June 27, 2013
Life is taking on a routine here. Every morning I leave my room, step into the appropriate shoes, have breakfast, and walk to school, about a 20 – 30-minute walk, depending on which route I take. I wear my binoculars every day, and have been rewarded by the sight of new birds every now and then. I have my Mongolian language class for four hours. I walk home for lunch, returning to school after a break of an hour and a half. The afternoon classes cover history and culture, teacher training, and practice teaching. I feel as if I spend more waking hours at the school than I do at home.
Walking through this village is interesting. There are so many lanes, none of them paved or named. Each hasha (fenced area or yard) is very different from all the others. There are quite a few hashas that have a ger in them as well as a wood house. Most hashas have a guard dog. Some of these dogs appear not to pay much attention to me, while others display varying degrees of viciousness. Often, there are big gardens in the hashas.
Many of the people here in the village have livestock. They are put out to range all day, and at least in the case of the milking cows, they come to the gate in the evening, ready to be milked. Walking around town involves making my way through the livestock, which all leave dung heaps in the lanes. Those are raked up into piles to dry for fuel. On a normal walk about town, I may encounter cows, calves, stray dogs, pigs, and horses. Frequently, a herd of about thirty horses is driven down my lane by 3 boys on horseback among the herd. Just Friday morning, there was a sow and a litter of piglets in the grassy area in front of the school. A fellow PCT was walking to school one morning, fiddling with his iPod, and stepped in fresh dung. I’m not in L.A., he laughed to himself, reminding himself to look where he walks here.
There is no post office or internet in this village. These require trips into the nearest city. Every few “blocks” there is a small shop, called a delgoor, which sells coffee, tea, vodka, bread, packaged snacks, some French wine, and a small selection of produce, usually not so fresh. Yesterday, in the produce section, there were wrinkled potatoes and apples. There is often a freezer full of meat. The police station is at the end of my lane, not far from the small medical office.
There is a lot of dust here, and it’s hard to keep my shoes clean. In many places, it feels like I’m walking on the beach. Every now and then, in the middle of a heat wave, we get a big wind storm that drops the temperature very quickly from the 90s into the 60s. When the wind blows, there is no way to avoid the clouds of dust, which whip my face, and cause my backpack straps to sting me. If I’m wearing my rain poncho, I have to hold the edges against my body, so the wind doesn’t tear them.
Every evening before dark, from my bedroom window, I watch the trans-Mongolian train come through, the first one heading north to the Russian border to meet up with the trans-Siberian train, the second one heading south from Russia to Ulaanbaatar and many other points, ending in Beijing. I’ve heard that the train is always on time and travels slowly. This may be the only thing in Mongolia that is on time.
My host family took me on an outing into “the countryside.” We left the village, past the trash and human detritus, and came to an area that was vast and green, with a huge lake. I saw a beautiful duck and two other water birds that I’m eager to identify. I’ve included pictures, but they don’t do justice to this spectacular scene. When the view is so panoramic, there is no way to capture it in a photo. I suspect this will be a limitation I will continue to experience in this country.
Our language teachers took us on an outing on election day, a national holiday. Leaving our village and heading north, we came to a beautiful area which, unlike our village, had trees. To get to a viewpoint, we hiked through pine forest, which gave off a lovely aroma in the heat of the sun. The scope of the view was vast. In the picture you can see two rivers in Mongolia which join together to become one river which flows into Russia. Along the river’s edge, I could see the train tracks, and dreamed of riding that northbound train myself some day. The far mountain range is in Russia.
Whether I am wandering around in my village, taking in the smallest details of my environment here, or going out into the vastness that is this country, I am continually grateful that Peace Corps assigned me to Mongolia.