Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Pictures

Ashley and Tim at IST.

Ashley and I at the Chinggis Khan statue.

This is one of the girls that regularly comes to our house for food and tea.

This is a more recent picture of Bear.

The business PCVs along with their counter-parts (co-workers) at IST.

Monday, January 24, 2011

End of the 4th 9!

I’ve decided to include a few new sections into the blog. Let me know what you think or if there are other things that I should include.

Би өглөө дэлхээн зөнд англи хэлний хичээл заасан дараа гэртээ ирсэн. Бээр өнгөрсөн долоо хоног өвдсөн.

The sentences above say "I taught English class at World Vision this morning, then came back to my apartment. Bear was sick last week." I'm trying to learn how to type/write more complex sentences in Mongolian.

The Mongolian winter is 81 days long, which is 9 sets of 9 days. The 3rd and 4th 9s are the coldest. Today is the last day of the 4th 9, which means that a warm-up should be on the horizon. The high for Saturday is -10C (15F), which is balmy. We were joking that swimsuits will be broken out this weekend. One of our friends has a thermometer which goes down to -40F (mercury style). I have seen the mercury below the -40F line.

Tsagaan Sar is quickly approaching, which means new experiences, challenges, and activities. After New Years, many of the shops in our town were out of common foods for up to a week. For example, we were unable to find eggs for over a week, despite visiting 9 different delguurs (food stores) in our town. We have been warned that many foods will be sold-out before Tsagaan Sar and will not be replenished for a few weeks. Therefore, we are stocking up on commonly used foods, such as eggs, milk, juice, vegetables, etc. Many Mongolians have new deels or jackets custom made for Tsagaan Sar. Unfortunately, I was too late, so I was unable to have anything new made. Ashley was given a custom winter deel jacket from our site-mate, so she will wear it. Buuz are made by all families, but since we are unable to make good buuz, we are planning to buy them.

Last week, we made a joint order, with 2 other site-mates of 60 mantyy (risen dough), mokgui (no meat), nogontae (vegetables) from the owner of our favorite restaurant which closed. 4 of those buuz is a good meal for 1 person and they only cost ~$.20 each, so they are a good option when we don’t feel like cooking. Also, we put a little Tabasco on top and they are delicious. Actually, the restaurant owner sold me a large bottle of Tabasco (the real stuff) for ~$8. Ashley tried making mantyy balls for the first time on Saturday and they turned out pretty well. Next week, we will try “stuffing” them with something, maybe ham/cheese or vegetables. Frankly, I want to use pepperoni, but that is unavailable in our town and expensive in UB. We (most PCVs) often reminisce/dream of foods that we miss and then we elaborate on the large extravagant meals that we will eventually eat. Unfortunately, such discussions make us all long for home and it ends when we realize that “no one wins this game”. Dreaming is good for some things, but bad for others.


We are both actively teaching English to our co-workers. With the upcoming Tsagaan Sar holiday and the proliferation of mandatory trainings, many co-workers are not in the office or projects are on hold. I am trying to do a food security/poverty assessment for children in our area (this is related to the kids that we regularly feed, more to come later). I’m also trying to assess recycling practices/needs around our apartment building. Behind our apartment building is the trash-dump for a few apartments and buildings. The “dump” is a moveable fence that people through their stuff into it. The fence gets knocked down or moved, so trash blows everywhere (it is spread across the field behind our place). Many dogs live in/around the dump and cows eat there often. Most days, I see people sorting through the trash to find certain items (plastic/metal/glass/etc). Well, I am going to try to interview these people and understand their needs/wants so that we can better accommodate them. In the long-run, we envision 5 large bins (plastic, metal, glass, compost, other) so that the collectors can safely and easily get their items. I also want to document what they do with the items, where they go, who buys them, etc, so that maybe we can start a sustainable livelihood for these people. We envision using our apartment as a pilot project and then expanding to other residential areas if it goes well here. After this needs assessment is completed and the project plan is drafted, I will write a grant for the necessary materials. One of our site-mates is submitting a grant to do a glass mural on the side of the children’s center, which is a really cool idea. It will teach the kids art, teamwork, environmental (glass re-use), civic pride, and will really beautify the area.

Bear is now able to jump onto the beds and couch. She is not allowed on the beds, and only on the couch when the couch cover (her blanket) is on it. Unfortunately, she has also learned that she can open the bedroom door by pushing into it hard enough. Her weight is big enough to open the door. The bedroom door does not a regular doorknob or lock and I am unable to install one because of the frame set-up, so we put a suitcase behind the door or tie the door to the bathroom door to keep it closed. She has really good house-training days, then really bad days. Very inconsistent at this point. She is also very adventurous now and likes to spend large amounts of time outside either exploring or chewing bones from the trash dump. We are discouraging trash/bone chewing, but with bones EVERYWHERE, that is virtually impossible unless we keep her inside.

Justin’s Current Favorites:

Music: Mumford and Sons (Thanks Zach)

Book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (remake of the Jane Austen classic that includes zombies, very good way for someone who dislikes Jane Austen to read one of her novels)

TV Show: The Walking Dead (AMC tv show that I watched about zombies, following the trend of the book mentioned above)

Movie: Food Inc. – highly recommend for everyone in the US. It poses interesting questions about food choices, with regards to content and production/supply.

