Two-years in Mongolia

Two years have come and gone. I’ve been having long phone calls with friends reminiscing about our time in Mongolia. I will be going home in two months. All that’s left to do is to go to Lake Hovsgul where I’ll be working at a Junior Rangers Camp, visit my host family one last time, last-minute exploits around UB, empty my apartment, find a car to take me to the city with all my bags, and ring the bell in the Peace Corps office.

Just like last year, here’s a summary of all that’s happened during 2017-2018:

SUMMER

summer

June 2017

  • My first year working at school ended and my second summer in Mongolia was beginning.
  • Solo traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia. 
  • Had a new blue deel made for me.

 

July 2017

  • Celebrated Naadam in my new deel.
  • Me and Jenni, my M26 site mate, went to a concert of some popular Mongolian band. 
  • Re-arranged my entire apartment because PCVs have to find any way to feel productive and active when the days are long and your counterparts have left you for the countryside. 
  • Walked to a different restaurant every week to use their wifi in order to watch Game of Thrones season 7. I got a lot of curious and strange looks as I sat in the corner.

 

August 2017

  • My parents came to Mongolia. We traveled around the Gobi and explored UB.
  • Rode a camel.
  • My school never paid for my power when I was gone for two weeks. I came back at 10pm to no electricity and an awful smell coming from my fridge.
  • Had MST (Mid-service training) in Terelj National Park. Nobody was expecting how cold it was going to be.
  • Rode a horse.
  • Finally got unlimited internet in my home.
  • When Andy spilled M&M’s, causing them to clatter everywhere, while people were sleeping at 2AM in the guesthouse: “OH F###!”

 

 

AUTUMN

autumn

September 2017 

  • School began.
  • Signed up for the GRE.
  • Teacher strikes were happening all around the country.
  • Special Olympics was held in my town.
  • Celebrated Teacher’s Day.
  • Met Zaya, owner of Friends Café. My new favorite place and an amazing person.

 

October 2017 

  • Finally got hot water in my apartment.
  • Drove to Kharkhorin for a Halloween race.
  • Started my English club at the Children’s Center for 5th, 6th, and 7th graders with two counterparts, Uugunaa and Saikhnaa.
  • Because my shower hadn’t been working for two-weeks due to a burst pipe, an entire bucket of water I was filling up as my “shower,” tipped over the edge,  cracked, and spilt EVERYWHERE. Neighbors below came running up when they saw my water leaking into their apartment. When the repairman also came he could see how exhausted and defeated I looked, laughed, and said he would finally fix my shower the next day.
  • Read 12th grade essays. Here’s an actual excerpt from one: “Policeman is light, criminal is night!!!! We stop crime. May be we!!! Can be!”
  • Bought my ticket to Japan.

 

November 2017

  • Finally bought a yoga mat.
  • Almost had an electrical fire in my kitchen.
  • Began Write On preparations.
  • Hosted Thanksgiving for my counterparts in my home.

 

WINTER

winter

December 2017

  • Finally took the GRE with 3 other people in a small room at the University of Science and Technology. There was a power outage right in the middle.
  • Attended a Peace Corps PAC meeting to talk about the TEFL program (Teach English as a Foreign Language).
  • Began reading “War and Peace.”
  • No longer being afraid to call out people when I could hear them talking about me in Mongolian.
  • Began an air pollution project to raise money for face masks.
  • My apartment door broke. Neighbors would know I was leaving or entering my home because the action was accompanied by 5 minutes of kicking, slamming my shoulder against the door, and growls of frustration.
  • Had my counterpart and her family over for Christmas Eve dinner.
  • Had a really fun New Years party with my school.

 

January 2018

  • Traveled to Japan and visited Kyoto, Nara, Hemeji, and Osaka.
  • Turned 25 years old in UB.
  • Ran a study abroad session at a Career Fair with Miga.
  • A month-long winter break from school.
  • When school resumed, I held writing workshops.

 

February 2018

  • Traveled to my host family to celebrate Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian New Year. I was so happy to see them all again.
  • Write On competitions were held throughout the country. The medals I received to give to winning students were so awful – it was like a 5-year-old child DIYed it in her kitchen. Uuguanaa told them, “If you want to get your medals fixed we can go back to the store after Tsagaan Sar,” but they all thought the ugly medals were so funny no wanted to get new ones. “Charming,” as an 11th grader put it.  
  • At 6AM on 12 February, I woke up to a very loud “POP” followed by great stream of boiling hot water spraying all over my bathroom. It sounded like a geyser. The pipe connecting to my shower head to the hot water pipe quite literally exploded. While getting showered in blistering hot water I had to turn a rusty knob that hadn’t been turned in 3 years to turn the pressure off. The adrenaline, fear of a flooded bathroom, and being burnt alive gave me the strength needed to crank it. 

 

March 2018

  • So many sand storms. Nothing but brown murkiness as you look outside.
  • Schools and the market were shut for one-month because my town was under quarantine. 
  • Spent a weekend at the Shangri La.
  • Cheering on the Loyola Ramblers during March Madness.

 

SPRING

spring

 

April 2018

  • Held a weekend long girls camp with Adiya. 
  • Began receiving the first emails about COS (Closing of Service).
  • Sporadic snow storms and dust storms throughout the month.
  • Taught myself how to gut a fish. 
  • Created a reading nook with all the donated books from America.

 

May 2018

  • Had our COS conference at Mongolica outside of the city. 
  • Finished “War and Peace.” 
  • Received my ticket to fly home at the end of the summer.
  • Helped a 10th grader apply for a week-long English program in the city during the summer. 
  • No longer have hot water in my apartment. It’s back to the bucket!
  • Attended a hair cutting ceremony for Uuganaa’s daughter.

 

Today, I had my last day of work. Let the summer begin! 

 

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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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