Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just in case we aren't already strange enough....

Bear: So, since Bear is a female dog and we don't want puppies, we made the decision to have her spayed. There is a vet in our town, but she does not do anything for dogs, so Bear had to make the trip to UB. There is a very good vet in UB and it is very similar to vets in America, including the price and care. I explained to my co-workers why we were taking Bear to UB and the comments were strange to say the least. The most common response was along the lines of "she should be able to have puppies if she wants". I then asked questions regarding who would care for the puppies and what is their opinion of the over-abundance of puppies/dogs in the community already. (About 3 weeks ago, we took a walk down 1 alley and saw ~15 frozen puppies/dogs.) At this point, we agreed to disagree. We scheduled the appointment and had to address the challenge of traveling to UB with a dog. Dogs are not allowed on the main bus, so we had to charter a taxi. Taxi traveling is precarious on many levels, including un-reliable times, poor drivers, bad conditions, etc. We were fortunate enough to find a neighbor willing to take us, along with 2 other people. We had 3 people (including a very wide woman) and Bear in the backseat of a tiny Hyundai. It was a mildly uncomfortable ride. We put Bear's blanket on top of Ashley and I so that Bear would sit on our lap. When the woman first got in the car, we received many stares and comments. She was not happy to be sharing the back seat with a dog. However, Bear was amazing on the ride with no accidents and only 2 stops in ~5 hours. Towards the end of the ride, the woman told me that Bear was good and that her dog was bad. We received similar comments throughout the trip. The driver stopped at Narantuul (huge market) and would not drive into the city, so we had to walk with Bear and our bags to the vet, then the hostel. It is probably 3 miles each way, and is a pleasant walk except for the CRAZY traffic in UB. Pedestrians have no rights and drivers don't stop or yield, even if walkers have the green walk-symbol. Every intersection is a life-threatening experience and even scarier with a dog. (We made a leash for Bear out of rope and she walked very well on it.) The combination of 2 Americans carrying bags and walking a puppy on a rope leash across some of the busiest intersections in the country caused many drivers/people to stare or comment....
We dropped Bear off and picked her up 2 days later, only to backtrack the exact same path to Narantuul, then the taxi ride home. Once again, she was an angel in the car and slept most of the way. She has to stay inside for a few days with only supervised walks so that she doesn't rip open the stitches or get it infected by rolling in garbage or wrestling other dogs. Also, we met the American veterinarian and she gave us her private number so that if anything happens in the "countryside", we can call her and she can help us, which is a huge benefit.

UB: While in UB, we met with friends, shopped, ran errands, and Ashley visited her host family in Zuunmod from last summer. I stayed in UB and met with people at the PC office. It was a productive and fun trip. We stocked-up on food that can not be found in our town, including salsa, tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, lemon juice, cheap oatmeal, etc. It was nice to eat hamburgers and pizza, though very expensive. We also picked up a few Mongolian language books from the office and Ashley bought a Mongolian-English medical dictionary, which will be helpful for both of us.

Job Update: I am officially working at World Vision, which is cool. Unfortunately, all but 1 of the business/economics projects were cancelled, so I now have 5 health projects. The projects are primarily education/training such as personal hygiene, diarrhea prevention/care (I know a lot about that topic), etc. Actually, Ashley has some free-time, so I am collaborating with her on a few of the projects (ex. dental hygiene). Since the presentations will be in Mongolian, my objective is to gather the relevant data, create a presentation with materials/activities/etc, then help translate it. One of the World Vision staff members will actually present the data since my language skills are not that advanced. Most of the target audience are located in the outer villages, where health is a big priority. On a larger scale, I'm hoping to get a recycling project and water sanitation project planned, funded, and moving in the next few months. It is taking an incredible amount of time just for the assessment and planning stages, so I'm probably way over-ambitious with them.

Exercise: The winter really limits outside exercise other than brief walks between buildings. We were "walking" to episodes of Glee, but that gets very boring. I tried joining the local fitness center, but the random hours (sporadic) and cost made me decide to cancel my membership after 1 month. I had expressed an interest in learning martial arts since judo and taekwondo are popular here and our town supposedly had an academy that closed a few years ago. Well, our exercise fortune has changed! A few weeks ago I was invited to an aerobics class with World Vision employees (only women go). I went to the class and it was awesome. The teacher is great, the facility is adequate, and the price is reasonable. It was the hardest exercise that I had since arriving in June. The aerobics class meets twice a week. Well, I found out that the aerobics teacher is also a 5th degree blackbelt in taekwondo. I talked with him (more like stuttered incoherent sentences and a few words) and he agreed to teach me, privately. We negotiated a price (once again, very reasonable) and we meet 3 days per week for 1 hour. Well, it turns out that he also exercises every morning at the sports complex, so he invited me along to run/stretch/exercise at 6am for 6 days per week. So, I started taekwondo and morning workouts 3 weeks ago with him. I am NOT a morning person, so for me to get up at 5:45am and get to the gym is a miracle. Now, Ashley has started joining us for the 6am workouts and 4 other PCVs (including Ashley) are now part of the aerobics class. They are all a great workout and I am very glad to be part of it.

There are a few interesting aspects about learning taekwondo here:
1) My teacher is Mongolian, does not know any English, and taekwondo is a Korean sport. Therefore, I am learning the Korean and Mongolian commands for everything.
2) Since my Mongolian is elementary, he has to demonstrate almost everything. (He is INCREDIBLY patient and a great teacher.)
3) Mongolians are known for being on their own schedules. Meetings are scheduled for 1pm and people will start arriving ~1:45pm. This is part of the cultural and hard for Americans to become comfortable with. However, this does not apply to my teacher. The first 6am run, I walked into the gym at 6:01 and he pointed at his watch, shook his head, and had already begun. Since that day, I am always early.
4) Taekwondo places a very high importance to flexibility, and when I started, I was unable to touch my toes. I need to be able to do a split in ~6 weeks, so this is very difficult for me.
5) I wear the taekwondo uniform (white with v-neck) and no t-shirt underneath. Well, the top of my chest hair shows and I sweat a lot. The little kids who watch class are enthralled by my sweating (it just pours off of me) and my chest hair since most men here do not have body or facial hair. I think the kids watch just so that they see me sweat.
-Overall, I look forward to each class and I truly enjoy my teacher. I think this will be a very positive experience in Mongolia.

Hot Springs: Ashley will provide a summary in our next post.

Weather: Mother Nature teased us 2 weeks ago with warm weather (30F) and sunny skies. She can be cruel and has decided that winter is not over here yet. Today the high is 5F and the low -20F. It snowed about 1 inch yesterday, but there is a stiff wind, which negates the warmth of the sun. The forecast looks good starting Thursday, so hopefully it will turn soon.

Travel: Ashley and I are going to Spain in 2 weeks! Our families (parents and siblings) are coming over from America and we will spend about 2 weeks with them in that area. We are so excited to see them, but also to eat Spanish food, drink good wine, and visit a beach! Additionally, it will be my 30th birthday during the trip, so we will celebrate that. There are many things that I want from home (new shoes, jeans, etc), and my family is generous to be a pack mule for me. I plan on taking 1 suitcase and returning with 2.

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