Monday, August 1, 2016

Goodbye, Mongolia.

My last week flew by faster than I thought possible.
  Monday, Wednesday, Thursday:
     All completely normal and great work days :) The kids were awesome, and I managed to get a couple of the shy ones to warm up to me a bit. They're all super sweet, great kids, and I love them to pieces.
       Projects Abroad organized a care outreach in the Ger district. Projects Abroad made a Ger there that has been serving as a kind of community center for kids from the Ger district. Often these kids have alcoholic or uncaring parents, so it's a place for them to go to receive attention and care and be with other kids. P.A. had recently built a fence next to the community center to keep the kids from accidentally falling down a rather steep hill, so we went to paint it! We brought along a local artist, and the kids helped us paint hills, and sky, and giant butterflies all over their fence :) After all the painting, we had a bit of a water fight. It was so great. The kids were really fun, helpful, and so enthusiastic about what we were doing, and it was great to be able to brighten up their lives a little bit.
       It was my last day, and I was dying a little on the inside. At the end of the day, I went around and gave each one of those little babies a hug and a kiss, and I prayed with everything I am that someone would come along, see how amazing they are, and take them home. It might sound sappy, but I got pretty attached, especially to the little ones.
      I'll keep going with life, and I'll keep having new adventures, but I don't think I'll be forgetting those faces any time soon.

    Saturday and Sunday:
      Saturday, I took a trip to the Bogd Khan's Winter palace! It was extremely interesting to see how Mongolian royalty lived 100 years ago. Fun fact, the Bogd Khan had an elephant purchased from the Russians during his reign, and he kept it as a pet. It even had speecial ceremonial outfits, styled after Mongolian traditional clothes.
      After that I went to the mall and saw some dinosaurs with my host family :) The kids were going out to the countryside, so it was the last time I had to spend with them before I left. Then, after saying goodbye to the family, I did a little souvenir shopping, then took myself to a movie. It was actually very therapeutic to go see a movie by myself, and I stopped noticing the Mongolian subtitles after only a few minutes ;)
    Sunday I spent entirely on packing and relaxing. I knew from the start that Monday(today), I would be super stressed about everything, so I let myself have a whole day just to do nothing at all.

   Monday (my last day):
        I was up nice and early, stressing about life :) Flying gives me some small amount of anxiety :) Not the actual flying itself, but the in- between in airports gets to me. Spending almost 11 hours in Beijing feels particularly daunting right now, but I tried to enjoy my day anyway.
    I went to the National History museum as a final cultural hurrah, tried to get all of my affairs in order, then bought my host family a rather pretty plant ;) They haven't noticed it sitting on the window sill yet, so I'll laugh if they happen to read this and that's how they figure it out.
    It's rather hot, so we decided cooking was overrated. Instead we had takeout chicken, watched a show in Mongolian, and I contemplated everything I've done while I've been here.

    It's been an amazing month. Unfortunately, some adventures have deadlines. When I started this adventure, I knew eventually I would go home, but now the adventure is truly over, and in less than two hours I'm going to be picked up to go to the airport and fly back to the good old US of A. I would like to think I made some sort of difference to this country, but whatever sliver of a difference I made to the people I helped is nothing compared to what they've done for me.
   I've been exposed to people whose lifestyle and upbringing are completely different from my own, and it's humbling. I've had a really easy life over the past 17 years. Some of the kids I've tried to help have already spent years in an orphanage or live in a Ger with no modern comforts whatsoever. It's hard for me to comprehend the strength and mettle these people have. They're also some of the kindest, most considerate people I've ever met. Most of them have very little, but they're willing to give up so much.
   I'm so glad I decided to come to Mongolia so long ago, and thank you all for supporting me while I was here. I'm a very different person than I was a month ago. I've seen things I couldn't have imagined when I got on that plane to fly halfway across the world. It's been life changing, and someday I'll come back. Maybe I'll even run into the kids that have changed my life so much :) Until then, goodbye, Mongolia. It's time for me to go home.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

I went to the black market and killed some brownies.

