Thursday, October 28, 2010

Binder + Dadal Business Trip

This week, I spent 4 days traveling north on a business trip, primarily focused on agriculture and bee-keeping.

Here is the summary:
We took a Toyota Landcruiser, with an elevated suspension and snorkel (air intake on the roof). I actually thought, "wow, this seems unnecessary...especially the snorkel". I was proven wrong.

The drive to Binder was on a dirt-trail, not a road. It was slow-going and bumpy, but the scenery was great. We passed many herds and gers set-up in the countryside. In Binder, we met with the local bee-farming group on multiple occasions. We also participated in the opening celebration for the local radio station (1st station in the area), and there I met the governor. Over the next few days, we went to the bee farms and observed the progress of winterization of the beehives. We stayed in a hostel-like building with 4 single beds, a small table, and a wooden stove. All of the buildings/houses have wooden stoves for heat and cooking. Interestingly, the "hotel" did not have indoor bathroom facilities (no central water system) and no outhouses, so I had to use the facilities at the neighboring school.

We drove up and back to Dadal on 1 day. The purpose of the trip was to meet with their bee-farming community, assess the winterization progress, and to check on the seabuckthorn shrubs. Seabuckthorn is a shrub that grows in this area. It produces small, orange berries which are incredibly healthy. According to Wikipedia, seabuckthorn has 15x as much Vitamin C as orange juice. Seabuckthorn is used in certain drinks/supplements, and is considered a cash-crop in this area.

The geography of northern Khentii (Binder/Dadal) is substantially different from the south/middle of the aimag. This area has many rivers and is forested, particularly the farther north you go. The forest and rivers provide better climate for certain animals, including wolves, fox, boar, bear, elk, etc. I did see 2 foxes when we were leaving Dadal. Anyways, this area reminds me of Colorado (but with smaller mountains). At one point, we were only 40 km from the Russian border (Siberia). The ethnic group of people in this area are called Buryiads, and they came from Siberia. I have mentioned them in previous posts. At one home, we had to take 3 shots of Buryiad vodka (made with fruit and 80 proof) with the grandfather. He has killed a huge boar and the head was hung on the wall.

This area is known for it's historical significance, primarily that of Chinggis Khan. (Referred to as Genghis Khan outside of Mongolia.) He was born outside of Dadal and lived there for many years before moving to other areas of Mongolia, and then conquering most of Asia/Middle East. I was able to visit some of the most important sites with the help of Baacancyrel, the driver. The picture beside is the monument marking the birthplace of Chinggis. It is on a large hill overlooking the Balj river valley.

This is the water-spring that supplied Chinggis and his family. It is located just outside of Dadal and has been supplying water for 800+ years. The blue scarves are used to mark a sacred location in Mongolia, or a spot of significance.

This is a set of stones that form a larger "monolith" in the countryside outside of Dadal. Supposedly, the stones mark the tomb/gravesite of Chinggis' sage/hero. This site is very remote and not well-known. Note that there is only 1 scarf. Also, this site was next to one of the bee-farmers' houses.

This is the convergence of the Onon and Tsenker rivers outside of Binder. This is one of the proposed burial sites of Chinggis Khan (under the rivers). The river already had ice on Oct. 25th. The Onon is known for its taimen (giant salmon) and this is a "popular" tourist spot in the summers. The river is only 3-6 feet deep, and we forded it close to this spot. There were no bridges in this area, so we crossed many streams, stream-beds, and 2 rivers.

This is the monument marking the spot where Chinggis formed the Mongolian country/government in the summer of 1206. It is located a few kilometers south of Binder, near the Onon river. This event is well-documented in most texts of Chinggis and Mongolia. It was the first unification of the warring tribes/clans and is called the khuriltai. Thousands of people attended this event and were hosted here for the entire summer. Tribes from across Mongolia, Siberia, and Northern China (Gobi) came to gathering and joined the Mongol nation.

This is an example of the type of house structure that some of the northern tribes used prior to the ger or wooden house. This particular monument marks the spot of the house of Chinggis' best friend (not sure of the name). It is also located outside of Dadal.

Trip Highlights:

Craziest foods consumed:
honeycomb (with honey still in it)
horse intestine (boiled, for breakfast)

Scariest Moment:
fording 2 large rivers, with water/ice washing up to the windows

Update for Ashley:
She finished and submitted a Millenium Challenge Grant application for non-communicable disease assessment in the aimag. She also bought new black leather high boots (with a small heel) because she "needed" them, according to her co-workers. However, they look nice and will help with her commute in the cold.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pictures from our new home/community

Thanks to a fellow PCV, I was able to get a faster internet connection at her work. Therefore, here all of the most recent pictures.

This is my best Mongolian picture so far....the original needs to be submitted to National Geographic because it exemplifies life so well here (and I am proud of it).

A few weeks ago, we took a hike (over flat ground) to a stone monument from the Turkic era (~700 AD). On the way, we came across a group of horses playing in a lagoon near the river.

Here is the stoneman that we found, also called a babbel (sp?). The blue scarves are good symbols in Mongolia, so they are draped around it. Also, people offered money and food, which are placed in front of it, or the money is tucked into the scarves.

These are the slippers (handmade from wool, camel hair, and leather) that Ashley and I wear around the house. Very warm and comfortable.

Here are the new curtains. There is actually a traditional pattern in the lower section, but it is very hard to see in this photo. The top is lined with gold fabric.

