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Just want to let you all know that I am writing this blog on Sunday morning, November 13 and the current temperature is -8 degrees Fahrenheit (-22 for you Celsius folks!) That is COLD! Yesterday was the first day I put on long underwear and put on a double pair of socks. Winter is on its way!
Sorry it has been so long in between posts. Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer continues to be busy! My university has been busy preparing for an accreditation process.....so that involves many late hours and a lot of printing!
Life in UB
The best way to describe life in UB is by comparing to a real-life game of Frogger. In the game Frogger, you are a frog and must cross the road without being killed by passing cars, bikes or whatever. This is SO true in UB. I am having to learn how to walk all over again.
It is no secret that traffic in UB is bad. The main road, Peace Avenue, that runs east-west in the city, is nearly always congested. My home is 7 km from the city's centre. On a good day, a bus ride will take about 30 minutes. If I try to go during rush hour, this 30 minute ride turns in to a 90 minute crawl in traffic that just inches (or centimeters) along. This makes it very hard for me to plan social events because I must wait on the bus. I never know how long the bus ride will take so I put myself on Mongolian time and say I will be there "eventually."
Bus rides are always ...well......fun. You wait outside in the cold for about 15 minutes for your bus to come. Once it finally does, you get shoved on to the bus along with everyone else. You have to fight your way to your favorite section of the bus and hold your ground against everyone else trying to do the exact same thing. My favorite section of the bus is the very back. There is a bench in the back where all the cool kids sit and I like to think that I am one of them. After you hold your ground, a "conductor" comes around and collects your 400 tugriks and gives you a little ticket that shows that you paid. You then hold on for dear life as you get thrown every-which-way. The bus is also a prime place for pick-pockets so you must try to safeguard your valuables which is tricky to do when being thrown around. It always makes for a memorable experience!
Crossing the street is difficult in UB. In America pedestrians have the right-of-way. In Mongolia it is more of an at your own risk sort of thing. Most people just dart across the street when there is the slightest break between the constant flood of cars. When I first lived here, I was hesitant to just run out in traffic and would wait on the street corners for hours trying to cross the street. Not unlike a hooker. Now I just run across the street with the best of them. Sometimes the cars will stop, other times they won't and sometimes they actually speed up. I am always amazed I am still alive at the end of the day.
Walking around UB can be a challenge as well. Many of the sidewalks in UB are in need of repair or are torn up because they are being repaired. Normally it is okay because the sunlight allows me to see where I can and cannot step. Recently, the sun has been going down around 6pm and it is really hard to see. So.....this already clumsy guy stumbles his way through UB. Fortunately, I haven't fallen down the many open man holes!
It is also no secret that UB is the second most polluted city in the world. I am beginning to notice this pollution more and more as the cold sets in. UB has a city centre that is surrounded by numerous ger districts. Each ger in the district burns a lot of wood and coal to stay warm during the winter. Add that burning of wood and coal to the massive car population of UB along with the gigantic coal-burning power plants and it is a recipe for smog. This smog is most noticeable in the morning and at night. In the morning it looks like a heavy fog rolled in. When you step outside, your nose and lungs feel the burn of the smoke-filled air. Your eyes begin to water from the pollution and the UB cough comes back. The Peace Corps provides us with masks that bring some relief.
It seems like everything in UB wants to make you late, run you over, or give you asthma. This might be true but the people make up for it. Even in a large city like UB, a little community develops around you filled with people who want to help you survive in this city. It is that community that has helped me get through these last three months in this city and they will continue to do so for the next two years.
So people's first reaction upon my telling them I was going to Mongolia for two years was "You know it is cold there, right?" Yup.....it is COLD! The summer was great and hot. Around the end of September, the cold started coming. Daytime temperatures would go down to the 50's and it would go to about 20 degrees at night. No problem....I am from Nebraska and can handle this. The cool down happens gradually, and in stages so you can prepare yourself.
I was going to try to wait until Thanksgiving to strap on the long underwear and put on my down coat. I survived until November 12. This was the first day of negative degree weather and I had to be outside in it. So I strapped on my light layer of long underwear and made it double sock day. With all the walking around I did I was actually sweating.....even though it was 0 degrees at the time. Crazy!
Here is a little information on Mongolian winter. Traditionally, winters in Mongolia last for 81 days. It is divided in to nine periods of nine days. Each period has a meaning attached of the various things that will freeze during that time.
1st nine- Mongolia airag made from mare's milk will freeze (Meh...bring it on winter!)
2nd nine- Russian vodka will freeze (this sounds critical....I need my vodka!)
3rd nine- The tails of 3-year-old bulls will freeze (Really?! Crap.....)
4th nine- The horns of 4-year-old buss will freeze (What will freeze on a 25 year old American?)
5th nine- Boiled rice will no longer freeze (Yay?!)
6th nine- Roads begin to blacken (This is progress!)
7th nine- hilltops blacken
8th nine- ground becomes damp
9th nine- warm days set in (Actually it is still quite cold now...but mind over matter!)
So this all looks quite cold. During the coldest part of winter, it will reach -40 Fahrenheit (and -40 Celsius) for a few weeks. I am a little worried. It gets cold in Nebraska but the horns of 4 year old bulls don't freeze. I am not sure when Mongolian winter starts but I believe it ends with Tsaagan Sar ( a massive Mongolian holiday that occurs with the lunar new year). So I am anticipating this first nine to be here any day.
Let's hope I survive!
Kitty and I are ready for winter! Bring it Mongolia!