Katieholder’s Blog


Badly kept secrets…

Well, I wanted to keep this a secret, so I could suprise my former co-workers this summer, but as with many things, technology makes keeping a secret somewhat difficult.

I will be coming back to the States this summer for a 3 week vacation! My brother is getting married July 24th and since I wouldn’t miss it for the world, I decided to make the trek back. I will arrive in Little Rock Thursday, July 8th at around 2 p.m. and leave on Saturday, July 31st.

As many of you know, I hadn’t planned on coming back at all, but one thing that the Peace Corps has taught me is that “plans change–a lot”. Being flexible here is so important. Your mikre driver said that he would leave at 2 and it’s already 5? Oh, well. You can’t move forward with a project because a government official canceled your meeting and decided to go to the countryside at the last minute? Oh well.

Anywhoooo, I’m so excited to see all of my family and friends. I mean really excited. Like I have a week by week countdown excited. 15 weeks to go at the time of this writing!

So, since the cat’s already out of the bag, I can freely ask all of my friends for favors now. Yay! I would appreciate it if you guys would start saving up your old magazines so that I can bring them back here for some English lesson material. It doesn’t matter what kind of magazine (fashion, hunting/fishing, cooking, decorating, ANYTHING). All of the reading material here is aimed at young kids, so it can be difficult to find topics/materials to discuss.

Second favor: Please be patient with me. I may actually embarrass you if we go to a grocery store together by screaming “GUACAMOLE!” and running around molesting the various products. I hope to get most of this out of my system during the 7 hour layover in Seoul, and then also during the first 2-3 days in Arkansas.

Third favor: I want to hear about what’s going on with you! I’ll definitely tell you what has been happening with me, but honestly, if you read this blog and are friends with me on Facebook, you already know what’s going on with me.

Ok, that’s pretty much all I can think of right now. I’m really excited to see you guys in 15 weeks! As always, Enjoy Your Amenities!

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Tsagaan Sar, Ice Fest

Last Wednesday (2/24/10), I had all of my co-workers from Erdenet over to celebrate Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian New Year, “White Month”) with me. I had been preparing the entire week before (cooking, cleaning, shopping) and was really nervous about it. Fortunately, my sitemate Brad was able to come over and help me set up so I could avoid any major faux pas.

I made potato salad, egg salad, heyam (meat) salad, and pasta salad. I did decide to forgo hand making the buuz since they are labor intensive and my buuz look pathetic, so I bought some frozen ones instead. I also had arroll (preserved cheese curds) and several types of candies and the standard bread tower. And of course, the tea and vodka. My little coffee table was packed! Everyone showed up at 6 and was impressed when they saw my deel. They were even more impressed when they found out that I had cooked all of the salads. I’m not sure, but I think that they think I only eat at restaurants or boiled eggs….

Anyway, I played hostess and got everyone fed and I asked Ganbaa to be the vodka server. Traditionally, the person who serves the vodka is either the owner of the home, or the oldest man. I didn’t know all of the ins and outs of serving the vodka, so I let G do the honor. First, the men are served, from oldest to youngest, then the women, oldest to youngest. You are passed a glass with a shot of vodka (passed with the right hand and the left hand touching the right elbow) and can either down the whole thing, part of it or just touch it to your lips. Whatever you do, you have to offer a toast. My co-workers know that I’m not much for vodka, so they don’t mind when I dilute it with some Coke or other mixer. The first time I did it though, I had a LOT of explaining to do.

So, we ate and drank, and drank and ate, and finally it was time to bring out Brad’s birthday cake! His b-day wasn’t until the following day, but I decided it would be nice for him to celebrate during the TS festivities, so I went to 5 bakeries all over town until I was able to locate a cake for him. This, of course, required even more shots after eating the cake and we were all in a mighty celebratory mood after it so we decided to play “ankle bones” which is a Mongolian game over a thousand years old. In the game, you have actual bones (from cows I think) and the bones have 4 sides: sheep, camel, horse and goat. The game is played like marbles where you have to flick a bone and hit a matching bone (sheep has to hit another sheep, etc.) and the person with the most bones at the end wins. It’s also a fortune telling tool where each combination that you roll means something different. The best combo to roll is one of each which means you will have very good luck and you get a wish. If you roll this combo, you gather all the bones into your hand and whisper your wish into your hand and then roll again. The next combo will let you know if your wish will come true or not.

After my co-workers left, Brad and I didn’t even attempt to clean up. He promptly fell asleep on the couch and I finished packing for the trip to Ice Fest on Friday. The next morning, of course, I woke up and immediately regretted my decision not to clean up at least a little the night before. It was like a TS bomb went off in my apartment. So, I called into work and let them know that I won’t be able to come in since I have to not only clean up from the night before, but prepare for all my friends coming in to stay with me for a night before leaving for Ice Fest.

So, I spent the morning cleaning while Brad spent the morning recovering on my couch. Brian and Garrett arrived at 5 from Bulgan the aimag center of Orkhon aimag about 40 km west of Erdenet. Race Hodges (M20) arrived from Yuro a soum north of Darkhan at around 4. After the guys arrived, they all helped me clean the apartment even more (sweeping, doing dishes and cleaning the stove). Seriously, it’s worth it to have house guests like this if they are going to clean my apartment. They can crash any time they want. Brian and Garrett cooked the frozen buuz I had bought for TS and we all crashed pretty early in order to get an early start the next morning.

