Thursday, June 1, 2017

Two Years In

All photos will be from the second year of service. This is in Dadal Soum, Khentii
Two years ago yesterday, Sally and I disembarked from a plane in Ulaanbaatar after a 36 hour day. We were extremely stressed out and excited after resigning our jobs and packing our possessions away. Everything was new and unknown. We were adventurers on a journey into a strange land and culture.  Now after two years, it is hard to believe that the time has gone by so fast and that we have spent a solid two years living in a country that is 8,000 miles from what we consider home.

In just a short two months, we will be leaving Mongolia and will have completed our PC service of 26 months. These are some of the things we will miss about Mongolia.
Both of these are also from Dadal, Checkout the Momgolia series from last May/June 
1.       Mongolians—There are many friends and coworkers who we have interacted with on a daily or weekly basis, and these people will be missed dearly, but there are also specific characteristics of Mongolians that we will miss.
·         Mongolian Bluntness/Honesty—I recently climbed into the car of a friend I had not seen in a while and he said after hearing me speak, “Your Mongolian is so bad. You have lived here two years, but your Mongolian is very bad.” It takes some time to get used to this level of directness, but in many ways it is nice. There is no beating around the bush, and people express both positive and negative thoughts.   This directness doesn’t extend to all social interactions, but in the area of personal criticism or compliments, it is nice.
·         Difficult to Offend—another aspect of Mongolians is that they can be quite forgiving of a foreigner, so it is usually difficult to offend people in day-to-day interactions. This is not to say that there are not social graces that should be observed, but in general, people are easy-going.
·         Laid back—when we go to UB, we often take a taxi into some of the worst traffic in central Asia.  I look around and marvel at how relaxed the drivers are even though every imaginable traffic offence is occurring around them or caused by them. Every time we travel through this, I find that I am usually far more stressed out by how slow and difficult the traffic is than the driver, even though I haven’t driven a car in two years.   
·         Mongolian hospitality—I often joke that no one is starving in Mongolia. This probably isn’t true, but it is nonetheless a society that is centered around food and drink hospitality. If I smell something nice in my apartment hallway, then it would be perfectly okay for me to wander into my neighbor’s apartment and sit down at their table to eat.  The understanding would be that I was lucky to have arrived when they were cooking food. I have never done this, because it is hard to set aside a lifetime of American ideals, but there have been many times when I have been fed or, at minimum, given tea to drink. In the countryside where there may be miles between gers, this hospitality is even greater.
Swimming in the Kherlen in Khentii during the Kherlen River Camp
2.       Mongolian Kids—The little ones are cute and generally sweet. It has really been a pleasure to work with them. Teenagers still have all of their angst, but there is a built-in respect for elders that makes it easier to be around them too.
Hiking near the Jamboree last Summer in Tov Aimag
3.       Wide Open Lands—I have written much about missing the woods of Alabama, but I will also miss the beautiful countryside of Mongolia. If you Google image Mongolia, you will get hundreds of pictures of amazing scenic open land. This representation of Mongolia on Google is entirely accurate. Everywhere in the Mongolian countryside we have traveled to has been beautiful.  Sometimes the landscapes have a stark, deadly beauty, at other times it is meandering streams and herds of live stalk.  We will miss it.

4.       Mongolian Wind—I personally will miss the wind. I don’t always like the wind and sandstorms, but it is nice to have a regular breeze across the steppe, especially during the summer. Alabama summer is the kind of heat that doesn’t move unless there is a front coming in.
Hawks in Khentii
5.       Mongolian Winter—The winter was something I was most worried about prior to coming to Mongolia, and now having experience the freezing temperatures,  I really enjoyed the season.  I like bundling up in a ton of clothing, navigating -40 degrees, and never sweating. I recognize that part of the reason I like the winter is because I know this is all temporary. In the winter in Mongolia, the air can be so brisk and invigorating. I think the most difficult thing is how abysmally long winter is here. If I could get the power and punch of Mongolian winter in just a 2 month period that would be nice, but it is not realistic.
Mid-Service Training in Terelj, Tov
6.       Easy Transportation—This is a miss-labeled topic, because transportation in Mongolia is not easy, but during our time here, Sally and I have not had to worry about driving or dealing with the stress of navigating traffic.  It is hard to really convey how nice not driving can be. I do miss driving for the sake of enjoyment or long rides on deserted country roads. When we return to America and hit the speeding highways again, where just one mistake from a nearby car could remove us from the face of the earth, I think I will miss the slow stress free life of not driving here.  Another great aspect of life in Mongolia is that everything is within walking distance, so it is easy to live without a car.
Blue Lake in Khentii
7.       Affordable Fresh Food—It’s been really nice to have regular access to fresh produce. The selection is usually limited, but there is something satisfying about being the first person to wash dirt from a carrot.
·         Easy Shopping—This is in no way representative with most PCVs in Mongolia, but in our city, it is usually easy for me to visit about 6 or 7 stores and vegetable stands on my weekly shopping trips. The stores are within a mile of each other, and it is satisfying to know that I am buying items from a number of people and spreading my money around to look for the best commodity. There are small supermarkets here, but it is rare to find everything you need in just one, so it is nice to spread out your shopping. It is also great to know that most stores are family owned, so you are contributing to the local economy rather than a powerful industry like so many stores in America.

Eagle Fest in Uvs and Ulgii Province Last October
8.       Feeling safe—As a foreigner in Mongolia, we are often the blunt of negative attention, but this is usually not dangerous. I have seen a lot of confrontations between people both in Mongolia and America. In America, when you see people yelling in the parking lot of your apartment complex, the thought that always rest in the background is “Will someone pull a gun? Should I have a gun?” In America with the sheer number of guns this is not an unfounded question. In Mongolia there are not many guns and confrontations rarely lead to using one. Just knowing how unlikely it is that a gun will make an appearance in any setting is really comforting and makes someone without a gun feel more confident about handling challenging situations.  (This is not a political statement regarding American gun laws)
Winter in Khentii
9.       Time—We have a lot of it here in Mongolia. Things are generally laid back, and work weeks are not necessarily full time. It has been nice to have time to cook, read, exercise, and pursue a number of other hobbies we are interested in. Having time to do things you want to do and to relax is sometimes a privilege in our high speed American culture. The best way to summarize the passage of time here is that the days are long, but the months are short.
Close of Service Conference, Tov 
10.   PCV family—Sally and I have had the chance to build a lot of great friendships with a lot of great people. We are especially close to our Khentii PCV friends. Going to American means that we will all be scattered across the continent again, and while we do have friendships that will last a lifetime, we will miss how often we have been able to see them.  In PC, we don’t have friends, we got family! (Immortal F&F quote)


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