Posted by: soupysays | November 21, 2007

Are you wintering well?

I am utterly amazed at the fact that it is Thanksgiving 2007. I’m not sure what happened to fall. I do remember buying kilos of tomatoes for 300 turgruk. (Now, they are 2,000 turgruk a kilo). The months didn’t disappear. I lived them, but some days it doesn’t feel like it.

I’ve been fairly busy.

On the health side of things, several other volunteers and myself have started working with the Parents of Disabled Children Association that is run out of the hospital. The Mongolians that run it are a dedicated group of people that do physical thearpy for the children (with amazing equipment donated by the British Embassy) and help parents. We are trying to assist the organization with some adocvacy work, trainings, data collecting and whatever else gets thrown our way. 

In November, some PC volunteers in another part of the country organized a Mongolia National Fitness Day. With the local Red Cross and the exercise methodolgist at my work, I organized a hike in honor of the day. However, I woke up with a fever that morning and couldn’t make it. To top it off, the power was out, and my cell phone battery died; I had no way of letting people know I couldn’t come. Even in my absence, about 30 people showed up, and they went on anyway.

Currently, I am getting ready for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1st. Hopefully, a radio PSA contest, AIDS ribbons and information boards all come together.

I’ve been doing some side projects as well.

Another volunteer and I are finishing up a 6 week English computer course.  We are teaching at the library. We are teaching secondary students, college students and 1 university teacher. The course is a survey of all things computers – basic hardware, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Internet. Each class also has a typing section. We have been developing the material ourselves which takes a lot of time. We will run the course again after the new year. We are also hoping that our students will help us translate the book into Mongolian.

I’ve been getting materials together to teach Internet classes at my work. However, that is something that will have to put off until the new year because I have to find a volunteer translator to help me teach. 

I have also started the very beginnings of a media development project for the local TV, newspaper and radio station. However, it has gotten stuck at the needs assesment phase due to my Mongolian partner being incredibly busy.

What has been really helpful in getting work done this year is my Mongolian language. My langauge skills are far from amazing, but I can, for example, go to a doctor and ask, “What are you doing for Worlds AIDS Day?”; get the gist of what he says, and then tell him how I want to contribute. The conversation is pretty rough, but it can happen. I’ve made a couple of those cold calls recently. It feels pretty good to be able to pull them off. It’s also nice to have those interactions with people that met me shortly after coming to Khovd. After the World AIDS Day conversation, the doctor shook my hand and said, “Congratulations. You’ve learned Mongolian.”

Not quite. But I’m getting there.

Posted by: soupysays | September 27, 2007


Thanks to All Mongolian Recipes, I bring you “Mongolian Food that I have Eaten in the Past Year.” To find out more about the food (and how to make it!) click on the link. I have ordered these items from tastiest to least tastiest. Well, in my opinion, of course.

* Khorkhog – real Mongolian BBQ
* Tarag– Mongolian yogurt
* Tsuvian– homemade noodle dish
* Suutei tsai– milk tea
* Gambir– fry bread
* Budaatai Khuurga– rice dish
* Khailmag– caramelized clotted cream
* Khuushuur– fried meat filled pockets
* Chansan Makh-boiled meat and innards (Note: I enjoy the meat much more than the innards.)
* Boortsog– fried bread snack
* Guriltai shul– noodle soup
* Buuz– steamed meat filled pockets
* Bansh– small boiled meat filled pockets
* Aruul– dried curds
* Byaslag– Mongolian cheese
* Mongol Arkhi– milk liquor
* Ayrag– fermented mare’s milk
* Urum– clotted cream
* Banshtai tsai– milk tea with bansh
* Bantan– flour meat soup
* Uuz– mutton back (with lots o’ fat)
* Ul boov– hard holiday sweet bread
* Arkhi– vodka

So, there ya go. Just a taste of my Mongolian culinary experience, but trust me, in order to really experience this stuff, you have to eat it yourself.

Posted by: soupysays | September 26, 2007

and so it begins

A few mornings this week, on my way to work, I have noticed that a large shallow pool of water has floating pieces of ice.

It warms up some during the day, but since Sunday, there has been a lingering chill in the air all day.

Winter wasn’t that bad, but, well, I have discovered that these nice fall days are making me slightly anxious for the months ahead. Perhaps I’m just not dressing warm enough.

I am counting down the days (about 2 weeks) until the heat and hot water switch on. My apartment isn’t chilly until the evening; The past few days, after dark, I’ve been hunkering under a blanket with my book.

Posted by: soupysays | September 17, 2007

goal 2!

Hovd Soum, the Kazakh soum in Khovd Aimag, plays baseball.

