Saturday, July 24, 2010


Good morning from Mongolia. It is a lazy, hot Sunday morning at the post office. The post office becomes packed in the afternoon, so all of the Americans come here in the morning. Therefore, we refer to it as "American Hour" at the post office.

So a Horhog is a "Mongolian sheep roast", which typically takes place outside. The sheep, along with potatoes and carrots are put into a metal pressure cooker and many hot stones are placed inside it. Then the entire thing is put over a fire. The food is eaten by hand (everyone grabs a bone/hunk) and it is accompanied by large amounts of alcohol (typically vodka or airag [fermented mare's milk]). Yesterday, the PCT's had a family appreciation horhog in a neighboring park. The picture to the left is the meat when it comes out of the cooker. I'm pretty sure that I was eating a shoulder bone yesterday. The locals eat everything (including the marrow, fat, ligaments), but I only ate the meat.

Below is a picture of Ashley with her host mom (Shuree, with hat), along with a fellow trainee Kate and her host mom. The picture below that is of Justin with his host sister, Booya.

So, the order of a horhog is:
1) hot rocks are removed and passed around for good luck (very greasy and VERY hot)
2) soup cups are passed around which consist of the liquid drained from the cooker
3) meat is pulled out and put into a large bowl
4) meat bowl is passed around and everyone grabs a hunk
5) bread is passed around, along with any other sides (watermelon, carrots, etc)
6) vodka is opened and all adults are expected to take at least one small cup (a few shots). Repeat this step until all vodka is finished
7) candy is passed around

The picture to the right is of most the Peace Corps guys from our town (8 of 13).

After we played frisbee and volleyball, we walked back to town, about 4 miles. On the way back to town, we passed many herds of animals, including cows, horses, sheep, and goats. There are a lot of babies this time of year.

Then, we walked through one of the neighboring ger districts (known as a hashaa district) on the way back to our houses. Each family typically has a plot of land that is surrounded by a wooden/metal fence. Each fence typically has 1 or 2 swinging doors and 1 car door. This fenced off area is called a hashaa and many of them have a dog for security. Though they may look rough from the outside, many of the gers/houses are very nice inside. People living in hashaas typically do not have running water (fetch it from the waterman via barrel) and most have outhouses. Our friend Tim's family's ger has a tv, fridge, and sound system. Lastly, we arrived at Ashley's
apartment building, picture below left.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Bunch of Quick Topics

Regarding food, I have now had buuz for the 7th straight day at my house. Buuz are steamed meat, onion dumplings. On the topic of food, many current PCV's have told us that they became vegetarians at their house when they got to site. This is because most places don't have a refrigerator and it is very unappealing (and time-consuming) to purchase meat every day that you want to eat it. Meat markets here are a very interesting experience....tables in a large room covered with various types and cuts of meat (including heads, whole bodies, etc), where you can request a specific cut. I have no desire to go shopping at one of them. Also, we have been trying to figure out how people here do not get scurvy....not a single fruit has been consumed in my house by someone other than me.
This week has been "site interview" week. Each person has multiple interviews regarding site placement, including likes/dislikes/project requests, etc. We each met with the technical trainer and with the country director. Since it is much harder to place a business and health person together, I have been told that they already know where Ashley and I are going. The business members found out the list of potential places and they are spread across the country, from East to West and South to the Gobi desert. Site placement is the general defacto conversation topic at during all class breaks. We find out on Aug. 15th. After we get our site placement, we spend 4 days in UB shopping, training, and meeting our counterparts (people we will work with). Each trainee gets a housing allowance to get required items for their place. Ashley and I will each get we should be able to really outfit our new home.
Language: Nothing too exciting this week....working on superlatives, adjectives, and more complex grammar structures.

Funny Language Story: We were working on directions in class and had to guide a classmate through a room. I started telling Jon to "go straight" or at least that was what I thought. The teacher started laughing hysterically and told me to stop, then wrote the word on the board and told us to look it up. It turns out that I was telling him to "please pee".....which is only 1 close sound different from "go straight".

Have a good week and look for a new post this weekend.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

4 weeks to go

We are now entering the final stretch of summer training. 3 weeks of classes/projects, then 1 week of testing. After testing, we learn our site placements, then a few days of prep and we leave. Ashley and I are in the "advanced" language class.....our site lost a teacher to another site, so our 4 classes combined into 3. Our languages classes are working on conversational exchanges with shopkeepers, post office, etc. The hardest part is that many words are very similar (length of a vowel), but have totally different meanings (example....oily or dusty).

As part of our technical classes, we need to teach english to locals. I am teaching an intermediate english class to young adults and Ashley is teaching english to business professionals. Ashley did an HIV clinic this week at the local hospital. I am working on a case study/business evaluation for a local wool coop. They take dirty wool (freshly shorn), clean it, prepare it, then sew it into pretty nice products (shawls, gloves, scarves). The products look very nice and are cheap (<$15). They also make indoor house shoes, which I am planning to buy before we leave.

Mongolians do not wear shoes in their house, so house shoes are required. Since I don't have them now, I often walk around in socks or barefeet. It is ok to do that in the summer...but it would be too cold in the winter, so house shoes are required.

