Posted by: soupysays | August 17, 2006

The next two years

This is a copy and paste job from my email list. If I left you off the email list, and that makes you sad, leave a comment.

Yesterday, I survived one of the most nerve racking and emotional days
of my life.

I found out where and what assignment I will have during my Peace Corps service.

Health Department
Hovd Aimag

I know that means nothing to you…now.

Hovd is the aimag center of Hovd Aimag, and Hovd Aimag is one of the
most western aimags in Mongolia. There are 7 other people from my
training group also stationed in Hovd Aimag. There are no volunteers
that are further away from UB than we are. No volunteers were
stationed there last year due to a bird flu scare. It’s a three to
four hour flight from UB, and a three to four day car/jeep ride.
(That’s driving straight through and on no paved roads.)

I have Internet access at my work, but due to the fact we get our
power supply from Russia (ie its not the best source), I may not have
power during part of the summer. (However, my supervisor says that
right now there is power.) Power going out during the winter isn’t
totally out of the question, but if that happens, my work will provide
me with a wood burning stove that I can light in my apartment. That’s
right, no ger for me or the other three volunteers in the city. Two of
the volunteers in soums (villages) near me will live in gers, and one
will live in a house. Two of the these communities pack up and leave
during the summer with their herds. Those volunteers stationed there
can either move with the town or do some work in the aimag center. The
three volunteers in the soums are English teachers. Two of the
volunteers in the capital are English volunteers, and the other is a
Community Youth Development Volunteer.

“Hovd is notorious for its harsh winter weather cycles. Temperatures
regularly dip below 40 degrees Celsius and stay there.” from:

Now that I’ve freaked you out…

I could not be more excited to be in Hovd.


I’ll start with some highlights from the proposed projects drafted by
the health department:

“Disseminate information on selected health promoting organizations to
the general public through use of local television and radio.”

“Conduct training activities on public health and sexual education for
prisoners together with civil servants and local NGO “Mongol Men.”

“Support further skill development for health volunteers through
training and activites and other capacity building events in soums.”
(I get to spend time in the small villages outside the center)

“Assist in organizing quiz competitions and other community-based
events related to the National IEC Strategic Plan (especially on
Health Lifestyle approach).”

“Support development and use of local media (tv and radio) to promote
health education and awareness-raising”

The department shares their office with a branch of the United Nations
Family Planning Association. An M-16 that works for them in UB will be
spending three months in Hovd in the fall, and I will get to work with

Think that sounds like me?

Now for the location. I knew that PC Mongolia wanted to send some
health volunteers out west. I kept going back and forth on the
positives and negatives to being “way the hell out there” or being
along the rail line in the center of the country. When I left my host
family on Monday, Hovd wasn’t on my radar. We had heard some rumors
about some cities where health volunteers might be placed, but we knew
(and tried) to take them with a huge grain of salt. We did know from
our director that she wanted to put us “more rural” this year, and
that only one volunteer would be in UB. On Tuesday night, I chatted
with an English volunteer, Brodie, on possible places we could go.
Due to rumors and hints, I guessed I was going a little west (about a
one – two day car ride away from UB). The other volunteer was pretty
sure he was going west, but he wanted to go to Hovd. I told him that
would be a cool place, and that I would have to come and visit him.

The next day, before announcements, the Country Director gave a little
chat about placement. During the speech, while mentioning a couple of
random site, Hovd came across his lips. As soon as he said this, I
simply turned to a fellow health volunteer, Michelle, and said, “I’m
going to Hovd.” She told me later that the look of absolute confidence
kind of freaked her out. After the Director’s talk, on the way to the
announcement ceremony, I found Brodie and told him,

“I changed my mind. My guess is Hovd.”
“I hope to see you there.”

We walk into a small auditorium. A giant map of Mongolia has been
spread on the floor of the room. We take our seats around the map.
Michelle, Melinda, and I happen to find three open seats in front of
Hovd. Michelle and Melinda are my most closest friends her, and I knew
that I needed to be next to them.
The procedure was explained:

“We are going to draw little slips of paper at random. We will first
read a location. Then the job assignment [secondary school, health
dept etc]. Then the name of the volunteer that will go there.”

Then it starts. Names get read. Most people are excited. Many people
hear the location and have no idea where it is on the map. You can
tell when people aren’t pleased. The map starts fill up. Health
assignments are read. Not mine.
Melinda gets called.
Michelle and I hold hands until her name is read.
Andy, a English teacher that has wanted to go to the far west since
day one gets put in Hovd. I cheer loudly for him. He’s beaming. Then,
Brodie’s name gets called. He’s going to Hovd. I scream for him and
think, “Oh God. I’m going there.” After some time, there are only two
health volunteers and a handful of English teachers lefts sitting.
Hovd remains open. I have no idea if a health volunteer is even going
to Hovd (there are more aimag centers than health volunteers), but
still, no one is there.

“Hovd Aimag. Hovd.” As the announcer’s eyes gaze across the room, I
see they pause on me for a split second. “Health Department. [pause]

I didn’t hear the rest of my name because I screamed, ran to Hovd and
Brodie opened his arms for a hug. I think I may have actually jumped
into his arms. I then hug everyone else standing on Hovd. They are my
site-mates for the next two years. The closest volunteer to our group
is a least a 12 hour car ride away.

