The wait is over…on Sunday afternoon, I learned that I’ll be carrying out my two-year Peace Corps service in Bayankhongor!
To tell the truth, 48 hours ago I knew absolutely nothing about Bayankhongor. I’d sort of been hoping for a northern aimag (province)—a place with green fields and trees and maybe even lakes that would remind me of the Pacific Northwest. I certainly knew that going to the Gobi was a possibility, but hadn’t dwelled on it much. Since getting my assignment, however, I’ve gotten incredibly excited about my new home. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
- While Bayankhongor is in the Gobi, it has one of the most diverse landscapes in the country: the aimag has mountains, forest, steppe, and desert. One of Mongolia’s tallest mountains is in Bayankhongor and I’ll have a 360º mountain view from where I’m living. (I’ll be in the aimag center, Bayankhongor City.)
- There are saltwater lakes in Bayankhongor. The report is that they’re not only clean but also warm enough in the summer to swim in.
- There’s a dinosaur statue park in town (Mark Murray take note). Seriously, a park of concrete dinosaur statues. This is almost better than the fact that there are at least two world-renowned dinosaur fossil sites in the southern part of the aimag.
- Bayankhongor is also the home of Tsagaan Agui (White Cave), which is thought to have been a holy site for people living in the region in the Stone Age. There are also petroglyphs that date to 3000 BCE.
- The aimag is famous for its mineral hot springs.
- My sitemate says we can sometimes get bacon at the local market.
Bayankhongor City is one of Mongolia’s larger aimag centers, about the same size as Sukhbaatar (where I’ve spent the past nine weeks). I’ll be living with a host family on the first floor of a wooden house (my host family lives on the second floor and I’ll have a separate entrance as well as my own kitchen). My khashaa mother is a Mongolian language teacher, so she’ll likely also be my language tutor. And here’s a fun excerpt from my welcome packet, regarding my emee (khashaa mother’s mother): She is retired but works as a dentist at her private hospital in the other part of the house. I can’t wait to find out what that means!
The most exciting part of my new assignment, however, is the people with whom I’ll be serving. In addition to fellow M25s Robbi Jo Robyn who’ll be five hours away in Bogd soum, and Jim Kane who’ll be with me in the aimag center, I’ll also be living in the same town as M24 April Klug. If this name sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve been reading her awesome blog, and talking about reading her awesome blog, since before I left the States. (You may even remember me sharing a video of hers when I announced my Peace Corps plans on Facebook.) I’ve been hoping to meet her for months, and was totally floored that the occasion of our first introduction was her welcoming me to her town! We’ll live within walking distance from one another and amazingly, she seems to be OK with my stated plans to hang out with her in her ger every day from now until her close of service next August. 🙂