1) This is a group picture from a hill in Terelj. I am not in the photo because I was the photographer.
2) I am in this photo (bottom right).
It appeared as though Spring had officially arrived, then somewhat retreated. 2 weekends ago, I went with the World Vision staff to Terelj National Forest for a retreat weekend. The focus was spiritual development and relaxation. We left Friday and returned on Sunday. We stayed in a hotel that was surrounded by tourist gers. On the way through the park, I noticed small green “pools” on the sides of a few hills. After we arrived, I walked over to one and discovered that it was an artificial turf green for 2 local golf courses, the only 2 in Mongolia. The courses were short (par 3’s were ~100 yards), but they were courses. Unfortunately, it was too early in the season and they were closed. The park is beautiful and we took a short hike up a nearby hill. The park is full of mountains and a winding river, which is surrounded by trees. It is a popular destination, which is reflected in the number of tourist camps (gers, cabins, hotels) along the road. Funny Story: To enter the park costs $.30 for Mongolians and $3 for foreigners (gadaa hoon). I was in a van with 10 World Vision employees and I pulled out my $3 (which is a lot here), but the driver argued on my behalf and I only had to pay $.30! It was nice to spend quality time with my co-workers. Unfortunately, logistics were a challenge and a 4 hour trip turned in 12 hours...including a 3 hour wait at a gas station in the middle of the countryside waiting for a bus to van to pick us up (it never showed and we got into a different car).
Weather: A few weeks ago, the weather took a turn for summer. It was in the 50s/60s during the day and 30s at night. Then, last week, it dipped down again and we had a freak snowstorm on Friday. We received about 2 inches of snow and a lot of rain, but north of UB, a foot of snow fell in a few hours. The rain/snow was nice, but it turned our usually dusty town into a literal mud-pit. The lack of sidewalks and grass meant walking through mud wherever we had to go. Most of the mud has dried up, but there are still a few pools lying around.
Exercise: We are still going to the gym very early 5 days per week (5:30am for Justin, 6am for Ashley). The group of participants has increased to about 25 people, though many are part of a volleyball league that must play around 7am. The coach makes us keep a daily log of exercise, heartrate, food, sleep, and anything else important. It is good motivation to eat well, because it will be included in the log (the log is in Mongolian). I'm still doing 3 classes per week of taekwondo and we are doing 2 aerobics classes per week. Essentially, we work out everyday except Sunday, which is a much-needed break. Yesterday, due to a reschedule, I had morning workout, then back to back taekwondo and aerobics last night, with another morning workout today. Needless to say, I am exhausted and my legs ache.
Bear: She is doing well and we seem to be in a good pattern. She leaves with me at 5:30am and meanders around the school/gym/yard until we return, then she eats breakfast and promptly goes back outside. Then, she stays outside (usually rolling with other dogs) until Ashley leaves for work at 8:40. I put Bear on her leash and we accompany Ashley for most of the walk. We go back home and I put Bear inside the kitchen from ~9:15-12:30 (lunch break). She goes back outside until ~2pm when I go back to work. She stays inside until ~5pm when one of us return home. Then, she stays out until ~8pm, then comes inside and we play for a bit before we all go to bed at 9pm. On a good note, we were informed that there will be no "dog kill" campaigns this year in Ondorkhaan. So, we feel more comfortable with letting Bear roam free outside. She spends most of her time playing with the junk dogs or chewing bones while laying on dirt piles beside the apartment. She has the best of both lives (freedom of stray, food/shelter of pet). Unfortunately, on Sunday, one of our neighbors (while he was very drunk) informed us that his children (teenagers) are afraid to play outside because of Bear. Let me give you some background into the dog situation and attitudes. Bear is about 25 lbs and fairly small (especially compared to most dogs here). However, she likes people and doesn't run away when someone gets close. In fact, she often walks up to people to smell/lick/whatever. Sometimes she barks at people, but she is very non-threatening. On many occasions, I have seen grown men/women freak out at Bear (yelling, screaming, hiding behind things/people, throwing objects, etc), especially when we walk her out of the apartment or when she walks back to the door by herself. The reactions are so extreme that they are hard to comprehend. Some people won't even come into our apartment if Bear is in there, even if she is uninterested or in the other room. Ashley and I are starting a public campaign to educate kids (primarily) on how to interact/behave with pet dogs (not guard dogs or strays). In the meantime, we are not letting Bear play "free" outside during prime kid-playing times. She will either be chained to a tree behind the apartment or inside during those hours (6-8pm).
Hard Choices: This is a very difficult topic for me to discuss, but I want to be open to all of the readers about our experiences. Unfortunately, this has come front and center to our lives here. To be honest, I'm having a very frustrating work experience. My original NGO officially shut down a few weeks ago and the staff has scattered (1 went to WV, but is pursuing other opportunities). The people at WV are great, but it is a very bad fit for a Peace Corps volunteer. What I mean is that WV is very structured and driven to deliver projects/outcomes that are specified by the central office, using predetermined methodologies. The purpose of a PCV is to build capacity, assist on projects, teach co-workers, etc. The WV model does not have a place for me to fit in, particularly capacity building or project assistance. Essentially, I have very little work (basically none). The little work that I do have requires translation assistance from WV staff, who are already over-committed. WV needs someone to take a project, on their own, from start to finish using the prescribed methods. I can't do that because of my limited language skills...and most importantly, that doesn't build capacity or teach my co-workers new skills. Since they are down a few staff, the interactions between myself and others is very limited (they are often traveling or in seminars). Unfortunately, the lack of work/training has made me (and Peace Corps) very frustrated. I've talked to the PC program managers and essentially, there are 4 options:
1) continue to work at WV, hope for things to get better
2) become an English teacher in our town
3) move to UB and work at an economic ngo (Ashley TBD)
4) leave the Peace Corps (Ashley TBD)
The lack of other options in our community leaves me in quite a predicament. Also, Ashley is working well at her site, so I don't want to disrupt that. Ashley and I need to discuss these options and figure out what makes the most sense for us. If I move to UB, she would stay here, which would be very difficult. Also, if I leave the PC, she may or may not leave. However, since I missed all grad school deadlines for Fall 2011, I have no definitive options for when I return. This is weighing very heavily on me and Ashley. We will talk to others over the next few weeks and hopefully have a decision in June.