Baseball is not a sport that is played in Mongolia. Volleyball, basketball and soccer are very common. All games can be played with A Ball* and equipment that, once installed, lasts** Thus, they are pretty cheap and accessible games to play. Baseball, the other hand, needs more equipment. Like the other sports, only one ball is needed for a group. However, every fielder needs a mitt, and there needs to be a least one bat involved; you also have to play baseball outside. And well, it’s cold in Mongolia for 8 months of the year. Plus, I’m sure Russians introduced those games to Mongolians, and I don’t think baseball is very popular there.

However, Jordon, the M14 volunteer that lived in Hovd Soum, liked to play baseball. I discovered this a few months ago from a Hovd Soum resident and secondary school student, Eljis. I sat next to him during an English Sports Idiom presentation at the library. A picture of an American baseball stadium appeared on the screen; Eljis gasped and whispered to me, “We play baseball in my soum. Jordon taught us, but we use rocks for bases.” He laughed. Not only did Jordon teach them how to play baseball, but Jordon’s dad sent the soum softballs, gloves and bats.

Recently, Andy and Eljis chatted about all the PCVs in Hovd Aimag going to Hovd Soum to play baseball with the local kids. Eljis decided that this needed to happen and called us and told us to come on Saturday. Six PCVs piled into a hired jeep and drove to the soum to meet with Eljis and Hovd Soum’s new PCV, Amber. When we pulled up to the wrestling field (our baseball field), we were greeted with a huge group of eager kids.

We let the kids throw around the ball for a bit, and Brody led a batting practice. Then we kicked the little kids off the field; Eljis found suitable bases by the creek, and we played a bigger kid softball game. We divided the Americans evenly across the teams. However, this was really unneeded because several kids put us to shame playing “America’s game.” We probably played 6 or so innings. We played until one team got to 10. I fell right into my standby role of “annoying fan,” and I definitely entertained kids by cheering my face off.

I don’t really like baseball all that much. I don’t follow the MLB, and I stopped playing softball during middle school. However, I do have fond memories of going to friends’ softball adult league games in Parker and being one of two fans in the stands. There is something about baseball/softball that triggers a cheesy, small-town feel-good emotion. (See the movie: The Sandlot).

I felt a little bit of that on Saturday standing on the wrestling field in the shadow of the Altai mountains listening to children laughing with each other in Kazakh and listening to the clang of a softball on a aluminum bat.

*A Ball is many times used for all three sports.

**Outdoors sports equipment sticks around unless it is stolen for scrap metal. Basketball hoops often fall prey to this fate.

Posted by: soupysays | September 13, 2007


Here it is. Year 2.

Some things haven’t changed:

  • dealing with daily language frustrations
  • dealing with daily cultural confusions
  • creating work in an (almost) unstructured environment

Some things have:

  • having a year’s  worth of experience of dealing of the above mentioned items
  • having a few great projects waiting in the starting gate
  • feeding off the energy of new PCVs
  • feeling like a know something when I’m around the new ones
  • realizing that I’m going to be unemployed in a year
  • being more confident (most days)

Of course, there are more on both sides. I’m in a good place right now. I haven’t been this motivated to study Mongolian since first arriving to site. The population of PCVs in the aimag has exploded; Peace Corps is trying to build up a base out west. I’m sure it’s going to feel a bit crowded at times, but right now we are feeding off of each other’s energy and projects.

This year is supposed to be a good one. I’ll find out.

Posted by: soupysays | August 4, 2007

book 7

Before the Pre-Service Training crew left Sukhbaatar for Darkhan, we stopped at a trainee’s home to tell the host family about an event later that week. The trainee poked his head into the mikr, “I have the 5 latest issues of The Economist. Anyone want them?” Doug jumped out to retrieve them and came back a few minutes later.  Brody noticed the lack of magazines when he returned, “You only got one?” “Yes,” Doug replied because Soloman lent me-” he removed the magazine to hand to Brody and revealed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows underneath. I yelled, jumped out of my seat, and almost tackled the book. Doug shielded it with his body and explained, “I have to give it back to him next week.” Bouncing in the car seat I chant, “Read it fast! Read it fast!” “Stop yelling,” Brody chimes in from the back seat, “I have never read a Harry P-” I wave my hand toward him, “I don’t care!” and clap quickly, like a small child, unable to contain the excitement over such an amazing surprise.

Doug and I both read the book in less than 5 days.

Now, I better be able to find a bootleg copy of Movie 5 when I go to UB.

Posted by: soupysays | July 26, 2007

Mongolian travel

It just took a fellow volunteer 4 days to get from UB to my town. The trip should take about 48 hours. Oy.

