Monday, December 12, 2011

The end.

This is it. This is the end of our Mongolian life. We've been back in the states for almost 2 months and time has flown.  People have said that when they return home the Mongolian adventure seems like a dream-- well for weeks and weeks after our return it was still very real. In fact, it still is very much real to me. It happened. It wasn't a dream.

So what have I been doing since I've been back? Well, I've gone to a few doctor's appointments: for the baby and for my lingering eye problems. The baby is doing well at 14 weeks and 5 days. It's the size of an orange! My baby belly is starting to show itself. More on Baby later. We've eaten everything we could get our hands on going to restaurant to restaurant, and having home cooked meals with friends and family. We've put oh, about 4,000 miles on my car going from South Dakota to Texas, to Virginia, back to Texas, then up and down and all around Texas. It's great to have this independence! We've applied for jobs as teachers all around the area. It's tough trying to find an open position in the middle of a semester. We hope our luck will grow starting in the second semester. And finally, I won't say this is the best part, but it's a part that made me feel most complete: Annie.

This is the abandoned kitty we found in the negative degree cold living under people's warm cars in the parking lot of our apartment in Idaho over 5 years ago. We nursed her back to health and she's been a part of the Newberry family since (in fact, she's sleeping in my lap as I type this). I was scared she wouldn't remember me when we returned home. But she was ecstatic and we fell right back into our old routines and friendship.

Okay, okay-- onto the baby. As I said, I'm 14 weeks and just started my 2nd trimester. We're both healthy and doing fine-- though the first trimester kept me grumpy, sick, nauseated and achy. Not fun. Sadly it started while we were in Mongolia, so I feel like I left Mongolia on a bad note. The smells were making me nauseous, the food was intolerable, and I just desperately wanted a warm bath. I had the munchies, but  munchies and Mongolia do not go together. Living in a village where only the essentials are available, you need to make all your meals from scratch-- there is no instant snack. And I was hurting for some pickles! So being on an empty stomach made my nausea worse (little did I know then). Also getting up to pee about 5 times a night is not ideal in the colder months, when you don't have a toilet to go to, or any plumbing/running water. I am in utter amazement when I think of the Mongolian women and them going through their pregnancies without modern conveniences.

Now that my nausea has subsided a little, I can now freely think of Mongolia and not get sick (I know that sounds horrible, but that was my last association with it). I look at the pictures and see all that we did while we there, the friends that we made and the memories that we will never forget. It was a time of our lives. And we left it to begin yet another adventure.

So, I say goodbye to Life as a Newberry: Mongolia.

And hello to Life as a Newberry: Parenthood!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Mongolian Baby

Needless to say, this past week has been a whirlwind of excitement, sadness and just running around crazy. So, we found out we're having a baby and our lives have and will change drastically. Unfortunately, this means that I am not able to continue my service in the Peace Corps. The medical attention the US government requires a pregnant woman to have are not met here in Mongolia. So, we are going home.

Happy? Of course! Sad? Of course. Ultimately, we feel content in the work and service we've done here in the past 17 months. We don't have any regrets in that sense. We were expecting and preparing to leave Mongolia in 8 more months-- so having that change to preparing to leave Mongolia in 7 days is drastic. We have so much stuff we were stowing away for the winter, or clothes we wanted to wear out, friends and places we wanted to visit and projects and work that needed to be completed. But it's time for this Mongolian adventure to end and a whole new one begin! We're hopping straight from one adventure to the next--with absolutely no downtime.

I can't see this any other way than exciting!

"How did this happen?" You may be asking yourself. Well I found out the same way most women find out-- in the bathroom. It's just that my bathroom is quite different than most women's. This is where I found out:

How did I tell Justin? Well, that special trip to the outhouse was about a week ago. I knew Justin was teaching at the government building until 6:30, so I prepared dinner and got our TV show ready on the computer. Also, it's chilly here once it gets dark so I prepared a fire in the stove but didn't light it--so that it would be ready to light when it got chilly enough. Inside the door of the stove I wrote a note informing him of my pregnancy. Then closed the door up so it was not noticeable.

