Sunday, July 25, 2010


So, officially onto the third hole in my belt today. Sunday I got decked with a pretty gnarly case of food poisoning, and for about 10 hours was in pretty deep despair. I wasn't really mentally tired, but I was too exhausted to get out of bed and do anything except make runs to the bathroom or to go and empty out the pale I kept next to my bed if I couldnt make it to the sink. Definitely the most sick I've been in a very long time. Crazy how quickly it all came on, too. Around 2 in the afternoon I was doin fine, running some errands around town. By the time I got back and settled down though, I started to crash downhill pretty quick. By 6, I was in the depths.
Yesterday morning I didn't make it to my mongolian language classes, but was able to tough it out for an afternoon technical session. Still had, and still do, have a little bit of a fever that comes and goes, and am still a little bit weak. Trying to stick to some plain shortbread type cookies you can get around here and rice, maybe a little bit of apple juice for another day and hope my belly toughens back up. The way I see it though is its better to get sick here then it will be when I'm out at site and have a job and other things to worry about. I'm hoping my body is making adjustments after it's getting sick so at least not all is in vain.

... Later

Today was a long day... there was a lot to do and I pretty much ran straight though, and am still tired from getting over being sick in the first place. This evening I had to head over to the post office and polish off a few things on a computer that I need for a presentation I'm giving tomorrow to a small business in town here. Also while I was at the post office I was going to make a phonecall home that has been a whiles in the making. I was originally going to call Sunday night, but unfortunately my body was in the uncomfortable process of evacuation.
I finally got to the post office around 910pm here, which is 910am ET. Tried calling home first to no avail because I hadn't yet got the email that the folks were at home and that my old man's phone might not ring. So, before the post office closed at 10, the goal was to polish off/print out my presentation and a few other things, then still have at least 10 minutes or so to call home before the place closed up shop. After I printed everything off my computer and got off it, I went to the counter to pay for the internet usage and also for the 3 pages I printed out. Fortunately the one lady that worked there spoke English well, because the printer did not have paper loaded and my pages wern't back there. I wouldn't have been able to get close in mongolian if she wasn't there, especially with being tired. Thankfully, with her help though, I guess the print job was stored on the cache in the computer and she was able to print it out, even though the printer ended up being a bit busted and the type was smeared all down the right side of the page.
After everything finally got all sorted out with the computer and got printed what I could, it was about 945 and I tried to call home again using the one phone that is in the post office. For some reason or another, the phone is rather picky about when it wants to work. I think the most of it is my ignorance about it... I've began to come to the conclusion you need to wait a minute or two after you pick it up for it to connect to a network. After I got it to finally work and got a call placed in time to where I would be able to chat for a few minutes, something happened with the connection between the phone here and the phone at home to where it was only the "hello's" and then the phone disconnected. At this point, the place is going to be closing down soon, and I don't have enough time to wait for the phone to want to work again. I figured I'd just head back to my house here and try to use the phone with my calling card here.
Back at my house, I didnt want my family thinking that I'm using their phone to make long distance phonecalls. But, at 10 o clock at night, after a long day, speaking Mongolian is not easy. The word order here, the pronunciation, and it being an agglutinative language all make communication about things I havn't been formally taught a bit difficult. For instance, just looking up a word in the mongolian/english dictionary doesn't really give you a clear answer all the time. Anyways, when I'm trying to ask my host family if its okay and make sure that it would be free to use their phone if I'm using a calling card, it's not easy to do, and in the end, it did not happen. I think they thought I was confused about using the card and didnt know how to use the card, when I was just trying to make sure it wouldnt cost them anything if I used their phone.
Trying to think of a way that Mongolian is difficult and confusing... For example, in phonetic english,
bi alhem eadcen ---- I apple ate (I ate an apple)
bi alhemaa eadcen ---- I apple-my ate (I ate my apple)
bi chinni alhemic edcen ----I your apple ate (I ate your apple)
chi alhemaa eden ----- you apple eat (you will eat your apple)
chi minne alhemic edej baihn ----- you my apple eating (you are eating my apple)
chi alhemaa edech ve? ----- you apple-your eat ? (Will you eat your apple?)

