Love as though you have never been hurt before,
Sing as though no one can hear you,
Live as though heaven is on earth.”
What was suppose to be a quick trip to the city, turned into a living nightmare.
My good friend, Zorigoo had invited the volunteers in my town and I to his company’s 1st anniversary ceremony Saturday night in the city. We left around 1 pm, arrived at 5pm, dressed and arrived to the restaurant by 7pm. The following morning, we went shopping and bought the things we didn’t have access to in our town and headed out the city by 2pm.
About 1 hour into our drive, we drove right into a blizzard. Instead of turning around, our taxi driver decides to push through, knowing that it’s only a 20 km stretch. We drove through it slowly, only being able to see things 10 feet ahead. We followed some headlights for a good 10 minutes, until our car got stuck in the snow. The boys got out to push and we were able to catch up to that car again.
After the 2nd time they got out to push, our windshield wiper decides to freeze on us so our driver goes out to fix it a few times and with no luck, and drenched in water and snow, he drove with his head out the window in order to see the road.
As we were thawing, we kept getting stuck and kept having to get out to push again, and again, and again. One person offered his coat to the driver and another nearly had frostbite on his hands, so it was up to the rest of us to push through. We were able to push the car out of snow over 10 times and 3 times, we had to (and when I say we, I mean our hero taxi driver, Jambaa) wave, honk, and chase down other cars to pull us out.
The sun is set, I’ve been watching the gas meter lower by the hour, jokes aren’t funny anymore and cars are no longer passing by. I thought to myself, “if I have to sleep in this car, I’m going to freeze to death.” We start thinking of plan B: If he doesn’t come back after 2 songs are finished, one of us will have to run up to those big rigs to ask if we could stay with them. I open the door to check for the nearest rig and am quickly discouraged when the door flies open and I notice how high the doors to those rigs are…”how would I get their attention to open the doors?! What if they don’t understand me?! What if I get blown away running against the strong wind?!”
What was suppose to be a 4 hour trip, turned into a 13 hour trip. This morning, I learn that there were over 50 cars found in the snow and some people were still in their car. Some people said there were frozen bodies found and others said everyone got out safely. We’re still waiting to hear it from the news, but I really do hope that everyone got out safely. I just can’t believe how lucky we were to catch the last van.
I’m thankful for life, for everyone and anyone who has been apart of it. I’ve always been a person to count my blessings and now I have to work on verbally appreciating people because life is too short and we never know when something tragic can happen.
oyunja said: sain baina uuu tanitai yaj holboo barih gesen yum aa herhen holboo barih ve
e-mail haygar holbogdoj blno: email@example.com
coreybenov said: Why are you so AWESOME is all I want to know?!?!?!? Miss you so much site-mate!! XOXO
Corey!! I miss you too! The Gobi isn’t the same without you :( Come back…
I live in the center of my province where shopping centers, taxi stations, karaoke bars, dance clubs, an ice skating rink (although it’s just water spilled over cement), and international organizations are present. I would consider most families to be middle-income; low-income families don’t have much of a public presence. My leadership kids and I hosted a clothing drive where some kids even donated clothes with tags on them. I had them choose families to visit and they collected money from students to also gift those families with flour, noodles, bread, and a bag of potatoes. As some leadership students and I visited the first ger and were invited in for tea, 2 students decided to stay in the taxi. To my surprise, although the 4 children didn’t have clothes on their back, there was new furniture and a Mongolian music video playing on their flat screen tv. Obviously, someone or some agency had helped this family before. Nonetheless, my students left the food and clothes with the family knowing that they did a good thing.
As we leave the ger, the surprised reaction on my face from the 2 missing students caused the taxi driver to immediately inform me that the 2 students went around the corner. Frustrated that the kids ran off without telling me their whereabouts, we all hop in the taxi and drive around the corner to find the students helping an individual with a physical disability pull the water cart to her home. Immediately, the other 5 students cramped in the backseat exited the taxi and ran towards the 2 students and young lady.
