Ooooooh boy do I have a special post for you today! I haven’t blogged much about Mongolia or the Peace Corps but this post is chock full of both subjects. From 2012-2014 I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ondorkhaan, Mongolia. I could write a novel about my time there because the experience was truly life-changing. I learned a new language and way of life, made life long friends, and came back with a bucket full of memories. Here is a glimpse into my life in the Peace Corps.
First off, where is Mongolia?? Well, check out this map….
Full disclosure: Ondorkhaan is the old name of the town I lived in. While I was there, the provincial government voted and successfully changed the name to Chinggis City in honor of Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan to all of you) who was born somewhere nearby. I still affectionately refer to it as Ondorkhaan though.
Quick Facts about Ondorkhaan
- Capital of Khentii province and the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan
- Approximate population of 18,000 people
- 3,369 feet above sea level
- Gets only about 3 inches of snow per year because…
- ….it’s too cold to snow in the winter with an average temperature of o F.
- Language spoken: Mongolian
- has a paved road all the way to Ulaanbaatar!!
The Living Situation
This is a Mongolian ger, some of you may recognize this as a yurt. I lived in this for two years and it was absolutely my most unique living situation to date. The pipe sticking out the top is attached to my stove that I used to keep warm. In the winter, layers of plastic are wrapped around the bottom of the ger and then covered with dirt to prevent the cold air and wind from creeping inside. Typically, whole Mongolian families will live in one ger sharing all of the chores. They’re quite spacious inside but on average are about 300 square feet. Every inch of space has a purpose.
I did have electricity in my ger but no running water. Usually, I would strap my water container to the cart, walk 10 minutes to the dispenser, bang on their gate for someone to come out, and they would fill up my large bucket with water. My bucket held about 120 liters (31 gallons) of water and that would last me about one week. What do you use water for each day? Think about it.
- brushing your teeth
- cleaning dishes
- washing your face and hands
Every time I used water from my bucket I had to conserve. There was no faucet to turn on and magically deliver water to me. Fetching water once a week for two years really taught me the privilege of indoor plumbing.
I worked as an English teacher at a combination middle and high school. It was my first teaching experience and I learned a lot on the job. My main goals were: (1) to improve the English skills of my students and (2) to train my co-workers in new teaching skills. A lot of teachers in Mongolia teach by rote learning aka memorization. Students learn in many different ways and for many, myself included, memorization might get the job done short-term but in the long run the knowledge isn’t meaningfully remembered or used. My teachers were eager to work with me and my students were a blast. My favorite class was a group of 6th graders. They were fresh out of elementary school and young enough to bounce back from pronunciation and grammar mistakes with little to no embarrassment.
I also worked on a project outside of school. The provincial education minister approached me and my fellow volunteers about teaching a group of adult students eager to learn English. At first we were skeptical and didn’t think these classes would last but we were pleasantly surprised. Our students varied in age from 21-57 and were from all walks of life: stay at home parents, miners, I.T. personnel, doctors, and dentists. Three times a week we held class, gave tests, and went on field trips around town. We all became friends and both the students and us teachers were committed to making the classes productive and fun. Almost two years later and I still see them talking with one another on our facebook group and sharing funny English jokes and comics.
Tungaa and Amaraa were two of my co-workers. I actually lived on Tungaa’s family property with her parents, younger sister, nephew, and cousin. Both Tungaa and Amaraa became my closest friends and we had a ton of fun working together. I am thankful that facebook exists and we can stay in touch. It’s nice to hear how they’re doing and get the gossip from school. Not pictured are a long list of other Mongolian friends. My Mongolian teachers, the Peace Corps staff, and Tungaa’s family helped me throughout my Peace Corps service. Their generosity and willingness to work through language barriers is a testament to the endless hospitality of the Mongolian people.
Isn’t Sammy a cutie pie? My one regret is that I didn’t bring her back to the US with me. She was an adorable dog and would run up to me whenever I was coming or going from home. I’m glad I have this picture to remember her by.
What a sunset, right? The countryside (which is the majority of the country) is pristine and extends as far as the eye can see. Nature is still very much in charge here. Between the harsh winter weather and herds of animals your car is more likely to freeze or get stuck in a migrating heard than hit another car.
To finish out this exceedingly long post I leave you with a video of the Mongolian countryside. Turn your sound up to hear the Mongolian radio playing and soak in the beauty of spring time in Khentii province!
Have you or anyone you know been to Mongolia? Where did you go? What did you think? For those of you wanting to travel there please ask me any questions you have!
P.S. Here is a bonus video of a tiny little puppy that followed me back to my ger one day: