Sunday, September 25, 2011

Heading Into Autumn

First of all, I would like to apologize for the excessive tardiness of this post. When Ashley returned, we weren't even sure if this blog was necessary, but we have decided to keep it going, and keep it more current. Sorry for the delay.

On this Saturday evening we are resting together in Lancaster County. We’ve spent the past three weeks together again, spending time with families at home and on vacation in our favorite places (mountains and the beach). We recognize that we’ve taken an extended hiatus from blogging. This is partly due to travel, but mostly due to the transient nature of our life during these moments. Our job searching and considerations for homes new to us is still very broad and, while bearing no fruit, is calling us to go forward with patience. In the meantime, we still have friends and family to see. These joys help during the times of frustration.

Ashley and Bear made the flight from Mongolia to Pittsburgh, via Osaka and San Francisco, without delay or undue difficulty. Upon arrival, both were thankful to reunite with Justin and warm, comfortable beds. In the last weeks in Ulaanbaatar, Ashley had ample time to meet with friends and savor those times. For her last culinary experience a Mongolian friend taught her how to access the nuts/seeds of a pinecone. These pinecones are collected from Mongolian forests, boiled, dried, and readily available on the streets of the city for a healthy, albeit time-consuming, snack.

From Justin’s perspective, the return of Ashley (and Bear) was very exciting. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve the day before they returned. I couldn’t sleep….I got to the airport early and was incredibly happy to see them. The transition to being a whole family again has been fairly smooth. We have had many private, deep discussions trying to gain perspective about our situations and trying to figure out where to go on from here. In my opinion, we are in a very good place (marriage-wise). With regards to living situations, we are essentially nomads between our parents’ homes. They have been very gracious with us. As Ashley mentioned above, the job hunt has not been productive. However, I’ve been very picky about where I send my resume (job and location). I’ve had a few interviews, but no job offers. Nowadays, people apply to jobs online, with no human interaction. Unfortunately, applicants aren’t contacted or updated unless they are selected for an interview or follow-up. So, for most of the jobs that I’ve applied for, I have not had any responses. This is particularly frustrating because I’ve only applied for jobs for which I am qualified for (perhaps even over-qualified in a few instances). Ashley is very open to living almost anywhere in the US (except the south), so she is letting me take the lead. There are an abundance of PT jobs across the country, so we aren’t worried about her finding something. If I continue to be unsuccessful, then she will take the lead and I will just try to find something close to industrial engineering/business analysis in whatever area she is able to find a job. Searching for a job is almost a full-time job…..

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The End is Coming

Justin writing on Ashley's behalf:

After completing her trip to Khovd and participating in another physical therapy training clinic for a neighboring hospital, Ashley has decided to return to America. This was not an easy decision, but after extensive conversations between us, she decided it was the best thing to do. Needless to say, I fully support her decision. The hardest part will be the logistics and paperwork associated with leaving the apartment in Mongolia, going to UB for 10 days (to be explained later), then actually traveling to America. In related news, Ashley has decided to bring Bear back to the US with her. Bear has all of her shots/vaccinations/etc, but needs to be in UB 10 days prior to departure and have paperwork completed by the veterinarian and submitted to the airline. Since Bear has all of the requisite shots, she will not be quarantined upon arrival here. It is great news that she is bringing Bear back, but that also makes the logistics much more difficult because she has to account for a dog and a large crate. Peace Corps pays for Ashley's plane ticket, but we have to pay for Bear to ride in the cargo-hold of the plane (~$200). Anyways, next week Ashley will leave our town and move to UB to begin the paperwork. She will be in UB for approximately 10-12 days, then fly back. Right now, the tentative arrival date is August 20th - 22nd (flights TBD). She will either fly back to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, to be determined also.

Therefore, she wants me to let everyone know that all packages, mail, etc should be held and not sent. It would not arrive before she leaves Mongolia. If you recently sent something, please let us know and we will make arrangements at the post office to get it or have it picked up for us.

Justin's update:
I just took a 2 week trip to Chicago, Nashville, and Knoxville. I went to Chicago with my mom to see Shannon and we visited the aquarium, planetarium, and other sites around Shannon's apartment. Unfortunately, the weather was brutally hot, but we had a nice time. Then, I drove to TN and mom took the bus back to OH. I stopped in Nashville for a day to see Dale, which was fun. We ate hot chicken at Bolton's and went to the State Flea Market. Then, I went to Knoxville and spent a week with Mike and his family. He took me to all of the cool sights/places in the area. The highlight was driving the "Tail of the Dragon" twice, then going tubing down the Y out of Townsend. It was a fantastic time. I tried to eat all of the culinary treats from each town, which including Chicago pizza (Gino's East), Nashville sweet tea and hot chicken (Boltons), Knoxville soul food (Chandlers) and bbq (pork butt), and Cincinnati skyline chili. It was all very good.
On a more serious note, I've earnestly started looking for a job. I've applied to a few positions, had 1 interview, but have had no offers. It is very frustrating. I have not found many jobs in the Pgh region that are of particular interest to me, so I am extending my search, primarily NE towards NY and Vermont, NH, etc. I don't know if I will have any more luck up there, but maybe. When Ashley returns, we will have to figure out where we want to live and what our future plans are.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Naadam 2011

- Wrestling Match in the stadium. The winner does the eagle dance, described in the blog below.