I sat there reminiscing on how amazing my students are while enjoying the sunset backdrop as they all ran back to tell me how we needed to help this family. We then had a brief discussion about the materials we brought and the families we had already chosen, and they all came to a consensus to help this family instead. As we approach the ger with a ton of cardboard boxes in their yard (a vodka-bottle created circle around their ger), I started making assumptions about the family in my head. I even asked my students “What if this family drank all these bottles themselves?” We were invited in the house and the mom openly shared her living situation, dreams, and even offered us a glass of greens she had picked herself. After learning that the family lives with no salary, no electricity, no coal or wood to burn, I quickly regretted my negativity.
Once the 8 of us squeezed back into the taxi, feeling really sad, one student responded, “I wonder how they could have afforded all those vodka bottles.” Regretting that I had planted that idea into their minds, I ashamedly apologized and explained to them how we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and informed them on how the family collects the cardboard for warmth and the vodka bottles to fulfill their dreams of having their ger surrounded by a big, nice yarded fence. In the hour that we visited the families, there were many lessons learned and my students are now motivated to do more for the poor families of Mandalgovi.
During the middle of June, 20 volunteers embarked on a journey to visit the reindeer herders to bring them a mobile library, teach life skills, and improve their health. The group was split into the East and West taigas after over 22 hours of traveling by Russian vehicles on unpaved roads.
We finally arrived at Tsaganuur, Khovsgul province, where we spent a night to relax before we had to go on a 6-hour horse-back trip to get to the reindeer community.
We watched the sunrise
Watch a local go out for a morning catch
Helped a local fill and carry her water jug home (after i took this picture)
Watched Brittany get pushed over by a dog while doing yoga by the lake
And awaited our horses and guides arrival
While the guides packed the horses…
I prepared myself by using knee pads as padding for my thigh/butt…they laughed, but I was the one bruise-free in the end, muahahahah
During the journey, my horse would race other horses, then would stop, eat and race back to the front. We called him The Beibs because he kept whipping his hair out of his face.
After crossing rivers,
and learning to swoop up flowers from the ground,
we finally arrive in the reindeer community.
Upon our arrival, we pitched up our own tents
and collected wood poles from a kilometer away to begin to build our community teepee
We laid out the tent canvass, cut it up…
and Tuvshne helped us sew them into the appropriate sizes we needed to cover our whole teepee.
Gambaa (left), the community leader, Nick (middle), and our Mongolian counterpart and an English teacher, Serdambaa (right), worked together to tie the 3 poles that was the foundation.
We began to set up the rest of the poles,
lay the canvass across the poles,
tied the canvass down to prevent from blowing away,
and waited for the kids arrival! As we set up their new library/arts and crafts room for the next 10 days, the kids excitedly ran over to meet us all and see what fun things we had to offer.
Thank you EduRelief and Friends of Mongolia for donating the books and teepee material. Teaching supplies were split amongst the PC volunteers. Next year, we’ll have to be better about getting donations because we all were pretty much living off of nothing until our next payday! If you’d like to donate for next year’s project, let me know! :)
We all came here not knowing what to expect. Some of us heard rumors from tourists that have visited before, some from our Mongolian friends and community members, others didn’t know reindeer herders existed! Some of the rumors include:
- the reindeer people live like animals, they’re filthy and are barbaric
- they don’t speak Mongolian, they only speak Tsuvan (a language of the north)
- they don’t have electricity or access communication to the rest of Mongolia
- they don’t get to eat a lot of candy, so they make great gifts
- they kill their reindeers, they don’t really care for them
- they pee in the river they drink from
- they don’t know how to read or write
- they move 4 times a year
Here’s what we learned:
1. The reindeer herders are hospitable and kind.
Here’s Tuvshne baking us bread because we didn’t have a stove for the 10 days we were there. She even offered us to cook in her place if we wanted to
They showed us how to milk reindeers and let us try it, even though reindeers produce little milk and every drop counts for them
They invited us into their teepees, offering us bread/milk products every time and to just hang out during the beating hot sun or rainy cold weather. They invited us to spend the nights in their teepees during the cold nights, which I was extremely thankful for! :D
They get flour and everything else from the center. Most of their furniture is made out of fresh wood!