The agglutinative part can get really confusing when you start getting 3 or 4 suffixes added on to a word, like,

Neiz - friend
neizootei-with friends
neizooteigaa-with my friends
neizteigaa-with my friend

That particular night, I know the word for expensive, which is Onetei (price-with), and I thought the word for free was onegwe (price-without), but how to go about saying "will it be free for you if I use my card on your phone" gets quite a bit sticky, especially whenever my pronunciation is shit and I cant even be sure if I'm pronouncing the words that I'm trying to say.
I wanted to yell I was so frustrated by the time it was all over. Eventually I think we understood each other that it wouldnt cost anything for me to use my card with their phone, but I was still a little bit skeptical that they knew it was going to be free. In the end I told them zooger, zooger, bi margash xalbaa yawn... "no worries, no worries, tomorrow ill go to the post office." But I felt bad afterwords that my frustration may have came through. Told them I was sorry because I was very tired and right now i cant speak mongolian. Although I thinking back I think I said, "right now I'm not speaking mongolian" instead of "cant speak mongolian", which is funny.
From the outside looking in I'm sure it looks a bit trivial... "so what, you couldnt call home one night," but after a long day of bullshit it can really add up. Not to mention when somebody is expecting to hear from you and you dont call, and then you cant have any form of communication for another 3 days, you dont want them to start worrying about you either.


Been hot as helllll these last few days. Supposed to get up to 40 today, which is 104F. And also today, we have a little bit of a get together known as a "horhug". Apparently we will all be getting together and eating a goat or a lamb cooked in a barrel. Which I'm pretty excited about, except for the part about it being 104 degrees outside and also being pretty sure there will be a bit of drinking going on. It should be fun though, granted there is enough shade to be found. It doesnt get very humid at all here when it gets hot, so it will usually at least cool off a decent bit at night and its not terribly uncomfortable inside/in the shade.
Anyways, that's at 2:30, and it's 1130 now. Going to go get a bucket and some soap now to wash up my clothes so if I end up with alcohol and food poisoning later I'll at least have clean clothes to waste away in.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Been a little bit since i've put some thoughts down, been kind of a busy last week. Its about the mid point of the summer/training before we all get sent off to site, so all of the peace corps volunteers get sent back to the main orientation site for a few days, i.e. wednesday-friday. Pretty boring stuff goes on, lots of presentations and crap like that. The days were pretty long though, and was usually some partien to wrap things up at night. Then this last weekend it was Nadam here, which is kinda like Mongolia's fourth of July.
Lots of horse racing, wrestling, and archery, although I didnt get to see any of the archery or wrestling, unfortunately. The horse racing is done by young kids too, which can get kinda crazy. There will be these 4 year old kids riding horses bareback... I was always kinda waiting for one to fall off but none ever did. Anyways, that type of sctuff would go on during the day, and then it would be more of a big party/celebration at night. In the town square they had a few singers putting on a show, and it seemed like most people in the town were out kicken it enjoying the scene. I ended up seeing the one dude that I had played some hoops with a few weeks back, and after shootin the shit for a little bit I went out boozing with him and a group of his friends at a local bar.
So, the drink of choice here is vodka, and a lot of it, and in a pretty short time period as well. In about 10 minutes after sitting down I had already had 3 large shots of vodka out of a glass. From all that I've seen, a group of people will just have one glass and a bottle of vodka and will pass the glass around shot by shot. Anyways, after some drinks, they made me arm wrestle one of their friends. This did not end very well for me, and I knew it wouldn't either. Just got straight embarrassed in front of all my new friends. Later, after some more drinking, they started asking about some swear words. Most Mongolians know the word fuck, although I dont think they understand how versatile it is. Anyways, the one guy had fuck confused with dick, so he was joking around saying, "I have a big fuck" which was kinda funny. Had to guide him on the correct way to use each.
Although I don't really have a story to tell along with it, that night two of the guys that I met had been soldiers in Iraq a few years ago. I couldn't really say much to either of them because of the language barrier, but it was a pretty strange feeling. A country that a lot of people dont even know exists in America has people fighting and dying for our problems. Crazy how far reaching it all is.
Anyways, ended up getting hammered, and rolled back to my house at about 130 in the morning. The next day more stuff with Nadam was going on and I was out with the host family here, and they knew I was hungover and were giving me some crap about it, which I was actually kind of surprised about. Drinking in Mongolia is very big and very common, I didn't think that it would matter that I went out and got drunk, especially because I've barely drank since I've been here. Even stranger my one friend's mom, who is my host Mom's sister, was making the most jokes about it and making them even while she's pouring airag for us to drink. Airag is fermented mares milk, which isnt too strong, but still alcoholic.
That night when I came home there was a skinned and gutted goat on my kitchen floor. Was not expecting it at all, and was glad to see the head was still left next to it. Today, I was out at my mom's sisters place again, and when I rolled up they were cooking up a marmot, or like a ground hog type of animal... I forget what they called it. Anyways, the way they cooked it was they cut off the head, and emptied the thing out. Although I wasn't there, I'm assuming they prepared the meat somehow, like with spices and sctuff, then stuffed the guy back up. I also didn't see this part, but they then stuffed the thing with extremely hot rocks to cook the thing from the inside. Then, with a piece of wire about the thickness of a hanger, they tied the neck shut so it sealed in the heat.
The part that I saw was this one dude taking a blowtorch to the outside of the animal to burn all the hair off and scrape it clean with a knife. This took about 10 minutes or so, and most of the time I was kind of in shock/awe. At that point, it's this animal with its head cut off but it still has its feet and tail on while it's getting torched up, and as he was hitting it with the flame it was kind of balooning out because of the head and I thought it was going to pop. But anyways, after it was finished cooking, it gets split open from the stomach to the neck, through the ribs. The meat that got prepared that wasn't still attached to the skin, like the arm bones and stuff, came out first. They looked kinda like chicken wings. And I've got to be honest, it was pretty fucking good. You get some gristly bites in there every now and then, but I'm mostly used to that from my other eating. It was full of flavor and really juicy. After the loose meat is out, the animal shell gets split into about inch wide strips, which has some meat left of it but mostly fat attached to the skin. The skin I didn't much care for, but I at least got the fat off it and just left the outer later. Unfortunately I didnt have a camera on me for that one.

