Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Reflections and the Nine Nines

Mongolian New Years Eve
Happy New Years from Mongolia!
(This was taken about 20 min ago from my apartment window.)
At the time of writing, there's only about an hour and a half left of 2010. Then again, we'll be celebrating a whole 13 hours before the Eastern time zone. We had pizza this evening, and because of all the festivities that were happening this week, we decided to call it after a movie. Needless to say, it was less exciting than last year, ha!

I look back at this year, and it has gone SO fast. It was also one of the better ones... the first half of the year I had a well paying job (that I was awesome at!), was taking photography classes, etc. The second half has been such a learning experience being here, and I'm grateful for every moment. I'm amazed at even though I feel like I'm not making much of an impact at the moment- I actually am. I was thanked today during a nursing meeting for coming to Mongolia and teaching them. Huh. And this week when Nate and I had a meeting about a grant we wanted to write, one of his coworkers thanked us for thinking of them and having them help us write it. Of course! We can't do it alone. After the new year, we're really going to kick it into high gear with the grant stuff.
Fireworks RIGHT OUTSIDE MY APARTMENT! ... on Christmas Eve!

So there's only really two "resolutions" I have (even though I said previously that I wasn't gonna have any):
-Take more photographs!
-Get crap done.

That's pretty much it.

There's something else neat that I wanted to share. The winter in Mongolia is broken up into 81 days, counting nine sets of nine days each. It starts on the solstice (December 21st) and lasts until mid-March:

The First Nine: Milk vodka congeals/freezes
The Second Nine: Vodka congeals/freezes
The Third Nine: The tail of the three-year-old ox freezes (owch)
The Fourth Nine: The horns of the four-year-old ox freezes (double owch)
The Fifth Nine: Boiled rice no longer congeals/freezes (it's getting warmer now!)
The Sixth Nine: Roads blacken (roads...? what are these things you call roads?)
The Seventh Nine: Hilltops appear
The Eighth Nine: The ground becomes damp
The Ninth Nine: Warm days set in (hah, right)

Currently, we're in the second nine. Not sure if it's true, but all I know is that is freaking cold (-25F at the moment, that's why I'm NOT going to the square to see the fireworks. I can see it plenty from my warm apartment). :) I will never complain about the weather again.

Half an hour left of 2010! Sarah pointed out that 2010 was the shortest year of our lives- since we're 13 hours ahead of home. :)

Bonus picture! I took yesterday for a Mercy Corps new year card... that's my friend Nema on the right:
Happy New Year!
(The things in the tree are money- it's supposed to be good luck to stick money in Christmas trees, and collect it after the new year.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shin-Jil or Happy New Christmas!

So Christmas has come and gone. Christmas itself was kind of sucky without the family, but the volunteers know how to do it right- beer pong, movies, food, and karaoke. It was nice to skype with the whole family for a couple hours, then Luke for a few, and then Ellen. :) I took Christmas Eve off of work, and instead of cleaning like I wanted to, I did the aforementioned activity and sat on my butt. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, perhaps the weather is to blame… the weather has constantly been in the negatives (for the highs as well) and like we were told previously, we’d probably not want to go anywhere in the winter months. Yep. OH but my wonderful mother and sister BOTH sent me packages! And they were AWESOME. I have enough Santa Pez dispensers to last me the next decade.
Outside the dance hall
Let's get the party started!
Speaking of which... New Year. 2011. Entering a new decade.... huh. After talking with Nate, I decided to not do any new year's resolutions. I'm just going to try my best and see how that goes.

Let's talk about Mongolian New Years, shall we?

Little known fact to Americans, and known to all Mongolians- Shin-Jil is a BIG FREAKING DEAL here. Shin-Jil, or literally translated- "New Year" (what does that mean again?), is the Mongolian celebration where you put out Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, and have a Mongolian Santa at extravagant company parties where you drink champagne, vodka, wine, and beer and dress up in prom dresses while dancing to waltzes, circle dancing, listen to speeches, and (if you’re lucky) receive awards.

Basically, it’s a Christmas party. I was told by a Mongolian friend recently that Mongolians think they’re the same thing. That’s ok!

