Archive for May, 2009

Spring, etc.

Spring has definitely sprung here in Khuvsgul—you’ll see by the photos that we now have leafed out trees and little flowers growing here and there—what I’d call alpine flowers. The Siberian iris grow everywhere in town—not the tall ones we’re familiar with but short, stubby clumps of flowers. The fuzzy purple one in the photo I saw up by Khuvsgul Lake a couple of weeks ago. Do you know what it is? The photo of the ger and some trees was taken near where I work. Sunday is the election for President of Mongolia and the ger is election headquarters for one of the candidates. It’s right near the government offices where I work and all day big speakers broadcast election rhetoric and play music. At the moment, looks as if it could go either way.

Yep, I was back at Lake Khuvsgul for a quick overnight. The reason is that two women from Mongolia’s National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) came to Muron to give some seminars. Two of the seminars were about a program that the German Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring: providing loans for rural business development. It started 2 years ago and has expanded this year to include Muron. Three or four small businesses here will receive loans of about $3000 to start or expand their businesses. Our office had been accepting applications for a week or so prior to their visit. I am hopeful that some of those who don’t get chosen might be able to get a loan through kiva.com, a microfinance website—check it out online. Kiva partners with Hac Bank in Mongolia to administer the loans and I have now met twice with people in the bank who seem interested. I’ll also be teaching the bank tellers some English and they’re interested in our Eco Club as well. Perhaps they’ll sponsor some of our activities!

 Back to the MNCCI women–they had never seen Lake Khuvsgul so they planned to go up after giving a morning workshop on organic products and come back the next day. Seemed like a really short trip for such a long drive (around 4 hours at least) and I wasn’t too interested in going, but thought it was a good opportunity to build the relationship, so said yes, I’d go too. We were supposed to leave at 2, but I got picked up about 3:30 and then we had to stop at the zaak for food (we’d be cooking our own food) and then we had to have “lunch” so we didn’t get away until around 5. There were now 11 of us including Sara (my boss), a couple of co-workers, the MNCII people, and the drivers and a few others. This this the countryside was a lot more interesting. Along the way we saw many herds of sheep, goats, yaks and horses. First they look like little black dots on the hillsides and as you draw closer you see they are animals feeding on the new grass beginning to grow. Sometimes flocks of animals crossed the road in front of us and there was a lot of horn honking–vehicles here think they always have the right of way.  We also sang a lot of Mongolian songs—or at least they did and I tried to follow along. I do know one Mongolian song about a horse. Reminded me of the singing we did on road trips with my family when I was growing up. Fortunately, the sun is setting around 9 now and we were able to reach our destination before dark.

Seven of us stayed in a little house on the water (how we all fit, I don’t know). And the 4 men stayed in a nearby ger. I had a narrow bed in a tiny bedroom barely bigger than the bed and 2 of my co-workers slept on the floor beside me and one of them is 8 months pregnant! In any case, it was nice to see the ice is receding—melting some around the edges now. The larches on the hills around the lake are still brown and should get their leaves in about 3 weeks, I’m told. The next morning, we took a little walk up the lake, prepared an early lunch from the leftovers from the night before, and then packed up for the drive back. The MNCCI women had to catch a 4:10 plane. Just as we were getting ready to leave we discovered the micro-bus (they call them mikers, pronounced meekers) had a flat left front tire. Fortunately we had a spare and the tire was changed. About halfway to Muron we had another flat tire out in the middle of nowhere. In the distance was a jeep and not far from that a ger. The two men with us began to hike towards the jeep and then someone in the jeep saw them and drove toward them. Then the jeep drove away and the men returned to our miker. They got in and we drove a good ways across the fields—on the flat tire–to the ger. Apparently the men had been told someone had a pump. At the first ger, we stopped and after talking with a herder there, he hopped on his horse and galloped off to the next ger and then another one in the distance.

While we waited, we enjoyed making friends with a little group of lamb and goat orphans that stay close to the ger. Some were very friendly! The photo of the ger shows the solar panel that probably runs the tv and electric light and the herder’s motorcycle. When the herder came back, he had a hand pump. The men pumped and pumped and pumped (I think the pump itself was leaky) and finally got the tire firm enough to put on the miker and we took off again, getting back to Muron just in time for the women to catch their plane. Whew!

Other photos: One of the friends I’ve made is in the Inspection Department for the aimag. She is also a trained chef and runs some cooking classes with two other women. She invited me to come and see it—it was their last day and they were being tested on their cooking prowess. The picture of them shows them preparing a salad: a carrot, a cucumber, a tomato and a piece of “hyam” or Mongolian sausage. See how tiny the slivers of carrots are? I’d never make a very good Mongolian chef. There’s also a picture of the most creative salad looking like some sort of dragonfly!

You’ll also see a picture of tomato seedlings in our greenhouse. It’s still too chilly to put them outside, but it won’t be long now. Potatoes were planted last week in the fields and the cabbage seedlings are getting big and ready to go. I have planted a little garden with marigolds, lettuce, and basil—so far only the lettuce is showing signs of life and maybe some marigolds. I replanted some this morning. I think a big issue is getting them enough water—the sandy soil dries out so quickly and rain is nearly non-existent. And knowing that Bold has to bring my water from the well makes me very conscious of conserving every drop.

