Livin' Life and Torchin' Towels.....Mongolian Style!

Well as promised I would deliver a blog showing you my fantastic Soviet apartment in Ulaan Baatar.  I have been here for little over a week and things have been....interesting.

I still have no idea how to cook but I am getting better!  Last night I was making rice on my stovetop and I was so proud of myself.  I put the pot on the stove and turned on the burner and walked away.  I return hoping to find a boiling pot of ricey-goodness but instead I return to a towel on fire.  Christ!  Can't a boy just make a pot of rice?! Apparently I didn't pay attention during cooking class at Community College.  I though magic elves just took care of the food.....like in Harry Potter! So I took the burning towel and threw it in the sink.  Once the air cleared I continued making rice with a sanguine attitude and was determined to enjoy that damn pot of rice.

I have also been dealing with a massive head cold.  It could be due to an actual cold but I am convinced it is made worse by all the pollution here.  When Vice President Biden was in town I was stuck in a cab for two exciting hours with many trucks and motorcycles blowing their fumes in to my face.  Yay!  So yesterday I did nothing.  I took copious amounts of cold medicine and accidentally watched the entire second season of Community.  Needless to say, I am a hot, coughing, snotty mess!

Let's commence the tour of Château Lyons

Congratulations on finding building Number 2.  Unfortunately it is trash day.  But at least I have trash day!

This is my fun stairwell.  It has no lighting at night so I just fall up or down the stairs as needed.

And apparently everyone in my building loves one another!  I hope my name ends up on this wall.....or any wall really.......maybe a bathroom?

Look who is there to greet you!  The ultimate Myspace picture!

The view when you walk in the front door!

My awesome bed with mirrors and bedding from 1984.
Since my bed has mirrors I had to take advantage of it!  Just waitin' around to teach some English while wearing a scarf!

My awesome bathroom with an the always-running-Mongolian toilet. Notice the water heater?  Yeah.....I have really cold but running water!

My fire extinguisher and rice cooker I don't know how to use and smoke alarm that should be installed by now.  Oops!

My refrigerator and teensy sink.  It works!  Notice the bright "window" from the bathroom!  It is like stained glass.....

My simple table with some nearly finished banana bread.

My little stove and the poster that is the reason I get up every morning.

So there you have it......a quick tour of my home.  I start working at Gazarchin University very soon and am eager to be a university teacher!  Time to go make some macaroni and cheese from scratch.  Hope I don't torch another towel!


I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Hello world of the interwebs!

I realize it has been a while since my last posting but I hope to cover the following points:

  • The End of PST (Pre-Service Training)
  • Swearing In as a Peace Corps Volunteer
  • My new life as a PCV 
Finishing PST

For those of you who are current PCV/Ts or RPCVs, you know how long, challenging and rewarding PST can be.  Every day is filled with learning Mongolian, preparing last-minute lesson plans and teaching English.  By the end of each day I was absolutely exhausted!

I was lucky enough to get a little reprieve from PST by being called to go to Ulaan Baatar for a few days for a medical check up.  It was very last minute!  On August 4, our Country Director came to my training site to do interviews.  She informed me that at 1:30 that afternoon I would be accompanying her back to UB for a medical appointment.  Needless to say I ran back to my ger and literally threw clothes in a bag.  Off to UB I went.  I was allowed to ride in the Peace Corps vehicle which was very comfortable

I spent August 5 through 8 in UB as I underwent a few evaluations.  This gave me a lot of time to site see and walk around a very cool city. Unfortunately, this meant I missed the host-family appreciation weekend.  My training site and their families all went to Amarbaysgalant Monastery.  It seems like they had a great time......even without me!  I hopped on a bus on August 9 to head back to my training site.

Friday, August 12 was, essentially, the end of PST.  We had our LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) and TAP (Trainee Assessment Packet).  After those interviews were completed  I would be finished with training.  Unfortunately, my body decided to have fun with me!  I woke up Friday morning and felt really sick to my stomach.  I spent the entire morning throwing up whenever I would move or think.  Oh what fun!  Fortunately I had both of my interviews relatively early.  My TAP started at 11am and by that time a fever hit me so I was sweating and shivering during the interview.

In between my TAP and LPI I went to our local café to take a little nap.  This nap lasted for quite a while and someone woke me up at 1:50pm to tell me that it was time for my LPI (which started at 1:45). My teachers told me to just go home but I literally ran and sat down for my LPI.  The proctor was very nice and very helpful as I struggled to gain enough mental capacity to speak in Mongolian for 30 minutes.  Finally, I was finished with that interview and went home to sleep.