Let me start off this next section by saying traveling in Mongolia is a study in confusion, patience and pain. Brad, Garrett and Brian lined up a microbus (mikre) that would “leave” at 2 p.m. that day. While they were off doing that, Race and I ran errands (ATM, food for trip, heavy hats, etc) and we were all ready to go by the 2 p.m. leave time. So, we get to the mikre stand at 2 only to find out that our mikre is only “half” full. This means that it was full to our untrained American eyes, but at least 4 more people were needed to make it Mongolian-full.

 A standard mikre has 2 forward facing rows of bench seats built for 3 people and one backward facing bench seat meant for 2 people. After the seats, there is a space for luggage and then the driver’s and shotgun seat. So, it’s built for 10 people. In reality here though, it travels with anywhere from 14-16 people. Soooo, it was about 5 p.m. by the time we actually set out. With 14 adults and 2 babies. I’ll only say this: there was a point in the trip where each of us considered jumping out of the mikre and taking at least one other person with us. The nightmares from that trip will haunt me forever. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

We arrived in Murun (Khovsgul’s aimag center about 3-4 hours south of the lake) at 9-ish the next morning in the coldest weather I have experienced yet here in Mongolia. (The “trip” only took 18 or so hours, but we had been sitting in the mikre for 22 hours, so we called it a 22 hour trip) Patrick Olsen (M19) came and picked Brian, Garrett, Brad and I up from the mikre stand while Race went off to Alison Boland’s ger to settle in. So, we walk back to Patrick’s haashaa and, btw Patrick, if you read this: your place is not “close”, it’s far. A mile is not close when you haven’t slept, are walking in freezing temps, and have backpacks and sleeping bags to lug around. Just saying.

So we settle in at Patrick’s, eat some food, drink and play Monopoly Deal (aka, the greatest card game ever—see pics on FB). After many hours of this, we all meet up (Alison, Sara Haught, Race, Patrick, Garrett, Brian, Brad and I) and decide to shop for dinner ingredients to cook at Alison’s ger. Major props to Patrick and Sara who made not one, but two kinds of pizza’s from scratch for dinner and a potato side dish. Excellent. After dinner (and shenanigans) we split up to go to sleep and prepare to go to Hatgal/Lake Khovsgul the next day.

Race and I stayed with Alison in her ger and all I have to say about that first night is that it was there and then that I really fell in love with my apartment. Waking up to seeing your breath with EVERYTHING in the ger frozen (toothpaste, shampoo, cooking water, vegetable oil—everything) was one of the most un-fun things I’ve ever experienced. Respect to all you ger dwellers out there. I don’t know that I could do it without crying every morning.

After breakfast, we all gathered to leave for Hatgal (the soum by Lake Khovsgul). Fortunately , we were able to make the 3-4 hour trip in a Land Cruiser in relative comfort. That’s right, you can fit 9 people with all their bags into a Land Cruiser. Bags = seats.

So we arrived at Hatgal just as night was falling and got to Ryan’s haashaa to split up the group (Ryan = M19 and possibly some sort of male model before joining Peace Corps…) Brad and I had decided to stay at a ger camp which ended up being a pretty good decision since the family that owned the ger camp fed us whenever we didn’t want to cook (which was all the time) and it was nice to get away from the general insanity that always results from 10 PCV’s sharing the same small house.

Brad and I got to our ger (small 3 walled ger with 3 small beds lining the walls and a wood stove in the middle). The owners had started a fire for us and we got to eat a buuz dinner with them before turning in for the night. Sidenote: Gers are “winterized” in the fall, which means a couple of more layers of felt are added over the “summer” layers in order to insulate the inside and keep that precious, precious heat from escaping too quickly. Our ger wasn’t winterized, which no tourist would notice, but coming from the PC background, Brad and I quickly noticed since 30 minutes after the fire would go out, the temperature would drop down to below freezing and we could see our breath.

The next morning, we awoke to find everything had frozen (water in cups, toothpaste, washrag, etc) so Brad got up and made a fire. Then, the owner of the camp came in and gave us breakfast (toast w/ homemade butter and homemade blueberry jam). After eating and getting dressed, we were off with our driver in the Land Cruiser to pick up the rest of the kids and head off to Ice Fest. Since it was dark when we arrived the night before, we didn’t really know where Ryan lived, so we did the only thing we could think of and just asked all the random people out where the “American boy” lived. Since he’s the only American in the tiny town, it didn’t take long. Gotta love small towns…

So, we all packed up and were off to Ice Fest. The “road” to the festival was actually a path marked with orange flags across the lake. Yes, we drove on the frozen lake, which did freak me out initially, but was very cool once I got used to the idea. We parked, got out and pretty much every single one of us promptly fell on the ice. It wasn’t too embarrassing since everyone else was falling too. We shopped the souvenirs where I picked up the single greatest pair of mittens ever made (seriously, my North Face gloves got nothing on these mittens).

