Sunday, June 13, 2010

First Big Update

Ok, so here is the first big update to the blog, with photos.

The first few days were spent in orientation, which is a compact introduction to the country, language, and culture. It also included sessions on health, safety, technical skills (job), and expectations/responsibilities. These sessions are used as a crash-course for host family living. After 5 days of orientation, we were split across 6 different cities (aimags or soums), based upon job type, and then each person was placed with a different host family. The host family accommodations ranged from traditional ger to stand-alone modern house. Justin was placed in a house and Ashley in an apartment, though only about a mile apart. The host family living is used to get us up-to-speed on the culture and language. It also teaches us useful life skills for Mongolia, like building fires and handing washing clothes in a tumpan (small plastic tub).
Food: many of you want to know the food situation, so here is a brief update. We have been eating traditional Mongolian food and have been pleasantly surprised. The food is based around meat, dough, and some vegetables (carrots, onion, potato) and some meals have included tomato, cucumber, cabbage. Most of the food so far has involved boiling or steaming and many are soup based. Funny story: Ashley ordered "vegetable soup" at a local restaurant and it was beef stew. The other soup on the menu was "meat soup", which meant it had no vegetables. Overall, we are being fed very well.
Outdoor Pursuits: As you can see from the picture, our town is surrounded by large hills and valleys. We have taken a few hiking trips up some of them, with the largest being around 900 feet elevation gain. The base altitude at my house is 5,044 feet (close to Denver altitude), and the thin air really affected me running/hiking the first few days. We seem to be getting more accustomed to it each day. Most of the landscape is barren (no trees), but we did find a small forest behind a neighboring range and all of the trees were pine with short, tight (close together) needles.
Language: This has been the hardest thing for me so far. Mongolian is a very complex language and has multiple sounds unlike anything in English. I am feeling good about reading cyrillic, but long words are still tough to sound out. Now that I can read the word, I have to look it up in a dictionary to see what it means. Fortunately, there are some very similar sounding words to English (pizza, engineer), but most are not (supposedly there are 12 words for dung, depending upon the animal, though I have not been able to verify that yet). Each days pushes our knowledge of the language and it is amazing how far we have already come in 1 week (we can exchange pleasantries and identify common items/food).
Well, I need to head home for buuz (traditional Mongolian steamed dumpling), so enjoy the pictures below.

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