- The wrestling action

- Archery competition

- Horse-racing

- Group of morin-khuur performers, for the opening ceremonies

What a variety of experiences I had during Mongolia’s summer holiday. Locals dressed up in colorful summer deels or dresses. Meanwhile, cars boasted the Mongolian flag and I was reminded of Easter and Memorial Day at the same time. I enjoyed a traditional concert featuring varied instruments, dances and singing, with throat singing as well. The costumes were quite resplendent in color and variety. This year I had a chance to watch all sporting events: horse racing, wrestling and archery. After each wrestler wins his match he rhythmically saunters to the circular stand holding the 9 helmets of the Kings. He goes around the helmets in the clockwise direction, waving his arms as an eagle does in flight.

I watched the events with Mongolian friends and coworkers, Korean volunteers and an American photojournalist traveling around the country. Another fellow PCV was stranded in my town for 6 days, as the buses that travel to the countryside towns are stopped for over a week during the festivities. The government and most organizations closed for an entire week, mine included.

I was pleased to see trash containers amid the carnival-type set up surrounding the outdoor stadium for the event. They had typical games, food vendors, and screens for special photographs set up. The stadium seating is exceptionally hard to access, 3 feet from the ground within the stadium and no steps to ascend by. The covered seats are divided into 3 sections by metal bars welded from the top to bottom of the seating area. Thus, you must crawl under, over or through to access middle seats or pass by any section. The external access requires entrance into the grandstand area, 2 flights of steps and crossing of a short plank. In America we value convenience, while in Mongolia convenience is harded to come by in so many ways. Yet, life goes on and people celebrate nonetheless.

Since Naadam we are resuming a more normal summer schedule. By summer schedule, I mean a relaxed schedule. In Mongolia people take all of their rest days at one time, usually in the summer. The concept of spreading out time off throughout the year is not considered. Thus, people are gone for a month or more at a time, depending on years worked. Despite this, a coworker and I have put in 4 consecutive days of cooperative work on a project proposal. This diligent preparation, though it only started 6 days ago, is an improvement. We wrapped up the project in time for today’s deadline. I will enjoy getting away from a desk job and back into clinical work in America. At times the current situation is difficult and Justin and I miss each other very much. The diversions of the past weeks have definitely helped me during this difficult time. I’m finding that joy and difficulty can pass together, neither must be tempered by the other, though both are acutely present.

- Written by Ashley (posted by Justin)

Justin's Update:

I have been hanging out in Pittsburgh and Ohio for the past few weeks, trying to spend time with friends and figure out the next steps in my life. I've applied for a few positions and grad school and waiting to hear a response, if any. Right now, I'm visiting my sister in Chicago with my mom. I'm planning to visit friends in TN the next few days, then back to Ohio.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trip to Khovd

-camels with funny faces

-our driver, the SUV and our tent with crystal

I arrived back at site yesterday. Bear got along well with her dog-sitters, but she was also very glad to see me. The town seems even more green then when I left and I always enjoy the new flowers that peak up unexpectedly. Here’s a bit about my trip.

We spent three days traveling to Khovd and drove about 30 hours during this time. We covered at least 1500 kilometers, mainly over dirt or dust roads. We had a diligent, well-prepared driver from World Vision and the

training coordinator with us. We traveled in a Ford Everest SUV. Considering the long road trip, we had the best possible arrangement. We stayed in a hotel the first night and camped on the steppe the second night. Our driver provided a nice 4 person tent that kept us dry during the light rain that evening. We got used to no bathrooms, outhouses, etc. Crystal provided a bag to encourage collection of our trash as we camped. Our driver almost left the bag sitting on the pristine steppe, but with our insistence, it went with us to Khovd for disposal. We stopped at food gers and ate with families along the way, usually one hot meal a day. The towns in the countryside are limited, with

gers scattered sparsely in between. I saw more camels then ever before in Gobi-Altai. We had two flat tires on the way to Khovd, but the driver said they were, “No problem,” and his quick tire changes confirmed this.

The training schedule changed from day 1, as it was scheduled to start at 9, but the coordinator instructed us to meet her there at 9 for set-up. She explained that participants would not come until 10. Thus, we assisted in enabling disregard for schedules in this country. (There were not participants at 9). Tea break scheduled at 11:00 arrived at 10:00 and the call for lunch at 1:00 came at 12:30. No need to worry about having enough presentation material, as the 6 pm end time got moved to 3:30, then 4 with our input. I need this reminder to not worry, as things that are planned for always change, so no need to fret prematurely. The best prepartation is an open mind and flexibility. That said, the participants, both parents and doctors were active and open with discussion and questions. I appreciated the parents’ honesty in sharing their frustrations, fears and challenges caring for their children with disabilities. The difficulties are immense for all families, but the options for these parents are so few. The information is so limited as well. I find their determination gives me great hope and we discussed options for

increased communication with teachers, school directors and social workers to work toward inclusion for their children in schools. Most of these children have no option but staying at home without education or opportunity to build social skills.

One family we visited lives in one small room of a building because they sold their ger to pay for treatment for their son. Their situation is improving, as is their son. His motor development appears nearly normal. His mother, who was at home, has finished college and will be the kindergarten teacher for the rehabilitation center that will open next month. Her son will be with her at this center. His father is also now employed.

Moments of brevity included stopping to talk with a passing driver and noting the large sheep riding in the back seat. We asked for the man with the camel at the river crossing. Apparently you can pay 10,000 togrogs and the camel will guide the car, finding the shallowest places. Unfortunately, the man with the camel was not there that day. A man got in the car to guide us across. At times it seems the vehicle was floating, not driving, but we made it.

The return to primarily Mongolian food required GI transitions, as expected. Visiting families always includes the prompting to “eat, eat” and “drink, drink.” You must actively be doing one or the other, preferably both, at all times. But, one cannot complain about kindness and hospitality. What a great gift to be welcomed openly into the lives and modest homes of these people. Life is difficult, but there is always time to sit with friends and strangers.

-a landscape view with the Khovd mountains

-the Gandan monastery in Khovd at sunset

Friday, June 24, 2011

Road Trip Coming Up

Justin with 2 fellow business PCVs in UB on the night before he left.

Ashley with the Ondorkhaan girls in UB.

I’m writing in the midst of a heavy and windy storm that has been here all night. Bear had enough of being inside and is somewhere in the midst of it. Heavy rain is fun to see and hear, as it comes so infrequently. I skipped puddles the entire way to the morning workout. Four of us showed up in the midst of the storm. That said, average attendance has increased from 3 to 35 over the past 4 months. I enjoy seeing people around town that I recognize from the morning sessions and I’m learning new names as well.

I walked home from work on Monday to find my neighbors slaughtering a sheep in the hallway. I
imagine they chose the cooler environment over the heat outside. I’m less shocked by this by now and I’m thankful that it is a relatively clean process.

On Saturday I will leave for a road trip to western Mongolia. I’m excited for the opportunity to travel and participate in a seminar there. I’ll provide an update upon my return in early July. I’m sure there will be some interesting stories to relate.

Justin has been spending most of his time in Pittsburgh with friends. He will be heading East shortly to do some more visiting with family and friends. Thanks for all of the support during our continued transitions.

May we all welcome summer wholeheartedly!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Big Changes

As we mark our one year anniversary in Mongolia, we have some changes to share with you. Many will remember that two months ago Justin discussed his potential work options for the upcoming year. In his last blog, Justin shared some of the physical symptoms that have been very wearing over the past months. Due to these symptoms and recommendations from a doctor in UB, Justin has terminated his position with Peace Corps and returned to America on June 1, 2011. This process has been longer for us then we have indicated within the blog and other communications. Together, we decided that I would stay in Mongolia for the foreseeable future. We both see potential collaborations within Mongolia’s initial embrace of physical therapy as a treatment option for elderly and pediatric clients. In many ways it has taken the past year of being present to bring about these opportunities. I was hesitant to leave at the cusp of these projects. Secondly, as this was a difficult time for both of us, Justin can leave more easily knowing that his departure did not impact my work here. We will continue to give thanks for the advances in technology that allow for frequent audio and visual communication at affordable prices! We understand that many of you may have questions or comments about our decisions and we encourage open communication about this. We feel we can live separately because our marriage is very strong and we freely communicate with one another. We understand that this decision may have lead you to other conclusions, but wish to clear the matter up.

As many of you re-unite with Justin in the next months, I am resuming my life/work schedule in Ondorkhaan after frequent trips to UB last month. My focus will be preparation of training material for an upcoming seminar regarding children with disabilities, their families and their physicians. As everything thus far in Mongolia, this will be an interesting venture from start until finish. Also, I hope that this opportunity in a western province will invigorate my collaboration at home in Khentii. In the meantime this is a beautiful and definitively warm time to be in Mongolia. The expanses of land and sky are breathtaking and the herds of animals graced by the baby goats, calves, foals and lamb are a vibrant sign of life. I use this energy and optimism daily and hope each of you can find that joy as well.