 And I’m thinking about doing that trip in December for a winter vacation? ugh.

Posted by: soupysays | July 5, 2007

perspective – my one year in Mongolia mass email


Last night, after over a year in Mongolia, I departed for Beijing on a very late Air China flight. My parents and I just finished a 10 day Mongolian adventure together, and we were starting for part 2 of our trip. Excited but slightly nervous, I expected being totally overwhelmed by China after a year in the least densely populated country on earth. However, it wasn’t quite as intense as I expected. My first thought as we taxied on the runway:

“Wow. Those planes are big.”

I had forgotten that bigger planes existed than those that go to Chinggis Khan International Airport and its two baggage claim carousels.

And it really a bunch of little things:

“Freeways can be big and smooth.”
“These trees are so big.”
“Swimming in a pool is really wonderful.”
“Oh my God. Flowers. smell. so. good.”
“An Internet connection speed exists that is fast enough to enable me to actually download a podcast.”
“Different flavors in food than the handful of ones I’ve been tasting for the last year.”
“Fruit! Fruit! Fruit!”
My parents watch me react everything and don’t fully understand what I’m feeling. However, after their visit to Mongolia, they are a step closer. I am very thankful that they were willing and able to come and experience a little of Mongolia with me. We talk on the phone quite a bit, but you really can’t duplicate the feeling of standing outside a ger in the middle of nowhere and

Dad: So, there is their water barrel and a cart.
Stacey: *points the right of the horse* The girl said the river was that way.
Dad: *beat* That’s a hard life.

Or, again, standing outside that ger hearing the “do-do-dooo” of an 8 year old boy’s electronic game echo across the steppe.

Of course, it also has provided new opportunities for my mother to worry. She never knew before how infrequent I bathe, and that I’m basically hitchhike in order to get around Ulaanbaatar.

It is utterly impossible to summarize an entire of year in of my Peace Corps service in Mongolia in a mass email. However, my time with my parents, and my trip outside of Mongolia has offered me time to reflect and gain additional perspectives on my experience thus far. Before leaving for Mongolia, a statement that appeared time and time again in PCV blogs was “I learned more from [insert country of service] than they learned from me.” I totally understand that now. Before my service, I interpreted that statement as a criticism against Peace Corps. But it’s not. I do not believe it is possible for me give all that I have received from my experience. And I still have a year to go.

So, what have you been up to? Seen any good movies lately? What about good books? What music am I missing? What’s on Top 40? I’m not being facetious. Intense introspection doesn’t happen everyday. A lot of the time, I really do wonder about that stuff.


Posted by: soupysays | May 23, 2007


I’m currently sitting in the Peace Corps volunteer lounge getting some computer business done before I meet a couple friends for breakfast.

 I came to UB on Monday for my mid-service medical exam. I’m healthy, and somehow, in this country with its plethora of candy and sugared drinks, I escaped with no cavities.

 I’m heading today to Bagakhangai to assist a volunteer with his training of trainers for a health project. I and another volunteer will run sessions on family planning and effective presentation skills. Bagakhangai is technically a district of UB. However, it is about two hours outside of UB and seems to govern itself completely independently of the capital. I’ve been told that we are riding camels today. I’ve lived here for almost a year, and I have yet to ride any animal. (Although, Mongolians have inisted that I sit upon various horses so I can have my photo taken. That does not count as riding.)

As always, UB is relaxing and exhausting at the same time. All of the M17s are having medical check-ups at the same time. There is lots of eating, hanging out, and some dancing for good measure. Thus far, I have consumed two bananas, chinese food, korean food, and more vegetables than I ususally eat in a week. I have yet to eat a sandwich, but my visit isn’t over yet.

Posted by: soupysays | May 17, 2007

green things!

green things!

Originally uploaded by mmgoodsoup.

It really is amazing the power of spring.

When I first spotted green blades of grass weeks ago, I almost didn’t believe it. I then started seeing leaves sprout from tree branches. When I first saw a batch of the purple flowers, I stared at it, convinced that it couldn’t be real.

Most Mongolians don’t like spring. The weather is even more unpredictable than usual. In April, it was in the 60s, and then suddenly, everything was covered in snow. Sand storms appear from nowhere and can be over in a flash or last forever. However, for me, the warming weather, and the greening of the earth is too wonderful for me to be angry at spring.

I didn’t think winter was that bad. I mean, I had to wear a lot of layers, but it wasn’t anything like I feared. [Note: this was the warmest winter in Mongolia in 20 years.] But now, screw winter. Bring on the summer. However, I am a little nervous about the heat. It was 80 yesterday, and I was hot. ha. I think I’ll survive. I have to. I am due quality time swimming in the river.

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