After shopping, it was time for the opening ceremonies which lasted approximately an hour (we only watched for 10 minutes, our attention span isn’t that great). We then started exploring the slide and games on the ice. (See face book for pictures…)

After a couple of hours on the ice, we went off in search of food in the gers on the lake shore. We warmed up and got fed and were ready to get back out on the ice. After a few more hours of shenanigans, we were all exhausted and ready to get back to Hatgal for dinner.

The next day, we went back to Ice Fest for a few hours and then we headed back to Murun to spend the night. The next day, Brad, Garrett, Brian, Race and I were headed back to Erdenet. Unlike the ride to Murun which was HOT (heaters here apparently can only be turned on High and Off) and slow (19 hours), the ride back was FREEZING and fast(15 hours). At least, it was fast until we broke down outside of Bulgan (20 kilometers outside of Erdenet). So close to home, yet so far.

Sooooo, we sat there stranded for about 2 hours until another mikre was able to come and pick us up. Unfortunately, the driver who came to pick us up refused to drop us off at my apartment and basically kicked us out in the middle of town, at 4 a.m., in -40 degree weather. Jerk.

Anyway, so we lugged all our stuff back to my apartment where the guys promptly fell asleep on the floor and couch and I passed out on my glorious, wonderful bed. It’s a crazy thing, but when we were traveling, I kept thinking “I miss home/I want to be home” and by “home” I didn’t mean Arkansas, I meant Erdenet. I talked to Brad about it and he said that I had made the important transition where I thought of Erdenet/Mongolia as my home. It had happened to me before when I was in UB for IST in December, but never this strongly.

I decided that when I have to travel on a bus or mikre here, I’ll be limiting my trips to 8 hours or less. I’m planning on going to Eagle Fest in Bayan Olgii in October, but I’ll be flying both ways. Sorry kids, the thought of being on a bus for 40 HOURS makes my head hurt and I don’t know if I would survive it without a mental breakdown. I know my limitations.

So, we got back and I was almost fully recovered from the trip (feeling coming back into legs, neck able to turn both ways, etc) when Garrett tells me that my boss has decided to resign. AAAGGGHHH!!! This is never good news for a PCV as it sometimes means that you have to move into a cheaper apartment or change sites completely. Needless to say, my stomach has been acting up since I heard the news, but I’m doing my best to think positively about it.

This was a long post, I know, but I hope you enjoyed it. As always, Enjoy Your Amenities! Love, Katie

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Sleeping Bag suit

Ok, so if you remember from my “Blarg” post, I was on my way to inventing a sleeping bag with arm and leg holes for optimal warmth here in Mongolia. Well, that idea has already been thunked up.

Another million dollar idea hijacked.

I want to go to there...


What the what?!

Ok, so since I spent last week basically holed up inside my apartment waiting for my cracked ribs to heal (and working from home on my laptop) I didn’t think I would have anything to post….until today happened.

Several weird/strange/awesome things happened today that I think you should be aware of, so here goes:

1.  Woke up at 9 a.m. full of energy (and very little pain) and couldn’t wait to get out the door to go grocery shopping and pay my internet bill. After so many days inside, I think my brain cracked and overrode any blahness/pain I was feeling. Seriously, I felt like a peppy morning show host after 5 cups of coffee…it was pretty sweet. Weird.

2.  I hit my favorite grocery store (actually it’s tied w/ another place that will be mentioned later), Ikh Delguur for the first part of my grocery bizness. As I was stocking up on the usual stuff (dehydrated soy “meat”, cheese ravioli, detergent, etc.) I stumbled upon…SLOPPY JOE SAUCE! This stuff wasn’t german or russian, it was AMERICAN! Everything was in English and let me tell you, it was glorious!!! It was also a huge suprise because this store does NOT carry much “Amerik” stuff. Obviously, I knew immediately what I was having for dinner tonight–“Faux Sloppy Joes”! Awesome.

3.  After Ikh Delguur, I went to the internet place to pay my bill and…it was open!!! Seriously, that’s kind of a big deal here when things are open when the sign says they’re open. And, I semi-understood what the lady was saying! Awesome/weird.

4.  Soon after I stopped at my 3rd grocery store (no you canNOT get everything you need at one store–that would rip the universe space/time continuum in two if it ever happened), Good Price. This place is like a little America right here in Erdenet (Doritos, cheetos, oreos, smuckers jam, peanut butter, refried beans, snapple, mug root beer, etc.) so I go there at least every 2 weeks (sometimes I don’t even buy anything, I just stare and fondle the products until the owner gives me the evil eye). Anywhoooo, so I’m there and what do I spy??? Jelly Belly freezer pops, Hershey’s chocolate milk and organic soy milk with a USDA stamp. So, yeah, I bought the freezer pops and the chocolate milk (I had already bought regular milk earlier this week, but I’ll go back and get the soy stuff when I run out). Awesome!

5. I bought fruit (at the 4th grocery store). And I will eat it. (This is a weird thing since I’m not a big fruit person anyway, but I need the stuff here since I’m not eating a ton of vegetables)

6. So, after a successful day food shopping, I was still energized and decided to tackle the semi-big pile of laundry that has been accumulating. Not only did I wash clothes, but I washed sheets, pillowcases and my bathroom rug. Very weird.