I imagined that after dinner it would be cool enough for a fire and I could ask Justin to light it-- then he'd see the note.

And that's exactly what happened.

He was so surprised and shocked and gleaming at the same time! I am very lucky to have my man. He is a wonderful one. I am very excited to take this next leap with him.

Once we found out we needed to have it confirmed in UB with our Peace Corps Medical Officers. So we were off to UB the next business day. When it was confirmed it was time to tell our families. I love giving surprises and what better surprise is there that your daughter is pregnant and coming home to you? I had my little sister help me out with this one.

My sister designed a cake and wrote in Mongolian 'I am pregnant. I am coming home.' (with my help). She gathered the family together and showed them the cake.

We gave hints. Hint 1 was the cake. Hint 2 was this:
"Check your E-mail"
They all ran downstairs to check their email.
In their email was a link to a Mongolian-English translation website and they were to translate the cake. And figure it out themselves...Which they did:

And that's how I told my family. I loved that my little sister was able to take these pictures for me! They speak volumes! I am so happy that they are happy and I can't want to be happy together with them!

Now, according to our Mongolian Fortune Teller friend that came and visited us last spring (check the blog post about that) this first child will be a girl. We'll have to wait and find out!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The best adventure of them all!

Justin and I have been really busy these past 6 weeks. They've been really productive and proving this to be a great school year! We (by we, I mean Justin) got a government English class started from scratch that teaches 6 nights a week for 2 hours a day. All PCVs rotate teaching with one Mongolian counterpart. There are over 60 students who attend, rotating days. We've also been successful at starting our English clubs with a school pairing program so that 3 students (at least one from each of our schools) and one teacher will be able to go to America for 2 weeks during the school year to learn about different cultures and have new experiences. I've been able to create a curriculum for Community English classes for all PCVs to use, including unit exams and a final exam, as well as a curriculum for students who are preparing for their nationwide English Exam at the end of the year. Justin and I were able to be apart of a Teacher's English Seminary in Omnigov, teaching teachers about the 4 language skills and using available resources in the classroom. While we were down there we took part in running the Gobi Marathon (half & 10k). And last but not least, we found out that we were going to be parents.

Yep, that's what I typed: We are going to be parents!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beautiful Life

I am typing this from a Guesthouse's computer. I'm in UB for yet another eye exam. I have no idea how this exam will go-- but I'm hoping it will finally put my eye troubles to rest.

We've had such beautiful weather here! UB has trees and the trees are that magnificent color of gold and red and brown. There is a slight cool breeze that picks up the leaves as you walk. You can wear a long sleeve t-shirt and a scarf and be completely comfortable.This is autumn!!

But Wednesday brings snow and a temperature drop into the 20's. I'm eating it up while I can!

Speaking of eating...I think it's time for me to go find a cheesy croissant and bacon.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Window Seals

...Something I will never take for granted ever again. Last night while Justin and I were walking home from our weekly English speaking practice night at a cafe (we call it 'Monglish' where anyone in the community can meet all of us PCVs for dinner or drinks and practice their English speaking skills informally--and make friends!), it was dark and chilly. We passed by an apartment building.

When I'm cold and outside at night--could be walking, or driving-- I like to see lights coming out of windows into the darkness and imagine a comfy warmness inside of it. I was doing this exact thing while passing by this apartment window last night. The curtains were shut, but light was protruding to the outside darkness and on the window seal were trinkets: vase, picture frame, small figurines.

It hit me kind of hard. It's something I don't have and miss having. Never again will I see a window seal as just a window seal. When I'm lucky enough to own a window seal I will use it to its full ability. It's so useful. I don't have shelves in my ger, no where to just set things and no windows and hardly any sunlight. I will make sure my dream home has window seals and sunlight to the max! I'm making quite a list of requirement for my dream home. I hope it's not too much to ask.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Running with the Camels

While driving hours through the desert I wondered what these HUGE marks were, up close they are camel tracks. Not a place wasn't touched.
What an adventure of a weekend this past weekend was! Justin and I had been planning to run in the Gobi Marathon (half & 10k races) for several months now and last weekend was the much anticipated date. It wasn't just play though-- we worked our way down there and rewarded ourselves with the Gobi run (rewarded?).