During this past week, for reasons I'm a bit unsure of at this point, one of my trainers apparently made a mistake and told me where I will be heading after summer training is over. Online with my requests, I'm getting shanghaied, but to the china/russia/kazakh border region out west. This is one of the more isolated places in the country, with it being about a 40-50 hour bus ride to the capital because of road conditions/lack of roads. They have an unpaved runway there that you can access by plane, so at least for the initial move out there, PC will be flying me in. I'm not sure how it works after that when I need to get brought into the capital for things like holidays and trainings.
This region is a bit different then the rest of Mongolia because they dont speak Mongolian there, they speak Kazakh, so I will be mainly learning Kazakh after my summer training is over. I also want to keep studying Mongolian because I think it might be good for the future, but I'm not certain how its all going to work. At this point im kind of under the impression that although I'm going to be learning Kazakh, I should keep working on Mongolian because of communication with other parts of the country and with the capital.
It's weird though that I was told, and kind of stranger afterwords I was told to kind of keep a lid on it and not tell other people because I wasn't supposed to know. Everybody kinda wants to know their placements and would probably get a bit pissed if I knew where I was going and they wern't told. I think it has to do something with the difficulty of the placement area and also having to learn kazakh, and they were making sure I was up for it and okay with the placement. Whatever the case, it kind of sucks that I can't talk about it, because its a bit of a source of anxiety, and I also don't like keeping it from my friends. Originally I wasn't even going to write about it, but I dont really have any friends from the PC that read my blog, so fuck it. Apparently the providence I'm heading to is possibly the birthplace of eagle hunting/falconry. If I get a chance to have my own golden eagle it would be bad ass, and this may be a place that is open enough to where I could maybe get my own horse. We'll see though... they arn't going to give me more information about exacts until when other people get placed. Classes are on break right now for a week, so I also wont be able to ask more questions for a bit, anyways. Might try to squeeze out some more info if I can though. And who knows, im not certain that the final word has dropped yet, so it might get changed again before it's all said and done.

