Monday, July 20, 2015

Mid-Center to Present--07/14/15

It has been two weeks since I wrote my last blog. The time feels like it is literally flying by. At the end of June, all of the PC trainees were brought in to Darkhan for Mid-Center days for basic training on safety, medical, and logistical topics.  Sally and I enjoyed the opportunity to spend a few days together. Every time we are staying in a hotel the PC has allowed us to share a room. This is of course the way it should be, but we were under the impression that we might not get this privilege during training. It turns out the training has been very accommodating toward married couples which was not the impression I got from reading blogs in the states.
Our PC Medical Officer (PCMO) is a slightly scary Russian doctor, (I believe he grew up in Russia, however I am not sure what his nationality is now) whom everybody loves. He is fully confident to take care of us here in Mongolia. During one of his training sessions he asked all of the trainees to define an emergency, and someone said what we were all thinking. “An emergency is a health problem that is scarier than calling you.” While he did not laugh, I think he was amused on the inside. His Russian accent and mannerism is wonderful, and makes any of his trainings immensely enjoyable. One of the more memorable talks regarded STD’s among PCVs and safe sex practices. Later Sally and I joined the other two married couple trainees for dinner. I raised a tea toast to population that was free from STD through monogamy. 
While this does not pertain to Sally and I, it is not uncommon for PCVs to find potential spouses while serving abroad. I was a little surprised about this, because I struggle to understand relationships where one person is in a position of power and influence over the other, but I realize that love happens spontaneously. I also realize that two years is a long time for a single PCV to remove him/herself from the dating world, and have come to believe that these relationships founded abroad are most often as innocent as any other.
Mid-center days allowed us the opportunity to be exposed to eating out. Sally and I sampled a number of resturants in the Darkhan area. It was truly nice to have Mongolian versions of American food that we have not been experiencing during training. I have had a hankering for fried chicken and was able to mildly satisfy it in the city. Sally and I often split enormous dishes that are expensive to a PCV, but really only cost about 6 dollars.
Lodging… was amazing. In an earlier blog, I write about the hotel as being a gradual step down into third world comfort. Now the hotel is almost luxury with hot showers and actual beds. The flushing toilet was not really an improvement to the outhouse I have been using though. What can I say? I like the breeze. The other thing you have to understand about Mongolian plumbing is that it is often the same plumbing the soviets installed before I was born. This leads to a host of issues with water pressure.
After Mid-center days, Sally came and visited my Ger and family for a day. My host family is really great!  I had hoped to do some hiking with Sally, but the weather did not cooperate with whipping sandy winds.  That Sunday morning, Sally returned to her community via taxis.

A week of language classes and trainings flew by in the blink of an eye. During that time, I went shopping with my Host Family and the market where they bought me a very nice in-formal dell. It is a beautiful baby blue color. I have also been exercising on a regular basis, and started trying to talk other Americans into joining me. My friend Theo has taken up the call.  Together we have been exercising using gravity workouts and bricks as weights.
With the weekend came the festival of the three manly sports: Nadaam. I went to the opening ceremony with my host family and most of my CYD group. It was there that I was able to locate my beautiful wife in her fashionable dell. When I get an appropriate internet connection I will include lots of pictures. For now let me say that Nadaam is colorful and festive in a manner that is akin to a state fair. The stadium is where the wrestling occurs. Archery and horse racing are held outside the stadium. Surrounding the stadium is rows of gers and venders selling all manner of Mongolian food and merchandise. The staple food of Nadaam is khoosher which I have described in a previous post. It is also during the festival that Airrag (fermented mares milk) is consumed in heavy doses.

Sally who was without a family joined mine, much to our delight. We enjoyed a nice three hours walking around the stalls, watching the wrestling, and dining at a khoosherger.My host father found a bottle of Airrag (the bottle had once been a 1.5 liter coke). Following the direction of the PCMO, I took only a small sip of the bowl that was passed around and waited for any ill effects. By the time the bowl returned I knew, I was free from anaphlatic shock, so following the custom I drained it. Airrag may contain 2% alcohol, so it is very weak as far as beverages go. When I first heard of the drink stateside, I had hopes of finding some amazing beverage to share and discuss with Americans. I think this is one we can let the Mongolians keep. To say that it is an acquired taste does not even begin to convey the truth.  The taste is somewhere between milk, vinegar, and very old cheese. Sally also had a bowl and didn’t find herself enjoying it any more than I did. 
Sally had traveled to Nadaam with her language group, so she left when they did to go see the horse racing which takes place in the countryside. It was said to depart from her earlier then we would have liked, but it was still really nice to see her on a day that was not a scheduled visit.

The Festival of Nadaam last for almost a month, so the PC gave the trainees a four day weekend. I spent most of this weekend trying to stay cool in the heat, and reading. One highlight was a hike I went on with a fellow volunteer to a mountain that was in walking distance.  It was fun to get out and stroll on the ridges. Needless to say the view and climb was amazing.  We were able to see for miles. The summit was about 1000 feet higher than where we started out. On the way back, a storm that had been on the horizon swung over the mountain with rain and spotty lighting. My hiking buddy Jake is perhaps the tallest person in Mongolia at this moment. We immediately grew uncomfortable with the lack of cover and retreated to the bottom of the valley following a small canyon out of the highlands. It was a pleasant adventure that we both thoroughly enjoyed.

On a final note, internet has been difficult to come by during training. Once Sally and I get placed at a site we will establish our own internet connection, but for now we can only post when we get access. Another issue is that internet here is rarely unlimited, so out of respect for the people who are allowing us to use their internet we are posting very few pictures if any. Next time we have wireless unlimited access we will try to update the blog with the pictures we have been taking.


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