Monday, June 23, 2008

A Heart Full of Love

Nathan Here.

I just found out that my dad had open heart surgery on Friday, but that he is recovering well and in typical great spirits. He voted not to tell me, but my brothers and mother out-voted him, so I got an email from my mom with all the latest that was the latest, then much appreciated updates from middle brother Kevin. Leslie got to the internet cafe before I did, so I didn't get too blind-sided by it.

He went in for a routine physical, the first since he was forced to before we went to scouting's Mecca, Philmont a mere 15 years ago. They ran all the tests and found a couple blockages in the back of his heart, so Friday they cracked him open through his chest, took some arteries from his leg and patched him. We're all looking for a great recovery. