Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Pictures (Nov and Dec)

Bear is growing like a weed, but is so cute. This is a picture from about 2 weeks ago. She will be big enough to jump on the bed/couch in the next few weeks. In case you haven't heard, Bear is actually a female. When we got her, she was too small/young to identify gender and Mongolians were split on it (some said female, some said male). Well, it turns out that she is indeed female. In order to prevent puppies, we will be taking her to UB to get spayed in February/March. The only vets that spay are in UB and it is relatively expensive, but it is the responsible thing to do here where there is already a dog problem (too many puppies).

This is a picture from IST with the US Ambassador to Mongolia and the PC Country Director.

This is the Health group, along with their counterparts at IST. Ashley's counterpart is the woman wearing the Santa hat.

This is the World Vision staff in traditional Mongolian outfits (including deels) during a recent visit from an international sponsorship director from Switzerland. The sign on the building says "People Development Center". The man (Bilgee) in the silver deel is a great example of the whole outfit.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

IST + Christmas

So, I have a lot to catch you all up we go....

IST: The M21 (my training class) gathered in UB for a weeklong training seminar. Each of us brought one of Mongolian co-workers and the sessions were specific to our areas of work (health, business, etc). Each session was also done jointly in English and Mongolian. The classes ended around 8pm and we had social time afterwards, which usually resulted in playing card games with our counter-parts. We also had sessions on PC topics, culture, language, etc. Overall, the week was very busy, but very good. We spent the weekend before and after in UB, spending time with friends, eating good food, and getting Christmas gifts for people. Needless to say, we spent all of our money. UB is much more expensive than our town, especially when taking in account all of the great food options. Last time we took the bus to UB, it was freezing (literally). This time, it was scorching and we were trying to shed layers. A happy medium can't seem to be found. Also, the bus situation was precarious with regards to other situations.... Part of the way through the drive, a cargo door popped open and luggage fell out, so the bus had to back-up multiple times and people had to find the fallen luggage (our luggage was in early, so we didn't lose anything). Also, our bus was over-capacity leaving UB. Tickets are sold for the aisle, in which people are given small plastic stools, which they sit on for the entire ride. Late ticket purchasers are given the aisle seats. The plastic seats were already full when we left, but we continued to pick-up people on the ride. By the last town, there were probably 20 additional people standing in the aisleway and many seats had more than 1 was packed and probably very unsafe. We arrived unscatched with all of our luggage. Some people take taxis to/from UB, but that has its own set of risks (poor conditions, drunk drivers, etc), so we will continue to take the bus. Our next trip is not for a few months.

So, after IST we had 1 week of work before Christmas and the holiday party season known as Sheen Jeel (New Years). Every place of employment has a Sheen Jeel party, which is usually a very elaborate evening. People have to pay for tickets to their event and it is not cheap. Most people get very dressed up and women wear dresses that would look appropriate at prom (lots of sequins, glitter, high heels, etc). The food is a multi-course meal accompanied by large amounts of alcohol (usually vodka), which is followed by games, singing, and dancing. Also, spouses are typically not invited to the party. My work one was last week and it was a joint party between 3 ngos. Ashley was invited. It was a fun evening and wrapped-up early because many people have kids/families. Ashley's party is tonight, and we are not sure if I am invited. We also participated in a secret santa gift exchange, which ended up being VERY different from the american version and it had very complicated rules. I didn't understand the rules well enough and we screwed up the process, but it turned out ok.

Christmas: 2 of our friends (Leon and Ellie) came up to spend Christmas week with us. They had never been to our town, so it was good opportunity to show them around. Unfortunately, it was bitter cold (-20F to -40F) during the day, so our tours were very short and involved many stops in stores/markets. We went to the best restaurants in town and then for Christmas dinner, made chicken parmesan, which ended up being excellent. 2 of our sitemates came over for dinner and brought an awesome peanut butter cake. We did a small gift exchange ($3 limit) and sat around talking for most of the evening. It was a very relaxing, but fun day, shared with friends. On Sunday, we had lunch with other friends, then watched movies and played with Bear. It was too cold to be outside for more than a few minutes. They left on Monday morning on the bus to go back to their town.

This week, many offices are closed for New Years and people are getting ready for upcoming school breaks, competitions, and the big celebration of Tsagaan Sar, which is early February.

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back to UB

We have only been home for 11 days and we are going back to UB. Next week is InService Training for non-english teachers. So, we will be heading into the city on Saturday. This time, we have to take a co-worker with us. The trainings are more technical in nature, so this time can be used to build co-workers skillsets. It will be nice to see our friends again and eat good food. On a sad note, our favorite restaurant in our town closed up this past week. We were told that they were unable to make the rent payments. This is truly a loss for the community because their food was excellent and reasonably priced. Anyways, today is our 4th anniversary, so we will celebrate by going out to dinner in UB.
The daylight is dwindling at this point. Sunrise is 8:30am and sunset is ~4:30pm. Only a few more weeks, then the daylight starts getting longer again. The temperatures have been brisk (-15F at night, 8F during the day). There is a cold front moving in and it is expected to be -40F on Sunday night.
Bear is growing like a weed...he has doubled in the past 3 weeks. House-training is coming along well, but still room for improvement. Sometimes, he thinks that the plastic mat in front of the door is an acceptable place to pee. He has also starting showing interest in the animal bones/trash in the community. We need to break this desire ASAP. He will be staying at a friends' house while we are away.
This week Ashley got to meet with a US military medical team. The US military will be doing a community health program and specialist training next year and this was the preliminary planning meeting. I heard the team was surprised when they walked in and saw an American. Unfortunately, we don't hear enough about the good things that the military is doing around the world. We will probably get to help out next year with the clinics, and that will be a great experience.
I have been working on a project proposal for my NGO and writing articles for the local newspaper.
I joined the "fitness center" last week, which has been a very good, but surreal experience. The trainer is very strict and I can only lift if I follow his routine/regimen. Therefore, I am following his routine, which is actually similar to the one I did in America, though more intense. Working with a trainer in a new language is difficult, but I've learned more vocabulary. It must be strange for the Mongolians to see an American in the fitness center. The first time I was lifting, a bunch of guys came over to me, took off their shirts and flexed. They then wanted me to touch their muscles, which I politely declined. Wrestling is HUGE here, so many of the guys were strong, but also big. My goal is to be lean, which is not the goal of everyone else at the fitness center. There is 1 treadmill but it can't go faster than 4 miles per hour or the belt slips/stops. I found this out the hard way by running at 6mph, then hitting the front of the treadmill when the belt stopped. 4mph seems to be the sweet spot. I met the local soccer coach and he actually "tested" me in the gym, which was odd, but hilarious. He cleared the gym floor, put a ball down at midcourt, and I had to play 1:1 against him. Needless to say, I did fine and I was invited back to play. However, I showed up at the time he said and the gym was empty.....such is life here. Nothing is on-time and "plans" constantly change. I found a taekwondo teacher, so I may ask for private lessons starting in January. The physical exercise has been good and helps release stress.

The next post will probably be the week of Christmas.