Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Winter Changes

A number of articles have come out recently predicting that the back half of November will be the coldest November Mongolia has experienced in ten years. Already this winter has shown signs of being a colder more brutal winter than last year. Our first snowfall this year was at the end of September, whereas last year we didn’t get snow until November. This year, October’s highs were consistently at or below freezing. Last year we went hiking in a pleasant 45 degrees Fahrenheit on Halloween.  Today my beard had drops of ice that condensed in my mustache and across my right cheek where the wind had blown my breath. Last year this sensation was first noted in mid-December. So it is with no great surprise that I decided to break out my parka. (Last year, I didn’t even have a parka at this time.)
Wet snow in the end of September. 

Winter wonderland of mid-November

Since September, we have received several different snowfalls of various height. Each successive snowfall seems more permanent. Still, the snow doesn’t accumulate to more than a few inches as it is blown across the steppe in fine clouds of powder. I stepped outside this morning with the plan to take a taxi, but the world was so pristine and beautiful that I instead decided to walk to work. The highs now are usually between 5-15 degrees and dropping quickly, but in the early morning with a bitter wind chill, the temperature huddles around zero. Soon, the wind chill will be far into the negatives. My walk to work today was pleasant and chilly, but I have found that I don’t seem to mind the cold as much as I thought I would two years ago when first we found out about going to Mongolia.  Wow, the time has flown by. Already we are going on three quarters of our service completed; it is mind boggling.

Besides the appearance of a colder season, this year’s winter brings a number of new changes and challenges.  With a cat, it is necessary to find litter. Synthetic litter can only be found in the capital, so I usually fill the box up with dirt from a mound outside that I have slowly been moving a few feet to the left with used soil. As the temperatures drop it becomes increasingly difficult to dig the dirt with a hand trowel, but with each drop of 20 degrees I have been adapting my method. The current method involves pounding the soil with a 5 pound hammer to break through the frost, and then using the hand trowel to cut it into smaller pieces. Soon, I will have to adapt again, because this method is far too slow.
Mission wearing Sally's ingenious "beanie baby" Halloween costume 

Last year, I had little understanding of how the taxis worked in our town. For 6 months, I walked to school before I realized that a collection of unmarked cars was a 500 taxi stand.  What this means is that if I want to, I can climb into the car with 3-6ish people and pay less than 25 cents for a ride into town. Since this discovery, I have made use of these taxis on a semi-regular basis. On days when I am running late or just don’t want to walk the solid mile to school, this is a cheap alternative. (It is also not unlikely that someone I know will stop to give me a ride.)

The Mongolian economy is not doing too great. The value of the tugrik continues to weaken. Last check the exchange is 2469 to 1 USD. A startling ¼ decline in the short time Sally and I have been in Mongolia. This of course has drastic implications for Mongolia, but the full effect in loss of jobs will probably take place after Sally and I leave. Right now the price of food is slowly rising in larger cities, and while the impact hasn’t directly hit our small town, it will soon.

I don’t know if you are aware, but recently the United States has elected a new President, a fact that is unimportant to the majority of Mongolians.  This is not to say that foreign countries are indifferent to our presidential elections, it is just not very important to most Mongolians. It was an interesting experience watching the outcome on social media and various news sites. I can honestly say that while democracy is a wonderful thing, our election process does not bring out the best of people. Mongolia is also a democracy and will be electing a new president this coming summer. One way that Mongolia differs from America is that by law, candidates can only campaign two weeks prior to the election. Having watched this last summer with parliamentary elections, this seems to be a far less stressful transition than our American campaign system. A second way that Mongolia differs from the US is the lack of an electoral college.  Every single Mongolian has an equal vote. In America the winner-take-all mentality of the majority of our states with regards to electoral votes creates a situation where landowners or large urban centers have a larger vote depending on where you live. This leads to the minority republicans or democrats in these states being essentially vote-less. Where do the republican votes in New York or the democratic votes in Alabama go during the presidential election? Perhaps if all of the states broke up their electoral votes like Maine and Nebraska do, we would see a representation of voters that Mongolia already has.

Regardless of the election process, as a PCV, I am respectful of the new President Elect and am hopeful that he will demonstrate himself worthy of that respect.  As the political transition takes place, Peace Corps will also undergo a change in leadership, because our President is a political appointee.


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