In the Midst of the Nine Nines…

For everyone reading this, we are in the swings of Tsaagan Sar, which is the traditional Mongolian New Year. This can translate into being invited into many peoples homes, eating a lot of buuz (pronounced boats.. Sort of) , lots of vodka, and chasing that with more buuz. People are out and about, wearing their deels, visiting older family members, giving gifts and exchanging the traditional greetings of ” Happy New Year” etc. The spirit of it all does remind me of Christmas, though without religious overtones. People are genuinely happy to spend time with family and chow down for a good three days. Since school doesn’t start till the 10th of February, I can expect that visits will continue until right before school starts . Meanwhile,  its been nice to have a break and have me time (not to mention lots of internet time) . Despite this I have recently been feeling symptoms of cabin fever. Which leads me to my small rant…

I can’t wait for winter to be over. Now that I made it through January, I  feel I can say this, its been cold! While albeit it was a milder winter than past winters, it is amazing how exhausting winter can be, especially when you don’t have a car and have to walk everywhere for shopping and errands. A walk to the post office would take me 20 minutes in fall,  in winter has  become a 40 minute slog. Putting on clothes in the morning, maybe takes me 20 minutes as I figure out, which pair of long underwear should I wear, how many pairs of socks… Just the sensations of being cold are new to me. Your nose hairs freezing as you walk around , you’re the tiny bits of your face hurting being exposed to air and the moisture from your breath freezing your hair into white chunks. Daily occurrences that make me go, “It’s a tad bit nippy today”.

That being said, its amazing how you get “used” to it.  Its easy to trap yourself into thinking  that winter will just never end.  That in the last couple weeks a nuclear  has winter occurred and we will be stuck being cold forever. Kind of a complacency If you will.  Luckily while my apartment might be cold it doesn’t get nearly as cold as those people who live in gers. Nor as hot, now that I think about it. My primary method of heat is my radiators, and my PC approved heater, while my sitemates who live in gers have  chores including chopping wood , fetching wood and starting fires which turn gers into a reputable sauna. When I get cold… I just start walking around in my sleeping bag.

I’m not going to lie, every time I leave my apartment and the first rush of cold air hits me… I might grumble to myself  “I could be living on a tropical island right now rabble rabble rabble”, “What did I do to get this gig?!?!”… only kidding. Just a little bit.

For Mongolians, they actually have an interesting way of describing winter. I took a bit of what my fellow PC blogger wrote on her blog, ( you can visit her blog by clicking here)

The Mongolian winter last 81 days beginning on the winter solstice, December 22nd, and ending on the first days of spring (march 10th). Each set of nine days has its description. Before the time of clocks and calendars Mongolians marked their winters by the severity of weather conditions.  Here’s what it’s all about:

First nine – shimijn arkhi or home made Mongolian milk vodka freezes

Second nine – vodka freezes

Third nine – tail of three-year-old ox freezes

Fourth – horns of four-year-old ox freeze

Fifth nine – boiled rice does not congeal any more

Sixth nine – roads blacken i.e., snow starts melting on blacktop

Seventh nine – hilltops blacken

Eighth nine – ground becomes damp

Ninth nine – warm days set in

By my calculation ( counting hurriedly on my fingers) we should be starting the sixth nine sometime this week …Which is awesome! There is a light at the end of the tunnel one more cold month to go, and I might be able to *squee* wear only ONE pair of long underwear, and maybe even… sneakers. That’s right, I’m going to be living large.

Another recent development is that we have started hearing about the next generation of Peace Corps Mongolia volunteers that will arrive in June. Which is amazing, considering that I feel in many ways that I just got here…  yesterday. It also makes me think of how I have spent my first 5 months at site, heck, my first 8 months in country. Much of it has been a learning experience, and from that I hope to make the next couple months that much better.

As a caveat while I might grumble about being cold and about life being hard here and to those who might worry, when I do ask myself the question, “would I rather be anywhere else?”, the answer is always… of course not! To be somewhere so completely different from what I know, and a place that tests me everyday, the good and the bad… I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Stay tuned for a couple more posts this week. I’m hoping I can provide more specifics about my school, and the answer to that question “What the heck is Virginia doing in Mongolia anyways ?!?” Believe me , many days I ask myself that question as well 😛  Let me know if you have any requests,

– V.



  1. Jim Westgate · · Reply

    Dear Virginia, I was so glad to get your blog. That winter is a bit much and adjusting to such must be so difficult. 50 years ago my culture shock to Thailand was ‘interesting’, so glad to hear your coping and are proud of your choices. Love, jimwestgate

  2. I so totally understand! New York has been so cold! It snows maybe once a week and makes the streets all gross. It’s so annoying how I have to wear rain boots instead of my converse so I don’t get my feet wet. It’s impossible!

    Teehee. Don’t hate me. You’re awesome.

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