  Lots of working with the kids! Now that I've been here for a few weeks, I feel like I'm actually able to see the progress that they're making, and it's so cool!
    Projects Abroad organized a medical outreach, so no work for us! Instead, all of the participating volunteers piled into a bunch of taxis and rode out to a nunnery on the edge of the city. In this nunnery, they serve lunch on weekdays to the poor and homeless of the area, so we were there to help feed the people and give free, basic medical checkups to everyone that came in. We had so many volunteers that there wasn't really much for any of us to do, but it was still a really cool experience.
   I've encountered so many different people in the last few weeks, and it's really made me appreciate the life I've lived.
    My host parents were awesome enough to agree to take me to the black market! Contrary to what you may think, they weren't selling a ton of illegal stuff (That I could see anyway). It was basically this huge, GINORMOUS market area where you can basically find anything you need (except maybe food. I didn't see much of that.) And it's super cheap. You can find clothes, jewellery, any type of household item, really cool shaman stuff, etc. I could get lost in there for days, no problem.
   I'm pretty sure every city should have a black market. Just saying. The atmosphere was awesome, and no one even tried to steal my stuff! Total win.

    Some fun stuff:
    First off, I was completely and utterly devastated when I found out they don't have root beer in this country. I was totally surprised when I found out, while expressing my sadness to several other volunteers, that a lot of countries haven't even heard of root beer! Needless to say, I'm highly disappointed that a good portion of the world has never had the best soda ever invented.
       Secondly, if you ever go to Mongolia and feel like you should make some brownies, I'm sad to say you'll have to send that notion back to the heaven that it came from.
      Earlier this week, my host parents asked me if I would make them some brownies, and I was more than happy to oblige, because I freaking love brownies. The only thing was, they would have to be from scratch, because boxed brownie mix doesn't exist here. But that's okay, I can make brownies from scratch, no biggie. So on Thursday we all went to the supermarket to find the last few ingredients we need, and we confronted a rather huge problem. There was no cocoa powder. Apparently they don't have that in Mongolia either. But that's okay, right?
   "Isobel, maybe we could use this Nesquick chocolate milk powder instead?" - my host parents
    ...........So we did.
     Basically those brownies were a hard top with slightly caramelized, weird chocolatey stuff underneath. My host family was nice and ate it anyway.
     Moral of the story: you probably shouldn't ever ask me to bake, especially if we're in a foreign country.

     So that's my week! I only have 9 days left, and only five days of work. It's going to go by so fast, and I'll miss it like crazy a week and a half from now.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Naadam continued and back to work!

  Tuesday and Wednesday:
    I started out my day by doing a little city exploration, and I just happened to stumble upon the Choijin Lama temple museum. It was beautiful and interesting to learn a little about Buddhism and its history in Mongolia. According to the lady who worked at the the museum, the Choijin Lama temple was one of the only ones to survive the Soviet period.
    After a few hours of exploring the city, I headed back to the apartment so we could all leave for the countryside!
    The Mongolian countryside is very beautiful. There isn't much in the way of shrubbery, but instead they have never ending rolling hills and blue sky. We stayed in Baljmaa's grandmother's ger while we were there, and there were tons of other people camping out. Apparently it's very traditional to leave to the countryside for the last half of Naadam.
    There were some cool things, and a few things that were very... interesting :)
     Obviously traditionally Mongolians had to make all of their foods for themselves, so during the summer time probably 85% of what they eat is milk based, so I got to try a homemade yogurt, butter, cream, and hot milk-water, which is most of what they drink. They also make a special "cake" from the first milk a cow gives after it has a baby. I wasn't brave enough to try that one :)
   During the winter, Mongolians mostly eat meat, so they can keep warm and healthy. While we were in the countryside, I got to experience real Mongolian barbeque! It wasn't quite what I had expected.
   To start off, obviously you have to kill the lamb. If I'm remembering right, to do this you lay the animal on its back, cut open its belly, then rip out its main artery. To cook it, you find large rocks and heat them up until they're red hot, then you use those to boil the meat. After everything has been cooked, if you hold the still hot rocks in your hands it improves your health(allegedly anyway). Mongolians are very good about using every part of an animal, so when eating bbq, they eat it all. Liver, Kidney, large chunks of blood, straight fat. It's very impressive honestly. For myself, I just stuck to the usual meat.
  Thursday and Friday:
     Back to work at the orphanage! I started playing with the kids as soon as I got there on Thursday morning, and lo and behold, five minutes later three of the other volunteers showed up! Apparently they'd been moving back and forth between the older kids and the younger, and it just so happened that they didn't work either of the days I did last week. It was a huge relief to have three other people there who spoke English!
     Friday night I ended up going out with one of the other volunteers to get some money changed at the state department store, and since we were out we decided to go to dinner, so we walked around a huge swath of the city for about an hour and a half until we finally found somewhere that sounded good :) I am definitely figuring out my way around the city, and I'm proud to say I haven't gotten lost once (knock on wood)!