7. While washing clothes I swept and generally cleaned my apartment. This goes under the “weird” category.

8. Invited my sitemate Alona over for dinner (Faux Sloppy Joes w/ green and red peppers, black beans, and millet). My other sitemates were in UB getting their swine flu vaccinations (I got mine last week if you’ll remember) so we had a nice evening hanging out. Me cooking for other people in the states is normal. Me cooking for other people here when I can barely feed myself is weird.

9. So now for the negative/strange thing. As I was cleaning the apartment this afternoon, I took my garbage out to the dump in front of my apartment (classy, I know). First thing I noticed was that there wasn’t any garbage spilling out all over the place and the metal dumpsters were locked up which is very unusual. The second thing I noticed as I walked up, was that there was a strange rustling coming from the dumpster. I had a hunch to what it might be, unfortunately, that hunch turned out to be correct. Ok, so someone either on accident or on purpose locked the dumpster with two small puppies inside. Not cool. Sure they have food, but they don’t have water or anywhere warm to escape to. Soooo, I unlocked the dumpster (had to kick the second latch open) and got them out. Garbage spilled out.  Oh well, I didn’t care. I love animals and to see the way that people treat them here is very difficult for me. There aren’t enough vets here to do mass spaying/neuterings to keep the population under control and honestly, people don’t care about it. My dream is to start a “Vets without Borders” program, get a stripped down bus and have the vets pick up the strays and neuter/spay them. When you see a frozen puppy on the sidewalk, that’s rough. You remember that shit and want to do something about it. Soooo, I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve found my new secondary project.

Ok, well that’s about it. Yeah, I know I live a fascinating life, right? Don’t be jealous. (Sarcasm)

Enjoy your amenities! Love, Katie

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Blarg!!!

Just heard from the PC office in UB yesterday and they said that we all MUST come into UB within the next 2 weeks for mandatory H1N1 shots. AARRRGGHHH!!!! Seriously?! I was JUST there and now I have to take a day off of work and make the 12 hour trip again. Whatever. I’m staying with my friend Cassandra at her swank apartment and eating some pizza at Granville’s to make myself feel better…

So, I’ll be leaving (AGAIN) tomorrow (Friday) on the 10 a.m. bus to UB and will come back Saturday on the same bus. Seriously, I’ll be in UB for all of 18 hours. Maybe since I’m not there for long, I won’t get sick from all the coal dust in the air.

Ok, that’s vented and I’m better now. Thanks for listening.

We’re all in “countdown” mode here since it’s apparantly 3 more weeks until the “really cold” weather starts. Joy of all joys. I really can’t fit another pair of long johns under the new jeans my parents sent me (already 2 pairs under there folks) and the only part of me exposed when I’m outside is my eyes. I’m actually working on a design (in my head) for a sleeping bag with armholes and foot holes that you wear over your other clothing. It’s going to be a huge hit here.

Let’s see…what else? Well, I have decided to become a full fledged vegetarian now. It’s not that big of a leap for me now anyway since I only eat meat at restaurants. I’m acutally really lucky to have a great vegan restaurant in the basement of my office building where I eat lunch every day. Why did I make this switch, you ask? 1. Ok, I saw a sheep slaughtered and skinned this summer and it was NOT a pleasant experience. 2. Since winter started all the cows in the area have moved from their grazing land into town and eat out of the dumpsters. 3. I have access to tofu and all that jazz where it’s actually feasable for me to make the switch here. 4. I went to a local chicken farm this fall and what I saw (and smelled) made me nauseous for days, not to mention the bad dreams that followed.  So, I’ve been thinking about it for a while and it just makes sense for me to do it.

I’m currently working on an indoor garden (herbs, spinach, and lettuces) so if you would like to send me any seeds, that would be great. 

Seriously though, not much is going on. For your pleasure, however, I will now list off the foods/things I am craving/wanting:

1. Fried pickles from Dixie Cafe; 2. Larry’s Pizza and Salad Bar; 3. A veterinarian nearby who spays cats; 4. Barnes & Noble bookstore; 5. Hot rollers for the hair (to change things up once in a while, you know?); 6. Not to have to travel to UB tomorrow morning…

Well, as always, I love you guys and remember to Enjoy Your Amenities!

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Christmas, New Years and other stuff

I had to leave Erdenet for UB the week of Christmas for a 3 day work meeting which meant yet another 6 hour bus ride (seriously, it’s getting to the point where it’s not that bad) and several days of breathing in the terrible coal pollution that is UB air (the ger districts on the outskirts of the city burn coal in their stoves for heat).

Needless to say, I got sick with some kind of earache, throat pain and hacky cough. I just have to expect that whenever I go to UB in the winter I guess…

Anyway, so the meeting was good. Garrett and I got a lot of work done with our translator and co-workers at the main office (which is always nice) and we got to stay in the Tsetseg Hotel (Flower Hotel) for several days which means I didn’t have to cook and there were always fresh towels. Very nice.

