I can’t believe that I’ve been in Mongolia for hardly a week. I feel like its been so much longer, but I’m sure that’s because we’ve done so much in just a week. Right now I’m in Darkhan, the second biggest city in Mongolia, at my host family, but we’ve been here since Tuesday.
On Tuesday we left the first hotel outside of UB (Ulaan Baatar) and took a bus to Darkhan. We were split up into two buses, so I was back with the group I was with in San Francisco. We drove through some suburbs, which were surprisingly modern and cute, and through UB. In usual Asian fashion, we stopped in the parking lot of a grocery store for about an hour for no apparent reason, but it gave me plenty of time for a first look around a Mongolian grocery store. It was pretty awesome, but then again, I am weirdly fascinated by non-American grocery stores.
Once we got on our way we drove for about four hours across the northern Mongolian countryside. It was absolutely stunning. I had previously not been feeling too well, as coffee isn’t really a thing here so one could say I was experiencing “withdrawal,” but as soon as I realized what we were passing I opened my window, put my camera around my neck, and stuck my head out. I think someone has pictures. I took about 200 hundred pictures, but deleted about a third of them. For some reason pictures taken from a bus window while careening at 50mph over roughly paved highway doesn’t make for the best picture quality.
We checked into another hotel in Darkhan and spent the next three days at the local college in various orientation and training sessions. Here we got broken up into our sector groups for the first time, so I actually got to get a visual on the rest of the Health people, although there’s only 12 of us. Current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) are helping with our orientation and continued training, which will last until August, so its nice to have them as an additional resource for questions about our potential jobs and such.
On Friday afternoon we were separated by our sectors and taken to our host family communities. Since Health needs to be close to a city for resources and our practicum sites, we stayed in Darkahn, but other groups are in small communities as far as an hour or more out of the city. We won’t be back together as a group until the beginning of July, which is a shame, but luckily my friend Ophelia (Feebee) is also in Health.
My host family is certainly not what I expected, which isn’t a bad thing. A lot of people are staying gers (yurts) or in houses that don’t have electricity or plumbing, but I’ve got all of that. My house is in a nice area, has three floors, and honestly, is nicer than a lot of houses in America. My room is off the main floor with a window that over looks the fenced in yard that is completely filled by a fruit garden. I can even flush the toilet paper here, which is a real delight since in the rest of the country the plumbing can’t handle it so you have to throw the tissue in a basket by the toilet, which stinks (literally).
I have a host mom, who is an officer (I’m not sure of what), a host dad, who’s a driver, a host brother, who is 25 and works at a gym, and two host sisters, who are 27 and 11. There’s another sister who lives in UB with her family, so I haven’t met her. But everything is really good. I was disappointed that there weren’t any animals or small children, but this is just fine. I’m definitely not roughing it. Although I did just get my hair stuck in my overall strap, so clearly life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
For the next 11weeks I’ll live here and have classes at a local school during the week on the Mongolian language and technical training on health in Mongolia. My little host sister has already tried teaching me all of the vocab she has in her English book for school, but in Mongolian, so at least I know I’ll have a tutor.