      Ah I love the weekend. I started it out by visiting this HUGE monastery in the middle of the city. There were lots of tourists and local Buddhists there, so I got to see some of how they pray to 40 foot statues, and I also stumbled upon some sort of ceremonial water pouring with lots of loud chanting. The monks were chanting incessantly for at least ten minutes while I was there, and when I left they showed no signs of stopping. If nothing else, their lung strength was VERY impressive.
  After a good tour of the monastery, I decided that it was as good a day as ever to buy souvenirs for my family. That occupied me for the next few hours, until I reinstated my loathing for shopping and went home to enjoy a quiet evening by myself, sice my host family was out. After a crazy busy week it was nice to go home and just relax :) I also decided I missed the great US of A a little tiny bit, so I went to go get some Pizza Hut. Just in case you were wondering, Asian pizza just isn't as good as American pizza.

     Church! The missionaries were sweet enough to show me how to get to the English ward, so I can go for the next couple of weeks. We came about an hour earlier than the English ward starts, because the missionaries had a meeting, so now I'm sitting in an empty classroom listening to the congregation sing "I'll go where you want me to go" in Mongolian, and it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. The spirit is amazingly strong, and I love that I can be halfway across the world and still feel that and know that it's true. I don't have to understand the language to know the truth of what these people are singing or speaking. I really missed going to church last week.

   Well that's been my week! Sorry it took longer than usual to post, but I had a ton going on :) I love all of you, and I can't wait to tell you more!

Monday, July 11, 2016


   It was a pretty typical day. I worked my normal 9-5 at the orphanage, and after I got off work I was planning to go to a cultural awareness get together at the Projects Abroad office, but what I wasn't expecting was torrential rain! When I went to work in the morning there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but around 1 pm a crazy storm blew in and I didn't have my umbrella! So I ran home in the down pour while wearing my scrubs, in the hopes that somehow that would protect me from the rain a little (my thought process was not very sound). When I got home, it was the first time no one from my host family was home to open the door, so I got to use my key for the first time! Milestones! No biggie, right? Wrong. I tried to unlock my apartment for a full ten minutes before giving up and deciding I would just have to take all of my work stuff with me to the projects abroad office. I found out later that I simply wasn't shoving the lock hard enough. Silly Isobel. So since I couldn't unlock my apartment to change or grab my umbrella, I arrived at the P.A. office just a little sopping wet :)
   At the cultural awareness get together, I met all the volunteers who had arrived within the last couple weeks. I think there were about 10-15 of us, and for the most part we're all from different countries, so as we went through this little questionnaire (religious beliefs, concept of beauty, familial roles, etc.) it was very interesting to see how different or similar all of our cultures are.
    Sunday! I went to church! Actually, I didn't. I'm so bad. Instead of going to church, all of the volunteers were taken about an hour and a half into the countryside to experience a mini Naadam (pronounced nod-uhm) festival. We all got to ride a horse and a yak, and kill it at archery (but not in a good way). Then there was dancing and traditional Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
  After we left the mini Naadam, we all went to a surprisingly amazing vegan place with a really cringe name about loving everyone. It definitely didn't convert me to veganism, but I would definitely eat that food again. I had vegan Khuushuur, which is a very traditional meal, but usually with meat. I had the normal Khuushuur today, because that's the traditional food that Mongolians eat specifically on Naadam. Meat or vegan, it was AMAZING. I'm really going to miss Mongolian food when I go home.

