Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Last Blog Post from Mongolia

by Kara

I read what Mark posted earlier today and thought it was very nicely composed. I don’t want to compete with his post, but thought that maybe I should share some of my own thoughts.

For me, right now it just feels like we’re packed up to go on vacation. It’s hard to mentally process that we may never come back to this country again and even more, that we may never see some of our Mongolian and PCV friends again. I think it’s going to take some time for that to set in.

When we were applying for the Peace Corps I was so excited to live in another country and have everyday experiences like going grocery shopping be interesting and like a small adventure. Now, after two years, rather than feeling like an adventure, sometimes it’s just tiring to have a simple task like grocery shopping be a cumbersome experience. I’m actually looking forward to being able to go grocery shopping and not have everybody stare at me and to not have a confusing interaction with the cashier.

On the other hand, I still love the attention I get from kids in Arkhangai just walking around town. Everyday there are always at least a few kids who shout, “HI! HI! HI!” Other PCVs have gotten tired of this, but I still love it. The kids are adorable. Now I’m going to go back to the US and I’m just going to be another boring adult. And if I give a piece of candy to some kid on the street (perfectly acceptable here), people are going to think I’m a kidnapper. Great.

Then again, I’m really excited for Mark and I to start a fresh, new life together again in Seattle. I can’t wait to be busy learning (as a grad student at UW) and working (hopefully I’ll secure a job soon). Having struggled with a huge language barrier in my work in Mongolia, I’m especially looking forward to working with people who are all fluent in the same language as me. I know I’ll face challenges, but at least we’ll be able to communicate with one another.

Clearly, there are a lot of things I know I’m going to miss about Mongolia (it’s impossible to list them all here) and a lot of things I’m looking forward to in the US.

I can’t yet say exactly how my service as a PCV in Mongolia has changed me for the long-term. Those close to me may be able to indicate these changes better than I can. I hope that it’s made me more patient and understanding. I definitely think it’s made me more understanding of people who are living in another country and attempting to speak a non-native language. I also really admired a lot of the generosity I found in my Mongolian friends and coworkers and I’ve hoped that would rub off on me… However, I’m not confident that it has. That’s still something I’m working on.

There are little things that are with me now but may go away with time. If my foot bumps somebody else’s foot I feel the urge to shake their hand. I may be a bit pushy in ATM lines and stand a little to close to the person in front of me, worried somebody might cut. I won’t be as disappointed if the item I order at a restaurant isn’t there. (Last night we went to a restaurant called Thai Cuisine and after ordering were told that Thai food is not available.) And don’t be too surprised if you catch me loudly slurping up hot beverages.

Well, that’s all the insight I’ve got right now… I’m going to go back to looking up tips online for how to travel with a cat on a plane. Here’s hoping she swallows her pills and sleeps the whole time! Mark and I might post a follow-up post or two from the US, but this marks the last one from Mongolia! Bayartai! Thanks for following our blog!

Completing our Service

by Mark

Today is July 26th, 2011 here in Mongolia.  Kara and I have spent the past week in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar where we've been finishing up our Close-of-Service (COS) paperwork for Peace Corps.  As of July 24th, midnight, we became RPCV's...(the R means Returned...which we soon will be in actuality).

It's really hard to put into words how we feel right now.  I know my feelings are different than Kara's...and I know our memories are different as well.  Honestly, leaving Arkhangai was harder than leaving Mongolia will be.  We fly out later tonight, but in many ways it feels like our time in Mongolia has already concluded.  When we were packing our things in our apartment, it didn't take nearly as long as I thought it might.  It's a strange feeling knowing that you came to this country with two large bags and two carry-on items...and yet we'll leave carrying the same baggage.  Yes, we've swapped out our old clothes for some of the gifts we received from members of our community.  We've thrown out old shoes, and donated other items to friends, future PCV's, and even an orphanage.  And yet, we're about to get on a plane carrying the same amount of weight as when we arrived over 2 years ago.

During our last 48 hours at our site, we had many different friends and co-workers want to stop by and visit, or take us out for a meal, or give us a small gift so that we'll remember them when we've left.  It was a wonderfully kind show of affection.  The most common question we received was "when will you return to Mongolia?".  And honestly, we don't know.  It's easy to joke about returning in 10 years...or telling people we'll return when we've had children and we can all reminisce about our 2 years in Arkhangai together.  But the reality is we just don't know.  And not knowing when you'll return can make leaving even harder than leaving a place you know you'll return to.

