Respiratory illness. Delightful food. Diarrhea. Woods, mountains, and steppes. Slow and sometimes lack of wifi. New friends. Cold showers or no showers. Naadam festival. Frostbite. Yaks and horses. Scabies. Host family. Pickpocketing. Gers. New language. Teacher. Travel. Peace Corps.
Mongolia, land of the blue sky.
Above are some problems that I will be encountering during my two-year stay in Mongolia with the Peace Corps. However, what I’m most excited for strongly outmatches the negative facets of my journey.
I have already been in Mongolia for 5 days.
Rewind though on how I came to be in Mongolia.
When I left home, I was very sad when I gave my dog a final squeeze and when I waved goodbye to my mom and dad in the airport. I was like a pack mule who was in no great shape or form to be lugging over a 100 pounds in luggage, but my noodle arms won out in the end. I had to endure many uncomfortable and strange looks that were directed my way: “No, I swear. Nothing weird here. I’m with the Peace Corps…”
From Seattle, 52 brave souls flew Air Delta to Seoul, South Korea. That was an 11-hour flight. However, Seoul was where we ran into a bump on the road. We had to pick up all our luggage and then check them back in for Air Korea.
“I’m sorry, but you can only check one bag,” was what the woman at checkout told me. I had a mini heart attack, of course. “One bag? But we all need to check in our winter and summer bags! We’re with the Peace Corps.”
There was confusion as no one in the airport knew what to do with us. Many phone calls later and with a sigh of relief, our bags were finally accepted. Then ten minutes later, I ultimately was told – and this was after my bags were handed in at check out – that I had to return because there was a problem with one of my bags. My heart resumed its palpitations again. Upon my return, I was told that security wanted to check my bag because of my “spray.”
“They found my pepper spray,” is what I initially thought. No. They wanted to investigate my bug spray.
After explaining and demonstrating what it does, I was finally able to say “See ya!” to my obese bags. Air Korea flew us 2.5 hours to Ulaanbaatar. No turbulence on both flights. We finally landed in Chinggis Khaan International Airport Monday at midnight on 30 April where a host of Peace Corps workers greeted us.
Due to not being able to say exactly where I am (Peace Corps rules), I can describe it for you.
I am just north of Ulaanbaatar. When you walk down the gravel driveway from our hotel, take a right, you can walk further down into the aimeg where you see an assortment of cabin-like houses; abandoned homes; homes that are half-way through construction and then have been abandoned; modern homes with balconies; orange and green houses; and dotted along the edge of the woods and all over the fields, are Mongolia’s white gers that stand as a stark contrast against the green grass and trees.
While marveling at these new road sights, we were accompanied by horned cows and yaks with fluffy tails who marched stoutly on. Along the road were also guard dogs that were chained up. Surrounding the hotel are hills and woodlands. A couple of times, I have wondered up into the hills via a wooded trail.
My first week in Mongolia has predominantly been spent inside the hotel on rock-hard chairs, learning the 411 of the Peace Corps and how to survive in Mongolia. The food has been fantastic. Lots of meat, rice, salad, watermelon and apple slices, a variety of soups, potatoes, yogurt, and buuz. I can’t complain yet. After dinner, we were then free to do whatever we wanted. So, I will be leaving for my host family with a well-stocked medical kit, a heavy-duty sleeping bag, a water filter, a cell phone, and most importantly…the understandings and knowledge to not get horribly sick or die during my two years of service, (fingers crossed).
What makes me laugh is how this area of Mongolia reminds me so much of my time on Lövön in Sweden. Being able to walk through the woods and keeping a sharp eye out for ticks, the camp-like living arrangements and cold water, and a sense of isolation from the rest of the country. Do I feel homesick yet? No. Evidently I will, but not quite yet.
Saturday morning on 4 June, I’m departing for my host family. Again, I’m not allowed to say where I will be living for the next three months of Peace Corps Training (PCT), but I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the place. It will take at least – a heavy emphasis on the “at least” – six to seven hours by bus. As Suran said, “Culturally, we don’t promise time, but, we promise you will get to your sights on the same day.”
I can’t wait to meet my host family!