So I've arrived in Ulaanbator!! Haven't done very much yet, spent a day walking around the city which was ... interesting. It is definitely a developing country, the roads have more potholes than bitumen, the footpaths are mainly dirt with the odd crumbling paver and from what I can gather there are no traffic rules!! Azaa, my Projects Abroad supervisor, warned me that drivers are perfectly happy to run over any pedestrian that gets in their way!! However there are some really nice things, at night the city is lit up with lots of lights and decorations and there are numerous statues and monuments throughout the city that are really well kept. It's been quite nice weather, about 20 degrees every day, though it feels warmer than 20 degrees does back home. Humidity of around 50%, not sure if that is the reason??
I am living with a Mongolian lady named Odnoo who teaches Mongolian at a language school. There is also another volunteer named Annette living with us who is from Sweden. She has already been here for three months and is staying for one more month on a project teaching English in an orphanage. They are both really nice and luckily Odnoo is a great cook as her sister who is a chef has taught her how to cook. You'd love it Clair, lots of garlic!! However I didn't pick a very good time to arrive as in the area I am living once a year they turn off the hot water for a week for maintenance on the pipes. So no hot water for me until the weekend!! This morning I washed my hair under the tap and it was so cold that my head and hands were burning. Might have to boil a heap of kettles next time. Talking to the other volunteers today I seem to be the only one who has no hot water as they all live much closer to the city than I do. It is about a 30-40 minute walk from my place to the centre of the city which is where my placement is. Though I can get a bus easily enough.
I thought I might come back anorexic as I didn't think I wouldn't like any of the food, however so far it has all been delicious but really fatty and greasy so don't be surprised if I come home 50 kilos heavier!! For breakfast every morning we either have pancakes or eggs and sausages. The pancakes aren't like the nice light fluffy ones we have at home, they are thick and heavy and soooooooo filling. Delicious though!! Also the food here is so fatty and greasy, yesterday I had some Mongolian dumplings (which tasted fairly similar to dumplings I've had in Australia) and they tasted so good that I ate too much. When I finished the liquid from the dumplings had gone white and solidified on my plate, yum. Apparently they eat lots of fatty meats as they need all the sustenance they can get for the winters which are generally minus 20 degrees. At least all the walking I will be doing might counteract this, especially as there is a big hill on my way to the city. Food is cheap, 3,000 tugriks for a nice meal which is a bit over $2.50. Plus the volunteers told me today that vodka is really cheap!!
Today was my first day at my placement at the National Legislative Centre. At first I was rather apprehensive as to what I had signed up for as I was left waiting for nearly an hour before I was told what my project was. When I finally got to speak with the head of the Centre he was really nice and told me that I can pretty much do what I liked!! I was originally told that there would be a project already lined up when I arrived so I hadn't really thought about what I wanted to do. After talking with him we decided that I would analyse the differences between Mongolian and WA mining laws, particularly looking at environmental matters as currently Mongolian mines are just left as they are once they are finished and no effort is made to fix the environment. If I complete my research I can write an article on it which (if it is well written) will be published in the Mongolian Law Review in November which is pretty exciting. There are two other volunteers at the same place as me, an English guy and a French girl. Sam, the English guy, said that he has been told he has to make a four hour presentation about the work he is doing at the end of his placement, so glad I don't have to do that!! Tomorrow we are going to watch a court case which should be interesting, though we probably won't be able to understand any of it.
There are a suprising number of signs in English and a lot of Mongolians speak English. When I went into the internet cafe today there was a chart on the wall in Monoglian that listed the price for certain times. I wasn't entirely sure which side of the chart was the price and which side was the times so I pointed to one side of the chart and then pointed to my watch as I said "time?" and to my embarrassment the guy working there responded in perfect English.
Hopefully I'll have something more interesting to write soon rather than just the boring introductory stuff!! Plus I'll take some photos soon so you can see what it's like.
One of Odnoo's relatives invited us for lunch today. She lives in a ger on the outskirts of UB, with a stunningly beautiful view in stunningly beautiful surroundings. Of course living in a ger means living without some of the things we usually take for granted, such as running water. Water has to be fetched and brought uphill. Walking without any load at all was difficult enough, I can tell you ...
Every time I visit a ger I'm impressed by the way the people living there organise all their belongings to fit into only two or three pieces of furniture. And they cook delicious meals on just one hotplate. But very often these days people have (semi-automatic) washing machines, TVs and computers in their gers. It's just a compact way of living.
Sunday afternoon walk.
The ger we visited.
You can never guess what there is in the bottle - it's Mongolian wine!! I didn't even know it existed. It was a dry type of dessert wine, very tasty, and it went well with the dried berries (delicious!) you can see on the table. Unfortunately it didn't say on the bottle which fruit it was made from, and no one knew.
The red thermos contains milk tea. Also on the table there are small fried dumplings (and tomatoes and cookies). The main course was a soup with dried meat and rice.
There are not only gers in the ger districts but also houses such as these.
Here lives someone with a sense of beauty.
Water being brought uphill
Graffiti is as commonly seen here as it is in other countries, but graffiti depicting national historical heroes is perhaps a slightly more common phenomenon in Mongolia than elsewhere. I guess I don't have to tell you who this man is, the Man of the Millennium, as he is modestly called.
There is also a kind of graffiti of enormous proportions, visible all over UB, with two motifs: the Man of the Millennium and the Mongolian national symbol:
And finally: The other day when I was walking downtown with a Mongolian friend of mine, he was approached by two men who wanted to know if he was interested in buying an eagle. He wasn't.
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Workshop at the National Center Against violence in Mongolia the 23th of may 2011
We were really impressed by the workshop that Projects Abroad has organized with the National Center Against Violence, we couldn´t believe it was the first one !
The location for the workshop was really nice, as we were placed in a meeting room where we got served tea and crackers.
We found the presentation of the National Center Against Violence excellent. The speaker was good at explaining the work that has already been done in Mongolian and the work that still remains. At the same time we could follow the power point presentation, which the speaker promised to send us by mail, and got facts or statistics from it.
We were allowed to ask questions during the workshop which was a good way to start the debate about human rights and how this issue is managed in Mongolia.
We were very surprised by all the obstacles the Mongolian organizations have to face and particularly the fact that it takes a long time for the Mongolian government to accept an evolution of the law. The workshop gave us a realistic but small picture of how the Mongolian system is working.
We are definitely going to join the next workshop and we advise any volunteer to do the same!
Children's Day, 1 June, is a holiday in Mongolia. There are festivities everywhere, children singing, children dancing, children receiving presents, all TV channels showing programs with or about children.
At the orphanage we were partying already the day before.
You can hardly see the cakes because of their camouflage white color, but I can assure you they were BIG and properly decorated for the occasion.
And at Projects Abroad the festivities began not one but two days early! On Monday morning kids were invited to play games in an open area close to the office.
Here we are at the Black Market shopping toys, lollies and fruit juice for 120 kids.
Otgoo (whom you recognise from the contortionist video clip) is busy counting and checking all figures.
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