Poses 4
Prom? Or New Years? I think the latter.
Edit: So I was just reading something interesting about how in the eastern Soviet states, the New Year is a huge deal and they even have “Grandfather Frost” who basically looks like Santa. Since Mongolia used to be under Russian rule, that makes total sense. Carry on!

So what do they do for real New Years, you may ask? I’ve been told a couple things, ranging from spending it with the family, to drinking with friends, to doing nothing. I saw a sign in the square, though, that said something about a party in the square (? It’s freaking cold) on Friday at 7pm, so perhaps fireworks are in order! (Edit: it's not a party in a square I found out, but it is a party. Anyway) Speaking of which, various nights since Christmas Eve, there have been professional-grade fireworks going off right next to my apartment. Oi.

Christmas Dancers
Sort of like the Mongolian Rockettes!
Anyway, back to the Shin-Jil party. My first inclination that this stuff was gonna be serious was when my wonderful mommy sent me my “old” prom dress because I had seen pictures in PST of people at New Years parties dressed up like they were waiting for the next limo to take them to the after party in some swanky hotel room. The second was that the party cost each person 20,000 tugs (about 15 bucks). For my small PC allowance, that’s quite a bit. So I had come back from UB that Tuesday, and so work on Wednesday (the morning before the party) was… uh interesting. We learned in IST that they were probably going to have programs of some sort, and this was no exception. And then I saw it. My name, on the program… TWICE. Eek. An English song and a Mongolian song. In front of nearly 200 people. 

Double eek.
Toast 2
Shots shots shots shots shots shots
Basically that ended with me taking vodka shots with the kitchen workers (who are awesome, and since my office is right next to the kitchen, I get to see them every day), singing Jingle Bell Rock (TWICE) and not one, but TWO Mongolian songs. My coworkers know, however, to not ask me to sing more than two Mongolian songs, because those are the only two I know. Need to work on that. But now the whole hospital thinks I have a voice of a rock star. Whoo! That’s right world, watch out, Kate’s a-comin’. I had a really fun time dancing, singing, drinking, etc. All the hospital workers are amazing, vibrant people who know how to have a good time. I look forward to introducing them to my family and friends this summer! :)

I also got an award… neat, yeah? I got a cakes (the word for cake in Mongolian is English cake but plural) and a bottle of sparkling wine! I was half paying attention, when all I heard was “Peace Corps” (in Mongolian) and my name, and my table started shouting at me and pointing towards the stage. Hah. 
My Award!

Actually, a lot my introductions go like this (Mongolian in italics):

My Co-Worker: This… is [person], he/she is [does this job]   ((Her English is getting really good!))
Me: Ahh, how are you?
Mongolian (turns to my co-worker): Does she know Mongolian?
Me (to him): Yeah, a little.
Mongolian: Really? AHHH VERY GOOD!
Me (thinking): Please don’t ask me anything complicated.
Mongolian: blah blah blah where blah*
Me: Oh poops. I don’t know. :(

*in super fast speedy Mongolian!

Suvdaa and I going sledding at IST!
Usually, when they talk that fast, I can just understand that they’re talking about me. I’m usually also good at guessing what about, if something has happened that I did that they found funny, or otherwise.

Lately I’ve been getting called “Russian” more lately. I joked that I’m going to get "Би орос хүн биш" or, “I’m not Russian” tattooed somewhere in Mongolian script. Perhaps not a joke, though.

<---This hat must be at fault for some of the increase.

So, happy New Years, my friends. May the new year refresh your spirit, and may you avoid falling in open manholes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back to the UB- IST

Hey everyone! Long time, no post. I blame it on the weather. It's been in the constant negatives (even for the highs!), and it looks worse when I change my settings to C, so I'll stick with my F, thank you very much. It was a high of 2F today, which was pretty darn enjoyable.

Sitemate lovin'
Anyway, the main reason I didn't post much this month is because I was back in the U to the B again. And I got sick, again. For serious, that city is wack. I've been told it's the most polluted city in the world (most particles in the air), and is SHOWS. I wish I could have taken a picture of the view I had when I was coming back from training- there was a THICK cloud of gray over the entire city. Oi.