I spent my last weekend at site hanging out with my host family and friends.  Many games of huzer were played and I had a few shots of vodka in celebration.  On Monday, August 15, all 12 of us went from our site to the training center in Darkhan.  It was a bittersweet day saying goodbye to our families but......by the end of the day we would all know where we would be living and working for the next two years.

Site Placements

That Monday  seemed to just crawl by.  All 66 of us were eager, scared and excited to know of our placements. We received the results of our LPI and I ended up getting an Intermediate Low which is a step higher than the minimum of Novice High.  I was very happy with that result and it felt like all my hard work paid off!  Anyone want to chat in Mongolian?!

Finally the time came for us to go to the big children's park in the center of town.  That park had a HUGE map of Mongolia divided in to the the different aimags (provinces).  One-by-one they called our names and announced our site and our school.  I watched my friends and colleagues walk to the far reaches of the map. From Bayan Olgi to Choibalsan, all the aimags were covered.  Finally it came time for my announcement.  The winning site is.................Ulaan Baatar!  I was so happy when they finally announced it.  I will be working at a private university for the next two years to help the teachers and students improve their English.  I am not alone in Ulaan Baatar.  There are many other PCVs there and the main Peace Corps office also calls UB its home.

We all spent that night reading through our welcome packets which contained a wealth of information about our sites and schools.

The rest of the week was spent learning about medical issues as well as safety and security issues.  Finally the big day came.....swearing in!

Swearing In

Friday, August 19 was the big day for all of us.  It was the day we had been waiting for since we got our invitations to become Peace Corps Volunteers.  At 10am all of us walked to the Darkhan theatre in our finest Mongolian clothes.  The ceremony began at 11am with speeches given by our country director, the US Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, and two members of the Mongolian Education Ministry.  Here is a link to a press release about the swearing in ceremony.

The rest of the ceremony consisted of the Ambassador administering the oath to us.  It was a moving moment to repeat after him and officially become volunteers.  After that, speeches were given in Mongolian by new PCVs and there were many talents displayed with traditional Mongolian dancing, singing and instruments.  All of this was performed by the new PCVs.  I was honored to watch all of my friends go up on stage to sing, dance and have fun.

After the ceremony, which lasted two hours, we were treated to a wonderful reception.  There was SO much delicious food!  Unfortunately, we couldn't stay too long because we had to load up our buses to go to UB at 2:30.  55-or-so volunteers loaded buses to head to UB before they flew or rode in a meeker to their respective sites.

A few of my fellow volunteers!

This is the last picture of the Khutul trainees with our school director and Language Instructors.  I miss them already!

I was lucky and got to move in to my new apartment that Friday evening.  It was a relief to finally be someplace I can call "home" for the next two years and begin unpacking my bags.  I felt like it was Christmas as I opened up my winter bag that had been in storage for two months.  It contained many sweaters, a very warm down coat, long underwear and some well hidden beef jerky from my family.  Oh....it also had three rolls of duct tape so my Uncle will be proud!

My Life as a PCV

So far things are going really well.  I would consider myself moved in to my apartment and settling in to a routine.......for now.  I have met with my school supervisor a few times to discuss how I can be of help to the university.  He is very excited to have me and I am quite excited to start working.  My first official day will be Monday, August 29 when I give a presentation to English teachers about how to improve their English and how they can best help their students.  This is what the Peace Corps drilled in to me all summer and I am glad to put it to use.

For those of you who know me, I am not a great cook.  I enjoy baking (who doesn't?!) but dealing with full meals scares me.  Back in the states I would eat box after box of Mac-N-Cheese or just go out for dinner.  This isn't really an option here as my Peace Corps budget doesn't allow it.  Fortunately, the Peace Corps volunteers have compiled a fantastic cook book that will get me through the next few years.

Yesterday I made a really good loaf of banana bread and then made a large pot of rice and beans which will be my staple until it runs out.  I made way too much......so it might be a while.  Where are hot pockets when I need them?!

I will make another post this weekend and give you a tour of my apartment.  It is pretty fancy!

Let me know if you have any questions of certain things about which you are curious!  I enjoy sharing my experiences with you!

Be well,


The Light at the End of the PST Tunnel

Well, I cannot believe that I am nearly finished with PST (Pre-Service Training). It "began" the minute I landed in Mongolia on June 5, 2011. It lasts from June 5 until August 19 which is the date we "swear-in" and become Peace Corps Volunteers.  This has been a very long and tough process. Each day brings a new challenge and allows me a lot of time to grow.

