Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Amazing outreach trip with the U.S. Embassy

I love the idea of exploring through Mongolia, but I haven't really been able to break away due to work. So I was ecstatic when the U.S. Embassy sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers on an outreach trip to the Arkhangai and Zavkhan aimags (provinces). I was so excited about the trip that I ended up being the first person to respond and I prepared for this trip for nearly a month!

Right now I'm living in the Tov province of Mongolia and this outreach trip with the Embassy allowed us to explore the wild wild west. In the west, we went to small cities like Tsetserleg (Sits-er-leg), Tariat (Tar-e-aaat), and then Uliastai (ul-e-ast-eh), and then to Tosontsengel (Tos-en-sing-ugl) before coming back. [Note: I probably wouldn't trust my parenthesis  but I'm trying to make it easier to read]

There were 2 main groups with us- one was the Fulbrighters, and the other was the Public Affairs Officer and his cultural assistant. Joe, Lisa D., Katelin, Amar (Am-raa), and I were responsible for visiting primary schools, secondary schools, disability centers, and even a kindergarten (!!!) to talk about Living in America and Universities in America. The other group was responsible for meeting with the governor, doing t.v. interviews (although we did a fair share of that), and other meeting-related items. 

The trip lasted from Sunday, March 24th, to Sunday, March 31st. 

In brief: 
Sunday- Travel day along with 2 television interviews. Late dinner with 2 Peace Corps Volunteers.
Monday: 2 school visits in the morning, museum visit before lunch, 2 school visits in the afternoon, and 3 television interviews during the day. Traveling at night and then dinner with 1 Peace Corps Volunteer.
Tuesday: 1 school visit in the morning, hiking up a dormant volcano after the school visit, and then an entire day on the road.
Wednesday: All day on the road and then dinner with 4 Peace Corps Volunteers
Thursday: 2 school visits in the morning, 2 school visits in the afternoon, museum visit, and then hiking up a mountain after. 
Friday: Traveling all morning and then 1 school visit in the evening.
Saturday: Travel day. Also, sick day for me.
Sunday: Travel day. Arrived back in Ulaanbaatar at 6:00 pm.

On Sunday we left at 9:00 am sharp. We had 3 cars, 12 people, 1 seeing-eye dog, and lots of energy for this 2400 km/1500 mile trip.

Can't complain about the outhouse when you've got scenery like that.

We stopped at a beautiful Monastery. These are the temples of Erdenezuu in Mongolia's ancient capital, Khakhorin.  

Uyanga and her seeing-eye dog, Gladys. Sweet moment.

After a long day on the road, we got interviewed by a local television station and then had dinner with some Peace Corps Volunteers in the area.

After an entire day on the mostly unpaved road, I was definitely not ready for a close up, but we had a great time.

Monday was our first busy day and I think we were all a bit nervous. We had 2 presentations in the morning and then 2 presentations at night. After our lunch we would visit a local museum. In addition to that, local television stations would shadow us all day to record us in the classroom and then interview us after.

We split the groups into 2.
Sometimes I worked with Joe, and other times I worked with either Katelin or Lisa D.
We always had a translator, sometimes Uyanga, from the Embassy, or Amar, who is a Fulbright Alumni.

After talking to 100 students about university life, it was nice to go to a classroom and talk about life in America.
I was so relaxed I did a little chicken dance.
After we got interviewed, the students got interviewed, too!
After this they went a little nuts and asked for individual photos. Adorable.

During the museum visit, we learned that women styled their hair like this everyday.
They kept in form like this with an animal based glue!
 It sounded like a really exhausting process. Weighed about 8-10 lbs after it was finished.
After lunch we had 2 more visits with the disability center and then a youth center, respectively.

The Youth Center was so sweet and they gave us presentations of their own.

Then we were back on the road to our next city!

Amar, Lisa, Lisa D, and Joe at a beautiful gorge in western Mongolia.
Great way to end the night.

During the trip, we were really grateful to stay in hotels the entire time. However, we didn't always have an indoor toilet, or hot water. We made do with what we had, and really, it was more than enough in terms of comfort because we did stay warm every night while sleeping.

I didn't get any photos of the school in the early morning because it was so rushed. After 1 hour in the school we hiked up a dormant volcano.

Lisa D., Katelin, Lisa, Amar, and Joe- the Fulbright group.
In the photo above, there is in ovoo, and my friend Joe explains it best, "A shamanistic "ovoo," or heap of stones usually found on top of a mountain or in a mountain pass as a place of worship for the mountain's spirit. It is customary to add a stone or a khadag (blue scarf) to the ovoo and then circle it three times for ensure a safe journey"

While in-route our driver kept the music loud and our spirits stayed high. :)

We thought this would be an easy trip, but we quickly found out that Mongolian countryside climate can change drastically in about 10-20 minutes. 

And what do you know, 20 minutes after that gorgeous blue-sky photo was taken, we were caught in a blizzard.

Trucks up ahead of us were stuck in the snow, and the men got out of the vehicles to try to dig them out. We were warned by the coordinators to ration our food and water and we would likely have to spend the night in the cars.

Stuck in a blizzard having a great time :)
The strong men did get the trucks to move, the blizzard died down after 3 hours, and we cautiously trekked through the mountain. We made it!

Ger/Yurt on a LAKE.
We thought that would be the last exciting adventure for the day, but we were wrong. A lake overflowed into a road, and we had to basically drive upstream with water nearly 4 feet high. We were very nervous trout. Luckily we made it just fine but here's a video to emphasize how deep it was!