Before I found out about getting placed in the middle of nowhere, I was starting to baseline here in my town. It wasn't immediately apparent when I woke up in the morning that I was in Mongolia, and I wasn't anxious or stressed out. Starting to feel a lot more comfortable just going different places in town and using my language confidently. However, this last week kinda through me off kilter a bit. For one, there were a bunch of Americans in town and it kinda felt like America again. Then I found out about my placement and had that to start mulling around in my head.
A lot to think about with being placed in the middle of nowhere and starting over with language and then not really have anybody to talk to about it. So, the last 2 or 3 days I was pretty deep in my own head and anxious about things, and have been more tired than usual. I was busy because of things with Nadam, so I didnt really have a lot of time to relax and play the getar of the morin khurr, which I've come to rely on here for stress/anxiety relief. This evening I finally had some time to relax, make some noise, get some exercise, and do some writing... so it already all feels a lot more manageable and it's starting to brighten up. This week there arn't any classes except for Wednesday, so I should have time to do plenty of all these things this week.


Sick again... this time from some kind of cold or flu virus though, not GI related. Might explain add a bit to the explanation as to why I had been so tired/run down. Body is achy, head is stuffed up, throat is sore but the sore throat is starting to go away. Yesterday morning I woke up with the scratchy throat and kinda knew it was all going to come. Luckily there arnt classes or anything for me to do these last couple of days so I've just laid around, watched movies, slept, and rested. Have been drinking a ton of water as well to try and help it all get cleaned out of me. This morning/early afternoon was the worst, but I think I've started to turn the corner already. My head feels like it's draining out and I'm starting to return to normal at bit... hopefully this doesnt drag on for too long a time.


And as the swings go, happy days are here again. Woke up this morning with a clean head and felt fine except for a little bit of congestion remaining. Got some mongolian practice in, played some hoops for a while, and spent some more quality time with the khurr. Finally good enough with the basics on that thing that I was able to figure out how to play the violin riff of bittersweet symphony on it, which I'm pretty happy about... just needs a bit more polishing to say the least.
After hoopin it up with my friends today, I asked how badly they were all missing american food. The cumulative answer, an awful lot. Although the mongolian food isnt bad, its like my body hasnt adjusted to it yet. I could eat a meal with enough carbs, fat, and protein, and calories, but afterwords I'm still craving peanuts or a candy bar or some other food I was used to in America. They have eggs here, luckily. But what I would do for a massive pizza... and some different fast food. It's strange, but I figure in another month or two it will subside for the most part, or I'll at least be living by myself and have more control over the food I cook/eat to manage cravings.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Milk was a bad choice.


So, my first fight with sickness hasnt been as bad as I thought it would be. For the last few days I really havn't been able to eat much, and I've especially been trying to steer well clear of Mongolian food. It kinda feels like my body has developed a bit of bait shyness towards mongolian food in general, even though I know it was the milk that did it. Whatever the case, fruit juices, peanuts, and a candy bar or some cookies get me through. I thought it would really start to get rough out here mentally if I got sick but spirits have been reasonably good, mostly because everybody is dealing with it and I can have some fun about it with my friends.
Today in the afternoon my business class took a trip to Ulaanbataar, the capital, to visit 5 different small business and to ask the owners questions/observe how businesses operate here. At the end of the day we would be going to AB&F for dinner, except here it isnt abercromie and fitch but American Burger and Fries. Was really excited about this, and was hoping my stomach was going to keep it together for it.
I think by now everybody in my business group, which is 6 people, has had some sort of GI issues. Yesterday one of my friends had food poisoning, throwing up, the whole 9. Another friend has been dealing with issues for the last week/week and a half. But so, after a long day of walking around the city in the heat, visiting businesses, traveling on gnarly roads, we show up at AB & F. for the three of us, are stomachs are already bothering us but we arnt going to turn down a chance to eat our first batch of American food since we've been here. Big mistake.
In the first 15 minutes after we were done eating, I had to go back to the restaurant to use the restroom. By the time I went back to meet up with the group, my other friend was throwing up on the other side of the building, and the one with food poisoning was waiting for something bad to happen but wasnt sure which way it was going to go. And even though this is Mongolia, this is the capital city here, and there are a lot of people walking around, it wasn't like we were out in the open somewhere. At least at this point the day was over and all we had to do was take the ride home.
The bumpy roads didn't make anything easy. About 20 minutes in we had to pull over so the one could throw up some more on the side of the road. My other friend had to crack the window so he would have somewhere to go with his head but was able to hold it together. I was just sitting with my legs crossed, laughing at the hilarity of the situation.
It sounds miserable, but we are all so open about it now because it's kind of the way of things are. At least until we are able to get out on our own and make our own food sanitation choices and be able to manage things our own way, we just gotta deal with it. Until then, we kinda have to eat what our families make, and on the daily you kinda wonder where your stomach is going. Common conversation every morning and afternoon is to ask your friends how their stomach has been and if their body is leaking or not. If they aren't in the process of evacuation they are usually at least wondering if something they ate is going to hit them the wrong way or not. If you dont find some humor in this game of food roulette you are going to have a rough ride. You can only gauge it personally as well... it doesn't matter if your family is sick or not. My two friends with legit food poisoning were the only ones that got sick even though both their families ate the same food on a picnic. Apparently we are missing some set of enzymes.