2. They actually speak Mongolian and Tsuvan. How else would we have been able to communicate with them?? The younger children have lost Tsuvan because they live in the province’s center during the school year, learning what every Mongolian child learns in school: Mongolian, English or Russian, Geography, Math, Home Economics, History, and Art.
Our books were only there to stay as long as we were, 10 days. We donated it to the province center’s school, where the kids attend so that they don’t have to worry about transporting to books, when they move every season.
It was interesting teaching them a lesson on fruits and vegetables. More than half the items we tried to teach, they’ve never seen in their lives.
3. They do have communication to the province’s center and to the west Taigas. They are warned ahead of time if there are foreigners coming their way through a radio. We were also able to get an update that the volunteers that went to the West side were safe.
Also, if they climb to the very top of the mountain, they get cell phone service. Some of their family members live in town or in UB, so they try to call once a week. We climbed to the top to let our Safety and Security Officer know that we were still alive :) It was about an hour climb.
Anonymous said: I miss you dear!!!
well, this is sweet :) I wished I knew who you were so that I can say the same!
6am, start the ger fire to make milk with tea. 6:30, milk the cows. 7am, separate the mama and papa sheep/goats from the kids and let them go wandering. 7:30, provide food and water to the little animals to help them grow strong and healthy. 8am collect dung and add it to the pile to dry for the winter. 9am, begin the process of making milk products to sell. Later in the day, hop on his motorcycle or horse (most people use motorcycles these days) to herd the animals back… this is “Hangai’s” daily routine in the springtime. He lives in a ger with solar panels and a car battery that provides electricity, television, landline phone, and nice Mongolian-carved furniture.
“Hangai” helps his parents tend the 100+ animals, each season doing something different, but for that season, pretty much having the exact same routine everyday. The fur of animals grow in the winter, it begins to fall during spring, beginning of summer, so relatives usually come and help cut/pull off the fur (depending on the animal). Sometimes, they even give nice designs/haircuts. The winter is the harshest season for all animals…and people. It’s too cold to milk the animals and they don’t produce much either. If they don’t have a cellar built for them, they may die in the freezing cold. When weather gets in the negatives (wait, that’s normal in the winter…) uhhh, when Mongolia experiences a lot of snow, the animals can’t graze and many, if not all, will starve or freeze to death—this is called a zud. Mongolian herders fear 2 things: a zud and wolves. Some herders have riffles to kill the wolves that are hunting their animals. Because wolves usually attack at night, families sometimes wake up to a bloody field and bone remains. The last zud was in 2010, where “Hangai’s” family lost more than half their livestock. After organizations like World Vision helped his family, they are now doing better and trying to raise as many animals as they had before. When “Hangai” grows up and has a family, his wife and kids will most likely move to the center of town once the kid is old enough to go to kindergarten (2 years old), while he stays back to live his herder life—at least this is how one of my counterpart’s brother’s life is now…Could you live the rest of your life having the same daily routine, while your partner and kids were having a more interesting life?
“Naraa” is a bright and independent young girl. Her school in the countryside only goes up to the 9th grade. For 10th grade, she moved to the center of the province to finish her high school career. Like all other dorm children (190 at my school), all she packed was one carry-on sized bag when she moved into the dorms. Breakfast is at 7am, lunch is at 1pm, and dinner is at 7pm—if you don’t make it, you don’t get to eat. Her younger sister, only 10 years old, followed her to get a better education and also lives with her in the dorm. They get to see their parents on school breaks (3 total) and just until a few years ago, they couldn’t really communicate with their parents due to unavailable landlines. Today she has 2 phones, each carrying a sim of the 2 most popular providers (MobiCom and Skytel). On top of being a rock star (receiving tons of medals from sports competitions, spelling bee, poetry, and Mongolian script), she’s a mother figure to her younger sister. Her parents are herders, so she’s pretty well off. When I first learned about herder families, I thought they were considered as those who live in poverty, however, somebody put it in perspective for me: my monthly Peace Corps stipend is about 250,000 tugriks, while one sheep will sell for 140,000 tugriks at the most (after selling all the milk products you can make from it and fur as well!). Not to say that this comes easily (I’ll introduce you to a herder child in my next blog). “Naraa” rarely visits UB (Ulaanbaatar, the capital) and once she graduates, she’ll be living in the dorms, having to adjust to a developed city full of traffic, buildings with more than 5 floors, public transportation, foreigners roaming the streets, street children begging for food, pollution, restaurants that sell more than just the traditional Mongolian food, even chain restaurants! (KFC just opened at the beginning of June…what a shame). Now imagine being in “Naraa’s” shoes, moving from a small town of less than a thousand, to maybe 12,000 in the provinces’ center, to a city with 1.4 million people, more than half the population of Mongolia…do you think you’d be able to adjust?