I then ripped open my job assignment. It’s perfect. The English
language ability of my office ranges from “Advanced” to “None.” My
supervisor said that we might trade off on what days English and
Mongolian are spoken. That way we can all practice our language

Later, a PCV told me that I confused the announcer because he swore I
started to get up before my name was even read.

So why the hell did I react like that?
Hovd is known for lakes, rivers, mountains… Although Hovd really is
way the hell out there, it a popular tourist spot, and certain
amenities are available there that aren’t in other aimag centers
further east. The PC Medical Officer said he has seen dried beans at
the black market. DRIED BEANS. A lot of veggie and fruit growth
happens in the soums where Andy and Brodie are placed, and Hovd gets a
lot of goods from Kazakhstan (where they use spices!) and Russia. Hovd
is known for watermelons in summer. WATERMELONS. There is a larger
Kazahstan population there (it is right next door to the Kazakh
speaking aimag Bayan Ulgii. Which means that the demographics are
different than the almost 100% Mongols in the rest of the country.
Mongolia is also trying to build up Hovd to be the “hub of the West.”
Right now, so many goods, beyond basic services (medical and
everything else) is confined to UB. The government is also trying to
re-direct to some of the massive urban migration to UB to Hovd

When I received my invite to Mongolia, I did not see myself going to
any place like Hovd. Hell, the idea never really crossed my mind until
Tuesday night.

At lunch, right after site announcements, as the Country Director
walked by me, he squeezed my arm and said, “Ready to fly?”
“Heck yes.”


PS: I’ll send out a new mailing address when I have it.

One more thing, I swear in as a volunteer on Saturday; leave for UB on
Sunday. I then fly out to Hovd on Tuesday.


  1. I just came across your journal about your adventures in Mongolia. I added a link to your page to a database I collected of Peace Corps Journals and blogs:

    Worldwide PC Blog Directory:

    1. Contains over 1,500 journals and blogs from Peace Corps Volunteers serving around the world.
    2. Each country has its own detailed page, which is easily accessible with a possible slow Internet connection within the field.
    3. The map for every country becomes interactive, via Google, once clicked on.
    4. Contact information for every Peace Corps staff member worldwide.
    5. Official rules and regulations for current PCV online Journals and blogs. Those rules were acquired from Peace Corps Headquarters using the Freedom of Information Act.
    6. Links to Graduate School Programs affiliated with Peace Corps, along with RPCVs Regional Associations.

    There is also an e-mail link on every page. If you want to add a journal, spotted a dead link, or have a comment.

    Thanks for volunteering with the Peace Corps!

    -Mike Sheppard
    RPCV / The Gambia

  2. Congratulations, baby!

    I’m so happy for you that you got the assignment you hoped for. I’m going to go read up more about Hovd.

  3. I just read your email and I was actually in the first group of volunteers to go to Mongolia in 1991-1993! My second year I went to Dalanzadgad which at that time was the farthest away from UB and only 5 of the 21 volunteers even went out to the countryside – that is really amazing how things have changed. I am excited for you – I had students from Hovd and they always said it was beautiful! The reason I came upon your email is b/c my family and I are moving to Hong Kong in January and after 13 years I will finally be able to come back to Mongolia and see the place I loved so much and the amazing people that I love. I am trying to find the phone number of the PC Office in UB or even which Mongolians work there to see if any of them are the same as the ones when I was there. I think I can probably get that info from the PC office in DC but maybe not – do you know all the names of the Mongolians who taught you Mongolian during training or who work in the office? I hope so! My name is Christie Quigley and I was an English Teacher at the Foreign Language Institute and then at the first Secondary School in Dalanzadgad. I hope you are doing great – your emotions about your placement brought back so many memories…by the way, 13 years later my two best friends from Mongolia were both in my wedding and are still a huge part of my life – you are really lucky to be living your life over there right now!!!

  4. Hey there!

    Congratulations on finishing up training and getting your site placement! Love the blog. I’m a current PCV in Tanzania getting ready to COS in… oh, about 46 days. Yes, the countdown is on. Guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m excited!

    I’m writing because I’m coming to Mongolia in November. I’d love to get in touch and get your expert advice on places to go/people to see. PCVs know better than anyone else, right? Maybe we could even meet up, if you wouldn’t mind a visitor. I could try to smuggle you some of the world’s best mangoes…

    Here’s wishing you all the best in your service. I’m sure you’ve already experienced this, and have heard it a lot, but the Peace Corps experience is quite a wild, wonderful ride. Enjoy every minute… it’ll be over before you know it!

  5. Really enjoy your posts!

    I’m an RPCV (Ghana) coming to Mongolia in October (from Colorado). Could you copy me with your reponse to Danielle’s regarding advice/places to go/ PCV’s that like visitors/ etc… Let me know if you have any requests from the U.S. (chocolate?, dried veggies?)

  6. Hi, i just happened upon your blog as i googled peace corps, training and gender.You’ve caught my attention. I’m a masters student doing my thesis on the peace corps and training. I’d love a chance to talk to you or have an email conversation with you if at all possible. Please let me know i can go into greater detail if we start a correspondence. You’ve got my email feel free to contact me anytime!

  7. I am just wondering what is going on with you in Hovd. Probably you lost because of no ‘internetness’ there:)

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