Unfortunately, it snowed on the Wednesday before Garrett and I were supposed to go back to our sites, so that made travel difficult and I put it off for a day, so I was riding the bus home on Friday (Christmas day) to Erdenet. Not too bad, could have been worse (got to eat my fave “vegetable” soup at the guanz restaurant at the midway point so that was a nice Christmas treat).

I made it back in time for my sitemates and I to celebrate Christmas (pictures on FB) and eat a very nice chicken dinner thanks to Dao and Alex. We all brought something (me, deviled eggs as i was working on a 2 hour time limit and limited grocery stash) and the meal was just what I needed to feel at home and happy. There are pics of the gifts I got from my sitemates Alona, Dao and Brad on FB so check those out.

We added a “danger” element to the evening by lighting up some sparklers inside (!) and taking pictures. I was actually picturing the doctors at ACH shaking their heads and sighing as we did this. We did take the fun outside when we lit the “big” firework though, so you know, no fires or anything. Safety first!

I was still feeling really bad (I had pulled a muscle in my ribcage or something because of really bad coughing) so I couldn’t go to my Shin Jil (New Year) party that my office was having the next day. When I told my cp’s (counterparts) that I wasn’t going to be able to make it, they got really concerned b/c they knew how much I was looking forward to it (new outfit made and everything!), but seriously, that’s how sick I was.

So, basically I spent my vacation holed up in my apartment taking medicine and eating soup. Anger!

There were several bright linings however to the whole thing: I got not 1, but 2 big boxes from my parents for Christmas. I actually picked them up on the 31st from the post office (because apparantly the woman who does the package sign out fell into a black hole…) and had a nice time opening the gifts with C before my sitemates came over for New Years.

So now I not only have books, dvd’s and sweaters, but I have 2 pairs of jeans that actually fit! Yay! No longer do I look like a hobo with a full diaper! My parents also sent me a pair of winter boots (lined with fur and wool, nice) that are now my main shoes. These are super nice not only cuz they’re warm, but I can also slide on the snow and ice with the kids! Let the skiing competitions commence!

My sitemates and I had a pretty low key New Years…hanging out at my apartment, went to one club (where right after we ordered our first/only round at 10 p.m. the waitress told us to hurry up and finish our drinks cuz they were closing, ???) and going to the square to watch the fireworks at midnight.

Brad spent the weekend with me so I could fulfill my Christmas gift to him (washing his clothes in my fancy washing machine–seriously, he has only washed his clothes a total of 2 times during his time here so far, so it was actually a gift to all of us). And, no Mom, we aren’t dating–he’s very happy with his boyfriend Dale. That’s right folks, my “singleness” streak continues!

All in all, it was a really nice holiday season with really good friends and very good food. My only new year’s resolution has been not to get giardia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giardiasis ). So, with that, I hope all of you out there had just as good (if not better) holiday season as I did.

As always, I love you and Enjoy Your Amenities!

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Just Cuz I’m Thankful I’m Not Related to Marney

Below is an email I found that I think perfectly illustrates why there are more incidents of family violence during the holidays…Remember, Don’t Be a Marney! Love, Katie

From: Marney

As you all know a fabulous Thanksgiving Dinner does not make itself. I need to ask each of you to help by bringing something to complete the meal. I truly appreciate your offers to assist with the meal preparation. Now, while I do have quite a sense of humor and joke around all the time, I COULD NOT BE MORE SERIOUS when I am providing you with your Thanksgiving instructions and orders.

I am very particular, so please perform your task EXACTLY as I have requested and read your portion very carefully. If I ask you to bring your offering in a container that has a lid, bring your offering in a container WITH A LID, NOT ALUMINUM FOIL! If I ask you to bring a serving spoon for your dish, BRING A SERVING SPOON, NOT A SOUP SPOON! And please do not forget anything.

All food that is to be cooked should already be prepared, bring it hot and ready to serve, warm or room temp. These are your ONLY THREE options. Anything meant to be served cold should, of course, already be cold. HJB—Dinner wine The Mike Byron Family

1. Turnips in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. Please do not fill the casserole all the way up to the top, it gets too messy. I know this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but most of us hate turnips so don’t feel like you a have to feed an army.

 2. Two half gallons of ice cream, one must be VANILLA, I don’t care what the other one is. No store brands please. I did see an ad this morning for Hagan Daz Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, yum!! (no pressure here, though).

3. Toppings for the ice cream.

4. A case of bottled water, NOT gallons, any brand is ok.

The Bob Byron Family

1. Green beans or asparagus (not both) in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. If you are making the green beans, please prepare FOUR pounds, if you are making asparagus please prepare FIVE pounds. It is up to you how you wish to prepare them, no soupy sauces, no cheese (you know how Mike is), a light sprinkling of toasted nuts, or pancetta, or some EVOO would be a nice way to jazz them up.

2. A case of beer of your choice (I have Coors Light and Corona) or a bottle of clos du bois chardonnay (you will have to let me know which you will bring prior to 11/22).

The Lisa Byron Chesterford Family

1. Lisa as a married woman you are now required to contribute at the adult level. You can bring an hors d’ouvres. A few helpful hints/suggestions. Keep it very light, and non-filling, NO COCKTAIL SAUCE, no beans of any kind. I think your best bet would be a platter of fresh veggies and dip. Not a huge platter mind you (i.e., not the plastic platter from the supermarket).

