The Quintessential Peace Corps Country
Did you know Bubonic Plague is still alive & well in Mongolia? True story.
One of the first accolades attributed to Mongolia during our orientation in San Francisco was “The Quintessential Peace Corps Country”. So far I would say this has been justified a few times starting with day one & the Mini-Van I was in broke down on the way to the ger camp. Turns out Mongolians don’t take their cars to mechanics ever. They just wait for something to go wrong, pop the hood and fiddle around with the engine.
When we arrived at the airport in Mongolia one of the first words of excitement out of our fellow volunteers mouths were how lucky we were it was raining when we arrived because in Mongolia rain is a good omen and this was the first rain they had yet this season. I later was told rain is brought by people with good will. Hopefully, this is a foretelling of our next two years!
My traveling group!
Our first stop in Mongolia was the immigration office which wasn’t very exciting, but here is a picture anyways.
We spent our first night in a ger camp outside the capital of Ulaanbaatar. Nearly all herders live in white gers (felt-lined tents, yurt in Russian), a characteristic sight throughout Mongolia. Each family has their own ger. These ger’s happened to be concrete and permanent, but it’s the thought that counts right!? Our first meal in Mongolia consisted of mutton which is an adult sheep and I had definitely been apprehensive about trying it, but it could have been worse. Mutton pretty much tastes like lamb. We also experienced our first taste of milk tea, which is steamed milk, although I was under the impression we were supposed to add a tea bag to the milk, but that was not so as I later learned. For breakfast we were served hot dogs, which seems to be a normal breakfast item in Mongolia as we were served hot dogs for the next few days as well. Our journey quickly progressed though as we headed to Darkhan, a 4 hour drive North of Ulaanbaatar, and our training site for the next 3 nights & 4 days. The road to Darkhan is one of 3 or 4 paved roads in all of Mongolia, and yet “paved” is a loose term. I had been told of the infamous bumpy rides and this ride was no different.
Our hotel in Darkhan was interesting to the say least; a stark comparison between my room in San Francisco. Although the view wasn’t too bad ; )
After hauling our luggage up to our rooms one final time (for 3 days at least) we were provided lunch and split into groups to receive shots. Rabies & Meningitis check. (For now… we have follow up shots 2 more times throughout the summer) The PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) who chaperoned my group then took us to dinner in Darkhan at a, believe or not, Vegan restaurant!
Our next 3 days were jam packed with various orientation activities. We were welcomed to Peace Corps Mongolia with quite a show. Students from local secondary schools performed everything from a musical instrument, traditional Mongolian dance, contortionism and a Mongolian rap song.
Most of our orientation was consumed with boring, but necessary information such as personal security, risk reduction, medical safety and so on.
We immediately were introduced to the Mongolian language and met our language instructors for the course of PST (Pre-service training). Our instruction is total immersion with no English whatsoever which is certainly tricky, but so far seems to be working well.
We were broken up into our technical sectors to get a better understanding of the service we will be doing over the course of the next two years. Out of 68 of us, 45 of us will serve as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteers, 8 will serve as CYD (Community Youth Development) Volunteers, 6 will serve as CED (Community Economic Development) Volunteers, and 8 will serve as Health Volunteers.
As a TEFL volunteer our roles break down as such (per week):
4 hours solo teaching to regular class students
4 hours team planning
8 minimum hours of team teaching
2 hours English club
2 hours Elective class
4-9 hours English Teacher’s class
2 hours Subject Teacher’s class
4 hours Competition & Exam Preparation
10 hours Community Outreach Activities
My favorite session of the week was the Cultural Fair where in different rooms we were given the low down on proper Mongolian etiquette for entering someone’s ger, Mongolian hospitality, traditional Mongolian medicine and Mongolian food delicacies. When you enter someone’s ger you must always walk clockwise, men sit on the West side, women sit on the East side, if you trip on your way in or on your way out you must place something in the fire and try again and absolutely no whistling (it invites bad omens in)! Mongolian’s have some interesting uses for urine & breast milk when it comes to medicine and you must always use your right hand when passing an item, shaking someone’s hand, etc. I learned the proper way to pass a knife, pass snuff and how to drink vodka. We were also given the opportunity to try sheep’s intestines, sheep’s head and a few other food items which although enticing I just couldn’t stomach and will wait till I absolutely must try these items.
And if you didn’t think Peace Corps Volunteers know how to cope with all this craziness think again!