Before we left, my co-workers presented me with the "engraved" version of the bowl they gave me when we were camping. I asked them to have the text be engraved in Mongolian so that I can at least try to remember a few words of this language whenever I look at it.  They've been incredibly giving to me over the past couple of years, and I hope that the "work" we've done in Mongolia, together, will be something they remember whether I return in the future or not.

The day we left Arkhangai we were told we'd be picked up at around 10am.  Then that got changed to 2pm. Then we got a call at 1:15 saying they were coming to get us.  Luckily, we were ready.  We packed all our things into our micro-bus, including our cat Mishka (who is coming back with us!), and prepared for our final goodbyes.  One of our friends from the community called me, asked us to wait, and said he was jumping on his motorbike and would drive down to see us off.  And just before it was time to leave, a group of my co-workers arrived in a separate vehicle, told Kara and I to join them, to leave our bags, and informed our driver we'd meet them a little ways down the road. 

They drove us out to the archway/gate at the edge of Tsetserleg where the rest of my staff was waiting to see us off.  We all shared one last toast of Chinggis vodka, passed around some candy, and waited for our ride to appear through the gateway.  I had a really hard time keeping it together.  I couldn't say anything to my co-workers for fear that I'd really start tearing up...so instead I just tried to smile.  When it came time for us to go, Kara and I were gripped with heart-felt hugs from everyone.  And then we drove away.

I've had a lot of time here in UB to think about the completion of our service.  To ponder what it means to "finish" something like volunteer development work.  Our period of service is finishing, but what we've been doing and why we've been doing it will not end when we get on the plane.  There are thousands of volunteers all over the world that are continuing to do what we've had the privilege to experience these past 2 years.  And more importantly, we have friends that will stay here for at least another year.

As I was typing this I received a call from our sitemate Tim Jenkins.  He will be the only volunteer in Arkhangai until the incoming trainees get placed.  He used to tell us all the time that he's not sure how he feels about being left alone.  He used to joke that we should stay to keep him company.  And when he realized that we were really leaving he would just randomly quote the phrase "one man walks alone".  But his phone call this morning was to tell me the following, "last night I realized that it won't be 'one man walks alone' when that man has the spirit of his friends with him all the time".

Our time here is coming to an end, but I hope that the spirit of what we've done here in Mongolia continues to live on.  And I hope that our friends, of every nationality, know that Mongolia will continue to be a part of our memories for the rest of our lives.  So it is with a mix of sadness, hope, joy, and amazement that I am saying goodbye to our relatively short time in Mongolia.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blowtorching Marmot

by Mark

I might as well warn you up front...if you don't like seeing or hearing about small animals being prepared as a meal, don't bother to watch or read on.  Though really these animals had been dead for awhile, it's still a rather "uncivilized" form of food prep.  But hey, they're still considered a delicacy...and it takes a long time to prepare them.  My staff considered it mandatory that we get one last taste on this most recent trip to Blue Lake.  I know we've talked about having marmot in the past, but this time I decided to take some video of the preparation.

First, the heads are cut off and innards are removed.  The choice pieces of "innards" are then placed back inside, along with a handful of onion.  Then you take stones the size of baseballs that have been heating in the coals of a fire and stuff them down inside until the animal is "full".  Tie off the neck.  These hot rocks serve to cook the meat from the inside out...then the outside is cooked using the following technique (enjoy the "barbarity"!):

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Хөх Нуур (Blue Lake)

by Mark

Kara and I just returned from a 3 day trip to Hukh Nuur (Blue Lake) here in Arkhangai.  We were told it's not a very common trip for foreigners to take, other than on horseback, and we soon figured out why.  Between the massive boulders, rivers that were easily 3-4 ft deep in spots, and the absolute middle-of-nowhere location, it's not an easy trek to make no matter what form of transportation you have.

It was beautiful countryside we passed through, and other than the massive number of flies and mosquitoes, it was great to be outside sleeping in tents and walking through such untouched land.  There were 15 of us that went on the trip - it was partly a summer getaway, a thank you to some of my staff, and partly a goodbye trip for Kara and I.  We swam in the rivers, cooked over an open fire for every meal, shared traditional meals as well as some of the more rare ones (marmot!), and generally baked in the 80 degree sunshine!

