Holy crap…I'm living in Mongolia!

two weeks

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.


    One of my teachers, Naraa, in our classroom. She’s awesome.

  • 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:

    Sukhbaatar city, capital of Selenge aimag (province)


    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:


    My khasha mom & sis, Arunjargal and Bolortuya

  • 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).


    Making buuz – mine were all deformed

  • 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.


    No caption required

  • 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.’


    Sukhbaatar shower house

  • 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!)



6 Responses to “two weeks”

  1. Britt Peemoller

    Yey! This was such a treat this evening! It’s so amazing to see and I can sincerely feel the excitement, curiosity and awe in your words. Been thinking of you and sending you lots of love, hugs and good wishes!

  2. Mark Murray

    Hi Joanna — I am love, love, loving your blog! As you know, I am insanely jealous of your adventure and cannot wait to bring my entire paleontology crew to Mongolia to visit you and the velociraptors next summer. But in the meantime your blog is an EXCELLENT Joanna fix. Your writing is so vivid – it really does feel like you are sitting across the table, nursing a tea, and telling story after story. I am so glad that you are having so much fun. In case you haven’t been on Facebook recently, Miss Julia has not only mastered walking, she has also mastered running… with two Star Wars light sabers that are taller than she is. I am not making this up. Thanks for sharing your experience with all of us, and know that we are all thinking of you and sending our love.

    • jlf

      Hi Mark! Soooo nice to hear from you! I have indeed been on FB to see that the force is strong with Julia. 🙂 She looks pretty swank in her sun bonnet too! Mongolia is definitely waiting for you and the crew. Once we’re sure I’ve made it through pre-service training, we’ll have to begin our planning! Much love to you, Melinda, Rees and of course Miss Julia!

  3. jamesrapsonms

    Ha! I grinned all the way through reading this post – so good to hear from you, Joanna, and great to hear how well you are doing. I had one of those “I’m sorry but I’m not sorry” reactions in learning that your enjoyment of the cuisine (at least Aruna’s cooking) are not going to support your plan for weight management. And I particularly love the concept of a khasha family. Reminded me of Robert Frost saying that family anyone who, when they appear at your door, you have to let them in.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: