So this was written a couple day s after Site Announcements, maybe around the 15th of August. Sorry for the posting about a month after the fact, but a lot has happened since and finding the time/internet has been a challenge. But believe me, there is going to be an onslaught of posts about what I’m doing here and what I have been up to. Enjoy!
So its official… almost. On Saturday I will be sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer and Tuesday I will be flying off to my province capital off in Western Mongolia. But lets start at the beginning… or at least Monday.
Monday morning we left our host families houses for the last time , lugging our wash basins, water filters and luggage, to start final center days and begin one of the more emotionally draining part of this entire process. Why do you ask? Because while we still had to sit through sessions of important material that we all must know, at 4:00 pm we were going to be finding out our ‘forever home’… for the next two years. While sitting through some pretty scintillating and important information, you could see that, mine and most of my fellow PCT’s minds were elsewhere. As my friend Hannah would say, I was just a little “out of it”.
When the hour finally arrived ( and I do mean FINALLY), we were led out to the Children’s Park that runs through the city of Darkhan, out to a giant map of Mongolia. When I mean giant, I do mean football field size big. If you were to stand on one end and shout at the top of your lungs, someone on the other side would not be able to hear you. To me, it just looked like a maze of low cement walls delineating aimag borders and short pillars representing aimag centers, or major cities.
The general process was that a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (or PCVL) would loudly call out our aimag, town, host country agency (HCA) and finally name. When our name was (finally) called out, our regional managers would drag us out to our place on the map. As each name was called we cheered, as some went far and others went farther. While it was (at least to me) apparently random, a little less than half of our cohort had been placed on the map before the first Community and Youth Development person’s name was called… yes yours truly. My regional manager started walking me out far, and then a little farther to my ‘forever site’, the хот of Uliastai, Dzarhan aimag. Waiting for me were my future site mates, bearing gifts of M&Ms and kind words as I was kind of in a daze. We also received our HCA packets, giving us information about our HCAs, what type of housing we would have and basically everything we had been hankering to know over the last two months.
Even writing about the process a couple days later still makes me queasy, even if its in an awesome, fluttering insect kind of way. While it was one of the most emotionally draining moments of my life, it was also one of the most gratifying. I really am going to be living in Mongolia for the next two years, in a real town with real people! Even now that I am at site, still boggles my mind that I’m here, but in an incredible way. This is actually happening, and I couldn’t be more pleased and excited.
Following writing this was the rest of Final Center Days. We got to meet our supervisors, learned more about our future sites, and spent one last week with the rest of our cohort. In so many words, good times were had all around.
August 17th we got sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. The ceremony was attended by our host families, fellow Peace Corps volunteers, and special guests. We heard speeches by our Country Director Darlene, the director of the Mongolian Association of Social Workers and even the American Ambassador to Mongolia. We then got to see performances and speeches done by our cohort of M24s. It went by so quickly that as soon as we were in there, the next moment we were packing the rest of our bags at the Darkhan hotel and hopping on a bus to take us to Ulaan Baatar.
From that point on people started leaving from UB, traveling all across the country to their future sites. Since me and my site mates didn’t leave for Uliastai until Tuesday afternoon, it was a long weekend of saying goodbye to our friends that we had made over the last couple months and wishing them well on this next step. In the meantime having the opportunity to explore UB and stock up on stuff that you can’t get in the hinterlands was much appreciated. My big purchase?A big jar of Skippy Peanut butter. Which, two weeks in, I’m starting to realize I’m going to need to ration if I’m going to expect it to last till the next time I’m in UB… in December.
Even the hanging out in UB wasn’t without exposure to the way things go in Mongolia. To save in overweight baggage fees for our flight, our supervisors organized for the Ulliastai volunteers to get our baggage put on a Meeker (or minivan) to save us around 200,000 tugriks… or about 125 dollars… which believe me goes a long way. While we were told that our luggage would be picked up at around 2… in Mongolian time the Meeker didn’t come around until 6:30. A very productive 5 hours were spent waiting outside the dorms where we were staying and progressively going slowly insane with waiting. When the meeker did arrive, it was jammed packed full of luggage, people and the obligatory baby. It took a force of all our spatial skills to stuff our bags into the van. Definitely gave a sigh of relief once the van started rolling down the road. And the best thing? The bags made it! Very glad the bags went through the 35 hour van ride, and I just had to go through a 2 hour flight. I’m going to rue the day I end up doing that long trip…
That’s it for this post. Stay tuned for some posts on what I have been up to settling into my new home, and getting to know this new town where I will be living for the next two years. I still marvel at the fact that I’m actually here and living this life. Stay tuned.