Monday, November 23, 2009

A Week of Thanksgiving

by Mark

This past weekend we were informed of some wonderful news. We had care packages waiting for us at the Post Office. Three in fact. Each and every care package we receive is a surprise, as we never know how long they will take to get to us here in Arkhangai (though recently they've been arriving as quick as 2 weeks).

Kara ripped right into them during our lunch break - 2 boxes were from Grandma & Grandpa Bradley, and the third was from the Estep's. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking...

But it's the fact that Thanksgiving is this week that has me writing this post. Both Kara and I are thankful for many things, not the least of which is all of our loved ones back home. The care packages are a reminder of the thought and care expressed by family and friends. It sounds extreme to say we wouldn't make it without that support, but I can tell you matter-of-factly that it would be incredibly more difficult.

Our week is beginning with wonderful care packages, but "thanksgiving" doesn't end there. In a couple of days we are taking a trip to the capital of Mongolia...Ulaanbaatar. A bunch of our fellow PCV's are gathering together to celebrate the holiday of giving thanks. Though we won't be having dinner on Thursday, we will be having it on Saturday when more folks can travel into UB. Our trip is two-fold though...after the Thanksgiving dinner we will begin a 6 day Peace Corps training at a "resort" just outside of the capital. I'm sure we'll have more on that later, but for now we can say that it should be a fun time of seeing volunteers we haven't seen for months, and catching up on a myriad of stories from all corners of Mongolia.

Oh and let's not forget that soon after Thanksgiving will be Christmas...

Yes, people have already begun to send us Christmas presents. If that's not something to be thankful for, well then I don't know what else is....other than maybe that beef jerky Mel threw into our recent care packages - oh my word, that stuff is amazing!! Thank you all for being so wonderful to us - even though we're away from family, this will be one of our most "thank-filled" Thanksgiving holidays ever.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Food Posters

by Kara

We need to take some time to talk about food posters. Food posters are an essential item to any non-ger (i.e. house or apartment) Mongolian kitchen. I am fascinated by them. My sitemate Ashlee shares an equal fascination with the posters and aspires to be the world's foremost expert on them. The best ones make absolutely no sense -- and we were just lucky enough to get one of the best already scotched to the wall in our kitchen. Here's where it's located, right above the sink:

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is a close-up:

While washing the dishes, I discover new, wondrous aspects to our poster everyday. Our poster contains many of the essential food poster qualities. For example:
  •  First, there must be some sort of liquor in the poster. Ours is some type of yellow liquid (label is in Chinese so I haven't figured out exactly what it is) but there's also a martini glass with an umbrella and some indistinguishable brown liquid - I can't tell if it's coffee, liquor, or gravy. I have yet to solve that mystery.
  • Next, there should be some other inanimate, non-food objects. We have a vase of flowers, which isn't that weird. But on the left is what appears to be a tissue box which says "blue beauty" upside down and "made in China". Oh and there's a knife and fork (which is upside down) that don't match.
Okay, onto the assortment of food. Now, many food posters have a variety of fruits, most of which you are unable to purchase in Mongolia. But, again, we're lucky -- our poster offers a cornucopia of food: 
  • Corn on the cob in a bowl
  • Cupcakes, with a mini plastic fork stuck in them, next to the stuffed jalapeƱo pepper
  • Green maraschino cherries
  • Two red maraschino cherries just sitting on the tablecloth
  • On the plate in the back is what appears to be a hamburger of sorts, half a piece of sausage, and a personal sized pizza 
  • And possibly my favorite dish on the poster, a plate with fried eggs, prawns, and a carnation
And that my friends, is our food poster.

Here's a picture of the food poster in my host family's kitchen, of the classic fruit + liquor variety:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Long Underwear Weather Has Arrived

by Kara

Well, I had the idea of making a post about the cold weather, then Mark stole my idea. But I'm going to make my own (and better, dare I say) post anyway. Yes, it's true, winter is here. That's right, it's long underwear weather. I feel both terrified and brave all at once. Terrified because we are far from the coldest months of the year, which are January and February. Brave, because I have survived thus far and I actually think I'm adapting to this weather.

In case you think I'm exaggerating, here's the forecast for the week, according to

Tuesday: High -6C (21F), Low -14C (7F)
Wednesday: High -6C (21F), Low -20C (-4F)
Thursday: High -8C (17F), Low -24C (-11F)
Friday: High -11C (12F), Low -29C (-20F) - with the windchill the Friday night low is predicted to be -33C (-27F)
Saturday: High -11C (12F), Low -27C (-16F) - with the windchill we're down to -39C (-38F)!!!

