Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An Ulaanbaatar Work Trip

A few weeks ago, I planned a trip to the capitol city with my supervisor and Caleb. A few months ago, I was searching the internet looking for organizations that would be potentially helpful to our school. I came across Library for All. http://www.libraryforall.org/ This is a great nonprofit that provides e-readers to schools across the world to encourage reading. One of the best things about it is that they provide content in the local language! This is huge, seeing as how most places that donate books usually provide them in English. From what I’ve observed, reading isn’t really a huge thing among youth in Mongolia, so having e-readers with Mongolian books might be a great way to encourage reading.

I contacted a representative from Library for All, and we set up a Skype meeting. I met with her around 9pm my time to accommodate the time difference from the east coast. We talked about the program, and she informed me that Mongolia currently had a pilot program in place at several schools in UB and suggested I do a site visit. So we set up a date, Thursday April 28.

A while back, I also initiated communication with a local organization, the American Center for Mongolian Studies. http://mongoliacenter.org/ They have a really great book donation program for schools, Books for Mongolia. These books are only in English. My supervisor and I applied for books for our school, and we were accepted. The only difficulty that might come with this program is that you have to pick up the books yourself, so while we are relatively close to UB – a 6 hour bus ride – many of the further aimags might have issues coming to collect their donation. We were able to set the date for pick up the day after our Library for All site visit.

Our neighbor is a taxi driver who drives back and forth to UB, so we enlisted him for our purpose! His wife also came, so it was him and his wife in the front and Caleb, my supervisor – Bolormaa – and me in the back. The best thing about the drive was that just an hour or so outside of Chinggis Hot, our driver had to slow down and honk the horn because there was a HUGE eagle sitting contentedly in the middle of the road. He was quite bothered when he realized he had to move, but he finally took flight, almost scraping his giant talons against the hood of the car. He was huge. After doing some research, I think this was a golden eagle, which had a wingspan of up to 6.5 feet! Here’s a picture from the web of a golden eagle attacking a wolf, for perspective on size.

Our meeting at the Library for All pilot school, school #87, was scheduled for around 1:30-2. Our driver was nice enough to drop us off at the school. Most taxi drivers just take you to the closest big bus station when you get to UB. We got there just in time for the meeting, where we met several school teachers who gave us a presentation about the kind of things they do with the program, such as having students put on plays, write their own stories, and give awards for who reads the most. One student had actually read everything there was to read on the e-readers, and so she is now patiently waiting to receive more content from the organization that is facilitating Library for All in Mongolia, which is the Asia Foundation. http://asiafoundation.org/

During the meeting, we got to meet some students and take a look at the e-readers. After we left the school, we rode with Asia Foundation employees to their office, where we met with the person in charge of Library for All. It was a good meeting, and we learned a lot about the program, including that fact that pilot program had just started in January. Until this point, I hadn’t realized it was so new. The pilot program won’t be finished until December, and after that, it might be possible for us to apply for the program in January 2017, or more likely, spring 2017. I was a little disappointed, because while I can still try to apply when the time comes around, I won’t be here much longer after that to see the program through. Time will tell, but hopefully, we will get a new PCV in our aimag center who would be interested in picking up this project if need be. I am still hopeful to continue with this project next year, but for now, it’s definitely being put on hold.

After the meeting, Caleb and I parted ways with Bolormaa and were happy to check into our hostel. It had been a busy day, and we hadn’t eaten lunch. By this time it was about 4pm, so we were hungry. Since I haven’t had fast food since being in Mongolia, Burger King was the perfect choice.

One of my favorite books we received
The next day, Friday, after a nice breakfast at a place called Limewood, Caleb and I went to the Peace Corps office to check our mailboxes, and I spent some time working on a grant. My English teachers, supervisor, and I are in the initial stages of a project to reestablish our English room. This means applying for funding and writing about how it will build the school’s capacity. My English teachers wrote a lot of sections for the grant, so it’s now up to me to put it all together. I still haven’t finished it yet, presently, but I hope to submit it by the end of this week.

After spending the morning at the Peace Corps office, we went in search of food. All the PCVs talk about the Soup Bar, a place owned by a French guy, but until this day, it had eluded us. Finally, we found it and had some amazing paninis. Then, we headed off to the American Center for Mongolian Studies to meet Bolormaa and pick up our books. It was so easy. We just walked in, signed some papers, and left with 150 books. Bolormaa’s sister had a car that we loaded the books in, and that was that! They took the books and kept them until we travelled back to Khentii on Sunday.

With that, our work in UB was finished, and now we had the weekend to enjoy other things. We did a little bit of shopping after picking up the books. A great place to shop in UB is a place called Mary and Martha’s which specializes in “fair and ethical gifts,” and it’s all things Mongolian. Check out their website here: http://www.mmmongolia.com/ We picked up some postcards a keychain with a shagai (ankle) bone (from a goat).
Coming soon to a mailbox near you!

Friday night, we went to a movie theater and saw The Huntsman: Winter’s War. I wasn’t really impressed with the movie, but it was really nice to watch a movie in a theater. This movie was in English with Mongolian subtitles. This is usually the case with blockbusters like this, I think. Sometimes, there will be Mongolia dubs, but the subtitles are more typical. In the basement of the theater, there is an arcade, so we played in the arcade for a little while afterwards. It was a really nice arcade and had a ton of good games. Caleb beat the high score on the punching bag thing, and he also won me a pig after throwing darts at balloons.

Traditional Mongolian snuff bottle pouch
On Saturday, we slept in and had lunch at Millie’s where we got philly cheesesteak sandwiches. It was incredible. We realized then that we could probably make philly cheesesteak sandwiches at home. We still haven’t tried this yet, but soon we will, I’m sure. Afterwards, we went to Naruuntul, what the Mongolians call the “Black Market” in English. It’s not illegal or anything, it’s just a huge open air market with endless stalls and vendors. Think of the French Market in New Orleans multiplied by 10. I got sunglasses. Caleb got a hat for his birthday. We did pretty well at haggling with the hat people. Caleb also got a pouch thing for his snuff bottle.

Saturday night, we met with another PCV for drinks, and then Caleb and I went to dinner at the Blue Sky lounge. The Blue Sky hotel is the tallest building in Mongolia, and the views from the lounge at the top were quite beautiful. We even got to listen to live music there! The food was also good. It was a nice time.

The Blue Sky Hotel
On Sunday, we met Bolormaa and our taxi driver neighbor and his wife at the bus station around 11, and guess what? On Sunday, May 1st, it was snowing. It took us about 7 hours to get home due to the snow on the road. By the time we got home, we were so relieved.

Overall, it was a successful trip, despite spending too much money on food. But sometimes, you just have to treat yo’ self.


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