January 13, 2003 - Fairfield Minuteman: PCV Patrick Francis left Uzbekistan to finish service in Mongolia
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January 13, 2003 - Fairfield Minuteman: PCV Patrick Francis left Uzbekistan to finish service in Mongolia
PCV Patrick Francis left Uzbekistan to finish service in Mongolia
Read and comment on this story from the Fairfield Minuteman on PCV Patrick Francis who was vacuated from Uzbekistan to finish his service in Mongolia. Mongolian culture cannot be separated from horses. The Mongols are exceptional riders and they prize and respect their horses. "On my first day here," he wrote, "my "father" put me on a horse, mounted his own and led me on a ride through the pastures and woods near our house. It was one of those moments when life seems perfectly balanced and comfortable - my environment was as rustic and serene as any I've ever seen and I was carrying on a conversation in crazy hand gestures with a complete stranger who was showering me with kindness. All this on the back of two beautiful brown horses. Read the story at:
Mongolia is home to Fairfield Peace Corps volunteer*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Mongolia is home to Fairfield Peace Corps volunteer
By:Bill Bittar, Associate Editor January 13, 2003
Patrick Francis lives in a wood frame house with the comforts of an inoperable wood stove, bricked up windows, old desks and a mattress-less Russian spring bed. His bathroom consists of a hole in the ground outside and he bathes in a frigid river nearby.
The Fairfield High School graduate is a long way from his hometown. Francis, 23, is working as a Peace Corps volunteer in a mountainous region of western Mongolia in the Bayan-Olgii province.
During his overseas adventure, he's escaped from a pack of wild boars on the back of his faithful steed, survived an altercation with a drunken local and a shaky flight aboard an old propeller plane, and completed a voyage in a vehicle fixed with Scotch tape.
"This is definitely not summer camp," Francis wrote in a letter to his parents, Brian and Cheryl. "In some respects it is, I suppose: the simple living conditions, the fact that I actually receive mail in paper form, the busy schedule.
"The length of stay and the anticipation of that stay, however, make it seem less novel. The difficulty of everyday activity is a fact of life that is no longer 'cute' or fun, but real and draining."
But Francis added, he is still enjoying his stay in Mongolia.
The Dartmouth College alum is teaching English to the Kazakhs in the small village of Ulaanxus, as well as creating and administering a social program, over the next two years. Peace Corps volunteers are only paid enough to lead the same lifestyle as the people they live with.
Brian and Cheryl Francis poured over their son's e-mails in the warmth of the living room of their Oak Bluff Road home in Fairfield one recent evening.
"I give him a lot of credit," Cheryl Francis said. "It's not an easy lifestyle for sure. It's a challenge. They say the Peace Corps is the toughest job you'll ever love."
"It's hard for us now because it's harder to communicate with him," Brian Francis said. "We were spoiled when he was in Uzbekistan."
"His 'family' had a phone," Cheryl added.
Flight from the war zone
When Patrick Francis first joined the Peace Corps he started out in Uzbekistan, which lies along the Afghanistan border. But soon after starting his work there, terrorism in the United States on Sept. 11 abruptly ended his stay.
"There was talk of moving the American military to Uzbekistan to use an air base," Cheryl Francis said. "No Peace Corps people can be in a country where there is an American military presence."
Francis's group was flown to Maryland to be debriefed, Cheryl Francis said, adding, many did not want to leave Uzbekistan.
"I don't think they realized how traumatic it was until they came to the States," she said of 9/11.
Back in the U.S., Francis went on a two-month cross country road trip with fellow Peace Corps volunteers, enjoying tours of all of the country's national parks. He also did research in the Asian Studies Department at Dartmouth. Francis had earned a bachelor's degree in Asian studies at Dartmouth with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. While a student, he studied in Beijing, China, for several months and had interned at CNN as a translator for three months.
When Francis's group was dismissed from the Peace Corps, members had the option of leaving or re-applying to serve in another country. Francis chose to go to Mongolia, which is bordered by China and Russia. While there, he fell in love with his first host family in "a sleepy little town of 3,000" called Tunkel. The chief industry in Tunkel is lumber and most locals depend on a train or horseback to get around.
"My home is literally the furthest structure from the center of town," he wrote. "It is nestled in a very lush valley that includes one of the two rivers. I live in a yard enclosed by a precarious fence with a large garden full of potato, turnip, carrot, cucumber, cabbage and scallion plants, a double-holed outhouse custom-built for my arrival, a paddock for cows and horses, and a home composed of summer and winter units.
"The eastern exposure of my home is so beautiful that I have a hard time taking my eyes off of it when I'm eating a meal at the kitchen window. Not a single building obstructs the view: there is a shaded winding river about 100 feet from my house and acres upon acres of open pasture where cows and horses graze all day long.
"This is at the foot of a chain of small, forested mountains that is home to cuckoos and blue and white feathered birds I've never seen before."
