Village Life and First Encounters

With anxious excitement my group of 8 Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) boarded a bus and headed north; only a few hours from the Russian border.

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Training the previous week highlighted life with a host family. But nothing can prepare you for the immediate culture shock and that uncomfortable twinge of not being understood. Again I found myself in a situation where all I could do was grin and smile. And that’s exactly what I did. Why do I always desire to be in these situations? It’s a funny thing. For the 4th time I had signed up to live in a country where I didn’t know the language. But I felt ready for the challenge.

As we turned off the main road leading us farther away from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, I felt like I was back in Georgia again. The dry plains turned into a pine forest. As we crept further into the woods and then to our small school I saw a dozen or so grins from ear to ear. Our host families were waiting for us.

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My host dad and sister.

 

We were welcomed with a traditional Hadak, a similar look to a scarf but not worn in the same way. Then one by one we all drank from the same bowl of milk. All as a way of welcoming us to Mongolia. It was at this moment it felt real.

 

So. Mutton. What can I say about it other than a meat I eat 2 and even 3 times a day?  It was the dish that welcomed me upon arrival to my host family’s хаша (hasha, a.k.a compound on which a home or yurt is built)

My host mother or ээж (pronounced ej) held out her hand and gestured “manay ger” or “Our house” and we pulled up to the place I would call home for 9 weeks.

She had prepared a delicious spread of traditional Mongolian foods and treats. Some were familiar- adopted from Russia. Mongolians love their food, and even more, their company. We smiled at each other. That’s all I could do aside from the occasional “thank you.”

Up until now mutton is what has brought us together. A staple meat among Mongolians and is used as a stuffing, in pasta, in soup and along any carb. Meal time has been those hours set aside for communication, however menial, but ever so important. Depending on the mood of the day or how tired we are we may just smile while I listen to their small chatter. Other days I practice what I am learning while my host dad encourages me on while also picking on my accent. We have an agreeable back and forth. If he doesn’t understand me he speaks to me in Russian. I answer back with the occasional “da” just for fun. Will I ever learn how to tell him I don’t know Russian all that well?

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My host mom making mutton dumplings

But what I’ve learned is this: Mongolians love their food and will share it with anyone. They are hospitable and would never let you leave without a full stomach and a pleasant conversation. I feel like I’m already part of the family.

 

 

 

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We’ve Touched Down… Hello Mongolia

If you talk to me and half of my cohort you’ll probably hear. ” I can’t believe I am in Mongolia.”

Yes. Yes. We are. Here is proof.

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For some of us it has been nearly a year since we put in our applications and the waiting game began. We are finally here M28s!
There are A LOT of acronyms in PC (there’s one) but my group of M28s are now trainees, soon to be the 28th generation of volunteers to serve in Mongolia since 1991.
This is all exciting stuff. I am trying to wrap my head around all of it if you can imagine.

Something about being a representative of the United States has both intimidated me and excited me since training began.

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It’s been a long time coming M28s. 61 of us from all over the U.S.

The last few days has been a whirlwind of assimilation into what is “Peace Corps” and our role here in Mongolia. Beginning May 29th we became Peace Corps Trainees. Soon to begin a rigorous 3 month training known as PST (Pre-Service Training)
This is when it gets. real.
Also known as the boot camp of Peace Corps. Or that’s what they call it. Not to make it sound intimidating but it really is the time for language and technical training to prepare for 2 years of service. A lot to learn in very little time.

Four days in. It has been an emotional experience. Feelings of excitement. joy. intimidation. fear.
But mostly pure appreciation for this experience ahead. I’m in Mongolia. Surrounded by my best friend and an incredible group of 60 passionate people.

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We are ready. Fitting in with our Mongolian smolder.

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Journeay; Annie Sherman