Saturday, August 21, 2010

Now We Are Official Peace Corps Volunteers

So, this is the late-coming, big blogpost.

Unfortunately, the current internet cafe that I am in does not allow picture uploads to blogs, so there are no new ones on this post. I will try to find a place that allows it and include them in my next post. Sorry.

On August 12th, we took the Mongolian Language LPI test, which assessed our communication abilities in Mongolian. Our target was Novice-High (there are 10 levels and that is #3). We both received novice-high. The test was very difficult and fairly subjective. I was certain that I bombed it because the questions that I got were too difficult for my language abilities (ex. explain how to play frisbee in Mongolian). I suppose that I did well enough in the role-play section (ex. go to the local food market, see if they have the food you need, negotiate, and buy it) and basic conversation to pass. 82% of our class passed, which was very good. The people that did not pass it must try again in November. Peace Corps will pay (limited amount) for a language tutor on-going and we are planning to take advantage.

After the language test, we had 2 days to pack and get ready for the final training days in Ulaanbaatar. We spent most of those days meeting with friends and hypothesizing where we would each end up. On Sunday (8/15), the rest of the trainees returned to our town for site announcements. This was a very cool event. There is a huge map (~60 feet long) of Mongolia on the gym floor with each city and soum (village) drawn on it. They called out an aimag, city, job location and then the person's name. The person then received a packet of information about the place and job and stood on their location. People from the same areas were called out together, so you could see who will be in your town and neighboring communities. Afterwards, they put a smaller map on the wall and placed pictures on each person on their community.

We are in Eastern Mongolia (PC asks us not to publicly disclose the location, so if you want to know, email me). There are 4 M-21s (our training class, 21st in Mongolia) and 2 M-20s in our city and 4 others in the aimag. We live in an apartment and I am working at a local business development/consulting NGO and Ashley is working at the health department.

We have friends that went to every corner of this country, out West to BayanOlgii, South to the Gobi, and North to the Siberian border. We are already trying to figure out when/how we can visit them all. Mongolia is very wide and many of the sites are "fly-sites", which means that volunteers are flown to their cities rather than driven because of the length of time that it takes to get there. Also, many cities beyond a 10 hour radius of UB are only connected via dirt roads or require going over mountain ranges. For example, to drive to BayanOlgii could take 60 hours (of driving). There are a few train lines in Mongolia, so some of the people North and Southeast of UB take the train (slow, but safe and comfortable). Mongolia works as a hub and spoke transportation model meaning that almost everything has to go through UB. Your destination may only be 100 miles south, but may require going 400 miles because you have to go back to UB, then out to the site.

We spent 4 days of training/orientation in UB, which was a new experience. UB is unlike any other city in Mongolia and we were given extensive training (safety/security). The food was amazing and we ate a lot of pizza, sandwiches, and milkshakes. We also bought some food that is unavailable in our town (black beans, lentils, etc). We stayed at the dormitory for a Mongolian university, which was about 3 kilometers from the PC office in UB.

On Friday, we had the Peace Corps Swearing-In Ceremony. Technically, over the summer we were only Peace Corps trainees. We became official volunteers after the swearing-in ceremony. The ceremony consisted of speeches from the PC country director, US Embassy chief, and 3 representatives from the Mongolian government. Then, we did the swearing-in and received the documentation. Next, 4 PCVs gave speeches in Mongolian and then various PCVs performed songs, dances, or played instruments. Ashley sang, with Leon and Ellie, a Mongolian song called "Traveling Birds". They sang the first two verses in Mongolian and the last in English. They rocked. Here is the link to the video on Youtube:
( We have not watched it yet, so please let us know how it is.

On Thursday and Friday, we met our directors and went over work-plans and expectations. That was helpful to set expectations and learn about the organizations.

After the swearing-in ceremony, we went back to the dorm, packed, and got into a taxi. We stopped at Narantuul (gigantic outdoor market) to pick up a few things, then drove to our new home. The taxi ride was cramped, there were 4 adults (including the driver) and 1 child in a small car. Ashley and I had luggage on our laps and 2 suitcases were strapped to the top of the trunk for the entire ride. We stopped at a diner around 10pm for a quick bite to eat. We finally arrived at our new place at 12:30am. The driver was great and very careful with our stuff (he often checked the straps). We unloaded our stuff and went right to bed (twin beds).

Yesterday, we cleaned and started organizing our apartment. There is a massive bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom, and hallway. It is on the first floor of the building. We have 2 large windows and they are south facing (which is good for growing plants). We have a refrigerator, electric oven and stove. We put the beds together and are planning on turning half of the bedroom into a "living room" with a couch and maybe coffee table. The place will be very nice when we get unpacked and organized. We ventured around town and found most of the important buildings (delguurs [food stores], hardware store, banks, etc). Today we visited the two other M-21s here and saw there living situations. One is in a ger and one is in a wooden house. The three of us have totally different situations and locations.

We don't have an "address" per-say because most roads are not named and houses are not numbered. Most companies/offices have PO boxes, so our mail will be sent to one of our business addresses. Ashley will be working on the "address" and will email out the cyrillic version. It will need to be printed out and taped to the letter/envelope. If you want our address, please let Ashley or I know and we will send it to you.

Take care and thanks for the well wishes.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

LPI and Our Last Week in Training

Since the past post, we have been intensely studying Mongolian in preparation for the LPI. It is an oral 30 minute conversation/exam with a native speaker. There is a grading scale (10 levels I think) and we need to score at level 3 (Novice-High). If we don't pass it, then we need to take it again in November. I've been told by my teacher that I will pass, but I'm not taking any chances. The hardest part isn't the vocabulary, but rather the speed of the speaker. Sometimes it just sounds like 1 giant word, rather than a set of discrete words. I'm trying to speak with my host family more so that I can become accustomed to hearing the sentences and breaking them down into the words.

My LPI is Thursday and we find out our site location (permanent home) on Sunday. The Peace Corps does a big ceremony with a giant map and most of the PCV's from older classes come back for it. Supposedly, it's pretty cool. Since Mongolia is so big, there is a running joke that when everyone stands on the map and reaches their arms out, you will probably only see the people that you can touch.

We've been spending a lot of time with our fellow trainees before we depart our separate ways next week. We had host family appreciation day yesterday, which meant that 14 of us cooked "american" food for the host families. We did pizza, fried apple pies, onion rings, pasta salad, brownies, etc. The pizza and brownies were a big hit.

This week will be busy, but I will try to post some pictures next weekend.