In addition to the scenic views, Francis also enjoyed a diet rich in dairy products, a private bedroom replete with a bed couch and carpeted floor, and many conversations and laughs with family members as he strived to learn their native tongue.
Confronted with wild boars
It was in Tunkel where Francis learned the joys of horseback riding.
"On my first day here," he wrote, "my "father" put me on a horse, mounted his own and led me on a ride through the pastures and woods near our house. It was one of those moments when life seems perfectly balanced and comfortable - my environment was as rustic and serene as any I've ever seen and I was car-rying on a conversation in crazy hand gestures with a complete stranger who was showering me with kindness. All this on the back of two beautiful brown horses.
"I've subsequently gone horseback riding for pleasure or out of necessity almost every day. I love the transition from trotting to galloping, when you really adapt to the rhythm of the horse. I've got to get myself one, maybe here, maybe in America."
Even a fractured pinkie he suffered from a fall didn't stop Francis from joining his "brother," Yyxa, for a horse ride on June 28. The duo picked up three young horses from a trainer employed by the family, and herded other horses that were out to pasture on the way home.
But their horses suddenly stopped and refused to go further.
"A look 75 yards in front of us revealed the answer to their obstinacy," Francis wrote, "there was a pack of wild boars staring right at us, grunting.
"Yyxa, with a panicked expression on his face, looked to me, turned his horses around 180 degrees and shouted at me to bolt in the opposite direction.
"We galloped across a field towards the river and crossed, looking behind us every so often. Fortunately, the boars decided not to follow us, and we found another path to take home parallel to the one we had started on."
The 'bar brawl'
Francis was treated well in Tunkel, until he ran into a rowdy local at the town bar during his last week - before going to Ulaanxus.
"Today I got in my first bar brawl ever," Francis wrote on Aug. 12. "Well, it wasn't really a brawl, or even a fight. It was more of a scuffle, but it was frightening nonetheless."
Francis went out to buy beer for himself and two fellow English teachers. He had been warned not to enter the bar after 6 p.m., but Francis knew it was the only place where he could buy cold ones, and besides, it was only 6:05. He also decided to make the buy alone. Two men leaned over the bar quietly as Francis ordered three tall cans of Cass, a Korean beer, from the barkeeper.
"As soon as I asked for the beer, the bigger of the two men suddenly charged at me with his hands clenched in fists," Francis wrote. "Red-eyed and stupid, he kept nudging me on the chest and arms, reaching for my shirt and following me around the bar, trying to provoke a fight.
"The whole time, he was speaking bits of Russian to me, so I told him repeatedly that I was American and that I didn't speak Russian, but that didn't alter his behavior at all."
Francis broke away from the stranger's grasp and fled from the bar. He watched from across the street as the man's friend practically dragged him down the road.
"Thinking things were safe, I returned to the bar to finish the transaction," Francis wrote. "When I re-emerged outside, the Neanderthal and his friend were waiting right at the side of the doorway."
The man lunged at Francis, reaching for his bag of beers. "Give me one. Give me one," he demanded, pushing him to the ground and tearing his shirt.
"That's when my primal rage kicked in," Francis wrote. "I picked up one of the remaining beers and launched it at his head."
Francis's throw was right on target, as the beer can smacked his attacker between his right shoulder and neck.
"This enraged him," Francis wrote, "and he retaliated with his own miserably-aimed beer, which just landed in the dirt far from where I was standing."
Francis walked away as his opponent was subdued by his friend.
Afterwards, Francis realized he was attacked because he looked different and reasoned the man would have victimized anyone.
"I've also realized that I was foolish to react the way I did," Francis wrote, "throwing beer at him in a fit of anger, and I know I was lucky to have escaped without injury."
But Francis was bothered that none of the 20 bystanders lifted a finger to help him during the altercation.
Later at the school, Francis received a surprise visit from the barkeeper, who gave him the beers and an apology.
Helping his fellow man
Through the good times of playing music and sharing food and laughter with Mongolians, and the tough times of facing harsh living conditions and occasional brushes with danger, Francis has managed to keep a sharp focus on his mission: educating the Mongolian people and striving to help them to improve their quality of life.
In addition to teaching classes, he has appealed to people to donate sports equipment to the school in Ulaanxus, where townspeople often gather in the warmth of the gym during the cold month of January, when temperatures have dropped from 17 to 54 degrees below zero, and expressed interest in a wide range of social programs.
Brian and Cheryl Francis believe their son acquired a sense of community during his college years when he served as a Big Brother.
"What's interesting about Patrick," Brian Francis said, "is most people spend their entire life learning to give back and he's learned the lesson at an early age."
And he has always been adventurous.
Both Patrick and his older brother, Timothy, 26, participated in Outward Bound as teenagers, where participants in the program live in the wild, braving the elements in Minnesota.
"Patrick is not a wallflower," Cheryl Francis said. "He likes a challenge. Both our sons did it, and they learned a lot about themselves."
For information on donating supplies to the school in Ulaanxus, call Brian and Cheryl Francis at 371-0532.
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