Here is the new kitchen prep table. Lacquered wood. The metal bowl is for the rice cooker and the pink bucket is for "bleaching" vegetables prior to cooking. The sunflower pattern is actually a plastic film that we found in a local store. The wood on the shelves absorbed water, so we put the film over top, to make it spill friendly and easy to wipe-up. We are VERY happy with it.

This is the new futon/couch. The fabric covers are new and though the seats are firm, it is very nice to have somewhere to sit.

Funny story for the week: we are approaching the end of fresh produce season and we wanted more tomatoes. Red tomatoes are expensive, so we went to a local store and asked for 1/2 kilo (1lb) of green tomatoes. She would only sell us this massive bag of green tomatoes, which is approximately 5 kilos (12 lbs). The entire bag cost 1,900 T, or ~$1.50. We put the tomatoes on the bottom of the kitchen prep table and about 1/2 have turned red. We have frozen a few pounds and have been trying new ways to eat them as they turn. I have been making omelettes with tomatoes almost every morning and Ashley has been putting them into whatever we have for dinner. I am quickly becoming tired of tomatoes, though I will miss them in the depths of winter.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Winterization in Progress

First off, Ashley has been very busy at work this week, so once again, I am providing the blogpost (read into that statement as you will).

The warm weather has left and we are into Autumn. Briefly, snow has fallen twice here. The daily highs are 40s, nightly lows are 20s (this does not take into account the wind). The central heat was turned on last week and our radiators started filling last night. 3 fins filled in about 12 hours...only 20 more fins to go! The water drips into the radiators from a main line and works its way through the system. Most of the other buildings were full on Thursday or Friday, so we must be at the end of the system. I have started wearing a wool hat (lack of hair). I found an awesome soviet style leather/wool hat with a bill and flip-down ear flaps in a local store. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to buy it when I was there (~$6), but I plan to go back this week. Ashley has ordered her winter boots (buryad boots). They are leather outers, fur-lined, and rubber bottoms. Supposedly, they are very warm. In a local 3ax (market), there is an old woman that makes them by hand. They cost ~$60 for the fur-lined ones and take about 2 weeks to make. Ashley has a much longer walk to work and her coworkers are worried about her in the cold, so we needed to order them ASAP. I still haven't made up my mind about winter boots, or which style to get. There are a few types (cowboy, basic, etc)....I just want to make sure that whatever I buy is made locally (not imported). We are going to buy winter jackets when we go to UB in November.

I had my first private Mongolian language lesson this past Saturday. It was awesome. The teacher is a staff member at a local NGO who is fluent in English. It is helpful at this point to have someone who speaks English to explain the grammar structures. For 2 hours, we primarily worked on pronunciation. There are a few letter combinations that are very tricky and the emphasis is also on the first syllable, which is very different from English. I am planning for 2-3 hours per week of tutoring. PC provides some funds for tutoring, but I expect to personally foot some of the bill. We also spent time working on common phrases (What will we eat for dinner?, When will you come back to the office?, etc).

The futon/couch has been successfully reupholstered. Actually, removeable covers were made for the cushions, which is even better. The seats were also fixed by covering the springs and adding more padding. Overall, very successful endeavor. The work was done by a local seamstress that works in my building. She spent about 2 days working on it and she went fabric shopping with us. The total bill was ~18,000 Tugrugs for material and ~25,000 Tugrugs for labor, which is about ~$35. That is substantially more economical than the $400+ for a brand new imported couch. Also, we had curtains made for the kitchen windows. When we moved in, the "curtains" were lace, which provided no benefit or privacy at night (we are on the ground floor). Once again, we picked out fabric and had a local seamstress put them together for us. They are gold/tan with a traditional Mongolian pattern and lined in gold, which matches the kitchen trim. It cost about $30 for everything, which once again, is much better than the $90 for new, imported curtains. I'll try to post pictures of the futon and curtains in a future post.
So, the apartment is pretty well complete. We reorganized and gave it a thorough cleaning. The natural light is great (southeast facing windows) and the potted plants are doing well, including the lettuce and basil. The geranium is going crazy and has almost outgrown its pot. We also got a small cactus from Ashley's work. I'm interested in trying to grow hops for next year....though more research is required.

Community Events
Last week, we were invited to the birthday dinner for a coworker. It was very relaxed, and she cooked up a great meal of potato huushur and cake. (Note: most huushur or buuz are made with meat, so non-meat is a special request.) Also, we had dinner with neighbors last week. They know Ashley from work and live in a close apartment. They speak no english, so it was an interesting conversation since we are slow and painful in Mongolian. They served traditional tsoivan, which was excellent. On Friday, World Vision gave 10 families new gers and I went to the ceremony, which was very nice. The families were homeless or had inadequate shelter. The gers were 5 wall (medium/large) and ornately painted. On Saturday, we had dinner with a Korean volunteer living here. Korea has a volunteer program similar to PC and there are ~80 people in Mongolia. The funny part is that he spoke very little English and we speak no Korean, so we spoke "Mong-lish" over dinner, which was entertaining. He is a very interesting guy and we plan to meet with him regularly. Hopefully, he can teach us how to cook good Korean food!

Note: If you plan on mailing us a letter/package and want to write the address on the label, please make sure to copy it exactly as we have it. Mongolian does not use the Latin alphabet, so some of the letters are very different (ex. л <> A or n [it is an L sound]). A few items sent had "English" versions of cyrillic, which required intervention by the post office. Let me know if you have any questions about this. And please, keep the mail flowing, we love it.

For next week, please post questions in the comments section and we will make sure to answer them.

жастин (Justin, or more closely Jaasteen)