After that, we decided some home-made Mongolian food would be the ideal thing, so we stopped at our driver's home for dinner. His mother cooked delicious food for us and we were just so overwhelmed with the warm hospitality that we received. 

Satellite television!

Nothing like a Mongolian sunset to really end your day on a great note.

Wednesday was our travel day. Travel days are always awesome no matter what because you are surrounded by beauty and the roads are nearly non-existent, which only adds to the allure of the road trip. In total, I think I slept maybe an hour out of all the time on the road, and I wish I hadn't slept at all. Mongolian countryside is absolutely breathtaking and it's very surreal to think that you have no idea which way to go and no real road to lead you. 

Nothing like some Mongolian wrestling to start off the morning!
Arm-wrestling, too

Mongolia is warming up, and that means the occasional flooded road. Unfortunately, this truck had bottomed out and was stuck by a large ice block.
Here's a video of the attempt to get it out of the mud:

Our vehicles tried to pull it out, but it didn't work. Eventually, the ice block was chipped away and then the truck actually got stuck in the mud! After that, everyone took the logs off, used them as a ramp and that helped the truck get to freeeeedom!

Then we hopped back in the cars (I was in their the entire time after nearly losing my Uggs to a big puddle) and away we went.

Mongolian camels have 2 humps, although it's really common for one to "deflate" during the winter.
After that big adventure, we had dinner with some Peace Corps Volunteers and then hit the hay semi-early.

Thursday was definitely another busy day (are you noticing a theme? :)). We visited two schools in the morning, two schools in the afternoon, went to a museum, and then hiked up a mountain after dinner.

Talking about America and how, like Mongolia, we have two neighbors too!

I'm always super excited when I talk about my family :)
The students really loved to hear about how short my mom is and how tall my dad is. They think that my brother and I look like twins, too.

After the morning presentations, we spent a lot of time at a kindergarten and disability school. My heart melted; those kids are so adorable.

I'm scoping out which child to take home with me.
We had covers over our feet so we didn't get anything dirty.

We made paper snowflakes with them, and we thought they had a good time, haha.

At the end, we gave prizes and presents to the students, like a Spider-Man costume and a little bear.

Then we went to see the disability center that was just down the hall. These students suffer from epilepsy. The child on the ball was in the fetal position when we first came in, but gentle stretching on the yoga ball got him to nearly a straight position by the time we left.

They loved Gladys (the seeing-eye dog) and they had the sweetest disposition.  

After that sweet meeting, the school gave us an amazing meal of fresh beef and vegetable soup (the veggies came straight from their garden!) and they had various jams that they made themselves. We later went on our lunch break to buy their seabuck throrn jam and wine, along with blueberry wine. Delicious and 17% alcohol content!

After that we had 1 more presentation at another school and we were able to work as one group this time, which was a rare treat.

Then we went on a museum tour with some wonderful Mongolians who were very happy that we had made a trip to their little city (we were happy, too)

I was ready to sleep for a week at this point, and that's when we hiked up a mountain to explore this Monastery. During the hike up, Amar would take Gladys from Uyanga to give Gladys a longer walk, and sometimes the seeing-eye dog would panic and lose sight of her owner. When that happened, that sweet dog would get awfully nervous and stubborn. We couldn't stop laughing at how adorable that dog was.

After the hike, Lisa D and I got a great meal, had some girl talk, and watched an episode of Game of Thrones before falling into a deep sleep.

Friday was a travel day and then we had one final presentation at night. We got on the road early and had a fantastic time, which was another awesome theme of this trip.

We stopped at a sacred mountain in Mongolia and we were very lucky the weather was so nice. Here's a video of our view.

We got to work together again which was a nice way to end the presentations. We also had a packed house watching us and they were really involved, so it was a wonderful presentation all around.

In addition to the gifts that we brought to every school, we also rewarded the students who were bold enough to speak a bit of English to us.
Unfortunately, I got really sick Friday night/Saturday morning, but I felt well enough to die quietly in the car on Saturday.

Thankfully, I got sick after the presentations were over with. It was a stomach issue and it also hit the Public Affairs officer. To help reduce my pain, I drank something called "coal" to soak up any virus in my stomach. The drink was black and tasteless, but I definitely had little black specks in my teeth when I smiled after drinking. It helped a lot, as did the Sprite that Joe and Amar found for me. I basically just drifted in and out of sleep all day in the car and avoided food. At least I knew for sure it wasn't appendicitis!

We traveled all day to a lovely little ger camp/hotel that offered hot springs. It was a perfect way to end our fantastic trip and a nice way for me to recover!

Sexy Fulbrighters

On Sunday we traveled back to the first Monastery we visited last Sunday and we were able to get a tour of the temples. We also stopped for a short time for lunch, but it was mainly just a day in the car, which was pretty relaxing. I had mostly recovered by this point, but it was still nice to just look at the view.

We arrived back in Ulaanbaatar around 6:00 and now I'm getting back into the swing of things. School ends for me on May 10th, so I am counting down the days and keeping my smile in place when I'm in school. 

For the curious, no photos were edited and my camera is cheap and amazing. I highly recommend it because it seems to be the closest camera I've ever had that takes photos like I truly see them.


  1. i just wrote you a whole letter but maybe it did not go through ???? Let me know. I would like to forward this so wonder who you may have already sent this to. Wonderful pictures and thanks for your comments. Where is all the snow in such a cold country?? LOve you Granny Baer

  2. Hi Grandma! Please feel free to share with whoever you would like. The snow has been here since September and it's still snowing now in April! Glad you liked it and love you so much.

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