I’ve only been in Mongolia a little more than two weeks but so much has happened—and is happening—that I’m finding it impossible to capture it all. So here’s a little stream-of-consciousness attempt to document at least a few of the big milestones:
- I’ve learned the Cyrillic alphabet! I can sound out words and sometimes even know what they mean. And look! I can write my name in Cyrillic, too: Жөайна. Wasn’t that exciting? OK, maybe more for me.
- In order to get to school each day, I’ve learned my way around the west side of Sukhbaatar. Sukhbaatar is the capital of Selenge aimag (province). It’s near the Russian border and is gorgeous. According to the Governor, whom we had the chance to meet last Friday, there are 5,900 families in Sukhbaatar, and a total population of 22,000. In other words, fewer people than inhabit Microsoft’s Puget Sound campus. Here’s a picture of Sukhbaatar, as well as a view of my walk to school:
- Back to language, I can now greet people, say good morning and good night, introduce myself and tell people I’m from America (as if that’s not already obvious). I’m also starting to have very rudimentary conversations with my khasha mom. (Khasha means ‘fence’ in Mongolian, and your khasha family includes everyone who lives within your fence. So my khasha mom is my host mother). Being able to tell Aruna where I’m going and when I’ll be back may seem like a small thing, but it makes me feel incredibly accomplished. Here’s a pic of my khasha mom & sis and the home they’ve graciously opened up to me:
- I’ve (sort of) learned to make three different Mongolian meals: tuivan, a dish with meat, vegetables, and noodles made from scratch; buuz (steamed meat-filled dumplings); and khuushuur (deep fried meat-filled dumplings). There’s an art to each and I definitely have not mastered any of them. But for now, at least my rolling pin skills are entertaining for my khasha mom and sis. We even have a new family tradition—any time they come across a deformed food item, it’s held up with the exclamation ‘Joanna [insert food name here]!’ Before I arrived in Mongolia I was told I wouldn’t like the food. I was psyched that I’d be losing weight here. But my khasha mom is foiling my plan; her food is delicious. That’s not to say that a few months from now I won’t be craving all my fave American foods like everyone else, but for now I’m doin’ just fine. I even like suutei tsai, the milk tea that gets served with every meal. And next week Aruna’s going to teach me to make tarag (yogurt).
- I’ve mastered the outhouse—with and without headlamp. Not a small feat, and originally the source of a good 65% of my anxiety about living in Mongolia. Turns out it’s not as nearly bad as I’d anticipated. I’ve also learned to be completely comfortable discussing outhouse techniques and success factors with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. In case you were wondering, it really is true that the top three discussion topics among PCVs are food, sex, and poop….I didn’t understand that fact before I got here, but I certainly do now.
- I’ve done a week’s worth of laundry by hand in a tumpun (bucket). Though let’s be clear: a week’s worth in Mongolia is NOT the same as a week’s worth in the US. When you’re doing laundry by hand, you definitely learn quickly that it’s OK to wear something more than once before throwing in onto the dirty clothes pile. In fact, it seems downright ludicrous not to, even if you did walk to and from school, up a hill, in 85 degree weather, twice. Things air out….I’m just sayin’. And for those of you who predicted it, yes, my once always-manicured hands are long gone. But my khasha sis tells me there’s a place in town….. 🙂
- I’ve negotiated the shower house. Oh. My. God. After a week (OK, if I’m honest, it was actually a little more than a week) without a proper bath, this was just….glorious. I think I may have enjoyed it even more than the Pro Club executive locker room. If that’s possible. This week I’ll learn how to wash my hair in the tumpun so I get a little mid-week break. But something tells me it won’t be long at all before I’m really comfortable with the words ‘clean enough.’
- Finally, as you can see, I’ve found wi-fi. A few PCVs are fortunate enough to have families with cellular modems. The rest of us can be found two to three times per week at either Hotel Selenge or the restaurant Modern Nomads. For a 1500 tugrik Coke or cup of coffee (less than a buck), we can camp out for an hour or two and get our fix. There’s also an Internet café in the same building as the post office, but you have to use their computers. Either way, we’re grateful to have access, even though most of us agree it’s kinda nice not being online all day every day.
Well, I can’t by any stretch say that that’s all the news to report. There’s so, so much more. But I’ll save it for my next coffee at Hotel Selenge. In the meantime, I’ll share that despite all the excitement, I did have my first little bout of homesickness over the weekend. So if you’d care to drop me a comment here, or a message via e-mail or my Facebook page, just know it’d be incredibly welcome. I do wish you could all be here with me on this amazing adventure.
За дараа уулзъя!
(See you later!)