It all started early Thursday morning. We made our last meal in the ger, packed all of our things and were out the door by 12:30pm on our way to the gas station. Why are we going to the gas station? Well, there isn't direct transportation to Dalanzagad (Southern Gobi Province Capital) so we basically had to hitch-hike a ride. We knew that the bus coming from UB to Dalanzagad was due at that gas station at around 2pm (but you're never sure of a time in Mongolia, so it's best to give  a few hours of leeway). So we sat and waited. And waited. And 4:30 comes around and no bus. Several other buses and cars had passed by, but none were going to Dalanzagad. We finally asked someone when the UB bus was coming and they told us it wasn't going to come. We were pretty upset we were sitting in 40 degree weather for hours. We were also a little nervous because we HAD to get down to Dalazagad. We were teaching at a Teacher's Seminar and needed a day of preparation. We called our teachers and other friends to ask them how we could get to Dalanzagad since the UB bus never came. No one knew. There isn't a lot of transportation between provinces here in Mongolia. Finally, someone let us know that another bus from UB should be arriving in Mandalgovi to get gas at around 10pm.

At 10pm we went back to the gas station and waited. And waited. This time the temperature is below freezing.
And the bus came! It came around 11:30pm. We ran up to the bus driver and asked if we could hitch a ride. He said, 'no'.

There is no way we were about to take a 'no'. He said he didn't have any seats available. We told him we needed to get to Dalazagad and that we'd sit in the aisle. He looked at us crazy, but said it was alright. So Justin asked how much it was and they guy said we didn't have to pay-- we're that crazy. So we got in and sat on our bags in the aisle of a bus for 6 hours. It was a really bumpy ride. That driver seemed to be hitting the hardest bumps and dips on purpose causing people to fly in the air (but I know that's just how the path is). We finally got to Dalazagad at 6am on Friday morning.

We arrived at a friend's apartment and slept for a few hours before getting to work on the seminar that we'd be presenting the next morning. Dalanzagad is notorious for power outages. They are unpredictable and only give the residents a few hours of electricity everyday. So we worked during the day and ate dinner by candlelight.
The seminar was a hit! I am so amazed at how well it went. There were about 20 participants who came from the Dalanzagad and other small villages (soums) around the province. We did work hard for it and I felt so satisfied. We did good work, the teachers learned a lot and wanted more. I'm in the processes of getting pictures of the seminar. I'll post those pictures soon.

Now, we worked hard for this-- but the time had finally come. The next day (Sunday) was the big race. We drove about 3 hours northeast of DZ and saw some spectacular views. The Gobi Marathon was taking place at the Flaming Cliffs. It was beautiful to drive! It was absolutely tough to run though. Think: SAND and hills.

There are more pictures to come. This was definitely a weekend I'll always remember. We hung out with our friends (Clifton, Joe, Rob & Ben), we prepared and presented an awesome seminar, we ran a race in the GOBI! and we traveled far too long. We work hard and play hard here in Mongolia.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Leaves Are Falling All Around"

Leaves are falling all around,
on the house-tops on the ground.
Leaves are falling on my nose,
on my head and hands and toes!

I've been singing children's songs lately that refer to Fall. We don't have any leaves here, but the song captured the autumn memories from my youth. And good memories make me happy!

Mandalgovi had a 'Farmer's Market' day last week. People from other Aimags came to sell their goods (vegetables, homemade treats--i.e. arul, airag, and all other curdled milk products--, and handmade clothes). I really enjoyed the one they had last fall, so I was excited to go again this year. As I strolled through the aisles, I wondered why they don't do these more often. Everything is so unique, it's a gold mine for souvenirs and Mongolian culture. Then, I saw it. Big, Beautiful and orangy-gold. The essence of fall. The king of this season.

