in a rut

November 25, 2013

I was doing pretty good at updating this blog several times a month. That made me happy because, for those of you who read it regularly, I knew you would read it and think of me and it makes me feel less lonely than I might otherwise feel; if that makes any sense.

But lately I find myself not knowing what to write about. I’m not sure if it is because this is my second year, and therefore some of the novelty has worn off. Or maybe it is because, with each turn of the calendar, I find myself counting down the months to my own Close of Service; continually weighing my pre-Peace Corps expectations against what I’ve actually accomplished, and coming to terms with the reality. Of course, it could be the approaching winter that has me mentally hunkering down. So, while I’m awaiting the next unique Mongolian experience, here are some happenings of late that you might be interested in.

Taco night
When our M24, Jerome, received a care package that included taco seasoning, he very generously arranged for a group dinner at his place the following weekend when our soumer, Max, would be visiting. Most Mongolian food doesn’t use much more than salt as far as seasoning goes, so adding flavor is always on our minds when we do our own cooking. Perhaps I’m burying the lede here, because I suspect you are most interested the fact that our tacos had horse meat.

“Well, how was it?” I can hear you asking. It was good! It’s a red meat, very lean, unlike a lot of the mutton we eat. But maybe that’s not fair to the sheep since Mongolians add fat to their food, and since the Americans here don’t buy sheep I’ve never seen it prepared another way. But, back to the horse… This particular horse was not ground meat, which would have been better for tacos. I don’t know if that is the reason it was a bit chewy, or if it needed to marinate or what. The point is that it was good. Especially considering that Jerome purchased the horse meat from the trunk of a car outside of the black market. Maybe it wasn’t strictly cold enough for that yet—this was a few weeks ago—but now that real winter has settled in around us, with temps regularly below freezing, the trunk of a car is better than a freezer because it requires no electricity.

Early Thanksgiving
For those who don’t know, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I simply love that there is a day set aside to acknowledge what we already have; I especially love that there are no gifts exchanged, since gift selection is not among my skills. Maybe that is why Black Friday enrages me so… the early morning hours, the crowds, the frenzy, the prices so low that you have to buy more things because you haven’t spent enough: a five-dollar DVD becomes a stocking stuffer.

This past Saturday night, my three site-mates and I joined a few of the other non-Mongolians in Govi-Altai for a Thanksgiving dinner. We had chicken legs rather than turkey but, as one who often opted to fill her plate with all the side dishes and forgo the turkey altogether, that didn’t give me pause. This year, side dishes included mashed potatoes and gravy, an enormous fresh salad (with cabbage), macaroni and cheese, sliced carrots (there are no baby carrots here) cooked in with the chicken. My contribution to the meal was mashed turnips, a first for me, and prepared more out of curiosity. Over dinner, we wondered aloud, again, why are there no yams or sweet potatoes in this country with a bounty of other root vegetables. Also absent were the signature stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole.

tgiving

We M23s were looking forward to a trip to UB—conveniently scheduled to coincide with Thanksgiving—for our required flu shot. However, due to the Continuing Resolution (e.g., no new money for Peace Corps), our Thanksgiving in the capital is canceled, and other arrangements are being made to get us vaccinated. What this really means is that we will not see our peer group, as a whole, until our COS Conference in March or April. There are so many really cool people I haven’t gotten to know as well as I’d have liked.

Vocational School Teachers
There have been some ups and downs in my Peace Corps service; I’ll wait to share some of that in another entry because I do want to be balanced. But, for now, I want to shout out to my new group of teachers at the local vocational school. We PCVs got an alcohol-awareness life skills training off the ground in September (it had stalled in the spring, so that it finally happened was exceptionally gratifying). Rather than launching the training at the high schools (maybe why we had difficulty the first time), we went to the vocational school.

