Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Orientation in Darkhan

For the past several days, I have been living in Darkhan at a dormitory with my fellow trainees for a quick orientation. Before arriving in Darkhan (by way of a turbulent 4-hour bus ride), we stayed one night in a ger camp in Ulaanbaatar. Many of the volunteers agreed that our introduction to Mongolia has been "cushy." Our meals have been good and our days easy. We've had running water. I'm at an internet cafe (think less Starbucks, more basement where Mongolian teens play violent video games.)
Here in Darkhan, we've spent our days in seminars ranging from our job expectations, to crash courses in Mongolian before we begin our four-hour daily classes next week at site. We even had an orientation to Mongolian culture today including norms, taboos, and the proper way to do a variety of activities including entering and exiting a home and accepting and refusing food. Once we're at site, we'll be living with host (hashaa) families who will help us learn other survival skills. In fact, our families have received a checklist of the skills that we need to be able to complete successfully by the end of the summer. Included on the list: how to chop wood, how to clean the stove, how to wash clothes by hand, and the ever-important how to bathe in a tumpin (small plastic tub). Not included on the list: how to use a latrine.
We concluded today's training by receiving information about our host families. I am very excited to go to site tomorrow and meet my hashaa family and the cows and dogs that they own. I'll be spending the summer with this family and they will invariably become my own. Not to mention, I will have no choice but to pick up Mongolian faster once out of my sweet dorm life and into complete submersion. Just think, in a few months I might be able to understand what these teenage boys are yelling in exclamation as they shoot guns and basketballs on the computers next to mine.
Though I am anticipating meeting my hashaa family, they will, of course, be no replacement for my own. I learned today that my brother and sister-in-law saw the heartbeat of their first baby, and I can only imagine what the phone call of that news would have been like. However, I hope that my family finds solace in knowing that I am being taken into this Mongolian family as one of their own without exception, and that the Peace Corps is making every effort to ensure my safety during my service.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Transit

I arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday and had dinner with a few old friends at a Greek restaurant. The next day, I became a Peace Corps Trainee and completed a day's worth of staging activities with the people who will become my coworkers and support group for the next 27 months. We went over a lot of procedural information, but also had time to chat and get to know each other. Though I've just met this group of people, our shared circumstance has made it easy to become fast friends. We were reminded at one staging session in which we discussed our anxieties and aspirations about service that the beautiful thing about being in a room of fellow volunteers is that you do not need to explain your reasoning for moving halfway around the world to serve for 27 months. I could not agree with that fact more, and have found it refreshing to be around so many like-minded individuals. We have become surprisingly close in the past two days, and I hope my family and friends back home find comfort in knowing that I am serving alongside some wonderful people.

Last night we stayed at a Best Western in Seoul, South Korea. I went to dinner with some fellow volunteers and encountered my first experience with a language barrier. The evening was comical and relaxing. Our hotel was fun to explore as it was furnished in the style of the culture here. We had rice pillows in the closet, house shoes in the entry room before the sliding doors which separated our foyer from the sleeping area, and even floor pillows for meditation. My favorite misunderstanding was when my roommate and I were trying our best to make the "Makeup Room" light come on by pushing a button labeled as such, only to realize that the button lit up a sign outside our door instructing the hotel staff that we would like our room to be made up.

I am currently in line to check in to my flight to Ulaanbaatar. I am balancing my computer on the handle of the cart holding my luggage. I anticipate having internet access tonight, but am not sure about the certainty of it after that. The past several days in transit have been a whirlwind, but if they are any indicator for how my service will be, it will be filled with excitement, good friends, and new experiences.