Archive for June, 2009

Summer Solstice in Mongolia

Saturday, June 20 Summer solstice this last weekend—sun is setting around 10:30.  I have to remind myself that it’s time to eat supper while the sun is still high in the sky!
Just had the first local produce of the season!  At the zakh last weekend, I saw several women selling bunches of chives or wild onions (tops only) so I bought some for 500 tugruks (about 35 cents).  Friday I had made some barley soup with some turnips and onions and some black fungus that comes in a little box like a matchbox.  You put it in boiling water and it expands a lot—chopped it up and added it to the soup.   I had some left over so Sunday I also chopped up a lot of the onion tops and mixed them into the soup. Probably won’t make it into anybody’s cookbook, but it tasted good to me—fresh green crunch.

Preserving Cow

One other food note: Recently Bold and family slaughtered a cow.  They have a refrigerator but a small freezer in it so they have to find another way to preserve the meat. So the following day they set up some long poles (the kind they use in to hold up the roof of the gers) on some sawhorses about 4 feet off the ground and hung long strips of meat over them.  These were right outside my window and soon attracted flies and small birds to check them out.

Beef strips drying in the sun

Beef strips drying in the sun

Had to close my window.  Bold would take the poles of meat inside a shed at night and then out again in the morning.  I think it dried for about 3 or 4 days.  Then I heard pounding inside the shed and, when I looked in, Bold’s son and daughter-in-law were sitting on stools pounding the strip of meat with hammers, basically shredding it and then putting it into a big sack.  Now all that meat is preserved for future use. No need of a freezer to keep it in.

Friends from home

Herder man and wife on way to Hatgol

Herder man and wife on way to Hatgol

I mentioned in the last blog that friends from Marblehead were here last week.

Bob and Sudha outside our ger

Bob and Sudha outside our ger

They presented 2 days of ESL seminars to the English teachers in Muron and then we went north to see Lake Khuvsgol.  We stayed at a ger camp—there are a number around the lake, usually a wooden main building and then a number of gers.  Tourist season hadn’t quite opened but I had helped the owner with a brochure translation and she wanted to be accommodating, so she arranged to take the 3 of us to the camp. The sign on the beach in front of the camp says:  “Welcome to Eg-Tour Tourist Camp. You can feel comfortable and cleanly bland bland service.  Thank you. Protect a landscape.”

Welcome to EGTour (see blog)

Welcome to EGTour (see blog)

I’ve described the road to Hatgol before—and this time it was as rough as ever—and even worse for the camp is a ways beyond the town on the west side of the lake.  They are trying to improve the road there—which means they are basically carving some of it right out of the forest.  At some point, we drove off the road to the ger camp—winding our way through the trees and dry gullies, up and down steep hills and finally down to the camp.  We all stayed in the same ger with a little stove in it.  Rained the first night—a flap can be pulled over an opening at the top but we couldn’t close it completely because the stove pipe goes up through the top of the ger—so we had rain dripping on the little stove and the warm inside air easily escaped.  It was cold at night and the next morning a man at the camp came in before we were up and built a fire in the stove.  A ger warms up quickly because the ceiling is low and the space small.  Sudha, with firebuilding in her background, took up the task in the next two days, giving a little respite.

The camp is right on the edge of the lake and all you can see in every direction is the forest of larches (deciduous trees that look like evergreens) and mountains beyond.

Lake Khovsgul: mountain, lake, clouds

Lake Khovsgul: mountain, lake, clouds

Wildflowers are everywhere too—mostly little alpine ones—but I did see some forget-me-nots!  The ice had gone out of the lake a couple of weeks ago and you can see how crystal clear the water is.  We took walks up along the edge of the lake to the north on the first two days.

Yak grazing by the lake

Yak grazing by the lake

And on the third day become heading home, the owner’s son and brother took us south along the lake to where there is a spring feeding into the lake.

Wildflowers near lake

Wildflowers near lake

They claim it has special minerals in the water with lots of health-giving properties.  It did taste good.  The best part was just how peaceful it was—we saw a couple of little motorboats in the distance once, but mostly it was quiet, not a jet ski to be seen or heard.

Looking away from the lake at mountains

Looking away from the lake at mountains

Climate Change in Mongolia

On the way up and back, we enjoyed seeing the herders and their animals spread over a broad green valley between mountain ranges where you can see remnants of a snow storm from a couple of weeks ago.  As beautiful as it was, there are looming problems for the climate here.  I found an article recently on the web that was in Science Magazine last year:
CLIMATE CHANGE:
The Big Thaw Reaches Mongolia’s Pristine North
By John Bohannon
Science Magazine 1 February 2008, p. 567-568
LAKE HOVSGOL, MONGOLIA–As warmer temperatures affect plants, animals, and human society, researchers ask whether ecological changes can be reversed.
http://www.johnbohannon.org/journalism/articles.html
Click on (or copy) the link and then scroll down the list until you come to a picture of a yak—you can download a PDF. Very interesting.

Several other factors add to the problem: 1) Since the Russians left in 1991, many factories closed as the Russians who ran them went back to Russia.  Trade with Russia decreased and so the Mongolians returned to what they knew best: herding.  The number of herders has increased since then from some 134,000 in 1990 to 414,000 in 2000.  It’s putting a lot of pressure on the pasturage.  In addition, many herders started raising more cashmere goats because of the high prices for the hair.  Goats are not good for the pastures because they eat right down to the roots.  One of my Mongolian friends told me that around her parents’ ger there used to be a lot of medicinal plants and now that there are more goats, the plants have disappeared.  Out on the steppes, the grass is green—but short.  And now the price of cashmere was fallen this past year with the economic crisis.  The good news is that some herders may reduce the numbers of goats, but the bad news is that it will also reduce their income.

The longer I live here the more clearly I see the world’s challenges to solving the world’s problems.  How do you encourage growth and a better standard of living without damaging the environment or fostering  consumerism as a lifestyle?

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June 26, 2009 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Pics

This post is mostly photos because I haven’t had much time to write lately.  They record a few events–one is the day after the recent presidential election which seemed not so much a political victory rally as a community participation event.

Then the next week there was Children’s Day–a day that celebrates children (and mothers), again on the main town square with lots of cute children performing and participating in various ways.  Our Eco Club participated with one of our PCVs dressed as a birch tree.  We had hoped to do a few eco-related skits but those fell through, so our “tree” entertained the children with coin tricks (he’s very good) and made animals out of balloons.  We also helped World Vision with a nature-related quiz.

You’ll see several photos of children performing on the stage that adjoins the square.  Mongolian children learn all about performing early in their lives–the schools here in Muron have programs for parents with the children singing or reciting poems using hand-held microphones.  They can really belt it out–even at 4 years old. They show poise and confidence at a very early age. I think American children–and teachers–could learn from them.

I also attended a program at a local school for disabled children and their parents.  Once again, the children who could participated with poise for their friends and families.  World Vision helps these families and sponsored the program.  I got to hand out awards.

Last week I saw nature first-hand with my fourth trip to Lake Khuvsgol! And after saying that I would go again after my first trip because the roads are so bad!  But I’m glad I went.  The larches (deciduous evergreens) were now decked out in their soft, featherly needles and the herds of animals along the way were everywhere. And the weather was good.  The occasion for the trip was due to my friends, Bob and Sudha Newman’s visit here.  They are Marblehead friends who are spending a month here in Mongolia.  Bob is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (India) and has traveled to fomr 55 countries–mostly a little out of the way!  Generally he’s accompanied by his wife Sudha whom I met some years ago at the Marblehead public library where she worked.  They both have extensive experience teaching English as a second language so they offered to do seminars for local English teachers.  They gave 2 days of seminars and then we went off to the lake for 4 days.  I’ll tell you more about it and include some lovely pictures of

Disabled children event

Disabled children event

Senior citizens at election day celebration

Senior citizens at election day celebration

Respected Mongolian lady

Respected Mongolian ladyThese are some of my "Hi Judy" friends

Two chaarming medalists

Two chaarming medalists

Free ice cream from World Vision

Free ice cream from World Vision

Budding divas

Budding divas

Byron as a tree for Children's day

Wordl Vision staff on Children's Day

Wordl Vision staff on Children's Day

the lake in the next blog posting.

On a work-related note, I’ve been teaching English at a local bank for a couple of hours a week and am hoping to provide them with materials they could use on an ongoing basis when tourists come in asking questions.  And I have several other projects under way.

I hope to post more info and photos soon.

June 19, 2009 at 9:32 am Leave a comment

Thank you, Mr. President

This is not a political blog, and the following is not a political statement.  But after reading the transcript of Obama’s recent speech in Egypt, I can only say that the speech was one of the most compelling communications I have ever heard.  There are hardly words to describe it: articulate, forceful, compassionate, courageous, healing, specific, sensitive, strong, clear-headed.  I hear some felt it was too apologetic and weakened the country.  Make no mistake.  The voice of strength and commitment that came across even in the printed word was unmistakable. As I read it sitting here in Mongolia, literally halfway around the world from home, tears streaming down my face, I am proud to be an American with a leader of such stature and wisdom.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is a deep honor to be serving such a President.

June 6, 2009 at 9:29 am Leave a comment


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