My staff presented me with a couple of gifts.  First, they gave me a signed certificate from the governor of Arkhangai acknowledging the past 2 years of work I've done here.  Then as a gift from all of the staff members I've worked with I was presented with a blue "hadak" (symbolic blue cloth) and a brass cup or "ayag" that is presently being engraved with a short message.  In return I gave a short speech, mentioning some of my favorite memories of each of my staff members and then concluded by giving them a photobook with pictures of memories from the past 2 years.

As expected this trip reminded us rather starkly of all the things we find beautiful and fascinating about Mongolia and it's people...but it also reminds us of some of the hardships we/they face on a daily basis.  We have learned to have an incredible level of patience in this country - sometimes because "waiting" will bring about the best moments, but other times the "waiting" is simply not worth it in our minds.  But that's ok.  In the end, we have the memories to look back on...and of course the photos:

(no sound, only pictures)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Naadam - photos/video

We figured we might as well give you as much audio/visual stimulation as possible.  Here is a photo slideshow of the 2011 Naadam festival in Arkhangai set to some really cool Mongolian music by the band Altan Urag.  Make sure to have your speakers on for each of the following videos.

If you would like to see the individual photos used in the slideshow and read a few more descriptive captions for each please check out Kara's FB photo album "Naadam 2011".

Also, here is a video of a dance during the opening ceremonies.  The quality is poor and it's only about a minute of the full dance, but essentially what you're seeing is a large group of choreographed women dancing with 6 small bowls stacked on their heads.  The dance involves them taking them off, putting them back on, spinning around, moving all over the place...and obviously NOT dropping any of the bowls.

And lastly, here's a quick video of the final 4 wrestlers prepping for their matches by walking up to the flagpole, waving their arms in the traditional eagle dance, and basically offering thanks/respect to Mongolia.

In just a few short hours, Kara and I will be traveling with 20+ of my counterparts to Blue Lake for a 3 day retreat/camping trip to celebrate our work over the past 2 years.  Upon our return, we'll only have 2 short days left in Arkhangai.  Hopefully we'll have some beautiful pictures to upload following this final excursion as well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mongolian Wrestling - video

by Mark

I wanted to get these up on the blog because they are just too entertaining.  We're right in the middle of the 3 day Naadam Festival in Arkhangai, and we've recently witnessed two Americans take on the Mongolian men in wrestling.  Both of these men were named Tim.  One is our sitemate, the other is a visitor from the States who is writing a book on wrestling traditions in other cultures.  This first video is of our sitemate Tim getting thrown down by a rather large Mongolian man.  Needless to say, he lost his match in the 1st round.  (Sorry the quality is so poor!)

The second video is of the other Tim...he manages to take down one of the largest Mongolians on the field.  After a few minutes of holding each other, we managed to capture video of the takedown.  It's quite impressive. And really just a great move.  Enjoy.

We'll try to post more pictures and video in the coming days.  Hopefully...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tourism Marketing Trainings

by Mark

It's obviously been much too long since I last wrote (about 2 months!)...however, I have an excuse.  I've actually been working!  Well, traveling for work is a more appropriate description.  A few months back when I realized that my grant funded unique business competition was going to be completed by May, I thought to myself "you should plan some sort of work for June so that you're not 'bored' at work during your last few weeks in Mongolia".  I decided to push myself to do two more trainings for the tourism industry of Arkhangai - this time focusing on marketing.

So I told my staff that I wanted to travel to Tariat and Tsenker soums (if you remember from previous posts these are two of the tourist hot-spots of Arkhangai) to meet with some of the managers/staff of the ger camps.  I also decided that I wanted to bring along two additional local trainers - preferably one that has been working with me for awhile as well as another "newbie" who might like to see how I lead/facilitate trainings for these groups.  You know "capacity building" and all that good stuff!  My goal was to lead a 3-4 hour session on the 4P's of marketing as it pertains to the Arkhangai tourism industry, gather some feedback, do some pre- and post-testing, and pass out some materials (brochures/posters) we'd created for the businesses involved in the www.travelarkhangai.com project.

I'll let the pictures do most of the talking, but I did want to mention that we learned a lot from the first training that we implemented in the second training.  The results were much better.  In fact, our first stop (Tariat) had the pre- and post- test results both equal exactly 61%.  There are multiple factors for this that I won't go into, but we pinpointed them and a few days later when we were in Tsenker we had pre-tests at 67% and post-test results at 86%!!  We had 23 participants from 14 different companies attend in total.  Overall I'd say it was a success, and if nothing else, it was a really fun time for me and my staff as these were my final soum trainings.

