July 19, 2012


I’ve been in Mongolia about 6 weeks now so I have some sense of the things I could use, what is available here, and what is cost prohibitive from a living allowance perspective—Peace Corps Trainees in Mongolia earn about two dollars a day, which is more than enough since our host families provide for us. Once we are officially Peace Corps Volunteers and are on our own, the allowance increases substantially, but still remains far below American wages. I mention this as a reminder that being here is my choice and going without comforts from home is as much a part of the experience as is integrating into the culture (and living as the locals do is, in fact, another way to integrate).

But since I’ve been asked what I need, and what I want, I will give a list of possibilities—I just ask that everyone reading this, who is potentially considering sending a care package, please remember who I am. Though I can be impulsive with purchases, as you know, more often than not, my practical side is typically in control of my spending. And, I have little problem with delayed gratification, or “sacrificing” now with an eye toward something great later. As someone who does not like to waste my money, I also don’t want you to waste yours. I say this because I have seen care packages delivered to my peers where the shipping alone was exorbitant (one was $126), and the contents were presumably thought to be highly desirable and unavailable (2 cases of snickers, which are not only available here, but comparably priced).

Okay, with that peace of mind, following is a list of things I could use throughout the next two years.

Peanut butter and trail mix – both are here at the American store, they just costs 5 times as much,

Oatmeal – haven’t seen it at all; would love a break from white rice, especially at breakfast,

Brown sugar – haven’t seen it, and if I get oatmeal, which would be wonderful, it would that much more wonderful if it had some brown sugar. (Though these will go together for me, I’d prefer to not have the flavored instant oatmeal packets.)

Granola and/or fiber bars – haven’t seen them. There’s lots of hiking here and snacks that can travel would keep me from absent-mindedly grabbing a candy bar,

Gatorade powder (or REI equivalent) or energy gel like cliff mocha (had a free sample from REI before I left) – for all those incredible hikes. Maybe it comes with age, but my knuckles swell 🙂

Hard candies – Mongolians have a big sweet tooth and ALWAYS offer candy to guests. Think of me when they go on sale after holidays or to stuff into the little extra space of a package of something else,

Sunscreen minimum 30 SPF – The Mongolian sun is strong! The weather is unpredictable (rainstorms to rainbows) but I can’t reapply often enough on a sunny day,

USB flash drives – from what I hear, during collaborations people “forget” to return them. I don’t want anyone to go out and buy USB flash drives! but if you happened to have conference freebies laying about (or maybe a 128MB one like I found at home before I left), and you don’t know what to do with it, I’ll gladly take it off your hands.

Finally, I could use a super-absorbent large towel for laundry. I can’t wring out the hand-washing enough to prevent dripping and I don’t want to use my personal towel for the laundry and for me. As I recall, family members are allowed to use my REI membership by giving my name, but in case you want it, the card # is 12070850.

Between all of us, packages have taken about 5 weeks, letters/cards about 3 weeks, so if you DO plan to send something, do it NOW because if you wait a few weeks, I’ll get my site assignment which will delay the package further. As soon as I have my new address (in a few weeks), I will post it and there will be about a month overlap.

If you do decide to send something, use USPS, not courier services, because they require a visit to the capital for signature. And if you don’t send a package, that’s cool too.


July 17, 2012

In case it ever comes up, cabbage is a decent substitute for lettuce in a BLT. Either that, or our longing for a connection to home was enough to fool our taste buds as we celebrated the 4th of July, our first holiday away, by making that classic sandwich. Really, any sandwich would have done since, though there is lots of bread in Mongolia, no one besides the Americans is putting things between two slices.

On the heels of our American Independence Day was a major Mongolian holiday, Naadam, also known as the Three Manly Sports. Now, I wouldn’t normally be interested in horseracing, archery, or wrestling, so I was glad that they also had musicians, singers and a few dance performances in the mix. That said, the rituals involved with the wrestling were intriguing and it was nice to see families spending time together and little kids flying kites. I enjoyed myself enough to plan to return to my soum for Naadam next summer.

The downside to the holiday (celebrated in our soum the week before National Naadam) was that we had two super-long weekends (i.e., we missed 5 total days of language class time). Before the break, we had our language assessment, though—20-minutes of me speaking in Mongolian!—which I was pretty comfortable with mainly because it kept to the most familiar topics. (By my count, we have about a 400-word vocabulary.) To fill our free time, I danced the night away at a soum “block-party” (how happy am I that my group dances!?), hosted group dinners, hiked a mountain, swam in a murky river, had a “Glamour Shots” photo shoot with my little sister, and played lots of Hozor. There was some studying too… just not enough for me to feel like it was enough.

I will leave you with this… my host family hosted one of those group dinners. They asked the Americans to sing along to the one Mongolian song we’ve learned called Traveling Bird—we were told that all Mongolians know this song and it is appropriate for any occasion—and we did pretty well. Then, quite unexpectedly, we were put on the spot to sing an American song—one that all Americans know—and we came up with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

New pics added here.


July 1, 2012

I went for my first visit to the countryside last night. It was after 8 when my mom and sister appeared at my bedroom door and said we were going. When I realized they meant me, too, and I looked at my watch, my mom laughed and gave me the option to stay home, but I was too curious.

The trip started with the Jolooch (driver) inflating his front left tire with a bicycle pump. The driver was on the right side in this particular car, but Mongolia has both kinds depending on where they originate. My grandma got priority seating in the front passenger seat, with a young boy on her lap. My mom, sister and I got in the back seat with the little sister. The neighbor’s husband got in next to me and I said, “whoa, cozy!” So, when his wife got in to the 5-passenger vehicle and sat on his lap, I was speechless. I’d heard the stories, but this was my first experience.

The ride was nearly an hour, because only about 20 minutes of it is on the paved road when the Jolooch is able to get up to 60km/hr, the rest was between 20-40km/hr. I wonder if a Mongolian driver could tell you how much it is to fill up his tank… A curious thing we’ve noticed is that the drivers tend to run on empty, stopping once a trip to get as much gas as you can pump in 60 seconds or so. Oh, and the car was running the first time that happened so i guess you won’t blow up which I was somehow led to believe.

I’d assumed we were going to see my dad who lives in the countryside and whom I’ve only seen about once a week, but it was his brother’s place and he wasn’t there. The brother and wife live in a ger (rhymes with “care”), the traditional Mongolian one-room round house. I couldn’t tell if there was a special occassion, but there were about 20 adults—-gers are very spacious! They served me Sulte-tse (traditional Milk Tea) but otherwise, left me alone to observe. We stayed an hour or so and the ride home was just as cozy.