The Mongolian language continues to be difficult for me!  The more advanced I become, the more things start to sound the same.  This evening I was eating dinner with my family trying to say that the food was really good.  They kept correcting my pronunciation of the word for food which is хоол.  Apparently my 'o' vowel wasn't quite right.  I couldn't hear the difference in their vowel and mine.  So this is an on-going battle.  Unfortunately, time is not on my side.  We have our LPI (Language Proficiency test) on Friday, August 12.  Someone comes in and we have a conversation, in Mongolian,  with them for 20 minutes and that conversation gets recorded and sent to Ulaan Baatar.  Once in Ulaan Baatar it gets analyzed by people trained in language assessment.  To be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer we are expected to hit a Novice High Mark.  On a scale of 1-10, we are expected to be at a 3.  According to a book, we need to:

  • be able to ask questions and make simple statements based on memorized sentences.
  • Understand conversation fragments and simple commands
  • Express daily needs
  • Speak in short, direct sentences with some longer phrases if given time to think about them
  • Behave considerately
  • Understand nonverbal cues
At first, this list seemed impossible.  As time wore on, it seems quite achievable.  I feel like I have a good grasp on the language and shouldn't have a problem passing this LPI as long as I keep studying and working hard.  All-in-all, Mongolian is fun to learn and I get a lot of bragging rights by being able to speak it.  :)

Practice Teaching
So as you all know, I am in the TEFL sector of the Peace Corps.  The last week has been spent practice teaching.  This is a chance for the trainees to practice teaching English within the context of a real class room.  As a training site, we held open registration for students in grades 4-12 to come and receive free English lessons.  Four of the trainees took the youngest kids, four took the middle group and four more took the oldest students.  All together, we have about 80-90 students coming to these lessons!  Our turnout is FABULOUS!

I am in the group that teaches the oldest students.  I find it challenging and rewarding all at once!  We give a total of 10 forty minute lessons.  My partner, Leo, and I will team teach six of those lessons.  The other four are spent alternating solo teaching sessions.  Today was the first of my two solo sessions.   I think it went really well!  Unfortunately, our unit topic is sports so I am out of my league.....but the students don't know that....I hope!  I spend all of my free time lesson planning and meeting with my partner to make sure our lessons will go off smoothly.  It is a real dose of the eventual reality once I get to my site.

Speaking of site placement.....  We find out VERY soon!
Tomorrow, August 3, is my site placement interview.  This is my chance to speak with a Peace Corps official about where I would like to be.  Honestly, I don't really have a preference.  Wherever they place me I will work hard and be the best volunteer possible.  I have the chance of living in a ger, an apartment or a two-room house.  Both the ger and the two-room house will not have running water and require a fire to stay warm in the winter.  This mean....chopping wood....something I really don't want to do.  But time will tell where I end up!  They make our site announcements on August 15 when all the trainees reconvene at our training site.

Martha Stewart...in Mongolia?
For those of you who know me, it is a commonly known fact that I LOVE and ADORE Martha Stewart.  She has everything I want.....gorgeous homes, a good sweater collection and the ability to cook really good food.  Sometimes I humor myself and try to cook.  Usually I would rather just throw a hot pocket in the microwave and call it good. Mongolia has no microwaves or hot pockets.  This boy needs to learn how to cook!
Yummy huushur made by my host mom!

Our training site had a cooking class the other day.  We bought the necessary groceries and went to the house of a trainee whose dad is an accomplished cook.  We made huushuur (The Mongolian version of hot pockets with mutton and green onion).  The filling is easy to make as is the dough for the "pocket."  The tough part is filling the pocket with just the right amount of filling and pinching it shut.  There are a variety of ways to pinch huushuur.  Some people make it Martha Stewart gorgeous with a fluted edge.  Other just roughly pinch the edges together and others, like myself, just sort of push the edges together and throw it in the oil.  This results in a lot of splattering oil as the filling pops.  Needless to say, I was put on cleaning duty and pushed out of the kitchen.  That was fine with me!  I could eat our huushuur without having to work too hard!

About one week ago one of the mothers of a trainee wanted to show us how to shoot a Mongolian bow and arrow.  I didn't take bow and arrow class at community college and I was a little scared about the whole thing!  We all met up and watched this old man shoot an arrow with a rubber tip at a line of cloth balls.  After he hit them, he let us go!  Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard for me.  I managed to hit the balls all three times!  Only one other person did that.  It was a good feeling!
My bad attempt at trying to be an archer!  Watch out Robin Hood!

I also climbed the stupa hill again.  It was sunset and the lighting was GORGEOUS!  I enjoyed the walk up the hill and the sunset was so visible and so gorgeous.  The golden prayer wheels were glistening with the pink and orange hues that were given off by the sun.  It was very peaceful and gave me time to think, sort through my crazy thoughts and go home relaxed and ready to face the next day.
The gorgeous stupa at the top of the hill.

I will keep you all posted on the results of my LPI and any other information that I feel would be fun to pass along!  I hope you are all well!