Lake Khövsgöl with the Junior Rangers

In June, I traveled to Khövsgöl Lake to help at a Junior Ranger camp hosted by the Mongol Ecology Center.

The arduous trip took seven-hours to Ulaanbaatar, followed by another seven-hours to Erdenet, and ending with a 5 hour drive to Hatgal in Khövsgöl.

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The 25-minute rest stop between my town and Ulaanbaatar.

Due to Mongolia’s ever turbulent weather, my bag was packed with a combination of rain gear, clothes for when it was hot during the day and clothes for when it got really cold in the evening.

While growing up I didn’t attend any camps as a child. Every season, I was always on a sports team, but camps I didn’t do. I was lucky to always have a parent at home and close friends nearby. As Tina Fey jokingly wrote in her book Bossypants, “I never went to summer camp, as I was neither underprivileged nor Jewish nor extremely Christian nor obese.” So consider this my first. 

The Junior Ranger camp was a 10-day event. First, we had to wait in Hatgal for the rest of the campers to arrive from Hanh soum. A small amount of campers are from Hatgal but most arrived from Hanh soum. The soum is further north up the lake. Their drive took 14 hours through the rain. All the kids were young with the youngest being 9 and the oldest being 12.  Once we were all united and introduced, we hiked to Murun where our camp site was on the eastern shore of the lake.

The boys slept in gers, the girls all slept in one large house, and the adults slept in two A-frame houses.

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The group of adult leaders consisted of three Peace Corps Volunteers, two Americans visiting from Texas (who are related to the founder of MEC), and three Mongolian high schoolers.

The point of the camp is to make campers environmentally conscious and to love and protect nature. Click here to find out more about the program and of Mongol Ecology Center. Activities included:

  • Water monitoring
  • Wild onion planting
  • First aid kit training
  • GPS training
  • Leave No Trace
  • Trash pick up
  • International special protected areas and tourism
  • Developing environmental projects to pursue at their schools
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Need advice for how to entertain 30 children or more? Just find a long piece of rope. They’ll be entertained for hours playing jump rope, limbo, etc. etc. etc. 
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Picking up trash at Wishing Rock.
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Hiking through the woods to Wishing Rock.
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Volleyball games everyday, all day. 

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Monitoring the water from the lake.
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Chuka and the Executive Director of MEC, Chimgee. 

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Additional games and activities consisted of:

  • An hour and a half of English lessons every day. Me and Chuka were in charge of the 5th graders
  • Felt making
  • Yoga which I led every morning 
  • Mental and emotional lessons
  • Volleyball
  • Disco night 
  • Jump rope
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Felt making with Bolor.

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Hiked to the top of the hills for wild onion planting.

The first half of the week was very busy but tapered off at the end. When the kids were busy and the adults weren’t needed, we went hiking, took naps, and even went swimming in the lake. The lake water was 12’C. There’s no WiFi and all the kids had to hand in their phones at the beginning of camp. We found various ways to entertain ourselves (e.g. when the kids were inside writing an essay, the rest of us were down by the lake skipping stones and seeing who could throw the most rocks into a hollow tree trunk). 

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The camp ground on the eastern side of Lake Khövsgöl. 
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A 6th grade camper.
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Skipping stones over the lake.
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Swimming in 12’C. 

The Junior Ranger program is meant to be enjoyable and exciting. However, the kids did have to write an essay and take a test to prove that they did learn something and were paying attention during the sessions. There was also no tolerance for unruly behavior. One camper was sent home for faking heat exhaustion. 

On the last day of camp, kids got certificates. The kids who placed the highest in their test scores received an automatic spot in the program for next summer. We took a boat across the lake back to Hatgal. We spent an hour hugging and saying goodbye to everyone and went home with scarlet skin from sunburns due to the wonderful weather we had all week. 

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Hanh soum kids before leaving for home.
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Sometimes I woke up at 7:30 AM to enjoy the surroundings while the kids were still sleeping.

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Happy New Year

Шинэ жилийн мэнд хүргэе!

First holidays abroad and I must admit, it was tough on me. There were just too many Buchanan traditions I missed out on that I craved all throughout December such as seeing our Swedish Christmas tomtes decorating our home; decorating the Christmas tree; baking Swedish gingerbread cookies while munching on the dough; walking amongst all the twinkling lights that crown Chicago; eating a smorgasbord for dinner; driving to the airport at midnight with my dad to pick up my brother; and pestering my dad with my incessant chatter that makes him wish my brothers came home more often.

But Peace Corps Volunteers must adapt to new changes in their lives. So I made the most of my new situation. Just like in America, all stores in my aimag were decorated for Christmas and New Year’s. The government square had a large Christmas tree in the center. In the market, small Christmas trees were being sold along with lights, ornaments, little Santa jackets, and ribbons. I played Christmas music in the mornings and plugged my Christmas lights in every night.

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 My school held a Christmas/New Year concert in the sports hall. Each grade decorated a small Christmas tree that were lined up alongside the stage. Students sang and danced and Santa gave out presents to the best students. The Russian Santa isn’t a jolly, fat, and red suited fella we’re used to but is tall, thin, and dresses all in white.

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I also attended the Young Teachers Christmas (Shinjil) party with my site mate, Jenni. The hall was decorated with snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, a Christmas tree was flashing away in a corner, banners saying “Merry Christmas” hung on the walls, Santa made an appearance, and women wore glittery dresses. At seeing the dresses, it felt like I had been transported back to high school prom while simultaneously feeling under dressed. Yet, the real Christmas miracle was having fresh pineapple delivered to our table. My first taste of pineapple in 6 months.  

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During IST, Peace Corps gave each aimag a turkey. Having never prepared a turkey before, I did extensive research before undertaking the task. What did I come to realize? That a big turkey requires a big pot that requires a large refrigerator. A counterpart supplied me with the pot but the pot barely managed to get into my tiny fridge. I was lying in bed when I heard a thumping sound but I thought it was the children next door to me. The thump came again and then I remembered that a massive pot filled to the rim with salt water in which a turkey was floating in was in my fridge. I caught the pot before the entire shelf came crashing down. My Friday night was spent duct taping my shelf back up and cutting up the turkey into many pieces to be put into a smaller pot. There was turkey blood everywhere.

Nevertheless, our Christmas Eve feast was a success with the turkey, roasted potatoes and carrots, and cinnamon rolls. On Christmas, we prepared a brunch that included blueberry scones and strawberries. I chatted with my family and opened my Christmas packages my parents sent.  It was a Christmas spent with my sitemates who become like family during your service. 

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For New Year’s Eve, my counterpart invited me to her home. She had spent two hours the day before preparing buuz, Mongolian steamed dumplings. I feasted on the most delicious buuz I’ve ever had. At midnight, 2017 swept in as little fireworks popped in the sky.  

What’s my New Year resolution? I don’t really have one except to continue my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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