Monday, June 1, 2015

Our First Day

            Yesterday was our first day in Mongolia! We are on the other side of the world! Strangers in a strange land that will become home for two years!  We woke up to find ourselves feeling surprisingly refreshed with no severe jet-lag symptoms. We are staying at a hotel used by peace keeping diplomats about 20 miles north of Ulaanbaatar. The hotel is pretty nice, much nicer than was expected with warm showers and internet access in the lobby. Everything about the hotel has a soviet era feeling about it. It is a large blocky structure laid out in a maze of passage ways with conference rooms, large modern style lobby, dining facility, and even an elusive indoor pool that Sally and I have failed to locate.

                                                             First Yak outside Hotel 

            Our first meal of the day was a brunch/meet-and-greet located in the restaurant. The food was pretty good. There was a Mongolian version of hot dogs, boiled eggs, salad, rice, a soup with a strong pungent flavor, and a meat and vegetable dish. It was a very good first meal in Mongolia. I found that my stomach is still a little jet-lagged even if the rest of me feels fine, so I couldn’t handle some of the stronger dishes just yet. It also seems that the normal drink for meals is hot tea, which has been quite good!

            Training sessions followed the brunch, and the day consisted of training on what kinds of training we can expect soon, as well as a host of logistical things from immigration to tax forms. We also met with the medical staff on an individual basis to prepare for immunizations which we started on Monday. On that line, I should mention that we have been informed to not drink out of the tap. Our bodies have not built up the immune response to the foreign bacteria and water, so to drink from the faucet would result in possible diarrhea. The Peace Corps has supplied us with plenty of clean drinking water, and we will receive water filters at the next stage of training.

            When we completed our sessions for the day, Sally and I found ourselves with some free time which we spent outside enjoying the warm humidity free air. We wandered around the hotel, which is nestled at the high point of a valley that looks like some place in Colorado, and found a small mountain at the back with a slope of pine forest. We started up the slope enjoying the alien forest. I was intent on summiting the mountain, a fact that Sally may not have expected when we started out.

            After about a 500 ft climb we reached the bald spot at the top and could look out into the valley where we could make out the distant outlets of Ulaanbaatar. There seems to be a very large species of crow or raven that Sally has dubbed pig crows on account of the grunting cry they issue that echoes through the mountains. We could also hear a group of locals singing at the base of the mountain.

            Sally enjoyed the view 50 ft below the summit while I climbed to the top where I encountered a strategically placed pile of sticks with cloth tied about the tops. I believe that this is a holy site for either shamanism or Buddhist tradition. Hopefully, we will learn more about this in our trainings.

            Climbing the mountain was the high point of our day, and we descended it just in time for dinner which was an Asian take on meatloaf that was really good. After dinner, we got our instruments out and jammed with some of the other volunteers before retreating to our room for the night. The fact that we are still rooming together has been a pleasant surprise. We fully expected to have separate sleeping arrangements for the duration of training, but it may be that we will only be separated when we are placed with host families. Let me take a moment to break down the 11ish weeks of training.

1.    These first few days take place at this hotel in Ulaanbaatar. With initial training and logistic work.
2    2. On Tuesday, we will travel to Darkhan located about 7 hours north of Ulaanbaatar. There we will receive more training for a few days as one large group staying in a hotel.
3    3. On Friday, we will be separated into small groups based on our sectors, and placed individually in host families where we will stay for 8.5 weeks. I will be located in the city of Darkhan because I am a Community Youth and Development volunteer (CYD). Sally will be located in a village no more than 1 hour outside of Darkhan with another small group of volunteers. She is a Teaching English as a Foreign Language volunteer (TEFL).
4    4.  In the middle of the training around July 4th, we will have mid-days where the entire group comes together again in Darkhan for more sessions. Afterwards, we will then return to our host communities.
5    5.  The last week of training End Days, we will return to Darkhan as a group before swearing in which occurs on August 15th.

In addition to seeing each other when the group comes together for training, Sally and I have three weekends that we can schedule to visit each other. Peace Corps pays for our travel expenses for these weekends. So the eleven weeks of training is broken into at least six times that we will get to see each other.

One final point to this blog, there is so much to write about so we just cannot include every detail. Sally and I have made a number of new friends with the other 70+ Mongolian PCV. This is a really great group of individuals that all share the adventure of leaving home and coming to Mongolia.



  1. Love reading this, I am so excited for ya'll.

  2. Love your disclaimer! It looks beautiful. Thanks for blogging.