This morning they slaughtered a goat (I only saw it after the fact–I need to give something to Tsermaa later and she offered me some bits of liver and fat she grilled right there on a fork over the fire in the stove.  It was delicious!  Wish I could buy some liver here–but you have to take the whole animal!

Bold and Tsermaa are also raising lots of baby chickens.  Around two dozen already becoming adolescents and 6 more broody hens on 6 nests in boxes in the little anteroom of their side of the house.  A little noisy–and smelly, but the flock will get bigger and the eggs more numerous and then there’s all that great chicken material for compost!

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May 23, 2009 at 8:05 am Leave a comment

Healthy environment, peaceful life

Last Friday (May 1) was a great day—check out the photos below.  It was the official opening of our Eco Club— dignitaries giving speeches and tv cameras filming the event, our own logo on a flag waving in the breeze, drums beating, and everyone in Muron collecting trash.
For me, it all started long ago.  When my son Clayton was three, we were walking to nursery school one day when a man approached from the other direction.  Clayton smiled up at him brightly and announced with pride in his voice, “We’re picking up trash!”  I’m not sure what the man thought, but in those days I always carried a bag with me on walks and we picked up the odd bits of flotsam and jetsam along the way.  I’m still at it.
When I first arrived here in Muron, I was sorry to see so much litter along the streets and very few places to dispose of it.  I found out that there were clean up days sponsored by the city government, but they didn’t seem to make much of an impact.  Not long after I arrived, I was invited to a gathering of people involved in local tourism who were discussing how to get more tourists to stay a little longer in Muron before they headed off to Lake Khovsgol, the Khovsgul Province’s main tourist attraction.  A ger camp owner sitting next to me spoke English and quietly translated the gist of what was being discussed.  Finally, I gathered up my courage and said (with the help of translator) there was one thing they could do that needn’t cost a lot of money and would give a more favorable impression of Muron.  My suggestion was simply to clean up the trash along the streets, improving the health as well as the appearance of the community.  As far as I could tell though, my suggestion seemed to go unheeded.
Over the past months, I became more aware of many environmental issues that face this country, like water, land, and air pollution, deforestation, global warming and desertification.  Compared to more developed nations, Mongolia’s carbon footprint is pretty modest, but we all know that no matter where we are we are each responsible for doing what we can to restore our world to a healthier state.  And we also know how important it is to reach the children.  It occurred to me perhaps I could start some sort of environmental club in the schools, perhaps coming up with some projects that would raise young people’s awareness of environmental issues in their own community and the world and show them they could have an impact right here.  I talked about the idea with some Mongolian friends and the other two Peace Corps Volunteers in my community.  People seemed interested, so much so we decided to start both an adult and a student group.
We learned that Muron’s Department of Sanitation and Beautification Department were planning a number of environmental projects, including making and installing trash bins along the main street but that tight budgets were threatening the projects.  Our adult group met weekly talking about how we could work together to make this project happen.  We visited several schools and talked about the Eco Club—a number of kids signed up.  We ran a contest offering prizes for the best anti-litter poster and received some great entries.  A talented graphic artist here designed a great logo for us.  Several others came up with a slogan for the club.  With contributions from World Vision and others, we got the first wave of the trash bins constructed. We planned an opening day for the club where we would meet at the town square, have some opening ceremonies (Mongolians like lots of fanfare) and then go to the river along the edge of Muron to collect trash along its banks.
We had planned for this event to take place on Saturday May 2. Then the week before we learned that Muron was also planning a clean-up event similar to ours on May 1st.  Was it a coincidence?  I’m not so sure.  But the upshot was we combined the two events and clean-up day was kicked off last Friday at the town square.  Both Muron’s governor (Mayor) and Khovsgul Aimag’s governor gave speeches and then I got to give a speech about the Eco Club.  We awarded prizes for the best posters.  And one of our members led the crowd in our new slogan: “Healthy environment, peaceful life” (sounds more catchy in Mongolian!). The new Eco Club members were all there wearing the green neckscarves World Vision had made for us and waving our flag made with our new logo on it. One group of students made green flags to carry and someone brought along five snare drums to provide some fanfare.  Local TV stations covered the event.  After the ceremony, we all trooped off to the river and had a great time collecting bagsful of trash. The mayor and governor even came by and thanked us for what we were doing.  After they left, we played some games, had a snack, handed out prizes, and then marched down Muron’s main street waving flags and beating our drums.  At the end of it, we gathered by a monument and sang some songs and cheered some cheers before we dispersed.
As you can imagine, I am thrilled by how it has turned out.  Many people working together on a worthwhile activity and having such a good time doing so.  We have a lot of ideas for future projects and I hope we can keep up the momentum.  One thing we hope to do is find some environmental clubs in the U.S. that we can exchange ideas with about what we are each doing to help the environment—and foster some inter-cultural exchanges at the same time.  If you know of any such groups, feel free to put them in touch with me.

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May 6, 2009 at 10:31 am Leave a comment


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