The Michelle Bobble Family

1. Stuffing in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please make the stuffing sans meat. 2. 2.5-3 qts. of mashed squash in a casserole with a lid and serving spoon

3. Proscuitto pin wheel – please stick to the recipe, no need to bring a plate.

4. A pie knife The June Davis Family

1. 15 LBS of mashed potatoes in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please do not use the over-size blue serving dish you used last year. Because you are making such a large batch you can do one of two things: put half the mash in a regulation size casserole with lid and put the other half in a plastic container and we can just replenish with that or use two regulation size casserole dishes with lids. Only one serving spoon is needed.

2. A bottle of clos du bois chardonnay

The Amy Misto Family (why do I even bother she will never read this)

1. A pumpkin pie in a pie dish (please use my silver palate recipe) no knife needed.

2. An apple pie in a pie dish, you can use your own recipe, no knife needed.

Looking forward to the 28th!! Marney

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


Thanksgiving and IST Insanity

I know I fell down on my blogging duties during Thanksgiving/IST/UB visit so this one is going to cover a lot. Go to the bathroom now, because I’m sure you won’t want to take a break while reading about my awesome adventures…

Alona, Dao and I left for UB the day before Thanksgiving on the 10 a.m. bus to UB. First, let me explain how you buy a bus ticket.

  1. You are NOT allowed to buy your ticket the day before, only the day of your trip. This is a really kinda crappy inconvenience because you basically have to walk back and forth from your home to the bus station twice in one day instead of working it into your errands the day before.
  2. You are NOT allowed to pick your seat. Your seat number is determined by how many people bought their ticket before you that morning at 8 a.m. when the ticket office opened.

Now that you know the basics of buying the ticket, the bus part should be easy, right? Well, not really. If you have a large item (backpack, suitcase, dead sheep, shipment of ger cover, etc.—I’ve observed all of these in the luggage compartment) this has to be stowed in a locked compartment under the bus. Until they run out of room, and with a dead sheep in there, that will be soon so you kinda need to get to the bus early to make sure dead sheep guy doesn’t take up all the room.

So, now your backpack is stored next to a dead sheep and you’re in your seat (hopefully by a friend) and the trip is about to begin. This is where it can get a little complicated. If you’re hot natured like me, you want to sit next to the window where you’ll keep your coat on the entire ride since the window has several millimeters of frost on it (on the inside). If you’re in the aisle seat, prepare to start stripping because an hour into the ride the heater will be fully cranked and it will feel like the seventh circle of hell.  When my friend came back to Erdenet with me last week, we had to switch places halfway through because he thought he was either going to strip down to his boxers or pass out from the heat.

Basically, what I’m saying is that you’ll need to dress strategically. Bus tutorial over.

So, Alona, Dao and I arrive in UB at 4 p.m. (6 hour ride from Erdenet.) Get our stuff and grab a cab to the Peace Corps office where we can drop our stuff while we meet our friends. Now, in UB you pay 500 tugruks per kilometer for a cab ride. We know this. We also know that many cab drivers will try to rip us off since we’re foreigners and shouldn’t know any better. So, you always want to look at the mileage on the car when you start out. And never store stuff in the trunk because there have been instances of holding possessions hostage for more money.

So, I meet my M20 friends in Granville Irish Pub (where they don’t serve Guinness beer and some of us think that the Irish Pub bit in the name should be removed). There’s a lot of hugging, eating and drinking for several hours while we all catch up on what’s been going on at our respective sites (see Facebook for pictures). The food, I have to say, is GLORIOUS! Salads that are real salads with real lettuce and spinach, it boggled the imagination.

My good friend Cameron (again, see Facebook if you want to put a face to the name) asked if I could do him a big favor that Saturday. See, I bought a red G-Mobile modem in Erdenet to use on my laptop in order to Skype my parents because it had the fastest speeds around. Unfortunately, several days after I bought it, they stopped shipping it from Korea or something (still have no idea). Well, the red modem is the ONLY modem in Mongolia that works with Mac computers. So, Cameron had been searching EVERYWHERE for a red one and when I told him I had one, he looked like he was going to cry. He asked me if we could switch (he would buy me one with an equal or greater speed if I would give him mine). I said “Sure” and off we went, with our old language teacher Oogii and Cassandra to what we thought would be a relatively simple transaction.

Wrong.

I don’t want to get into all of the details, because reliving it might make my head explode, but it turned into a 4 hour ordeal that made the Lord of the Rings quest look like a quick errand. Seriously. I thought I was going to see Frodo pop out behind a G-Mobile counter any minute. We did get the modems switched and now Cameron can talk to his family on Skype and I get to ask an equal sized favor of him in the future. A PC user saves a Mac user’s ass.

Next, Thanksgiving. We had to bring something to eat and I think next year I’ll just bring a big batch of deviled eggs because getting the stuff together for pasta salad was next to impossible on short notice. By this time, our M20 friends Brad and Aleta had joined the crew squatting at Molly’s apartment and, needless to say, it was crowded. Brad told us that he was ET-ing (Early Termination) because he still wasn’t feeling well after his Thailand hernia operation. We were all really sad about it, but we were determined to make him have as much fun as possible during his last days in Mongolia.