Playing frogger to cross the streets and hoping to not slip on the black ice, “Pujee” is a student who was born and raised in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. Every winter, she’s faced with bad congestion due to the pollution from cars and the smoke from the ger districts that gets trapped in the valley that UB was formed in. When people heard that UB was a land of job opportunities, many left their hometowns, pitched up a ger in the ger districts and hoped for a better life. However, they experienced the opposite. UB’s economic divide has become more and more wide. In UB, if you work for the government, a mining company, a cashmere shop, or a tourist company, consider yourself well-off. “Pujee” lives in the school dorms, while her grandparents lives on the outskirts, just a 15 minutes bus ride away…during rush hour, 1.5 hours away. Like many Mongolian children, her parents are divorced and she was raised by her grandparents.
In my town, I’ve noticed many grandparents that are happily married and many parents that are single parents. Many Mongolians get married and have kids at a young age (before 22); if you’re about 25 and single, people begin to question who you are.
”Pujee’s” older sister recently got a job offer in the center of another province as a hotel and restaurant manager—she waited so long for a job offering in UB, but when there wasn’t any, she had to go to the “countryside”. Her older brother, who studied Russian his whole life, is currently working as a translator in Russia. He knows that she enjoys learning English and is good at it, so he’s been pushing her to study abroad. She’s a part of a big brother/big sister program for orphaned kids and hopes to be a Social Worker one day. Social Work is a new concept to Mongolia (just 10 years), so she’s not exactly sure what she’ll end up doing. She’s in a constant state of stress because of UB’s congestion and her unknown future, however, she has entertainment and stress-relief options such as the theaters, bowling alley, children’s park, ski resort just outside of town, endless international meals, salsa clubs, etc that kids outside of UB don’t have. If you were “Pujee” and you got a job offering as a school Social Worker in a province with a population of 21,000, would you be able leave behind all the fun entertainment the city has to offer?
My external hard drive is filled with viruses…I won’t be posting pictures for a while. My next few posts will be about Mongolian Children.
In a quickly developing country, where tradition is intertwined with modernization, the children of Mongolia face a range of issues. From living in the dorms starting at age 8, to being corpally punished, to ditching class for internet cafes, more attention should be given to Mongolian children. June 1st marked International Children’s Day and was celebrated nation-wide…why don’t we celebrate this in America? In this month’s issue :P I’ll share with you the children I’ve met, the choices they have to make, and leave you with something to think about.
For the first one, graduation is coming up and one of my counterpart’s younger brothers is faced with a tough life choice that he may or may not have control over. He is the youngest of 6 siblings and 1 of 2 boys. All of them moved to the center of the province when they were old enough to attend school. His older brother dropped out of high school to help their parents tend the herd of animals (sheep, goats, and horses) that support the whole family’s education and living. Now that “Baatar” is about to graduate high school, he has been asked to live with his brother and parents in the countryside, while all his friends move onto college in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. He’s expressed his dreams of continuing his education, but his parents and older siblings need his help as a herder…what would you do if you were him?
Next time, I’ll post pictures from their graduation. School isn’t out yet, but they celebrate their “bell holiday” about a month before the official last day of school. 5th, 9th, and 11th grade celebrates the award ceremony together, then throughout the day, there’s a party for each grade level. After their graduation, all students prepare and take finals, on top of that, 11th grade students need to prepare for concourse exams that will determine their future college.