So- training. Our M21 training group had training at a hotel near UB (thankfully outside of the city some, but I was still stuffy the whole week), of which we bring one of our coworkers, usually the one that you work with the most. I brought Suvdaa, the head of nursing, and who I work with the most for sure. She's so motivated, and this week really helped our working relationship. The week was SO BUSY. Sessions all day, and meetings at night. We did manage to chill out, drink, and play cards almost every night though! So the sessions were pretty awesome... we went through the whole process of making a legit project, getting funding, etc. Suvdaa and I really got some good ideas for projects as well, and I think they'll be totally doable.
All the healthies and our CPs!

On the Thursday night of IST, we had a free night, where we could pick what we wanted to do. Tim, being the ever-planner, asked the CPs (counterparts- our coworkers) what they wanted. Mongolians LOVE talent shows and competitions. Maybe a soviet throwback (there's a lot of that here), and of course, they wanted a talent show. The TEFLs had one during their IST, but there were twice as many of them as us, so that was feasible for them. We were all pretty weary about having a talent show but since we were going to have a dance as well, we conceded to make fools of ourselves.

Oh, and did I. In spades.

oh what the crap
Started normally enough- each sector (health, business, and youth development) had to do something and none of us wanted to. The business one ended up being pretty funny- Jon took one of the team and showcased his talent of downing 3 beers in succession. Good times! The CYDs (children and youth development) did a Jingle Bell Rock dance, which I was somehow tricked into coming into the middle of the dance and dancing with them, ending with jazz hands. Let that sink in a little bit.

Baby, it's creepy inside
And then it was the healthie's turn. Even more surprisingly, although all the boys were dragging their feet about the whole thing, we put together a show- "Baby it's Cold Outside" performed by yours truly, Matt, Leon, Ned, and Cody. We rehearsed it an hour before the show, and many drinks and one thrown-out shoulder later (sorry Leon!), it was ready. It was pretty darn hysterical, and personally I think it was the most entertaining.

The cutest performance, however, goes to the CPs. They each took the time to write out a poem for their volunteer, in Mongolian, and translate it. It was a little confusing at the beginning since they started in Mongolian, and I heard my name... twice! I turned to Justin, asking if he heard that, and I looked at Suvdaa, who nodded enthusiastically at me. This was my poem she wrote me:

The CPs doing the poems!
Dear Kate, kind and cheerful Kate,
She amazes people by singing 'motherland' song well,
She likes Kazakh handicrafts,
This became her big hobby.

I about DIED with happiness and laughing at how accurate/cute it was! It completely melted my heart and it was the talk of the town all the next day. Suvdaa hit the nail on the head, and I gave her a huge hug after everyone was done.

That was basically the IST. Good times, good food, good friends.

Suvdaa and I!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My lil Duu! Video!

So cute. He was trying to do the "flirty eye". Oh, and don't mind the meat, they just went and slaughtered a cow for the winter!

I've just seen a face...

Today, I've been in Mongolia 6 months. Wow. Half a year. Time has been flying, and I suspect that soon enough I'll be on that plane back to America to visit, and quickly after that my family and friends will be visiting. :) It's gonna be a good year already.

Thanksgiving was in a word… spectacular. I have to say, though, I really missed my family. It’s hard enough without dad around, and I have to imagine it was different for them as well since I wasn’t there. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite (I mean, next to Christmas)… baking, watching football, relaxing with some cheese and crackers and shrimp (mmm), and passing out or going to a movie afterwards. Basically just one whole day of nothing but family. Spending time away from my family makes me realize more that you have to keep them close. :) That’s probably why I call them all the time! They were super turkey-coma-ed when I did talk to them over Thanksgiving, however, haha :)

Ashley and I on our way to UB!

So my Thanksgiving- spend with over 100 ‘Mmerricans at the apartment complex that houses all the embassy workers. It all started last Wednesday when I traveled to Khentii to see my dearest healthie girl, Ashley… I don’t think we stopped talking the entire time! So much to catch up on! The next day we took the early bus (HOLY CRAP IT WAS COOOLD) to UB, where it was slightly warmer. I got a nice warm welcome from my healthie guys, and a nice clean bed (thankfully- they had told me it was trashed from the night before, but the lady who runs the hostel cleaned up… they said tried to clean up for me though, so that was nice). First order of business- burgers at AB&F. My first red meat in months. Oh so good.

