Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The latest from UB

Today marks three weeks since I have been in Mongolia. It's hard to believe. I have come down with a bit of a cold, which is annoying, but otherwise, I am doing well and I think acclimating to life here without too many problems.

This past weekend I went to a ger (felt yurt) camp in the countryside. I went with Bridget, who is a peace corps volunteer and also a volunteer with the Alliance for International Women's Rights (known as "the Alliance"), the organization through which I am volunteering. I met her the third day I was here and she's been a great help in showing me bits of UB and being a generally friendly contact for me here. Her friend Jonathan came in from Boston for vacation and so she organized the trip and invited me along. It was great to get out of UB. Even being there 2 1/2 weeks had worn me out...just going from place to place crossing in the middle of crazy traffic is exhausting. But in the countryside, the land is vast. Beautiful blue sky, green hills, rivers, horses, sheep, shephards...all the stuff you expect of Mongolia. Sleeping in a ger was fun. Interacting with the Mongolians who were staying there and also who worked there was...legendary.

The weekend alone deserves a very lengthy and well-crafted vignette, which I wish I could have the energy to write. But, let's just say this: I was sung a belated happy birthday Bridget, Jonathan, and five Mongolians (Bridget's friend who joined us and the four camp staff) in Mongolian; I sang the last two verses of a Lord Loves A Working Man song (Good Time) when it was my turn to sing (we all took turns singing a song and people joined in if they could); and I waded half-way across the river up to my waist, until the current got too fast and I got a bit concerned I'd fall over, to get a closer shot of five horses hanging out by the bank of the opposite side. (Damn me for not bringing my zoom lens that weekend!) And if you want any further details you'll have to wait and ask me next time you see me, I think.

In other news: yesterday I was shopping at the local supermarket (or hypermarket as it is called) and I found a French press! Suh-weet. I tried to see if the shop stocked real coffee, which I doubted, but thought I would ask. What ensued was just a lot of confusion when I tried to ask a couple of the employees who spoke and understood some English. Nah, nothin' but instant at that shop. But, I finally found some real coffee at a German cafe on my way to the Internet cafe I am now typing away from.

Otherwise...my volunteer project is going slowly, but okay. The organization where I am volunteering is called Liberal Women's Brainpool or LEOS. Founded in 1992, LEOS is the first women's NGO in Mongolia. The NGO's mission is to "contribute to the sustainable development of the country where women's knowledge and skills are fully and equally used in the formation of the efficient political, social, and economic structure." My project is to help them rebuild their Web site. (When that is done I will post the link and you can learn a lot more about their history, activities, etc.)

When I arrived, LEOS was (and still is) in the midst of organizing a big event that will take place this coming weekend. The event is called Community Development Nadaam, and it is funded by the United Nations Development Program and somehow the Royal Crown Prince of the Netherlands is involved and he will be here at the opening ceremony on Friday. The CD Nadaam is designed to "celebrate community-based initiatives, innovations, and solutions to address existing challenges and problems" and focuses around themes of basic social services, natural resources management, income diversification and sustainable livlihoods, local appropriate technologies, and development of organization, structure and management of Community Based Organizations. Representatives from communities all over the country will participate. I get to attend and take photos, so that should be really cool. I don't really have more than a vague idea of what it will really be like, so after I attend maybe I can report back. In the very least I should have hundreds of photos to share!

So, after this weekend, I understand that things in the office will calm down a bit and I should be able to make more progress with the site. I was able to come up with a draft site architecture based on the materials in English that they gave me, and I reviewed that with Oyuka, who will be my main contact/partner for work on the site. Based on that, I started coming up with the technical development of the site structure, along with a bit of design, which can easily be modified. From what I understand, we need to start from scratch pretty much, so I think there is a lot of work to be done in the content development area. Lordy. I hope I can finish it before I leave! Because of the event, not only has the office been busy and unable to give my project much attention, but there have been a lot of extra people there, and getting a computer to use was difficult at first. Now there is a new laptop I can use, but it isn't hooked up to the Internet, so getting online at the office is currently a bit of a challenge.

In addition to my work with LEOS, I have been assisting another Alliance volunteer, Nikita, who arrived in UB about a week after I did. She is a grad student and former Peace Corps volunteer (in Mongolia) who is also in the country for the summer on a granted project from Asia Foundation related to human trafficking. The project we have been doing for the Alliance has been to go to the six partner organizations (primarily women NGOs) here in Mongolia (including LEOS) and interview them to understand more about their organization and how the Alliance can better serve them with in-country and armchair volunteers. The women we have met with are phenomenal. The work they are doing is inspiring. I was particularly impressed and touched by the projects in action by the National Center Against Violence (NCAV). It turns out that NCAV is rebuilding their Web site and has requested an Alliance armchair volunteer to edit the translation of the Mongolian text for the site. A volunteer has already been assigned, but since I offered to help and I am here in UB, I will be supervising that volunteer. That should be a good side project for me to do.

Even though my own project has been delayed, I have been enjoying being in the office. The women at LEOS are incredible. Though very busy, they are still very nice and helpful. One woman who is the sister of a full-time staff member is working temporarily helping out with the CD Nadaam. She is a French translator and so she and I have been communicating in French and I am having a fun time with that.

I still feel lonely and somewhat isolated at times. Even with knowing a couple of other Americans here and meeting some friendly Mongolians here and there, it's hard for me to socialize much after work. Part of this is because I still haven't been able to sort out getting to my place via taxi when it's dark. Luckily it doesn't really get dark until around 10 pm, but still it's hard also because people have lives and are busy...so I am continuing to watch a good amount of television. Today I watched part of NBA Finals Game 3 (and was seriously disappointed at the outcome, btw!!!)

But, luckily UB isn't too large and I am getting the hang of how to get around pretty easily by foot. I have been going to a fantastic vegetarian cafe for lunch. The place, called Ananda Cafe and Meditation Center, also has yoga classes on Monday nights, and I attended my first class on Monday. It was really pretty basic, which was great for me since I'm such a yoga novice. What I love about the cafe is that each day they have a set menu and for less than $1.50 I can get what they call the "main meal," which changes slightly daily. It usually includes some kind of rice, potatoes, beans or soy meat, and vegetables. Damn tasty, healthy, and way cheap!!! I feel like no matter what happens when left to my own devices to cook for myself for dinner, at least I've had one meal that is healthy and filling. (By the way, it's not like I'm a total loser when it comes to cooking, but let's just say that the stores don't have as much of a variety of foods as I'm used to cooking at home.)

Phew! This has been a long post. I think I should end it for now and try to write a shorter, more focused entry next time.

P.S. I didn't get hot water for my birthday! Didn't come back on until the afternoon of the next day! But that shower I had after work that day was like a gift from the gods!


Duncan said...

Hey Scarlett, I wonder if that is the same ananda group that has a church in Palo Alto? Run by Swami Kriyananda? I also took a yoga retreat up in Grass Valley with that group...d

4:08 PM  
elvez said...

Hey! Great post. I hope the picture with the horses turned out. I would have figured life would be slow in mongolia, just a stereotype. Sounds like a good experience and an awesome organization. You get to see the Gobi yet? Keep the posts up! Oh and I'll try to responde to the en fuego email today. Sorry about that been moving...


8:35 AM  

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