Like I mentioned before, we had multiple reasons to head into UB for a couple weeks. We left our site just before Thanksgiving so that we could spend the holiday with other PCV's at a big shindig being thrown at the Star Apartments. A lot of the diplomatic/ex-pat community lives in this housing...gated entry, landscaped yard, even a skating rink somewhere on the premises. But the other thing it promised was a large enough gathering area for something like 80+ people. The food spread was fantastic, covering 3 large banquet tables. We even managed to have turkey for the big day - thanks in large part to our new ambassador who we all met that afternoon. Nearly everyone brought a dish to the party so there was plenty of food to go around.
The Monday following Thanksgiving we began our In-Service Training. This is a 6 day seminar that included all of the Economic Development, Youth Development, and Health sector PCV's. Each of us was to bring one counterpart from our workplace to join in on the training. Some of the seminar sessions were held with our counterparts joining us, others had us broken up into separate rooms for trainings in our respective spoken languages.
Every morning we were at breakfast at 8am and sessions began at 9am. Every day we had a mid-morning tea break (sometimes including entire pieces of cake for a snack!), then more sessions, then lunch at 1pm. Then you can probably guess we had more sessions...and then a mid-afternoon snack...followed by more sessions. And lastly dinner at 7pm. Oh wait, then at 8pm there was an optional session on different topics that Volunteers can work on as secondary projects in their community.
This is the hotel we stayed at (Nukht Hotel)...and when I say "stayed at" I should say "stayed in" because we only left the building twice in the 6 days there. The first night there we decided it would be fun to use a nearby hill for sledding...only we didn't have sleds. So we used some plastic bags, cardboard, anything we could sit on that had a flat surface. Then we hiked up into the woods, got cold, hiked back down and went inside...not to see the outdoors for another 60+ hours (when we went for a 20 minute walk to take these photos).
It was a great time to catch up with volunteers we really hadn't seen in months. A time to swap stories, hang out, laugh...oh and work. The training was valuable in that nearly everything we were taught was also taught to one of our co-workers. They now have that knowledge as well, and when we reference something in the future, they will be able to explain the concept to our other co-workers. I am fortunate enough to be working for Mercy Corps - and there are two other volunteers working in Mercy Corps offices across Mongolia as well. So our three counterparts hung out, having another common interest.
(my counterpart, Azaa, is on the left)
On our final night at Nukht, our counterparts decided to put on an event. There was dancing and games, some singing, and a "performance". It was entertaining to say the least...
(I heard this referred to as the "Towel Dance" - catchy huh!)
(What can only be described, not named - a contest where a string is tied to the back of your pants with a pen dangling from the string. You then attempt to drop the pen into a bottle as quickly as possible - quite amusing!)
(This video is extremely short - but this is about 5 seconds of the 30 second "performance" I referenced. Of all the counterparts that came to IST, only 3 were male. Those three men showed us all what a little make-up, black long underwear, and a white towel can produce! This had me laughing for quite awhile.)
After we left our training site, we took the 45 minute bus ride back into UB for a couple more days of time with friends. We decided to grab dinner at a restaurant called Ix Mongol, where we were treated to a live performance from the band Altan Urag (they did a large part of the soundtrack to the movie "Mongol").
The next day we hopped an 8 hour bus ride back to Tsetserleg...and we're now back to work!