Of course I got sent to the coldest aimag in the whole country!
I have been placed in a little soum in the aimag (province) of Zavkhan; in the Northwestern region of the country. Tsagaankahirkhan was founded in 1931 and has approximately 1500 people making up ~410 families. The soum is 45 kilometers from the aimag center, but nevertheless takes roughly an hour (sometimes 2) to get there. This might sound crazy, but there are only 3 paved roads in the entire country, hence why it takes a bit longer than one might think. The aimag as a whole is known for having some of the most varied landscape and terrain; everything from lush valleys and hills, snowy peaks to steppe to lakes surrounded by sand dunes and desert. My particular soum is in a valley of mountains from a mountain in my backyard to some a further distance away. For those of you familiar with the mountain at the end of Topanga Canyon & the 118, a lot of the mountains remind of that one. We also have a small stream running through town which is actually where I fetch water from on a daily basis and once winter hits I will have to pick through the ice to get water!
Just a side note on weather: Mongolia has some of the most unpredictable weather possible. This past week has been shorts & t-shirt warm, but it is now currently hailing inside my ger.
Anyways, I’m the first Peace Corps Volunteer/foreigner to serve in my soum which is both exciting and daunting. I certainly have my work cut out for me for the next two years. My site is what is considered a fly sight, meaning it’s to a far distance from the capital of Mongolia to drive. (Anything over 12 hours of driving is considered a fly sight typically). On Saturday, August 18 I flew from Ulaanbaatar (UB) to Uliastai (the capital of Zavkhan) which took about 2 hours. I forgot to mention that Zavkhan is the coldest aimag in the country, which became apparent when I arrived and it was 10 degrees cooler than it had been in UB. Another 2 hours or so later and I finally arrived in my soum, where I was instantly greeted by a myriad of different people who grabbed all my bags and quickly escorted me into my ger and home for the next 2 years. Before, I even had a chance to take everything in I was being handed a cup of milk tea and a blue scarf that I was to drink and then pass to the person standing next to me. (This is a typical Mongolian tradition)I was then able to sit down where I was next presented with a pair of Mongolian shoes, a keychain, and something else that I’m still not quite sure what it is for. My shoes are actually pretty sweet and they fit just perfectly.
After my greeters pointed out all the different items in my ger and showed me around the khashaa I finally had a moment to breathe and explore things a little on my own. First off, I noticed they already had a fire going for me when I walked in which was a nice treat considering the temperature difference. My ger has 6 walls, so it’s huge! Mongolian gers are typically 4 or 5 walls, but Kazak gers can sometimes be 15 or 16 walls and since I’m in the more Western region (closer to the Mongolian Kazak’s) my ger is a little bigger than some of my fellow PCVs. I also lucked out with an oven provided by my HCA (Host Country Agency) and I was built a brand new, private outhouse, which might sound silly, but I’m quite thankful for.
That first night it rained which was a little unnerving, because I have a huge hole in the top of my ger that can only partially be covered when you have a fire going, because the chimney needs an outlet, but my supervisor and her daughter came to my rescue & showed me how to remove the chimney and pull the ger flap over the hole.
All in all, I made it to site and survived our first 3 months in Mongolia. It’s only just beginning, but I think it’s gonna be a wild ride. Moving on to the next post and my first 2 weeks at site.