Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Regular" Adjustments

It has been 2 weeks since the last post. Here are the most important topics:

Weather: Autumn is here and the weather has turned cold. By cold, I mean that it snowed briefly on Saturday morning. Today it is in the 40's, will be 70's by end of week, but then cold again next week. The nighttime lows are often below freezing and there is usually a very brisk wind, which makes it feel much colder.

Utilities: In Mongolia, the heating is provided from a central heating location via hot water lines to major buildings, including apartments. In our town, there are 3 coal-fired hot-water plants that heat and pump the water out. One of the plants is about 300 yards from our apartment. Buildings all have radiator heat and most individual houses/gers are not attached to the lines. Since the water is centrally controlled, there is no thermostat, so we have no ability to change the temperature in our apartment. Some buildings are hot, some are cold. It probably depends on the distance from the pumping station. Since it is centrally controlled, the local government determines when to turn on/off the heat. I was told that October 15th is a popular "on" date and it stays on until March 15th. Unfortunately, it is already fairly cold in many of the buildings, so another 3 weeks may be difficult. I am wearing a coat while I type this. I have observed that most buildings have 1 waterline for the radiators and 1 for the potable water. The potable water over the summer was very cold, but I was told that sometime in October that water also becomes warm. Our apartment is equipped with a ~10 gallon water tank that can be heated to a certain temperature (the heating process takes about an hour). However, most apartments/buildings do not have a hot water tank, so people shower/bathe using whatever water comes out of the tap. Bathing in the winter in cold water does not sound like fun. On a positive note, we heard that our place is warm. Gers and houses typically burn wood, coal, or dung, depending on the location in the country. In our area, coal is the most popular. Ger/house dwellers typically shower by either heating water on their stove and taking a "tumpun/sponge" bath or go to the local bathhouse. They typically cost ~$1.50 for 30 minutes. I have not been to one yet, but I hear that they are very nice.

Over the past 14 days, we have not had electricity during the day on 9 of them (it is restored at night). We were told that the first 3 days were planned outages, then 3 telephone poles fell in front of our place and we lost power for 2 days. Then, we have just had sporadic outages, which negatively impact homelife and work. Also, when the electricity is out, we have no running water from the mainline. I assume that the water pump for our building is electric. Last night, the electric went out around 7:30pm and came back on around 9pm, but the water stayed off until 1pm today. Our headlamps have been invaluable over the past few months.

Hospital Anniversary Party:
This past weekend was the 85th anniversary of the hospital/health department in our city. The hospital/health department put on a large 3 day event which included training, concerts, and dinner events. Ashley participated in most of the gala. She also sang at the dinner on Saturday night. I was not feeling well on Saturday, so I did not go (I wish I would have). The participants stayed in a make-shift ger camp setup on the outside of town and it was referred to as a "mini-Nadaam". That means wrestling, archery, horses and copious amounts of food/drink.

Our town has multiple bakeries, which means amazing bread. The loaves are big and doughy and without preservatives, last about 4 days. We typically eat a loaf every 3 days. We have found soy meat and tofu in town. Also, this past week was prime harvest-time, so there are a lot of people selling produce on the side of the road (onions, carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage, garlic, turnips, a few tomatoes, peppers, etc). We also bought a kilogram of grapes, which ending up being a lot more expensive than expected. Needless to say, we have consumed a lot of vegetables this week. Also, some friends gave us fresh greenbeans. We have also started growing lettuce, sprouts, and some herbs on our window sill. They seem to be growing well. We still have not cooked meat at our place, we only get meat when we eat out. Eggs are also available at reputable stores, so we make omelets 3-4 days per week and incorporate the veggies mentioned above.

We received a futon from my office, but it needs to be reupholstered. Therefore, we have disassembled it and are looking for new material and a staple gun. We were very fortunate to have a futon given to us because new couches are very expensive $400+. Also, a local carpenter made us (to specification) a new kitchen prep table. We were using the window sill, which was not ideal. The carpenter lives in a ger in town and has a very impressive woodshop in a house behind his ger. The table is very nice and very functional. Overall, I am pleased with the table and if we need any more furniture, I plan to go back to him.

Leisure Time Activities:
I have been playing volleyball ~3 times a week with the local World Vision staff. I'm also trying to get into yoga and potentially judo. Supposedly, this is a big judo area and one of the world vision staff members found me a teacher. On a side note, Mongolia won a gold medal in Judo at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With the weather turning, I want to find activities that I can do indoors and still stay fit. I try to read most days (working on another novel) and we have been watching shows/movies on the computer. Ashley takes brisk morning walks every day with a fellow PCV. She has been spending most evenings reading, cooking, or writing.