As I take the realm of this blog, may you have patience with this new voice and may you freely share your own thoughts, observations and experiences.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Brought to You by the Letter F

Festivities: This past week was one of our sitemate's birthdays. So, we had a birthday/Cinco De Mayo party. It was Mexican themed with regards to food/drinks. Tequila and cheese were purchased in UB, we made tortillas and chips and salsa. Someone from the embassy provided garbanzo beans, so Ashley and I made homemade hummus (not Mexican), but it was tasty. Anyways, we invited the other PCVs and some friends from the community over to our apartment. We had 4 nationalities represented (America, Mongolian, Korean, German) and conversation was often in 3 languages (English, Mongolian, Korean). Overall, it was a fun evening and everyone had a nice time. Many people tried new foods/drinks and we all ate well.

Fashion: This is an interesting topic in Mongolia and worthy of a lengthy summary. Most of the rural herders wear deels (traditional mongolian clothes), with big leather boots and large, brimmed hats. Many UB residents and business professionals wear suits, or business casual clothing. The intriguing fashions come when these two styles converge, or when other styles are incorporated. High heels (on leather boots) are a fashion and health requirement. (Ashley was warned that cold heels lead to frozen ovaries). It is common to see men in dress shirts and workout pants (windbreakers). However, overall, there is the sense that you can't be too dressed up. For example, we went to go pick-up garbage behind the apartment with some neighbors/coworkers and many of the people showed up in suits (or female equivalent). The men painting the curbs last week had on nice jackets and pants, though they were covered in white paint. The cleaning ladies at the schools often wear heels to work. The use of accessories and make-up is also required. There is a word here called "goe" (rhymes with boy). It can be used as a noun, adjective, or verb. It is similar to bling, though less metallic (more plastic) and equally as shiny. Women get "goed" up for almost anything, including aerobics. There is a woman that wears pearls and make-up with her track suit to the gym each morning to workout. Another interesting conversation was had regarding the British royal wedding. Typical comments were that they were disappointed with the gown and jewelry because there was not enough "goe". The women that we talked to expressed expectations for more bling (jewelry/colors/etc).

"Fat": Recently, a few of the Americans have been asked by their friends/coworkers if they are pregnant or just fat. Speaking about being fat is a common discussion topic. It is not rude here for people to inquire about your weight or to tell you that you are "fat".

Futility: Recently, there have been 2 occupations in our town that have drawn my attention. The first is the street cleaning crew. There is a large group (maybe 20-30 people) that clean the streets each day. However, you have to keep in mind that there are only 3 paved roads and we live in a VERY dusty area, with high winds. Also, the members use hand-brooms to sweep the street, which requires excessive bending. Unfortunately, as soon as they finish a street, they have to start over again due to the dust and wind. Secondly, I was informed that there are 18 people that work at the local airport. Interestingly, the airport is closed for commercial traffic (domestic and international flights don't land here), so only emergency or private planes would land. Since this is a poor area and there are no large businesses (or mines), we have no private air traffic to our aimag. We live probably 2 miles from the "airport" (which is a dirt runway) and I have never seen or heard a plane in the past 9 months. As a matter of fact, both the prime minister and president of Mongolia drove to our town on recent visits from UB.

Health Update: The past 2 weeks I have been ill with persistent headaches, intermittent nausea, fatigue, joint pain, and lethargy. I am going to UB for blood tests and consultations with the PC medical office on Monday.

Interesting Notes:
- Bear caught a bird (it was low flying and Bear was right behind it until the end). Another dog carried it away. We were disappointed with her success.
- We had an english-speaking visitor for 24 hours. A tourist from Belgium (Elisa) was on her way through and needed assistance, so we helped her on her way.
- A restaurant can now make pizza in our town. It required pre-ordering 2 hours ahead and we went with our aerobics coach and foreign visitor. The pizza was good, but a little heavy on the meat products. Next time, we will request no meat. Also, the conversation was interesting because our coach speaks no english and the visitor speaks no mongolian, so we were translators.
- Ashley received two last minute requests from Mongolian friends in college to write their final papers for English literature classes. Ashley declined to write them, but offered to edit when they had produced a draft.
- A co-worker/neighbor went to Cambodia and came back with a lot of jewelry for sale. Ashley bought a nice silver ring. The funny part is that this "collection" traveled to multiple workplaces and people stopped working for many hours to try things on. This type of "sale" happens fairly frequently, such as this week, one of Ashley's co-workers opened an Esprit "shop" in the health department for 2 days. It seems as though many people are involved with different types of sales, either cosmetics (Oriflame), supplements (Herbalife), or clothing/fashion. Her co-workers joked that the stores come to them, so there is no need to go shopping.