Unfortunately, after the longest cab ride in the history of the world, where the driver got lost and had to ask for directions from the car next to us, we arrived about 2 hours late to the PC Thanksgiving potluck. Oh, well. Fortunately, my friend Esayus made me a plate before all the food was gone so I did get to eat.

After celebrating Thanksgiving for approximately 2 days, we were off with our counterparts (co-workers who help us with things ranging from projects to figuring out how to work our showers) to our In Service Training. Well, we weren’t exactly off…we had to wait for a couple of hours at the PC office while they tracked down the bus that was supposed to be there at 8 in order to take us to the resort.

The resort was about 30 minutes outside UB and was in some great looking country. I mean, we never got to go outside during the day, so I’m saying it was great looking from my memory of arriving and leaving the resort…

So, we were there for 6 days with our CP’s working on planning projects, culture questions (why do Americans drink so much water? Why are Americans so obsessed with time?), language lessons and pretty good food. I’m not going to relive every detail of it here, but it was productive and at times, even fun. I also learned that I know fewer English grammar rules than most of the Mongolians there. I don’t know why something’s wrong, it just is.

Sooooo, we get back to UB and I just want to go home (Erdenet), sleep in my own bed, take a shower in my own bathroom and wash my clothes. It was weird feeling like I was homesick for my site—I guess I’m officially settled in now.

Now, this nowhere near covers all of the events or happenings during the last few weeks, so if you want to see some more coverage you can go to: 

http://markandkaraestep.blogspot.com

Mark is a fellow CED M20 and Kara is a CYD.

As always, Enjoy Your Amenities! Love, Katie

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


This blog is a doozy

The reason this posting is so long is because I’ve been without internet at the office all week so no work coming in and all other work finshed means Katie was bored. Enjoy!

Sometimes here, I feel like I’m working more on “one-person” projects rather than “community” projects. These “one-person” projects are exactly what they sound like: I help one person achieve a goal.

My first project is helping my good friend Bolortsetseg, or Bogie, get into graduate school. Bogie is the younger sister of my friend and Peace Corps trainer, Mola. Mola was like a big sister to me during PST and when she found out that I was going to be in Erdenet, she introduced me to Bogie. Bogie has turned out to be one of the best people I could have hoped to have met in Mongolia. She speaks great English, having gone to high school in Boulder, Colorado, and helps me and other PCV’s on our secondary projects. She graduated from college in China and wants to go to the Berkeley school of journalism in California. I have been helping her with her entrance paperwork and essays for the past 2 months because I know she will do well in this program.

We finished all of the paperwork and finalized all of the essays for her application last night at her home in the 11th district. She and her older sister live with her parents. Her father works as an engineer at the mining company in town. Apparently, she told her family about all of the help I had been giving her over the last two months, so they were excited to finally get to meet me. They were so nice to me and invited me to stay for dinner. It was WONDERFUL food and it felt really good to have not only a home cooked meal, but to get to talk to someone other than my co-workers and site mates (who are awesome, but you know what I mean).

During my visit, Bogie and I talked about a lot of different culture questions I had. I asked why I hadn’t seen a cemetery in my whole time here. She explained that Mongolians generally view cemeteries as dark and foreboding places which may bring bad luck. Once someone is buried here, families do not visit the gravesite. I told her that Americans generally don’t have that opinion and most cemeteries are well kept places with lots of visitors.

I also asked about the marriage and engagement customs here. During PST, our culture trainers taught us how the marriage ceremony usually goes and what our role as a friend might be. They didn’t tell us about the dating or engagement customs that are followed here.  Here, when a girl and boy want to get more serious in their relationship, the young man goes and visits with the girl’s family and asks if they can date. If the family says “yes”, then they get more serious with the relationship with the understanding that it will eventually lead to marriage.

When the couple wants to get married, the boy’s family (brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, not parents) go to the girl’s parents and asks if she can join their family. It is customary for the girl’s parents to refuse when first asked. The boy’s family must keep asking and persuade them that the girl will be happy and well taken care of. So, the girl’s parents eventually agree and a date for the wedding is set.

We also talked about the differences between Mongolian humor and American humor. Bogie said that she watched a few episodes of “The Office” but didn’t understand why it was supposed to be funny. Of course, since I love “The Office”, I tried to explain why it was funny, but eventually we just chalked it up to cultural differences. Both of us, however, love “Friends” and “Sex & The City” so the cultural divide isn’t too deep…

Bogie’s family invited me back to have huushuur with them next time and I’m already looking forward to it.

The past couple of days at the office, the internet has been down, so everyone is getting pretty restless. We’ve been working on projects that don’t require email and such, but that work is running out fast and people are getting restless. I’m making training seminars from materials that I have on my computer and English lesson plans, but I know I’m going to have a pile of Kiva applications to edit when we get back online, so that’s frustrating. Our fax machine has also been on the fritz lately and I can honestly say that I hate fax machines just as much in Mongolia as I do back in the states.