A pumpkin:
The women in the stall had a good time seeing our faces (Megan was with me). We asked how much and they weighed it and told us: 1,500 Tugrik (that's about $1). A whole, medium sized pumpkin for $1! The laughs that came out of mine and Megan's mouth were crazed and mental sounding. I hadn't seen, let alone, touched a pumpkin for 2 years now...for Megan it's been 3-- and here it is...only $1. Done and done. Sealed deal. I would have bought that pumpkin for 20,000 tugriks!

For now, it's sitting as a decoration. Soon (maybe in 2 weeks time) it will be carved into a Jack-o-lantern, then the meat will be taken out and pureed to use for pumpkin pies in November. I'm going to get as much use out of this pumpkin as possible. Fall decor in September, Jack-o-lantern & pumpkin seeds in October, Pie in November.

I went to that Farmer's Market during my lunch break-- so I had to carry it back with me to school. Boy, did I get major stared at. Not only am I a foreigner and am constantly being stared I'm holding a large, bright orange, weird thing. I walk into my school and immediately "en yoo way?", "en yoo way?", "en yoo way?" (what is this?). I said 'pumpkin'. And then they all asked what it tasted like. Was it good? Was it a fruit? I tried to answer (they don't know any types of squash, so I could only compare it with a cucumber--because they steam their cucumbers like we do squash), but it was extremely difficult. And also as I tried to answer, I started to feel horrible. Here is a huge piece of western culture that I could use as a lesson and let them explore this new item. They were so curious! So much about the pumpkin could be taught: baking the seeds, a pie, the texture of squash, the smell, the fun you have making a Jack-o-lantern. I felt like I was depriving them of something marvelous and so dear to me, total American culture! But, at the same time I just...can' it. I can't.

I have plans for this pumpkin, and they are all for me--well, all of us PCVs here in Mandalgovi. We've stripped ourselves of American culture for them and having this pumpkin will bring some of that back to us. So I can't do it. But, I hear that next weekend they will continue this Farmer's Market and if there are more pumpkins, by golly I'll buy them for my students!

Is that completely selfish of me?
I tried making popcorn balls last night, why wouldn't they stick together to form balls?? Anyway it was delicious homemade caramel popcorn with a touch of cinnamon. I love fall!

Comfortable Living Part 2

Here's the big one. The one that will change my life completely here as a PCV in Mongolia. Mr. Blender is nice--but Mrs. I-will-wash-all-your-clothes-for-you-in-one-load-so-your-hands-don't-freeze-and-aren't-rubbed-raw-every-weekend-and-cut-your-laundry-hours-in-half is the ultimate winner here.

Please welcome: Mrs. Washing Machine!

 She's completed with pink flowers and pink rhinestones on the dial. She lives in Megan's apartment (because she has running water) and I make a weekly visit to see both Megan and Mrs. Washing Machine. She has a spin dry, but doesn't have a dryer. So our clothes will still be damp and we'll have to walk 10 mins in the cold with wet laundry, but it's a heck of a lot better than 3 or 4 hours of hand-washing every week!

We paid 160,000 Tugrik for her. But between the 6 of us, it was only about 27,000 each (roughly $22 each). We paid it gladly.

As for root beer float night: it didn't happen :( That day was freezing! We had a cold front come in and the high was only in the lower 40's. We decided to post-pone it until it was a bit warmer (which will need to happen before the end of this month, because October is when winter begins!).

I seriously feel like I'm living the life. What else do I need? I have absolutely nothing to complain about. My life here is easy. A microwave would be pretty cool, actually--but we honestly have no where to put it and I don't see us getting one. We have friends (Mongolian & PCVs), we have good food (because that IS important--you'll never know how important it is until you're surrounded by only steamed flour, boiled meat and fermented milk), and we're warm.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Comfortable Living Part 1

This year is going to be all about comfort. Last year I was in it to survive and did my exploring-- This year, I know what it takes. It was rough, it was brutal. I remember some very, very dark days. But I'm going in it with a fight this year to make sure peace will be made between us. And yes, I'm talking about you, winter!