This week will be language studying, finishing our projects, and spending time with people. It's hard to imagine that we are spending 10 weeks with people (becoming great friends), then we get split up across the country and may not see them again. We are going to miss these people!

On a funny note, we found a beer garden. It is 4 plastic tables under tarps in a grove of trees. There is a fridge with some beer (6 types, only 2 are good). That has become the new hang-out place for the trainees on weekend evenings. The local restaurants/bars all close around 9pm, so we go to the beer garden. We actually don't even know if it is a legitimate business, but we like it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mid Center Days + Naadam

Last week marked the 1/2 waypoint of the summer. The entire group of trainees returned to the dorm in our town for 3 days of training/fellowship. At the end of the summer, each trainee has to take a Language Proficiency Exam (LPI). Based upon standard criteria, we need to score "novice-high", which means that we can communicate with host country nationals in basic sentences using correct grammar and decent pronunciation (the test is oral in Mongolian). If we don't score that high, we have to have tutoring in the fall and take the test in November. This test is the source of most angst (along with food issues). On Tuesday, we took a practice LPI to see how we were doing and to determine levels of classes. They are regrouping the students and Ashley has been put in the advanced class. I have been told that I will be in the advanced or intermediate...not sure until tomorrow. Is it better to the the dumb kid in the smart class or the smart kid in the dumb class? Wednesday - Friday were full of training, meetings, health evaluations, etc. Some of the classes were helpful (cultural norms at holidays), while others were not. There was a class called "romantic relationships" (dealing with cross-cultural relationships), which even the married couples had to attend. Thursday night was a barbecue and dodgeball game between sites, which was fun. The barbecue was prepared by the PC trainers and I had my first salad since arriving in Mongolia (also beef shish-kabobs and kool-aid). Friday was morning training and the local Naadam events started. We didn't get out of training until 6pm, so we missed it here on Friday. However, almost everyone went over on Saturday. We saw wrestling and the end of 2 horse-races. Fried food was served everywhere and airag (fermented mare's milk) and vodka were passed around. On Sunday, my host family went to UB, so I went to a "horhog" (sheep bbq) with my friend Ryan and his family. It was a fun time (6 hours) and the food was good. Ashley went to a similar event and then her family went to the Chinngis Khan Statue Complex outside of UB. According to her, it looks like an American type monument and was very impressive. On the way back, they stopped in UB and went to another monument. Sunday-Tuesday this week is Naadam in UB. The local events all lead up to the big one this week, which is broadcast on multiple channels. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures this week, so I will try to get something together for the next post.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4th of July in Mongolia

Today is the 4th of July, which has no significance to anybody here except Americans. I tried explaining "large American holiday" to my host brother, but I think it was lost in translation...which is a common occurrence. About 15 of us went to a Korean restaurant for dinner because the large Mongolian restaurant in town was out of food (another common occurrence). No fireworks...just an normal evening here. Also, there is no World Cup soccer on, and the other channels are difficult to understand or in one of the following languages: Mongolian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. On to a recap of the past week: the business group went to UB for a tour of 6 small businesses....very cool and informative. Unfortunately, I also got food poisoning that day....which resulted in 24 hours of misery and 3 days of no food. I am easing back into it (dinner was rice with vegetables). Ashley was healthy this week, but a large contingent of PCers have been sick with food related ailments. On Thursday night, the business class taught English to locals. This was a new experience, but went pretty well. 8 people showed up and had various levels of knowledge. Next week we are going to break into beginner, intermediate, advanced classes. This weekend was pretty uneventful....studying languages, hanging out with friends, watching soccer. We took a run into the countryside and came across 2 large cemeteries, very interesting. The dirt is mounded above the bodies and everything faces south (sacred direction). The weather has been nice, though often hot in the sun. Very few clouds, but sometimes windy which creates dust storms. Hats and sunglasses are required.

Housing Update: I live in a 2 story brick/cement house. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Very large for this town. No hot water in the shower. I think the water coming out of the tap is about 33 degrees. I have determined that taking 1/2 gallon of hot water from the sink to finish off an ice shower makes all of the difference. Clothes washing is done by hand, so the standard for cleanliness has been substantially dropped. It only gets washed when it is visibly soiled or smells.

The building with the blue sign (hoosnee delgoor - phonetic) is Ashley's host mom's food market. It carries basics, like eggs, bread, drinks, candy, toiletries, etc. Basically, all of the PCers use her store now. She also takes requests from us for special orders (Haribo gummy bears, cheese). Ashley's apartment building is behind. Better pictures in the next post.

The other place to buy needed items is the white market (picture beside). This is a 2 story "stall" type facility with many vendors. Most of the vendors carry the same general types of products, but some are more specific (clothes, shoes, meat, grains, etc). We usually end up here once a day to look around or shop or practice our Mongolian.

This week is "Mid-Center Days", which means that all of the PC's regroup for 3 days of training, etc. We have our practice language exams on Tuesday...just prep for the end of summer real exam. The training this week is also more specific on a few topics. We also have interviews with our trainers on our cultural integration, host family stuff, and preferences for site placement. Ashley and I don't have any we have no idea where we will be. Some people specifically want one location or another, but we are open to anything. Preferences are not always met, so this keeps us from getting our hopes up and then potentially being disappointed. We won't know our site placement until ~Aug. 20th.