September 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mongolia: Blogs - Mongolia: Personal Web Site: Josh & Nicora's Mongolia Page

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mongolia: Peace Corps Mongolia : The Peace Corps in Mongolia: September 1, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mongolia: Blogs - Mongolia: Personal Web Site: Josh & Nicora's Mongolia Page

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Josh & Nicora's Mongolia Page

Josh & Nicora's Mongolia Page

Josh & Nicora's Mongolia Page

We’ve made it. We’re now at site and somewhat successfully living in our apartment here in the nether regions of Mongolia, which says a lot since Mongolia itself is really in the nether regions. The flight here was bumpy and trying, but since we’ve been here it has been pretty smooth sailing. At 4 AM on Wednesday in UB we got up and hauled our gear out to the front of the dormitory for pickup by our counterparts along with two other volunteers (Suzanne and Tessa) who are heading to Olgii with us. Unfortunately, by now in the journey we’ve acquired enough stuff to make anyone’s back ache. After filling an entire minivan full we set out for UB airport. Here, I think it’s important to mention a few words in regard to what we’ve learned about flying MIAT airlines. Apparently it’s not exactly much like what we’re used to, weird. They’re notorious for overselling flights, which results in a full on rugby scrum to board the plane. I’ve heard stories from previous volunteers who admitted to giving ol’ grandma the elbow just to make it on the plane. All of this is further exacerbated by the fact the Mongolians do not participate in the funny Western custom called “the line.” If your at the bank, train station, check out line, or wherever people simply walk or shove their way to the front and demand service (this is where being tall is exceptionally nice) thus, with this in mind we prepared for our initial flight experience.

Luckily our first experience was much more undemanding. We unloaded our luggage onto an army of airport carts and were led to the front of the mob like a military convoy moving through a riot area by our counterparts. The only major difficulty came when we were presented with our bill. The total ended up coming to around 650,000 Togriks. We grudgingly paid this and boarded the plane in a mostly calm fashion. Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t an in-flight movie and the snack was a random candy bar. We successfully landed in Olgii four hours later on a bumpy dirt runway.

Olgii is surrounded by large desert mountains reminiscent of something from American Southwest with the Hovd river running through it. In the center of the city are large concrete apartment buildings and government offices. The concrete buildings give way to mud and wood houses in the surrounding neighborhoods. The population is somewhere around 20,000.

The next morning was the first day of school, which in Mongolia is a pretty big event. Every one dresses up in a suit and there is a large performance with music, dancing and speeches in front of the school. I was introduced to the student body and then I spent the rest of the day wandering from class to class. The first day isn’t much like school at all. The first day is when the schedule is created and so neither the students nor the teachers know what classes they have or where. The scheduling usually goes through multiple iterations during the day. Thus, I spent the day wandering around the school with my counterpart looking for classes that didn’t take place. Kafka would have loved it. We also met with director and the two Vice Principals. Essentially nothing was accomplished in this meeting. It was mostly a formality in which we both pledged great things for the school. As lunch time approached one of the older teachers invited me to drink airag in the teacher’s lounge. Feeling the social weight of the invitation I entered the teacher’s lounge to a jubilant air of teachers passing glasses around a massive container of airag. I had never thought Mongolian teachers would party like frat guys!

Our apartment is on the fourth floor of a large Soviet era concrete apartment building. It’s quite large, bright and recently painted. Our organizations outfitted the apartment quite well with nice furniture, carpets and probably the softest bed in all of Mongolia. At first there was nothing to cook with since the power is out, but after a conversation with my administrator two men showed up and installed a wood stove for us to cook on.

The power is out in the western three aimags (provinces) because the governments failed to pay the bill to Russia (where our power comes from). No one has any clue when the power will come back, but we imagine at the latest sometime in October. Mostly because that is when it becomes exceptionally cold and without power the massive central heating systems in the aimag centers cannot run. The post office and a few random places around town have generators that seem to run 24hrs a day which makes things like this email possible.

We’ve met a few other people from the states who are working for other relief organizations and some French and Japanese people. We usually get together a couple of times a week for dinner at someone’s house.

Just yesterday Nicora and I went to the countryside with all of the teachers and administrators from my college. We drove for about an hour out into the mountains. After driving through Mad Max like terrain we came upon a small river and oasis like greenery. The three vehicles crammed with people drove across the river and unloaded everyone in lush chunk of grass by the river. Huge blankets were spread filled with bread, candy and salads. People began to build fires to cook the horse meat. My boss commanded me to sit next to him and we played “chess” which was actually checkers. As has happened so many times, a bottle of vodka appeared and shots were passed around with long toasts preceding. We spent the entire day eating, joking and drinking. All of the new teachers had to stand and show their talents. Nicora and I put together an impressive rendition of “Itsie Bitsy Spider” and “If you’re happy and you know it.” After the singing and eating the group began to select victims for tossing in the river. I think only Nicora and a few older and pregnant women survived dry. This transitioned nicely into the next most popular Mongolian countryside activity, wrestling. After getting the 20 minute guide to Mongolian wrestling from my supervisor I won and lost once. This was followed by surprisingly more food, accordion music, and dancing. Somehow in the midst of this I agreed to eat sheep brain, which didn’t taste like anything. Nicora ate the brain as well as some tasty soft palette. At about 9:30 we all piled back into now only two vehicles and made our way back to town. Nicora and I made it home at about 10:30 exhausted and very full.

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

The Peace Corps Library Date: March 27 2005 No: 536 The Peace Corps Library
Peace Corps Online is proud to announce that the Peace Corps Library is now available online. With over 30,000 index entries in 500 categories, this is the largest collection of Peace Corps related stories in the world. From Acting to Zucchini, you can find hundreds of stories about what RPCVs with your same interests or from your Country of Service are doing today. If you have a web site, support the "Peace Corps Library" and link to it today.

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Al Kamen says allies disappointed in World Bank 23 Mar
Ambassador Randall L. Tobias speaks at PC 22 Mar
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Fred Poses meets with Vice-Premier in China 22 Mar
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Bill Moyers takes time to "sit and vegetate" 21 Mar
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Taylor Hackford's 'Ray' wins four NAACP Image Awards 21 Mar
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March 26, 2005: RPCV Groups in the News Date: March 26 2005 No: 534 March 26, 2005: RPCV Groups in the News
Houston RPCVs sponsor "Around the World in a Day"on April 6 25 Mar
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New Jersey RPCVs host exhibit in Maplewood on April 2 20 Mar
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RPCVs: Post your stories or press releases here for inclusion next week.

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PCOL is a strong supporter of the NPCA's National Day of Action and encourages every RPCV to spend ten minutes on Tuesday, March 1 making a call to your Representatives and ask them to support President Bush's budget proposal of $345 Million to expand the Peace Corps. Take our Poll: Click here to take our poll. We'll send out a reminder and have more details early next week.

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