Why am I bringing up winter on the 6th of September? Well because of this: 

That's the weather up in UB right now. Here in Mandalgovi it's a warm 41 degrees. I knew this cold front was coming. Last night before I went to bed I put on my leggings, put my long thigh socks on over them (I'm sooo glad I bought those from Target before we left...I actually bought them by accident, but they've been a life saver), then added another layer of socks: my fluffy, pink, knitted socks. Now up on top I have my undershirt, a t-shirt, a light sweater then my fleece sweater on top. I was NOT cold last night. I prepped like a pro.

The topic has come up between us experienced PCVs about how not right it feels right now. We are all basically constantly looking over our shoulder every where we go in search for winter. Like it's going to creep up and grab us when we're least expecting. It's just not right to be here and not be cold...I'd rather it be cold than in constant fear and anxiety of what lies ahead. Bring. It. On.

I have a "Comfortable Living Part 2" post coming later on today/tonight/ or tomorrow. I won't give it away just yet. But it's one of the better things that could happen to us--or me. Why we didn't do this last year, I don't know-- but we've lived and learned and will definitely make up for it!

Today is a busy day! I have to teach class within the next hour, finish creating my schedule (which means hunting teachers down all day trying to get their schedules so I can harmonize them with mine), create curricula for my English Clubs, Community English Classes, Primary Teacher Methodology Classes and National Exam Prep Courses and other grunt work-- but the fun part comes this evening. We're having the first Mandalgovi PCV Meeting tonight. We have 6 PCVs in Mandalgovi this year (3 English Teachers, 1 Social Worker, 1 Health Volunteer and 1 Business Volunteer)-- a lot! And we're going to sit down and discuss all the projects we're wanting to do this year and collaborate with each other. We have so many organizations between us (the Hospital, the Children's Center, Mercy Corps, 3 out of the 4 schools in our town, etc.) that anything is possible. Between the 6 of us we can do great things in this community this year! OK, so I am excited about the meeting-- but really I'm most excited about......ROOT BEER FLOATS! We can't have a social without some type of refreshments!

Last Spring my dad sent a package with root beer extract. We don't have root beer here-- and I haven't tasted its marvelous deliciousness in over 18 months-- but we do have club soda...and right now we do have little ice cream sandwiches and per the directions on the back of the root beer extract box we can make root beer floats with these ingredients. It's a chilly day today, it's a shame we didn't do this last week (or even yesterday), but it will be amazing.

It's time for me to get to work! Comfortable Living Part 2 up next!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

1st Day of School for the 2nd time

The opening ceremony. All 1,600 students come to the outside assembly.

The governor of Mandalgovi came to speak.

After the assembly all the students come inside to hear the President of Mongolia give a lesson on the 1st day of School (on the TV).
I feel like the 1st day of School was the beginning of the end. This is it. One. Last. School. Year. So, what are we going to do about it? Work. Play. Make memories. I have to say, going into it (days before the 1st day of school) I was at a low point. Coming back to a ger after the amazing life you can live in an apartment-- in addition to the condition our ger was in when we returned home to it, I was uneasy about doing this again. The uneasiness didn't last for long though-- something clicked and I had a change in gears. We make life as enjoyable or difficult as we want it to be. And I've made a decision that my life will be a good but challenging one!

It's so good to be back in my own kitchen. Or I guess I should say, it's so good to be able to use my own kitchen utensils and appliances again! I brought back an item from UB that will change my life here in Mandalgovi:
Meet Mr. I'm-going-to-make-your-life-so-awesome-this-year Blender.
Already I've found Cherry Compote and made it into a cherry pie filling. Made probably the best pie crust ever--using my blender (pie crust was my thing back in the states...I can't imagine it getting much better, but it did--oh so flaky with just the right amount of buttery and sweetness to it!).

I've been wanting a smoothie for a while, but ice is a very foreign concept to Mandalgovians. "Why would you want to drink something cold? And if you want it cold why don't you just put it outside?" So ice trays are not available, BUT bananas ARE readily available right now and awesome when frozen. So, next I found some Strawberry Compote and...BAM!

Strawberry & Banana Smoothie

Now if only bananas weren't $2 a pop I'd be doing this daily. Next on my list: Peanut Butter.