We had our training in Tariat inside one of the gers - we split the group into two teams.  Here I'm getting feedback from one team on how the tourism industry has been utilizing marketing techniques.

Here the other team is presenting after our "activity".  I had the two teams initially write at the top of the paper a fake company name.  Then my two assistants grabbed the paper and swapped them with the other team's paper.  Now taking what the other team wrote, the new team had to write what product that company sold.  We swapped after each topic was written about - pricing, target markets, ways to promote the products, etc.  The final presentation of the "company" that your team was left with was quite entertaining.  It was all done to show how marketing plans need to evolve as more information comes to light.

The training group in Tariat.  Here we had 1 representative from 10 different ger camps.

Afterward we decided to go fishing in White Lake (that's my driver Tsogoo) - a mere 100 meters from the training site.

Do you like our band's album cover?

These were my two local trainers, Khorlo and Nowroo

A trip out to Tariat isn't complete without the "gorge" photo - I believe I now have one of these during every season in Mongolia.

The same training at Tsenker soums' Duut Resort.  Different feel being inside a gigantic log cabin resort instead of a ger.

Here I have the one group drawing a price/quality matrix for a company/product of their choosing.  I learned some valuable insight - for one, this group believes that Mercedes Benz makes a low quality, low price product.  This led to all sorts of fun conversations and attempted explanations!

In Tsenker we had 13 attendees from all 4 camps in the area.  One group sent 6 of their young staff members for the training.  And they were all quite smart.  I was thrilled.

This time we decided volleyball would be our relaxation/sport following the training.  It's hard to tell but what appears to be beautiful grass around our feet is actually probably 30% wild onions!  They were so good.  You could just snap the greens off and chew on it while you played.  Of course we all joked that I wouldn't be able to kiss any of the pretty girls afterward.

On the way back after all our work was done, we took a different route.  After coming up over a hill, we found ourselves staring at some of the largest fields of wild flowers I've seen here.  This particular part was all orange but others were all white, or all yellow, and they'd just blend one area right into the other.  This is us pretending to look comfortable as thousands of bugs attacked!

And why not one more flower photo!  We took dozens.  This was actually us jumping toward the camera but it took too late and instead it appears that we've all just fallen down.  Needless to say, we enjoy our time on these trips and I'm going to miss hanging out with my staff at trainings.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life lately

by Kara

A spastic update on life lately...

We've got a little more than a month left in Mongolia - that's it! It's crazy. I haven't fully mentally prepared myself for returning to the US. I've been so busy lately helping train the new group of volunteers that just arrived that I haven't had much time to sit down and think about all my own stuff.

Training the new volunteers has been fun (and tiring). It's fun to see all their enthusiasm and excitement. Until talking to them I had completely forgotten what it was like to arrive in Mongolia for the first time. It makes me realize how comfortable I've become with many aspects of life here and how normal so many things seem. It's hard trying to balance giving them an optimistic, yet realistic view of what their Peace Corps service might be like, but I'm trying. The worse part about training is that we spend 4 to 5 hours a day commuting from our office to the site their training is at. One day last week we had a tire blowout which extended our time on the road even longer. Not fun. BUT I do get to drive past herds of camels everyday, which still doesn't fail to excite me.

Though most of my mental effort is focused on training, I am thinking about life in the US a bit. I register for classes next week (!) and I'm job-searching. I'm hoping to find a part-time research assistant position at the university. These positions include a paycheck PLUS complete tuition coverage. Obviously that would be awesome and would ensure I wouldn't have to take out any student loans, but of course, these positions are highly coveted. I got really excited about one position that I applied for last week and just got an email from those in charge of hiring asking us applicants to be patient, as they received over 100 applications. Yikes. 100. Those are some tough odds.

Anyway, that's all I've got for this quick update for now. I don't even have any pictures to upload because I'm at an internet cafe and don't have access to my photos right now. Sorry! I'll be finishing up my portion of training next week then heading back home to Arkhangai for the remainder of our time in Mongolia. While in Arkhangai I'll be helping with a 4H exchange program that's bringing some American teenagers to Arkhangai to live with host families. We'll probably take them to my work's summer camp. We've also got Naadam (horse-racing, archery, wrestling) and then of course saying goodbye to everybody, packing up our stuff, giving away lots of stuff, etc. Crazy! Time is flying!!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Health Fair

by Kara

Saturday, May 21, 2011 was Arkhangai Aimag’s First Annual Health Fair! This event was made possible thanks to funding we received from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and from wonderful people in America who donated to the cause. A big thanks goes out to those who donated, particularly Mark’s parents.