Thanksgiving dinner. MMMM
Ok, I don’t really want to bore you with the extra details, but the rest of the weekend was spent spending a shit ton of money (UB, I swear just GRABS it from you… mostly because of food and drinks you haven’t been able to have… MMM pizza and SALAD!), drinking (anything but vodka, thanks!), dancing, catching up with “old” friends, and getting to know ones I hadn’t known too well before. Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful, and I was so geeked with seeing everyone that I didn't go get seconds... I miss that turkey already.

My host family! (Minus my dad)
On Sunday I traveled down to Zuunmod to see my host family, which was an adventure in itself. I’m so proud of myself for getting down there and back safely… not gonna lie, I was a bit nervous, but my crappy Mongolian skills win again! I first met up with Oogii, and we talked and walked to my host family’s apartment. It was strange, yet… not, being in Zuunmod. It was so nice to see someplace so familiar, like going home after college, yet it seemed so in the past that I had forgotten it somehow. Walking up the stairwell seemed so natural, even though it had been over 3 months since I had last done it… I even remembered to avoid the hole in the 2nd set of stairs. And my host family- they’ve changed too- my littlest duu had his ceremonial hair cut a couple of months prior and could TALK (!!), my older duu was getting taller, my host mom’s hair was much longer, and my host dad looked a lot better than he did before (he had a major surgery not that long before I got to Mongolia). It was such a nice visit. They kept saying how thin I was getting (hah), how I should wear more clothes because it’s cold, how I should eat more meat (I got the 3rd degree on that one), and how my Mongolian has gotten a lot better (that’s a bit surprising, really, doesn’t seem like it). I miss them all, and I told them I’ll come back in January for a weekend or so. Jugi (older duu) was sad I couldn’t stay a couple days to go ice skating with him… next time!
Oogii and Ochiko!

At this time of writing, I’m listening to my coworker listen to “Jingle Bell Rock” through her headphones and sing along with the words I typed out for her. I’m going to be teaching some Christmas carols to my classes, which should be a fun time… I love carols! Suvdaa said that maybe if we practice, we’ll do a song for the Shin-Jil (New Year) party at the hospital! Who knows... I’ll keep you updated on that one.

In less than a week and a half, we do it all again… back to UB for PC training. I’m just recovering from the smog there… UGH… we described it as being in permanent bon-fire smoke that you can’t get away from. My throat is not doing too well, and I’m coughing, but other than that, I’m doing well. Hopefully it’ll clear up before I have to go back. I hope Mika will be ok… I’m either going to take him with me to get him sniped-sniped, or I’ll do it in January when I go back to visit my host family.

Karaokeing it up.
Some other stuff cool that’s going on: 1) I’m going to be doing nursing lectures at one of the hospitals in UB where a PCV is now. My first one is going to be after training, and I’m quite nervous, but I think it’ll be a great experience since I want to maybe be a nursing instructor one day. 2) Currently in my 4th year of internet secret santa… I got a dude from the UK, so hopefully he’ll be cheaper to ship to! I hope I get something good too : ) 3) My Christmas tree is up! Ok, so it’s not mine, it’s Alex’s, but he’s going home for Christmas and he said I could borrow it! It really makes things look more festive. 4) I got Mika this cute blue collar… he is turning into such a fattie though. Oi. I’m not even feeding him that much!

Finer Things Club: Mongolia.
I really need to start taking more pictures, I am lazing about for serious. I’m a little paranoid about taking my nice camera out into the cold of Mongolia, but after seeing some of my fellow photographer friends do it, I think I’ll do a walk after it snows sometime. If it ever snows, I mean… it has, just hasn’t melted since it’s been consistently running around ZERO degrees F for the past month. Alex said the average temp in Mongolia is zero degrees C (freezing) because of the huge range… we were at nearly 100 F this summer, and now we’ll be at -40 F in the winter. Crazy, huh? Apparently when you get down to those cold temperatures, it just feels freaking cold and doesn’t differentiate itself, like being in the negatives and the single digits can feel different.

So for today, I’m gonna be super productive (I love Sundays, they are MY DAY and I usually spend them cleaning and/or doing nothing) and do my laundry, and write Christmas cards. ^^ Watch for those in the mail people! Also I wouldn’t mind getting some as well. :) Love to ya’all and happy holidays!

Also bonus pic of Mika and his new collar... he's getting so big!!