Right now it feels like we're living the dream life. We have so many American sitemates here to talk to and hang out with, we've received great packages this summer with amazing food, and it's still warm out so we're not constantly slaving over the stove/bagging coal/cleaning up coal dust, dung dust or dealing with frozen things. Life feels relatively easy. I mean, there are still ger chores that must happen (taking out the dirty water, getting clean water, sweeping up the sand that finds its way through the sides of the ger, etc.) but NOTHING compared to winter ger chores.

The warm weather has been messing with my mind though. It doesn't feel right to be here and not be cold. The other night (about 9:30) I was reading in bed when I had an urge to go to the bathroom. I could hear the wind blowing and my mind went to winter mode and started thinking 'you can hold it in for a while longer--maybe even through the rest of the night'--prolonging the long cold walk to the outhouse. Finally I couldn't hold it anymore and got up and prepped myself to go outdoors. I opened the ger door with my eyes squinting, ready...and....warmth. It was warm. It made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy that I am warm. Sad that it won't last for much longer. (And yes, I hold it in as looooong as possible in the winter-- there is no going to the outhouse if you 'think' you need to only go when you HAVE to go.)

This is a beautiful site to me:

The fact that our ping (the little shed/entryway they put up in front of our ger to protect from wind getting in through the front door and also serve as storage for our fuel) is not up-- they only put it up during the winter season and remove it once it's warm. The fact that you can see the sun shining through the door. The fact that the the door is slightly open (and it's okay, because it's warm!). It's a beautiful site, for sure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BTW, for those interested:

Goodbye Summer. I will miss you.

Flowers Justin picked for me on our 1st day in our apartment this summer.
 Summer has come and gone. Where did it go? I don’t even remember being warm anymore. There is a part of me that is excited for fall to return: apple pies, the taste of cinnamon, waking up for that hot cup of spiced anything, scarves (for style, not as a survival accessory, like during winter), and making fires for fun. But I just don't want to let go of the warmth just yet.

Justin and I made it back safely to Mandalgovi two days ago. We had an 8 hour off road bus ride that only stopped mysteriously a couple of times. One time it was to help another bus out because it had broken down. The drivers couldn’t fix that bus, so about 40 more people joined us on our bus the rest of the way. I felt bad for those who had to stand in the aisle for the next hour.

School starts on Thursday. Once it begins our downhill tread will also begin. We’ve made a lot of plans for this year-- we have a lot of projects up our sleeves-- and a lot of new site-mates to help us out! This will be a great year for Mandalgovi and its PCVs:  

Mandalgovi PCVs 2011
Over the summer (for the last 4 months) I have been living out of one small suitcase with about 5 different changes of clothes. It was really doable. There were times I wore my dirty clothes more than I should have before washing-- or people that had seen me in the same outfit every time we had a chance to meet-- but really it was nice to live free and on the go. We moved around a lot this summer, with our Asian Vacation/backpacking trip, training in Darkhan, staying UB, then finally our Mid Service Training (because, yes! We are half-way through our service!). When we got back to our ger though (a little more about that instant in a minute) I realized just how much I can live with out. Wait a sec, I remember saying this EXACT same thing one year ago when I was first moving into my ger. We came to Mongolia with 5 HUGE over-stuffed suitcases and I was feeling the satisfaction of living simply then….now fast forward to today and I’ve downsized to 1 medium sized suitcase and I feel content.
Now that I’ve reunited with all the rest of my stuff in my ger-- I feel overwhelmed. We have SO MUCH STUFF. Will I ever be able to live in housing bigger than 300 sq ft and not be overwhelmed by owning too much stuff??

So coming back to Mandalgovi was a little difficult-- as I knew it would be. After living in an apartment with plumbing and a hot shower for 4 months reverting back to a glorified tent and an outhouse isn’t easy. We got home to our ger in the evening and spent the entire night cleaning. A thick layer of sand (because the ger isn’t closed off, the sides are completely open to the world to let in wind, but also let in bugs, mice and layers of sand after layers of sand. So not only was I overwhelmed by how much STUFF we have, I was completely broken down by the mess that we returned to. I bit back the tears and got to work. A mouse had ruined the whole bottom shelf of food we had and left droppings and smelly pee everywhere. That was task #1 (get rid of mouse smell and mess), then I got some soapy water and tackled the dust/sand on every piece of furniture we own and worked my way down--finally shaking out/sweeping the rugs and hand scrubbing the floor with bleach. Clean ger: accomplished.