We’d been talking about this fair with our counterparts for months and months but as things often happen here in Mongolia, much of the planning came down to the last minute. We were scrambling the week of the event to get everything ready. But in the end, the event happened and went pretty well.

The event included 4 main events:

1) 5K Community Walk and Run
This ended up being a little less than 5K, as we just used a course the PE teachers already knew about and could easily explain to everybody. It also just ended up being a run, rather than a big community walk, but that’s okay. We had adults and students participate (separately) and it was a lot of fun. And everybody who participated got a t-shirt custom printed for the event!

Lining up to sign up for the 5K. It was all about matching track suits.

Pointing out the course

And the adults are off!

Part of the race involved avoiding yaks. Yak-attack = disqualification

The finish line

2) Poster Contest
We invited students to submit posters that were related to the theme of tobacco and alcohol use and the effects the use of these substances can have on people’s lives. The submissions were really great. The winning poster will be printed on a bigger poster and displayed in town.

Two of the winners
This one was pretty, and supposedly it was supposed to represent an alcohol and tobacco free life, but it was a bit of a stretch. It also looked like they just copied it from a book. But it was so pretty...

3) Nutrition Trivia Contest
Students were invited to participate in a trivia contest about nutrition and healthy eating. All 10th grade students have learned about this material in lessons throughout the school year.

4) Cooking Contest
All schools were invited to participate in a healthy cooking contest. The school cooks were asked to involve students in this as well. This was the least successful part of the event, as fewer schools turned out than we had hoped. The date of the entire Health Fair was changed from May 14 to May 21 at the last minute and some of the schools had prepared to compete on May 14 and were unable to participate on May 21. Though our counterparts were able to deal with so many aspects of last minute changes, this is one part that suffered. Hopefully they can do this next year with fewer last minute changes and better communication to all schools.

Event planners and winning cooks

Overall the event was a lot of fun. Again, thanks so much to our donors for help making this happen! We hope it’ll happen again next year too.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


by Kara

Though it's hard for Mark and I to believe, the end of our 2 years of service is coming to an end soon! We received official approval from our Peace Corps Mongolia Country Director to conclude our service and fly home July 24!!!

However, before that day comes, we still have a lot to do. Mark is busy finishing up projects at work, including the final reports for his unique business and unique product competition, training his counterparts on how to maintain the Travel Arkhangai website, and a couple more tourism trainings for local businesses.

I'm heading off to the city of Darkhan next week to take part in a two-week training of trainers. I've been asked to help train the incoming group of Community Youth Development volunteers. This is what Mark did last year after we returned from vacation. I'll be gone about 5 weeks total, spending 2 weeks preparing the trainings and 2 1/2 weeks actually doing the training. Although this means time apart from Mark (and our cat Mishka!) I'm looking forward to a change of pace and a change of scenery. Things at my work have slowed down a lot for me lately and I'm not very busy. If you know me, you know I like to be busy. Plus, it'll be fun to see a fresh group of people newly embarking upon their experience here in Mongolia. Mark is planning to try and come visit me in Darkhan sometime in the middle of my training too, hopefully around the time of our anniversary.

After I return from training I'll spend some time at my organization's summer camp. Then we'll celebrate Naadam (horse racing, archery, and wrestling summer festival) here in Arkhangai, hand out some more helmets to child jockeys, and after, pack up our apartment! We'll head into UB a few days before our official Close of Service date to do gobs of paperwork and medical check-ups.

It's going to be a little odd and possibly anti-climatic because PCVs from our group are departing at different dates throughout the summer, so there's not exactly one big good-bye party. In fact, we've already realized we've seen some people for the last time in Mongolia and didn't even do a proper goodbye. We've already started trying to convince people to come visit us in Seattle and hope to visit others in the future too. In fact, some PCVs are already planning a two-year reunion in New Orleans where at least 4-5 PCVs from our group are planning to live -- a few of them planning to live together even!

To make our return home a little sweeter we've also planned a short vacation in San Francisco on our way home! We're visiting one of my best friends and her husband there. And I've never been to San Francisco so while they're busy working during the days, we're going to explore the city. Then, I'll be home in time to spend my birthday at home with our friends and families!

