I’ve been in Mongolia almost a year (May 31), and only now am I feeling like I’m finally settled here. As I mentioned in my previous post, every morning dawn arrives, bringing a golden glow to my apartment through my lace curtains. But this morning, May 3, it had been busy snowing, so it was a cloudy dawn. Now at 8:30am, the sun has just come out and I hear the melting snow dripping outside my window.
Some of my walls look like this up high, especially in the bathroom. Occasionally I sweep fallen plaster out of my tub and sink or off my bed. I’ve requested that they repair the plaster above my food prep area.
Last week was the first time other PCVs came over to my place, and we had a potluck. And last night one of them came for dinner. I feel like my home is finally broken in, and is part of the Peace Corps community of Erdenet. With the big couch and chair around the coffee table, it’s the perfect place to have gatherings. First thing we’ll do when the M25s come in August is have some kind of event here.
I still hand wash my clothes with the same system I’ve used since arriving in Mongolia, but now I put my tumpuns in the bathtub (see Laundry Day post from last summer). It’s rough on my back, so I make quick work of it. There’s a rumor of the arrival of a washing machine with another PCV who is switching sites. These are unlike washing machines in the US. Basically, they agitate on one side and spin on the other. You have to put water in and take water out of them by the bucket full. But it’s easier than hand washing, the clothes take less time to dry, and we won’t have to heat the water for warm wash unless it’s one of those days when there isn’t any hot water in the building.
My apartment is next door to a unit used for visiting professors to stay in when they guest teach. The two issues that I’ve experienced are smoking in the unit, which gives me exposure to secondhand smoke through an open vent between units, and loud partying until dawn, which renders me unable to function the next day. The good news is that smoking indoors is illegal in Mongolia, and the guard loses no time in telling the offenders they must stop. As for the parties, there is apparently nothing to be done, according to my counterparts. Loud, drunken, singing parties are accepted here at any hour. So it’s an opportunity to practice patience and letting go for the bizillionth time. But you won’t find me in an early class the next day.
In spite of my busy schedule, I have found time to knit, an activity I find soothing. It also supplies me with a source of color in an otherwise bleak winter world of browns and greys. I have yarn sent to me from my favorite yarn store back home, Soft Horizons in Eugene, Oregon.
I’m close to a vegetable seller and a fruit seller, both of whom supply produce from foreign countries, mostly China. I have bought a few pears from America, the only fruit with a sticker. There’s no telling how these products were grown, which is something I monitor very closely in America. Here there is just no way to know. There are no company names on the products, and there are no laws governing information to consumers. There are boxes around, like the Dole banana box, but it’s hard to know what country they were grown in and under what conditions. But this produce brings variety to a previously monotonous supply.
Sources of chicken in Erdenet seem to be China, Russia, and Ukraine. As with the vegetables, I’m not sure of the growing methods, or the radiation levels in the case of Ukraine, so I buy it sparingly, and usually opt for chicken from China. I often cook beans, which I find here from America. When I first arrived here, I regularly saw people selling whole fish wrapped in plastic, frozen. I thought I’d try it one day. When I got home, I cut the fish in half to fit my cookware and discovered that, although the scales were gone, the entrails were still there. It had lots of unpredictable small bones throughout, so I won’t do that again!
I keep my windows open, as the apartment is too hot otherwise, though the warmer days bring flies. I asked about screens, already knowing the answer. So I have some net fabric that I will create screens with, using tape to attach them to the window frames. Because of the frequent dust storms that occur here in the spring, I’ve been advised to close my windows every time I leave. One expat kept forgetting to close his windows, and would return home to a huge cleaning project each time. Dirt even got between the pages of his books on the bookshelf. But this is an odd year in this way, too. We’ve had only a few instances of high winds, much less than usual.