Open sides of the ger

Surprise! In our fridge-- yes, that's an animal ear you see.
You can't have a complete Mongolian Summer without a flat tire.

So I feel hip and savvy these days because my sister gave me a kindle for my birthday. What a life changing gadget that is! I’ve read over 15 books in the last month or so that I’ve had it. And it will definitely help me out with my goal for this winter (to not run out of reading material!). A couple of books I’d recommend on living a life simply are:

  • Living the Savvy Life: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Smart Spending and Rich Living by Melissa Tosetti
  •  Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider
Now that I'm home in my ger I will be blogging more regularly. This summer I was always on the go, and Mongolia isn't a place covered in Wi-Fi (not yet anyway), so it was rather difficult to plump down at internet cafes or find some random place with an internet connection that they'd let me use.

Cheers to a new school year, new ideas, new projects, new recipes and new experiences! 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer of the Pink Eye

Justin and I got back from our great Asian Vacation 3 weeks ago. I have been in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, ever since. Justin’s pink eye seemed to come and go rather quickly, but I have gone from one Dr to the next trying to seek help for my eye. In total I have seen 5 professionals concerning my eye. Which turns out that the pink eye also came and went after the first several days and then my eye (right eye) had an assortment of other little complications all at the same time (making it look like I had a really bad case of pink eye the entire time). I lost a little vision from my right eye (now 20/30 with my glasses on), but am expected to regain it back with the use of steroid drops I will be using for the next 2 months at least. So, no contacts for at least that long. I am now a glasses wearer :(
Good news is that my eye is getting better and in fact is almost completely better (minus the vision). I think I have one more Dr.’s appointment to go to on Monday and I should be released.
It has been a little nice, I have to say, staying in UB and seeing all the PCVs that have come in for the summer. Also, it has been really nice sleeping on a comfy mattress, taking hot showers and using a toilet. The food that is available in UB is mind-blowing at times.
In a little over a week, Justin and I will start our ‘summer job’ as trainers for the new PCVs who have just started their 2 year assignments this summer. They have been in Mongolia for about a month now, and Justin and I will be training them for one more month. I am very excited to be apart of their training crew.
That’s where I’m at right now. Justin is in Mandalgovi trying to get some work done and tying loose ends up because it’s going to be about another 2 months until we return for Mandalgovi for one more school year.

Surviving Mongolia

We have successfully completed one year of service. We have one year to go, and I am determined to make this the best year ever in Mongolia! We’ve been through it all in a course of 12 (now 13) months and we know what works and what doesn’t, what was worth it and what wasn’t, what was smart and what was stupid.