I'm not sure what kinds of photos to include on a blog like this, but a blog post is boring without any, so here are some from events as of late.

Ondor-ulaan soum, about 2-3 hours away from where we live. Mark visited it last week with the national Mercy Corps director. 

Bulgan Mountain. This image is used on everything and seen everywhere throughout our town so it's a bit tired to us, but I have to admit, it is pretty. It's a very short walk away from our apartment.

And then there's the occasional dumpings of spring snow. Ugh. This was last week. 

I held my last Zumba fitness class this week! The girls are super cute and I'm going to miss this them. Two of them have come to almost every single class since October so I made them certificates and gave them some jump ropes as gifts (to keep up with their strict exercise routine over the summer). For our last class we ended up doing about 10 minutes of Zumba and spent the rest of the time taking pictures and eating cookies. :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011


by Kara

Last weekend Mark and I talked to our sitemates Sarah and Tim and decided that Saturday would be a great day to head to the river for a picnic. The weather was supposed to get bad on Sunday, but Saturday was supposed to be 61 degrees. So we met up around 2:00 and a couple of Mongolian friends joined us. It started out alright and we tried convincing ourselves it was a nice spring day - Tim was wearing shorts, Sarah a dress and flipflops. But then, a rare thing started happening - it started to rain... "Oh, I'm sure it'll pass over..."

After walking for at least an hour we arrived at the river and started eating. The men, in an effort to show us their skills, made a fire, for which we were all very thankful as the temperature started to drop...

Look how strong they are!
After eating, Mark and Tim discussed the best method for fishing. Tim had brought his fishing pole, some hooks he had spent the morning searching for at our local market, and a ping pong ball for a bobber, but the selection of bait was lacking. Bread? Corn? Canned mackerel? He tried his best, but unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.

After enjoying some smores and delicious cake that Sarah made, we realized the increasingly steady pour of rain was not letting up and we should probably head back. Sarah and Tim were jokingly scolded by our Mongolian friends for not dressing appropriately, while Mark and I were praised for our preparedness. I pulled out two shirts, a scarf, hat, and gloves from our backpack for the walk home. Unfortunately, the weather kept getting worse and worse. Poor Sarah and Tim were miserable and cold to the bone. Mark and I were chilled too, but not quite as bad. Tim said on the walk home, which took about an hour and 15 minutes, that this was the coldest he'd ever been in Mongolia! Here's a picture, but it's kind of impossible to show how cold we felt. (And let's hope Sarah doesn't read our blog because she'd hate to know this picture of her, with Tim's socks on under flip-flops and Mark's huge coat draped over her, was floating around the interweb.)

All in all it was a fun day and definitely a memorable one!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Close of Service Conference

by Kara

Every year Peace Corps holds a Close of Service Conference for all of the volunteers finishing up their second year of service. Our conference was April 27-29. Out of the original 69 volunteers who came to Mongolia we had 48 in attendance at the conference. If you're wondering, that's not too bad of a rate. I've heard that overall, Mongolia has a better retention rate than other PC countries, despite what you might think. Maybe we come to Mongolia with lower expectations than those PCVs who end up Fiji and think life is going to be a beautiful paradise everyday. (As I write this, it is May 10 and there's a huge snow storm occurring outside.)

Anyway, the conference was a time for us to spend time with our fellow PCVs, reflect upon our experiences together, and talk about post-Peace Corps life. There were some boring sessions and some interesting ones and fun activities in the evenings. It was great to get to spend a few solid days with all the PCVs. And it was interesting to see who has changed a lot, stayed exactly the same, or just changed somewhat (in most cases, for the better).

Hear are some highlights!

Day 1: The ger camp we stayed at.
It was warm and sunny and beautiful.

And less than 48 hours later we woke up to 6 inches of snow and freezing cold weather.
It continued to snow the entire day and the guys even had to get out of our bus on our way out of the camp to help push it. Typical spring weather in Mongolia.

One of our evening activities was a cooking contest. I was smart and joined a team with amazing cooks  - that's us! We made fish tacos, beef tacos, (I made a million tortillas), two kinds of salsa, a peanut noodle dish (we had to make a Mongolian dish with at twist) and bananas dipped in chocolate and coconut for dessert. It was delicious and all made completely from scratch!
Ashlee and I

Chaos in the kitchen.

WE WON!!! The judges joined us for this photo-op.

The three married men playing Monopoly deal
All the PCVs! Mark and I are in the back and you can't actually see my face in the photo...