After the first planning meeting, the principal asked if we could begin giving English lessons for the staff, not the students. As the TEFL volunteer, I agreed, but not without some private concern that it would fall apart, that people would lose interest or show up but not participate. It’s been two months now and that hasn’t happened. While there certainly isn’t perfect attendance, the teachers, by and large, do come. And they are enthusiastic to speak, to ask and answer questions. Mistakes are made, but no one is embarrassed about them. They want more vocabulary, practice with each other in class, and ask for homework. Those two nights a week that I trek to the other side of the town, I couldn’t be happier. And for that, I am very thankful.


stats

November 10, 2013

In my pre-Peace Corps life, I worked in the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Having started as administrative support, I had my hands in a lot of things involved in keeping the department running smoothly. The job was a good fit for me because I’d always been interested in data and, even if I didn’t always understand every detail, I could understand the big picture. Plus, I’d gotten an A in my statistics course at San Diego City College. (That’s doubly impressive because it was a condensed summer course.) We had a good team and I know some of them are reading this and to them I want to say, Hello!

In honor of my statistician friends, DFCI friends, and others like me who’ve long been interested in how things break down, I’m devoting this blog entry to the statistics of my blog. For the non-statisticians, consider this a behind-the-scenes entry.

Launch date: 30 APR 2012
Number of posts: 48
Number of comments: 205
Most comments award goes to: Cousin Priscilla, whom I’ve mentioned before, and who remains as awesome as ever.
Number of Spam comments I’ve had to delete: 5,253. Sounds unmanageable, but the site identifies them, and I can delete batches at a time.
Number of views: 7,844
Date with highest number of views: 22 MAY 2012, 154 views! This was entirely due to an article that appeared that day on Boston.com about my love affair with Hubway that would be cut short by my move to Mongolia. The article included a link to the blog.
Number of people who’ve subscribed via email: 19. The first was quite a surprise, Justin from high school. How are you, buddy? The rest are a blend of family, one-time work colleagues, Peace Corps people, and a handful I have no idea who they are. Well, you are all welcome to these pages.
Number of blog followers: 35. These are people who have their own blog, and their blog follows my blog. It’s like our blogs are friends with each other. Most of these are unknown to me; a handful are fellow PCVs.
Number of countries from which people have accessed my blog: 66 countries from 6 continents!
Number of countries with 10+ views: 23

It’s no surprise that the US has had the most visitors. It also makes sense that Mongolia has the second most, since 1) I’ve met a lot of people since I came here, and 2) we are required to give our blog addresses to Peace Corps staff so they can monitor what we put out there. Third place goes to the tiny country of Singapore, where my college roommate lives. Some of the clicks have come from links on her blog. And 5th place goes to Greece, where Anna, my high school bestie, is checking in with my goings-on.

The tenth most visited country was The Netherlands, which deserves mention because one day I got a postcard from Amsterdam from I guy I’ve never met, who found me via my blog and decided to reach out.  Thanks, Mike! Hope you liked my return postcard 🙂

Top post: this is the Home Page/Archives, which is the most recent post I’ve written, but since it constantly changes, the post with the most reads could really be any one of them… The next most clicked on entry is the first one, about my reasons for applying to the Peace Corps. That’s probably as it should be because I never did complete the About page which is the page with the most clicks. Sorry.

Top search: to Mongolia with love. Haha! Looks like some people need to bookmark that.

It’s also been searched as “tomongoliawithlove” “tomongoliawithlove.wordpress” “from Mongolia with love” (which was in contention) and “frommongoliawithlove”. The search for “love Nickerson Mongolia” was clearly for me. The searches for “love in Mongolia” and “Mongolia love blog” are less clearly for me. Again, haha! There’ve been multiple search attempts using variations of “Peace Corps” + “blog” + “Mongolia” + “2013”.

The search for “affection in Mongolian families” linked the person to one of my personal all time favorite blogs, and I hope the searcher was satisfied with my assessment. I’m sure the person who searched for “negative Peace Corps experiences” was disappointed; deservedly, trying to get skewed results like that, shaking my head. Finally, I hope the person who searched “how are Mongolians similar to Americans, how are they different” was enlightened. And, I hope he/she, and you, keep visiting for more stories.