    Naadam! Naadam means "feast of sports", and it is the Mongolians second largest holiday, second only to the lunar new year. Naadam dates all the way back to the 13th century, so it's kind of a big deal.
    Naadam starts with a ceremonial parade called "Yesun Hult Tsagaan Tug". Basically there's a lot of chanting, marching, and a large band playing, as nine banners, that apparently represent the nine mongol tribes, are carried around Chinggis Khan Square, then to Naadam stadium.
    After the nine banners are brought to the stadium, the president gives a speech and the party starts! It's kind of hard to follow along with the story being told in the Naadam opening ceremony if you don't speak Mongolian, but from what we could tell they were basically acting out Chinggis Khan's life story. It was very interesting and cool, and I'm basically in love with Mongolian music and dancing.

   Mongolian wrestling:
     Mongolian wrestlers wear a very interesting outfit. Basically a pair of underwear, an oddly made vest thing, and really kicking boots. And all of the wrestlers have GINORMOUS thighs. Just saying.
     Mongolian wrestling seems very ceremonial. When the enter the wrestling area the walk slowly and circle with their arms slowly moving up and down, kind of like they're getting ready to fly away, then they slap their thighs repeatedly which is mildly amusing. When they actually wrestle, anything is fair game except for the head. If you can get your opponent's knee, elbow, head, or whole body to touch the ground, you win. The winner and loser then do this thing where the stretch their arms out to each other and circle each other with the loser going under the winners outstretched arm. Then they both do the circle-bird-flap thingy and walk off the field.
   In Naadam there are 1024 wrestlers from all over the country, and they are slowly eliminated through ten rounds that I think last the whole three days of Naadam.

  Horse racing:
    Horse racing is categorized by the age of the horse, so younger horses go shorter distances than older ones. All of the horses are ridden by jockeys aged 5-13. It's pretty impressive to see little tiny kids riding a horse like it's nothing. They basically look like they were born on a horse, which is especially impressive to someone who has barely ridden before.

     Archers are divided by gender and into teams of ten. That's basically all I know :D

   More to come! I've been trying to put pictures up, but the internet isn't always the best, so stay tuned.


Friday, July 8, 2016

My first two days in Ulan Bator

It has been a LONG two days (three if you include flying time). After about a day of travel (I will never recommend flying through Beijing. It's awful.), I finally arrived in Ulan Bator at 5:30 AM yesterday. My guide picked me up from the airport and took me straight to meet my host family and get some rest.
  Induction to Ulan Bator:
     After a few hours of sleep, my guide picked me up and showed me how to walk to my work placement, to the projects abroad office, and how to get to shopping street and Peace Avenue, probably the most important streets for me to know about. On Peace Avenue we want to the state department store to exchange my money and get a local sim card. It was absolutely HUGE. I'm pretty sure we hopped at least 6 escalators on the way up. I definitely want to go there again, if I can find my way 😂.
   After my official induction, I came home and accidentally had a 30 minute power nap turn into a full on 5 hour nap. Such is jet lag.
   Today: First day at the orphanage:
   My first day working at the orphanage was very interesting. On my arrival I discovered that the only other person in the building who speaks English is my supervisor, so most of my first day was spent learning the ropes by exchanging very exaggerated gestures and some confused looks. I was assigned to the younger group, mostly consisting of little babies.
   Observations on Ulan Bator:
   I have never seen such awful drivers as I've seen here in Mongolia. It is extremely common to see people parked, and sometimes driving, on the sidewalks. Crosswalks are optional for cars and people alike, so if you're crossing the street, keep your eyes open and be ready to run, because yes, you could get run over by a bus (Yeah, I watched that almost happen yesterday).
   Also if you're white, hoodlums might spray you with water after you walk by because they thought you might be Russian. I didn't really understand that one when my host mother, Baljmaa, tried to explain it, but yeah that happened. So don't be white, guys. It's not the best idea while you're in Asia.
  I'm sure there are lots more adventures to come! Naadam is next week, so I'll have lots to tell.
   Stay tuned!