Ashley’s Current Favorites:

Music: unknown

Book: We Were the Mulvaneys

TV Show: Modern Family

Movie: Babies

Craziest Observation This Week:

The temperatures have been down-right frigid at night, often touching -45C (~-50F) with windchill. Many people cover their cars at night with blankets, primarily over the hood. Well, at these nighttime temperatures, batteries die and fuel congeals in the lines. So, the craziest observation this week was a van parked in front of our building, which had a fire burning UNDER it to warm the engine/fuel. Yes, the owner set a fire under their van to warm it up. My dad used to use a blow-dryer in Ohio, maybe he should have considered a fire…..

Mail Update:

We sent Christmas cards with pictures to ~35 families. Unfortunately, only one person has received their card. We apologize for the delay and we still have hope that they will eventually arrive.

GO STEELERS! We are planning a Super Bowl "party" here...which means we will gather in the library on Monday morning and watch it with the other americans.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year, New Experiences

Happy New Year! It’s been a while since the last post, so let me bring you up to speed.

New Years: We were invited to Ashley’s coworkers for dinner on New Years. We took pizza and apple cake. They made traditional Mongolian food including horse buuz (horse is much better than mutton) and mayonnaise salad. We had dinner, drank, sang songs, then it was time to go….at 10pm. (The family was going to relax and go to bed early.) So, we went home and watched a movie, then watched the city fireworks at midnight. It was a very fun evening.

Weather: According to Mongolians, the winter is broken into 9 groups of 9 days (total of 81). Winter starts on December 22. The 3rd and 4th Nines are the coldest, and we are in the middle of the 3rd. We have not noticed a substantial change in the weather, and actually, a few days last week felt balmy. Balmy means that it reached ~-5F, which constituted no scarf or double gloves. I actually took Bear on a short walk and didn’t even wear a coat (just a tshirt and fleece) with hat and gloves.

Tsagaan Sar: Tsagaan Sar is the major holiday that marks the beginning of spring and due to the lunar calendar, falls in the first week of February this year. It is one of the 2 biggest celebrations of the year and most everything is closed for at least three days. Families visit each other, exchange gifts, and EAT. Many families and stores have already started food preparation. Most families will make hundreds or thousands of buuz (steamed meat dumplings). Since Ashley and I are currently unable to make acceptable buuz, we will be learning/assisting her co-worker in their preparation. It is the man’s responsibility to cut the dough and the woman’s responsibility to form the dumpling and “seal” it correctly (pinching the edges in a certain way).

Jobs: Many of you are aware of the job challenges that I was struggling with. This week, World Vision has agreed to be my new host agency and to take over responsibilities for the relationship. Starting next week, I will be a World Vision Mongolia staff member (volunteer). I will be working on economic projects (consulting), teaching English, and hopefully child welfare/health projects. I will also be available “as needed” for my former agency. Thanks to everyone for your support through this difficult time. Ashley is still working hard for the health department. She has been teaching a lot of English, but also assisting in grants and preparing material for physical therapy classes for disabled students.

Dentist: Over the weekend, I had a dull toothache. After a few days, I called the medical office and they had me go to UB for a dental evaluation. The PC contracts with a dental group in UB. Local dentists typically don’t meet the requirements to treat volunteers. I went to the dentist and it was discovered that I had a cavity….my first cavity ever. It was drilled and filled and I’m waiting the mandatory 2 days before I leave UB as I write this. The office and dentist were great and very clean/organized. Overall, I was impressed with the care.

Bear: she is still growing and becoming more independent. While in UB, I picked up 4 vaccines for her, which Ashley or I will administer. We do not have a vet for dogs in our city, and there is a great vet in UB. We will bring her to UB in February for spaying.

Exercise: With the cold weather, it is hard to exercise outside. Therefore, I joined the local gym and Ashley does videos on the computer. Unfortunately, the gym hours are very sporadic and thus, I'm not using it as much as I would like. So, I try to "walk" with Ashley every night. "Walking" means that we put on an episode of Glee, then keep moving for the entire show (40 minutes). Some jogging, jumping jacks, tae-bo, etc....whatever keeps us moving. Sometimes it just turns into keep away with Bear or chasing Bear around the apartment. Frankly, I get bored doing this, but it keeps us moving. I'm looking forward to the warm weather and doing stuff outside.

Shelves: We had a local carpenter (moojan in Mongolian) build us shelves for our apartment. My agency was supposed to provide shelves or a dresser, but did not. After months of discussion, Ashley and I ordered them and paid for them. I was finally able to unpack my suitcase after 7 months of living out of it! Our apartment looks so great and is organized.

Packages/Cards: Thanks to everyone that sent us cards and packages! Your thoughfulness is amazing and we appreciated everything!

Christmas Cards: We mailed many Christmas cards in early/mid December and unfortunately, no one has received one yet. I suppose that the mail is taking longer than usual.