Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trip to Khovd

-camels with funny faces

-our driver, the SUV and our tent with crystal

I arrived back at site yesterday. Bear got along well with her dog-sitters, but she was also very glad to see me. The town seems even more green then when I left and I always enjoy the new flowers that peak up unexpectedly. Here’s a bit about my trip.

We spent three days traveling to Khovd and drove about 30 hours during this time. We covered at least 1500 kilometers, mainly over dirt or dust roads. We had a diligent, well-prepared driver from World Vision and the

training coordinator with us. We traveled in a Ford Everest SUV. Considering the long road trip, we had the best possible arrangement. We stayed in a hotel the first night and camped on the steppe the second night. Our driver provided a nice 4 person tent that kept us dry during the light rain that evening. We got used to no bathrooms, outhouses, etc. Crystal provided a bag to encourage collection of our trash as we camped. Our driver almost left the bag sitting on the pristine steppe, but with our insistence, it went with us to Khovd for disposal. We stopped at food gers and ate with families along the way, usually one hot meal a day. The towns in the countryside are limited, with

gers scattered sparsely in between. I saw more camels then ever before in Gobi-Altai. We had two flat tires on the way to Khovd, but the driver said they were, “No problem,” and his quick tire changes confirmed this.

The training schedule changed from day 1, as it was scheduled to start at 9, but the coordinator instructed us to meet her there at 9 for set-up. She explained that participants would not come until 10. Thus, we assisted in enabling disregard for schedules in this country. (There were not participants at 9). Tea break scheduled at 11:00 arrived at 10:00 and the call for lunch at 1:00 came at 12:30. No need to worry about having enough presentation material, as the 6 pm end time got moved to 3:30, then 4 with our input. I need this reminder to not worry, as things that are planned for always change, so no need to fret prematurely. The best prepartation is an open mind and flexibility. That said, the participants, both parents and doctors were active and open with discussion and questions. I appreciated the parents’ honesty in sharing their frustrations, fears and challenges caring for their children with disabilities. The difficulties are immense for all families, but the options for these parents are so few. The information is so limited as well. I find their determination gives me great hope and we discussed options for

increased communication with teachers, school directors and social workers to work toward inclusion for their children in schools. Most of these children have no option but staying at home without education or opportunity to build social skills.

One family we visited lives in one small room of a building because they sold their ger to pay for treatment for their son. Their situation is improving, as is their son. His motor development appears nearly normal. His mother, who was at home, has finished college and will be the kindergarten teacher for the rehabilitation center that will open next month. Her son will be with her at this center. His father is also now employed.

Moments of brevity included stopping to talk with a passing driver and noting the large sheep riding in the back seat. We asked for the man with the camel at the river crossing. Apparently you can pay 10,000 togrogs and the camel will guide the car, finding the shallowest places. Unfortunately, the man with the camel was not there that day. A man got in the car to guide us across. At times it seems the vehicle was floating, not driving, but we made it.

The return to primarily Mongolian food required GI transitions, as expected. Visiting families always includes the prompting to “eat, eat” and “drink, drink.” You must actively be doing one or the other, preferably both, at all times. But, one cannot complain about kindness and hospitality. What a great gift to be welcomed openly into the lives and modest homes of these people. Life is difficult, but there is always time to sit with friends and strangers.

-a landscape view with the Khovd mountains

-the Gandan monastery in Khovd at sunset

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