So yesterday I finally talked my host family into taking me down to UB with them so I could finally get my own morin khurr. Today's trip ended up being the longest continuous period of time ive ever spent being completely confused.
The problem here is that a lot of places sell morin khurrs, but a lot of them are more for just decoration than they are actual musical instruments. The purpose of the trip to UB was to go to a place that actually sold solid musical instruments so I wasnt trying to learn how to play on a souvenir. So, before going to the city, I had my language teacher write out directions to my family about how to get to the actual music store.
When we first got to the city, we parked, and then walked into this indoor mall type of building. We went into the basement, which was a grocery store, and then into a room off of the side of it that was about the size of a larger american family room. In it there were a bunch of people, and a bunch of random stuff being sold like tents, sleeping bags, some small peices of furniture, etc. In the corner of the room there were about 6 or 7 morin khuurs hanging on the wall that were pretty superfluously decorated. Immediately I had the gut feeling that these were not well made instruments but more the decorative types, but I was assuming this is where the directions told us to go to find the legit instruments. Pulled one or two down when we finally got some service and looked them over. The hard part about it is I dont know whats good and whats bad, per se, and cant play the thing well enough to really tell quality, especially not in the middle of some crowded market place. Also didnt want to tell my family we just drove all the way out here for me not to buy anything. But, after some monkeying around I told them I wasnt going to buy one there.
When we were leaving the store I was able to peice together that I want to go to a music market... a place that had morin khuurs, guitars... and then they asked somebody at at information desk there if they knew of anything. The guy didnt, but gave them directions to somewhere. About two blocks down from where we were we walked into a building that had some mongolian on it and then below it in English, "school of fine arts." Inside, my aaB asked a guy about morin khuurs, and he led us to a room where there was just one sitting there. Beautifully carved, it had 3 heads on the top coming out of it and sweet carvings on the body of it as well. But, it was crazy expensive and again I didnt think it was good musical quality.
Leaving there, I told them it was okay and I would just buy one in the town we live in. But, as we were walking back to the car, something clicked in the moms head and was able to gather she knew where my teacher was talking about. She led about 3 blocks down the road and we walked into an actual music store with actual instruments. Awesome, all was good, and finally got my own instrument. From there on out, the day got a bit weird.
Something was up with the cars air conditioning that the dad wanted to get fixed, at least from what I gathered. So, driving around, we stopped at about 6 or so repair garages. The dad would get out of the car, walk into the garage quickly, and then walk back out. Only one place did somebody actually come out and check out the AC. But, both obviously and from what I was able to gather, they wernt able to fix it. Might have just been diagnostics. Then we went into one area of the city that was the car market.
There were endless convoluted parking lots of people sitting in their cars with for sale signs on them. At first I couldnt exactly figure out what was happening, but it made sense after thinking about it. Without a craiglist or a widely distributed newspaper, how are people going to sell used cars? Apparently on saturday you go into the city and sit in your car all day with a for-sale sign on it in the auto market area. Anyways, we turn into one of these lots and drive through the back of it, which wasnt easy. Its not like it is a paved area with parking spots... its a dirt area where everybody wants a prime spot. A few times we would be stopped and have to have the people in front of us move their parked car so we could get through. Crazy tight clearances, and lots of people walking all over the place. We finally squeeze into a spot at the back of things and the dad gets out of the car where I assume hes going to one of the buildings that are around the lot.
