A basketball game (we played half-court so multiple games could go on at once).

Erdenet's swimming pool that you have to get a TB test to enter (AKA why I won't be swimming there).

Erdenet’s swimming pool that you have to get a TB test to enter (AKA why I won’t be swimming there).

The third and last day luckily had the best weather of all for our track and field events. There were 50m dashes, 400m races, relays, a ball toss, and long jump events. The day ended with the medal ceremony in which every athlete received a medal for participation and many athletes won 2, 3, 4, or more medals for specific events. Everyone was proud and went home with a smile, especially our athletes and their families.

The 800m race

The 800m race

The 25m Assisted Walk. Pure joy.

The 25m Assisted Walk. Pure joy.

50m race

50m race

Happy athletes, volunteer, and parent.

Happy athletes, volunteer, and parent.

These 77 young people showed their good sportsmanship, happy spirits, perseverance, and skill over those three days. At the risk of sounding cliché, they were truly inspiring and I’m so happy they were properly recognized for their talent and passion.

The volunteers

The volunteers

The Special Olympics is a worldwide non-profit started in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of JFK and wife of Sargent Shriver, creator of the Peace Corps. This summer, the 24th Special Olympic World Games will take place in Los Angeles, and 16 Mongolian athletes will compete. The Special Olympics is now in 177 countries, and as the Special Olympics spreads around Mongolia and more competitions take place, I look forward to seeing these athletes celebrated for their abilities and strength.

Erdenet PCVs

Erdenet PCVs

This week, I’m celebrating a year in Mongolia. I couldn’t have made it through this year without the support of my family and friends here in Mongolia and back home in Michigan, Maine, and other places. This Friday night, the Hagemeisters arrive! My parents and older sister Carolyn are coming to spend a week in Mongolia. After that we’ll fly to Beijing for a few days, then take a train to Xi’an, Huangshan, and end in Shanghai—about 2 weeks in China. I can’t wait to share this beautiful place with my family!

Баярлалаа.

The First Year

It’s May and my first school year is coming to a close. When I was originally writing this entry, I was having one of those “difficult days.” I was missing home and sandwiches and lakes and my family and good coffee and my pets and spring flowers and friends (not necessarily in that order). As everyone in the Peace Corps says, you have good days and bad days, just like you did back in the U.S., yet they’re always amplified here.

Some days I’m relaxed and comfortable visiting with my English teachers, drinking milk tea, and holding a newborn baby. Other days I want to scream at the people who stare at me on the street or talk about me in Mongolian and think I don’t understand. Thus, I present the graphic Peace Corps has labeled the “Emotional Cycles of the Volunteer” throughout their 27 months of service:

From our Peace Corps Medical Officers

From our Peace Corps Medical Officers

Perhaps you’ll notice that I’m now in the “Mid-Service Crisis” stage. Is the graphic entirely accurate and reflective of actual volunteers? For me personally, it’s pretty close and maybe some of my blog entries over the last few months expose those cycles of adjustment. Right now, I’m approaching 12 months and sometimes I feel “competent,” other times I feel sad and homesick.

But let me be clear about one thing: overall, I am happy here. Mongolia is beautiful and my friends here are kind-hearted and caring. I’ll share some Spring anecdotes and pictures to illustrate this.

Part of the Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Ulaanbaatar

Part of the Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Ulaanbaatar

In March my apartment flooded. Like actually inundated with at least 2 inches of water all the way to the front door. Two plumbers were fixing a knob on one of my heating units and the pipe burst, spraying my apartment with grimy water with a fire hydrant-like pressure for maybe a minute and a half, which was long enough to cause some pretty bad flooding. My initial reaction was to grab all my electronics and run and then start crying when I realized the extent of the damage. But as soon as 2 of my Mongolian English teachers showed up and saw it, their initial reaction was to grab towels and buckets and start cleaning up the water. Therein lies the difference between Americans and Mongolians. I thought it would be days before I could sleep in my apartment, but through the steadfast efforts of my CPs, one of their mothers and one of their sons, and my site mate Dan, we set things out to dry and cleaned everything up in 2 hours. I slept in my home that night. None of my things were permanently damaged and there’s just a water stain on the ceiling that my CP Lkhagva and I call a “decoration.” I was truly overwhelmed by the kindness and hard work that my friends gave to me that evening.

Lkhagva, my hero.

Lkhagva, my hero.

In April “spring” weather really began. Spring weather in Mongolia is a diverse blend of dust storms, snow, warm sunny days, and windy cold ones. Last week had some nice warm days in the 70s and this week was cold and snowy. Next week holds some possible thunderstorms and balmier days. I just wear layers because I refuse to don my winter coat again after April.

Spring snow at an ovoo overlooking Erdenet.

Spring snow at an ovoo overlooking Erdenet.

This May Erdenet will host its first Special Olympics. My incredible site mate Tom spent the last year meeting with people all over the city (including the governor!) and forming relationships with many different Mongolian agencies, working closely with people from schools, non-profits, government branches, etc. to make this event a reality. Next week we will host at least 10 PCVs arriving in Erdenet to join our 50+ Mongolian volunteers who will assist 100+ Special Olympic athletes in table tennis, track/field, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and swimming events. This is an amazing opportunity for these athletes to be part of a team, win awards, and for our volunteers and coaches to learn more about their abilities and potential. I am happy to be a part of it and so proud of my site mates Tom, Elisa, and Dan for all the hard work they’ve put towards this event. Another update about its results soon!

Special Olympics Athletes in Erdenet. Photo credit to Elisa, I think.

Special Olympics Athletes in Erdenet. Photo credit to Elisa, I think.

So as my good friends from the M24 group leave and the new M26 group arrives, I’m experiencing a pretty even mix of sadness and excitement as summer draws near, possibilities appear, and things change. My mom, dad, and older sister will come in less than a month and I am overjoyed to have the chance to share Mongolia with people in reality and not just online. We will also travel through China for 2 weeks. So Hooray for the months of warmer weather, airag, wild splendor and new experiences to come! I welcome those emotional cycles that indicate vibrant life.

A rest stop on the road to UB

A rest stop on the road to UB

We celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd by drawing chalk murals in the courtyard of my school. Here's a class of 9th graders with their mural.

We celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd by drawing chalk murals in the courtyard of my school. Here’s a class of 9th graders with their mural.

A lovely sunset I saw from my balcony on one of the warmer days recently.

A lovely sunset I saw from my balcony on one of the warmer days recently.

The Erdenet PCVs of 2014-15 with Chinggis Khaan in UB.

The Erdenet PCVs of 2014-15 with Chinggis Khaan in UB.

Tom, Elisa, and Dan, the masterminds behind the Erdenet Special Olympics, taking flight.

Tom, Elisa, and Dan, the masterminds behind the Erdenet Special Olympics, taking flight.

What I hope Erdenet will look like soon. Summer. Photo credit to Adrienne

What I hope Erdenet will look like soon.
Summer.
Photo credit to Adrienne