I'm currently cursing at the volunteers living in places like Fiji and Thailand. (We call that the Posh Corps. We are in the Hard Corps. Being a PC Volunteer in Mongolia earns you street cred in the Peace Corps world.)

But fortunately, our apartment has maintained a steady temperature of 60-68 degrees F. Actually, this might be due to some precautions we took. Last weekend we winterized our apartment. Winterizing an apartment is like a rite of passage here. On Thursday of last week my coworker Tsermaa came over and we spent the afternoon washing all the windows and she taught me the art of winterizing. After an entire afternoon, we finished one set of our three sets of windows. The next day I insisted that Mark and I are capable of winterizing the rest of the windows. My coworkers appeared to doubt me, but I decided to stand my ground this time and they gave in. Thus, Mark and I spend much of Saturday winterizing. 

The art of winterizing:

We have old windows that do not seal shut. However, there are two complete layers of windows to help keep out the cold. The steps are as follows:
1. Cut a hole in the box. Oh wait, that's a different process. (I hope somebody out there got that joke.) Okay, step 1 consists of taping over the cracks in the glass. We use clear tape, much like packing tape. Unfortunately, about half of our windows have cracks in them. 
2. Use putty to seal the windows to the wood frame. There are often gaps where the window meets the frame, that cold air can enter through.
3. Where the inner wooden frame meets the outer wooden frame, stuff wet newspaper or cloth in the crack.
4. Cover this crack with really thick tape or duct tape.
5. Cover that tape with the afore mentioned packing tape. Mongolians call this tape "scotch" and most of them think of if like we think of duct tape - it must be involved in almost all projects and can fix anything.
6. Repeat steps 1-5 on the inner window.

Final result, tightly sealed shut windows, and no fresh air for about 5 months.

Anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying that we have taken the proper precautions to keep our apartment warm. This is just one of many steps of adjusting to life here in Mongolia. I only wish there were as simple of a process to prevent me from committing cultural faux pas.

Uhm ya, it's getting cold outside

by Mark

I feel like we should take a note from this guy - no matter how cold it is outside, if you just stay busy at work (in his case...hauling rocks all around our park) then you'll be impervious to the dropping temp scale.

Basically, over the past week the temperature dropped from being in the upper 30's (Fahrenheit) to a level of cold we've never experienced before. It snowed a few days back, covering the ground in about 6 inches of frozen powder. The past few mornings we've awoken to -25 degree Celsius temperatures. For those of you that would like the conversion, that's -13 degrees F. And during the day it usually warms up to about -7 Celsius or about 19 degrees F.

It's amazing what your body becomes accustomed to - doesn't really bother me anymore when my nose freezes on the way to'll warm up again. And our winter gear keeps us warm enough to make it from one point to another. I think we'll make it through winter just fine...then again, it is only early November.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Young Business Persons' Training

by Mark

This past week I was involved in a training put on for young business owners (aged 35 and under). We had a total of 13 "students" in the classes. It ended up being a 5 day training (this is only the first part of a multi-step training) complete with morning classes, lunch breaks, afternoon classes, dinner, and post-dinner discussions. Because it was held at a local school rather than at our Mercy Corps office, I only attended a few of the scheduled events, mixed into my normal work schedule.

My involvement was leading two separate trainings - the first was titled "Comparing Mongolian and American Businesses" and the second was titled "Assessing and Managing Risk". Obvious from the pictures below I was using a translator, as my language skills do not come close to being able to explain risk assessment in Mongolian. Jackie (short for Jargalan), my translator, did a wonderful job of explaining the concepts, as well as keeping up with my verbal "additions" to the prepared notes.

All of the topics covered were useful, targeted, and portrayed in a way that made all of the young business owners feel like they could implement what they were learning. It covered everything from what types of businesses exist, to managing risk, to ways to diversify their products. I'm sure after 5 straight days of "business talk" they were ready for a break. But they'll be back at it again in the first week of December. Only this time they'll be learning how to put together proper business plans, and working on preparing themselves and their businesses to take on additional loan funding.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Because my driver is that cool...

by Mark

Last week my Mercy Corps contract driver (Tsogoo) wasn't around the office for a few days. Come to find out he was a bit busy hunting wolves in our surrounding area with some friends. Wolves! They're hunted for their fur, but in most cases people are asked to hunt them so they will leave the sheep/goats alone. Oddly enough you could probably convince me that these were some local dogs - seeing as how the city dogs are just about as wild as the wolves of the surrounding forests. Just not quite as vicious...

(In case you're wondering, that's him on the right, in the hat.)