Left waiting was me, the two daughters, and the mom. While waiting, a few groups of people would walk by the car, check it out, look in the trunk, under the hood, etc. One asked how much it was. I was so confused, was he selling the car? I asked the daughter if she knew what was happening, and she just kinda shook her head nonchalantly and said she didnt know, but also didnt seem to care. About a half hour later the dad comes back to the car with some parts, puts them in the trunk, and then leaves again. Then he comes back in another 20 minutes or so and has a set of brakes with him. From there he proceeds to drop off the front left wheel(passenger side here) and changes the cars front breaks. After this is done, we finally leave for somewhere else. I asked where we were going and gathered we were going to his moms place.
So we manage our way through the massively clustered traffic to his moms business. She owns a small food/convenience store in the city, which is also their house, i think. Either that, or the living area is just an area for them to rest during the day... not certain. But whatever, when we got there we went to the back where there was a bedroom, tv and such. There, we ate some lunch, drank some tea, and had some candy. After this, the family bought some groceries there and we were off again. From here I thought we were going home but we ended up in the part of town where the more densely packed, kinda flea market type of area is.
When we parked, I went with the mom into a big grocery store type of building to just kinda look around and hang out while she bought some things. The daughter stayed in the car with the baby. After wandering around for about 15 or 20 minutes, we weave our way back to where the car is parked. Get the groceries in the car and then sit down expecting to head out. The baby was asleep in the front seat of the car. Then the mom tells me her, the daughter, and the dad are going to go to the clothing market area, and Im going to stay and watch the baby. Alright. So here I am, this american sitting on the side of a busy market road with a baby in the car, hangin out. Got some strange looks from people for sure. Wasnt the most comfortable situation... with as busy of an area it was and since it was a warm day, I'd get a pretty decent breeze of garbage stench every now and then, was gettin a little thirsty, and also had to use a restroom. Also had no idea how long the family would be.
About 25 minutes or so later the daughter comes back, but the parents still wernt back. At least now she was able to deal with the baby that had woke up and started crying, and I could go and hunt down a toilet to use. after about another 25 minutes or so, the parents came back with some shoes and some other clothes, and we were off back to our home town. When we were about 10 minutes away from home, the dad pulls off the side of the road where there is a broken down dump truck. There were 2 guys working on the truck, a mom, a baby, and another car.
Alright. When I got out of the car, I saw the baby and recognized it as my one (american) friend's little host brother. After that I recognized the mom and the dad as well. The mom, i guess, is my host dad's older sister. So for about 15 minutes we were hanging out there. I was watching the guys do some serious surgery on this truck, tearing apart the motor trying to fix it in the middle of this field. After my experience with the changing of breaks and also seeing a few other impromptu auto repairs in strange places, I pieced together when something breaks you fix it, and not really worry too much about taking it somewhere.
After the visit, we start to head back once again. After getting back on the road for about 2 or 3 minutes, the dad stops, gets out of the car, and switches spots with the mom, and the mom starts driving for no apparent reason. Alright. Then I start to notice she's driving a bit slower and seems pretty pensive. When we came to a rough area of the road with a lot of potholes, the dad grabbed the wheel a bit a steared around some of the areas. It didnt seem like the mom was too happy about this either, but I couldnt put together any of the bicker. After another minute or so, I looked at the daughter and was able to ask her if she was learning. The daughter laughed a bit and shook her head yes. So, a perfect cap to my confusing day I guess.
When we were finally getting into down, the dad had to correct her on a couple of turns so she wouldnt run into the curb, and when we were parking in front of the house he had her stop so she wouldnt hit the car next to us. He through it in park and finished it himself. The mom was less than pleased and mimed to me him barking in her ear... a lot of the same things that happen when learning to drive back home.
But alas, back to the apartment. We left around 10 in the morning and got back at 7:15... my head thoroughly cooked.