Some things that were worth it (or smart):
  • Internet in the ger -- We debated about this for a while before getting it, but it has proven to be well worth the money spent!
  • Eating well (also see ‘Eating well’ in the stupid column)-- Every night we cooked for hours to make our dinners delicious (everything has to be made from scratch), though we were exhausted and freezing (and sometimes not eating dinner until 10 o’clock at night) it was worth it. We made do with what foods we had available to us. And it made us happy.
  • Weekly dinner nights with my sitemates-- This didn’t start until well into the school year, but it was awesome to be able to have a night where us PCVs could get together and just talk and hang. Good for your spirit.
  • Weekly showers (in the warmer months)--During the winter it is too dang cold to leave your ger for anything other than work & getting food, so showering was not even considered. Also during the cold months you don’t get as dirty so you can go a few months without showering. But, during the warmer months when going to the shower house was an option it felt amazing to exfoliate and feel fresh.
  • Candles--How could I survive without you!? Very worth stocking up on candles in UB (when the rare scented candle shows its face), and VERY thankful for those who have sent candles in their packages! This is the ultimate way to relax for me--since I don’t have my bathtub anymore.
  • Time for TV (on the computer)-- We have some shows and movies on our hard drive. It was always a great way to feel connected back to the states and feel like you’re home for a couple of hours.
Stupid things (or things that didn’t work):
  • Not having a full library of books-- I read through our 15 or so books we ‘stocked’ up for the winter. This is NOT enough.
  • Not Eating Well-- Though we did what we could with what he had available to us, we didn’t use our resources in UB wisely. This year we will REALLY REALLY stock up on dried beans, oatmeal, canned tomatoes, spices, ketchup, mustard, drink mixes, brown sugar, syrup, other canned/dried goods and bring them back to Mandalgovi. We also appreciated all the packages we received over the last year to help us stock up on these yummy items we take very much for granted. I am not going through another winter feeling hungry.
  • Allowing our fire fuel to run out-- there were a handful of days where we waited on our fuel suppler to supply us with fuel for our fire (them saying they will come ‘tomorrow‘, then ‘tomorrow‘ again and ‘tomorrow‘ again). Even though we gave them days, even weeks sometimes, notice we were still left cold and fuelless. This is NOT going to happen next year. It’s unacceptable to be without a fire in a tent in -40 degrees. So a minimum of 2 weeks notice, and a stern daily follow-up after until we receive our fuel is needed for next winter.
  • Not hanging out with sitemates enough-- What were we thinking? We had 3 other PCVs in a 1 mile radius from us and we didn’t use each other to help keep each other more sane. It’s always good to have someone who knows what you’re going through, or to celebrate American Holidays, celebrate your successes with and collaborate community development ideas with. This year my sitemates will see A LOT of me, and maybe even be annoyed by me J
  • Not using our space heater enough-- We thought we were being tough and hardcore the first couple month of real winter (November & December) and refused to use our space heater and lived off our fires. We thought we were being wusses by having to give in and use it. So it stayed under our bed during some of the coldest days in winter. Stupid. The heater isn’t there for emergencies, it’s there for survival!
  • Not having a water supply-- There are times when our water bucket was low and the only water available to us was frozen, so we’d have to wait an hour to thaw what we did have before having any water to drink, cook with, clean with, etc. We really need to have a constant supply stashed away for days when water is not available. That was not smart.
We’ve survived a year in Mongolia in a ger. Now we know what it takes to make this next year even better.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Pink Eyed Travelers

We made it safely back to Mongolia last Friday. Seoul was amazing. Justin and I fed ourselves at as many Western restaurants as possible. You can get Korean food in Mongolia like you can get Mexican food in Texas, so our priority was to eat what we'd miss most: McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin Robins. Our tummies were very happy. Seoul seems to be the most like America out of the three countries visited. Mostly because it has a lot of Western shopping and food chains. Everything was just familiar there. So, it was a nice way to end our journey-- to relax at 'home'.

We splurged and took 1st class on the bullet train from Pusan to Seoul. When I say we relaxed in Seoul, I mean we relaxed in Seoul. A 1st class train ride was a must!

Somewhere along our vacation Justin started getting pink eye (back in Beijing). I know how contagious pink eye is. Even though I tried not to, I, too got pink eye. I hate to think about how many others we infected along the way because we were in one public place after another.

Justin's pink eye came and went, though it was uncomfortable. However, I got mine our last day in Japan. That was 2 weeks ago today. I had it in one eye for the rest of the trip. When we touched down in UB I went straight to our Medical Officers. They informed me that we couldn't go back to Mandalgovi until both our eyes have cleared up (Justin still had traces of pink eye). So now, a week later we're still resting it up in UB. Justin's eye is completely better. I ended up getting pink eye in both my eyes and another bacterial infection in my original pink eye.

Good news is our Asian Vacation was a success (pink eye or no pink eye), AND we get a little R&R in UB while we fend off this infection. Next week: Madalgovi! It's been over a month since we've been in our ger. A glamorous month of flushing toilets, running hot water, showers, mattresses, friend and good food. Next, home sweet home.