The past week has been intense...primarily language, technical, and cultural training. We usually start classes at 9am and end around 5:30, then do homework. We're also trying to integrate into our host families and spend time with friends. The language progression has been amazing...we can exchange pleasantries, ask/answer basic questions, and read Mongolian cyrillic, though we still probably don't know the vocabulary yet. We were told that to be "fluent" in a language, you need a working vocabulary of 2,000 words and my best estimate is that we know ~200 words and growing rapidly. Our teachers are very good, but demanding. Even the most experienced language learners are at their limit of comprehension. Host family integration is quite an experience because most of our basic choices are in the hands of people that we do not know well yet (food, sleeping arrangements, community events, etc). Each person is having a different experience and the arrangements are extremely varied (house, apartment, traditional ger). We will get into the specifics in a later post.
Per the title of this post, we have spent lots of time this week watching and watching out for. Per the pictures, the scenery is fantastic and the sights around town are not what we typically see in the United States. We found time again this weekend to go hiking in a nearby forest and below is a picture (notice the trees). We've also been doing a lot of watching of the community, to understand how to culturally integrate and how to technically integrate (our future jobs). Each place is different, so we need to observe a lot and synthesize that into action plans.
The image to the left is a Buddhist monastery in the hills of our town. During the 18th and 19th century, there were over 20 buildings, but the Stalinist religious purges in 1937 decimated the area and left only a few standing. This is one of the very cool sites that we walked to (about a 12 miles round-trip hike).
As you are probably well aware, the primary mode of transportation in Mongolia is walking (at least for Peace Corps volunteers). The sheer amount of walking that we do (many miles per day), requires that we become aware of our surroundings and learn to indentify any potential dangers, so that they don't become a problem. Below is my list of the 5 common things to watch out for while walking (seriously):
5. Animal skeletons (unfortunately this past winter was brutal)
4. Potholes (big enough to bottom a car out)
3. Construction holes that were not filled in after the job was finished
2. Animals (usually cows, but sometimes sheep, goats, horses or dogs) (example picture below)
1. Missing man-hole covers in the road
Food Update: I am starting to want American food, so I have offered to make a calzone for my host family this week. I got most of the ingredients, but one thing that can not be found is Mozzarella or Ricotta cheese. The only cheese is American and it is very expensive. I'll have to make do. Also, fruits (citrus in particular) are very expensive. 1 lemon is the equivalent of $3. I'll let you know next week how it turns out (i'm planning a veggie-calzone because I've reached my meat threshold for this week). By the way, we learned the phrase for "meat-free" food, so the next time we go out to eat, I expect Ashley to try it out.