I am at my site at last! As always, I loved traveling through the countryside, catching glimpses of birds, encountering livestock, often in the road, and seeing the occasional ger or group of gers surrounded by beauty. I arrived on a Saturday, just in time to attend the school opening ceremony on Sunday, and give a little speech, translated by my counterpart, Tanya, standing next to me. Originally I was to have two weeks to settle in, get my house in order, learn my way around, and meet people. Instead, I hit the ground running.
Sunflowers in the distance.
Birdwatching Update: I’m not as far out in the country as I would like to be for bird watching purposes. But on my first day here, I was blessed by the sight and sound of 20 (white-naped, I think) cranes circling above, fairly low. I was inside my house with my windows and door open when I heard them, and I ran outside with my binoculars. They were slowly making their way southeast, doing lots of loops and conversing. What a wonderful thing to have happen on my first day! I saw a large flock of them in a field on the way here from UB. The picture is fuzzy, though (moving vehicle).
That day, I also saw a flock of Great Bustards sitting in the grass near the road. They are enormous birds. There were swans flying over on my first day, too. I recognized the sound from when I was at my host family’s house. I’m happy that I appear to be on a migration path. Absent from my house in summer was the Red Billed Chough, but they’re here. I’ve seen lots of vultures. They are huge!! To read my first birding post, go to right column and choose August.
I live in the second house in the hasha (enclosed yard) of a couple in their fifties, both of whom have been kind and welcoming to me since I arrived. The hasha dog has become my good friend, and I bring him goodies from the meat market. I have also inherited a cat that was adopted by a former PCV who lived here, and which the hasha family has continued caring for. They feed her, so my only job is to cuddle her and make sure she’s out of my house in time to be let into the main house for the night.
My house is small, with two rooms, and very thick walls that insulate me pretty well from the chorus of dogs barking in the night. The mudroom/kitchen has a wood stove, which is my only source of heat, and what I will cook food on when the power is out.
Also in the kitchen is a table with a 2-burner electrical hot plate, a few dishes and utensils, and an electric tea kettle. I can see that my cooking will be simple here. In fact, so far my food preparation is remarkably similar to my cooking while I’m camping – one-pot meals using only raw ingredients. In one corner of the kitchen there is a dry sink. It has a reservoir in the back that I keep filled with water, and there is a bucket below to catch wastewater, which is dumped periodically. I have set up the chest as my dishwashing area. Next to the door is my 50-liter water container that I need to fill from the well.
I would say I have a refrigerator since there is one in the kitchen, but it doesn’t work, so I keep my perishables in my hasha family’s fridge while the school director is looking for a replacement. I was promised one by September 7, but time here is like most of the roads in this country – merely a suggestion. First day, my hasha family forgot my things were in their fridge, and they were gone all day until dark. Tanya, my counterpart, told them I’d been without access to my food all day, and they apologized and gave me a key. They said I was welcome in their house any time, that we were all one family. Sweet sentiment, but I feel cautious. . . But they have hosted two PCVs before me, so there are some things they already know, like that they have to knock on my door and wait for me to answer. They shouldn’t just walk in like they do with each other. So I appreciate that I didn’t have to break that ground! I keep my door locked when I’m home anyhow, because lots of visitors here have walked right into my house to introduce themselves or looking for my hasha family. I don’t know if I will ever become accustomed to this.
Fridge update: I now have a refrigerator, and it works!
The kitchen stove heats up the warming wall in my main room, providing a cozy spot for the clothes drying rack and for bathing.
On my first night here, I didn’t build a fire, and I woke up with a cold nose. Yes, in early September it was already getting cold. Over the middle of the day during the first week, the temperature sometimes rose to 65 degrees in the midday sun. In the time since that week, we’ve had snow in the night once, and I woke up to frost on a couple of mornings, with my thermometer reading in the upper twenties. On September 21, it snowed and it stuck to the ground, melting only very slowly over the next few days. Which brings me to the outhouse. Not only do I not have my own, spoiled as I was in the summer, but my new outhouse has windows on three sides, with no glass, no screen, no nothing. It sits on a rise in the yard. The best view of my neighborhood is from the outhouse. All and sundry will know every time I go to the loo. They just don’t worry about that kind of thing here.
My main room is fairly large, and has my bed – a very narrow one – a hard couch, a somewhat comfortable chair, and lots of cupboard space for my belongings.
I have part of a cupboard that has sliding glass doors, and looks like it was designed to hold glassware. However I have showcased my yarn and knitting equipment there so I can see the colors all the time.
My somewhat comfortable chair combined with an old cupboard gives me a hint of lazy boy chair comfort when I put my feet up on the cupboard.
I was supposed to get a kitchen table and two chairs. The chairs are here, but I eat at my coffee table. I thought to investigate whether I should be getting a kitchen table or if I must make do with the coffee table. I fear that if I say anything, the family, in true Mongolian style, will put my coffee table on pieces of wood or bricks to make it taller. Most things here are patched together; few things are first run.
Okay, the electricity just went out.
I have made two water runs to the well with my hasha mom, and one by myself. It’s about the distance 1 to 1.5 city blocks from my house. I can just imagine this in the deep winter! It’s hard work pushing that full barrel in its trolley and then wrestling it into my kitchen with help! Then, the third time, I was alone, and couldn’t get the full barrel back into the house. So it sat outside my door on the trolley until I could get help.
My full barrel bereft at my door.
I ordered wood, which was scheduled to be delivered one evening, but wasn’t. Then it should have come at noon the next day, so I left school to be home when it arrived. I gave up after a few hours and went back to school. Suddenly I got a call from Tanya telling me to hurry home, as the wood was being unloaded as we spoke. Students from the school have starting coming by to chop it, and I’ve been told I should keep a dish full of candy in my house to offer my helpers.
I’m in a steep learning curve as I schedule my chores here: keeping a fire going, making the run for water, trying not to run out on the well’s day off or on a day I’m at school, grocery shopping, cooking, bathing, and laundry. (For a description of how bathing and laundry are done in Mongolia, go to the archives on the right and look in July.) This lifestyle takes a lot of planning. Factoring in the fluidity of time commitments here adds another dimension to the complexity. I’m sure in time, I’ll get used to it.
Twelve minutes later, the power is back on.
It may sound as if life here is very harsh, and in some ways it is. But in other ways it isn’t harsh. People here help each other, and I have been the grateful recipient of that help on many occasions. A couple helped me find my home in the dark one night when I’d forgotten my flashlight. Just yesterday, my hasha mom saw me gather wet wood in the rain, and showed me how to find dry wood deeper in the pile. She helped me carry in a lot of wood, made a fire, then proceeded to give me a language lesson for an hour. It was great! When we finished I thought the fire she’d made was dead, but she wasn’t worried. She messed with the coals, threw more wood in the stove, and in less than a minute there was a big blaze going again. Tanya invited me over to her house to wash my heavier laundry (jeans, pants) in her machine. (Yes, there are a few washing machines here – subject for a future post.) Knowing I was running short of paper for building fires, the folks at the American bakery, run by Swedes, gathered scraps they found to help me out. I have since found an ongoing source of paper. Every time I have a rough time, it’s followed by generosity of spirit by Mongolians (and others) in concrete ways. These are examples of a continual experience of caring in this country that so fills my heart. I’m home for two years.