Guest Editor: Since all of the readers are used to my droning, next week Ashley will be contributing to the blog. Let's be honest, she is much more poetic and descriptive than I, which will be a pleasant change to this blog. Have a good week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Belated Pictures

Above are pictures from the swearing-in ceremony. The health group is the left picture, the business group is the right picture. The middle picture is Ashley and Leon (singing group).

Weekly Update: The past week has been fairly uneventful. Ashley has set about planting herbs in pots on our window sill. She has also made multiple batches of this quick-bake bread that includes local berries. Justin made window screens to keep the flies out of the apartment.

At work, Justin is working on a website and helping with translations for World Vision projects. Also, the new fiscal year begins 10/1, so we are working on next years' projects (agriculture development, business training, etc). Ashley's department is having a training this weekend, so she is spending part of her weekend there. They are preparing for the 85th anniversary of the hospital later this month. We are both actively involved in teaching English to coworkers.

Here is the first picture of our bedroom. Justin is re-assembling the beds and putting them together (2 twins).

Here is the view from our bedroom window. We've been stringing up rope between the trees to dry our clothes. It works very well. The windows are south-facing, which enables us to grow plants on the window sleeve.

This is the bathroom. The water tank in the upper left corner supplies hot water to the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and shower. However, the tank leaks if the main water line is on, so we just fill up the tank and use it, then refill it, and repeat. Justin had to fix the internals of the toilet to get it to flush, which it does now.

This is the kitchen. Small table in the lower left, electric stove, sink, and refrigerator. We have to do food-prep on the table or window sill.

This is a picture from the swearing-in ceremony in Ulaanbaatar. We are both wearing our Mongolian traditional attire.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Adjusting to our new place

We have been in our new locale for 12 days now....time for an update. Ashley is working at the health department and it is approximately a 20 minute walk from our apartment. I work in the building adjacent to our apartment, at a small (3 people), local NGO. The first few weeks are difficult because you have to "feel" out the organization and see where you and your skills can fit in. It's like transitioning to a new job in America, but the language barrier makes it much more complicated. The constant request that we both get is to teach English. I am teaching daily 1 hour English classes to my co-workers and Ashley is doing the same. My co-workers are at approximately the same level, so classes are pretty straightforward and applicable to everyone. Ashley's co-workers have varying degrees of English skill, so her classes are more difficult to plan and execute.

My NGO is sponsored by World Vision (the aimag has 3 branches and supports ~3,800 kids). This area has also been designated an "area development program", so they are able to try new ideas and see what has a positive impact on the community. I've been spending considerable time at their office over the past few days and I am planning to spend 10-12 hours per week there. They are planning a series of business and household finance classes this fall, which I anticipate getting involved with. World Vision also has cross-sector projects between education, health, and business, so there is a chance that I will get to collaborate with other PCVs on them.

Dietary Update:
We now are vegetarians, unless we go to a reputable restaurant or a friends' house. Frankly, it's easier to use vegetables and after my summer culinary experience, I am willing to remove meat from my diet. However, we did find a local restaurant that as really good pizza and burritos, so I get pepperoni or chicken there. We have attempted 1 Mongolian dish using vegetables instead of meat. A common dish is hooshur, which is meat in a bread dumpling, then fried. Well, we made mashed potatoes with carrot, onions, and garlic, then stuffed bread dumplings and sauteed them. In reality, they are closer to pierogies than hooshurs, but still very good. Unfortunately, we are unable to find peanut butter or mozzarella cheese in our new town. I am contemplating trying to make cheese in our be determined later.
Also, I have stopped drinking Coke (Pepsi is not available here), after many years of drinking at least 1 daily. Occasionally, I will have a black coffee for breakfast, but tea seems to be sufficient for now.

Apartment Update:
Our new place is shaping up nicely. I fixed the wiring in the bathroom, the toiler innards, and the trashcan. Ashley has done a fantastic job of cleaning it from top to bottom (are you surprised?). We have purchased a few things, primarily for the kitchen, including bowls, knifes, skillet, hot water pot, etc. Our main water line has been leaking, so it was only on for about 5 minutes a day until last night. Last night, the plumbers came and fixed the valve. They didn't replace it, just pulled out the screw/bearing assembly and fixed that. Plumbers tape (pipe tape) can not be found here (electrical tape is also missing), so the plumber used horse hair (yes, I said horse hair) to wrap the threads before reinserting it. That is ingenuity! Ironically, we woke up and found water all over the bathroom floor. It turns out that the water heater also has a leak, but it only surfaced when the mainline was on long enough to fill the entire tank. We'll address that one this weekend. Lastly, we are still missing 2 critical pieces of furniture and 1 nice-to-have (dresser, couch, table in kitchen to prep on [we have no counter, just a window sill]). We are working with our host agencies to get those resolved. On a positive note, we found out that our apartment is the warmest apartment in the entire city in the winter!

I'm still not able to post pictures, sorry. Thanks for the emails, keep them coming!