This past Sunday and Monday, I had my personal and work site visits by my Peace Corps regional supervisors, Zorigoo and Siilegmaa. During my personal site visit, Zorigoo and Siilegmaa came to my apartment and we talked about it and any personal concerns I was having and things like that. Seriously, I have a posh apartment with a shower, hot running water, steady electricity, a washing machine, a stove and oven, cable TV, a comfortable couch and a comfortable bed; so no complaints whatsoever there. During my work visit they talked to all of my co-workers, my supervisor and me in a big meeting and we talked about work concerns…there were none. Zorigoo said that it was the single easiest site visit she has ever done which made me feel good, but also left me wondering when my good luck is going to end (knock on wood it doesn’t).

There are some PCV’s who would HATE my living conditions. They want to be out in the middle of nowhere, making their own bread and noodles, sleeping in a ger, hauling water a mile from the town well with no site mates. Not me. If you’re reading this, I’m presuming that you know me and you know that I am not some “hard core” pioneer chick. Some PCV’s think that if you don’t “suffer” you’re not really making an impact—bullshit. We are all making a difference here and a PCV’s impact isn’t decided by how much wood they have to chop or how much camel they eat. It’s decided by your continued attitude and perseverance.

I was talking to my friend Toy-Un who is another PCV living in a soum (small village) outside Bulgan (an hour west of Erdenet). She mentioned that she was down to “9 months”. I asked her what she meant and she explained that she’s only got 9 months left in her service before she goes back to the states. I started thinking and realized that by Friday, November 13th, I will have been in Mongolia for 6 months! I seriously cannot believe it’s been that long. It really doesn’t feel like 6 whole months. Soon, I’ll be out of the “20’s” and into the “teens”.

I’m really looking forward to my parents coming to visit me next year, sometime in June, but everyone tells me that they should wait until after Nadaam (mid July). I really don’t want them to wait that long because I want them to meet my site mates, plus I miss them a LOT. I really can’t wait for them to come because I also want to introduce them to all of the people I have met here; my co-workers and site mates, Bogie’s family, my vegetable lady, other PCV’s , Peace Corps staff, etc.

Anyway, looking toward the immediate future, I’ll be in Ulaanbaatar from next Friday, Nov. 27th (leaving Thursday night on the train with Dao and Alona) until December 5th for Thanksgiving and In Service Training. I am VERY excited to see all of my M20 friends and do holiday stuff. I’ll take lots of pictures and I’m sure there will be a blog all about it.

In the meantime, enjoy your amenities!

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’


H1N1 and other news

Well, the last 2 weeks here have been dominated by the growing outbreak of H1N1, or Swine Flu. About 3 weeks ago, the official count of cases was 8, then a week later it was 150, and last week it topped approximately 700. All secondary schools in the country were closed last week and continue to be closed this week. Universities are still open, but according to my sitemate Alona, no one is allowed inside them without a facemask on.

My office is still open and I doubt we’ll close or anything like that unless one of us gets sick. Everyone here is wearing masks to keep from getting sick, but the Peace Corps nurse, Amy, told us that all the masks are doing is holding the virus up to your nose and mouth, making it easier to get sick. Therefore, I am not wearing the mask my co-workers gave me and none of the other PCV’s in my area are wearing theirs either. It’s not that we’re trying to be obstinate, it’s just that you don’t need masks with proper handwashing, not touching your face, covering your mouth and nose during sneezing or coughs, etc.

The PCV’s here are getting flu shots this month in Ulaanbaatar and the M20’s are probably getting another round of other shots as well. The M20’s are all coming to UB for 6 days for In Service Training (IST) where we also bring one counterpart (co-worker) with us. I talked with my supervisor on Friday about who I wanted to come with me and we will talk with my choice to see if she wants to join me. This will be my first time staying in UB overnight, since after I was sworn in, I was immediately brought to Erdenet. I’m excited to not only be able to explore the city more, but also to see all my friends again.

Halloween was on Saturday and since it’s not really celebrated in this country, there wasn’t a lot to distinguish it from any other Saturday. Alona, Dao and I went shopping and my goal for the day was to buy a warm hat that covered my ears. I found 2 hats and have been wearing one of them ever since. Unfortunately, since my ears are now warm, the numbness has moved to my nose and mouth. The solution is to cover your entire face (except your eyes) with a warm scarf (see attached picture). The temps today are supposed to be from a low of -19C (-2F) to a high of -11C (+12F). It’s not too bad since it’s not snowing, not windy and the sun is out, but it’s still definitely cold.

We were shopping in the black market Saturday and I found some HUGE fox fur hats. They were super expensive, but they looked exactly like the big fur hat George wore on Seinfeld which makes me want one even more. To compensate myself, I bought a fake fur hat that I will begin sporting shortly. That one makes me look like an extra from the movie “Fargo”, earflaps and all. I’m definitely against fur in the states–I don’t think it’s necessary since we have access to good coats that use other high-tech materials. Here, however, fur keeps you warm and it’s more necessary since we don’t get good quality clothing imported in.

I will be spending Thanksgiving in UB with my M20 friends since it falls during IST. I’m so happy about that I don’t even know how to explain it. I have to think of a side dish or desert to make….any ideas?

Well, that’s all for now! I miss all of you! Enjoy your amenities!

‘The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.’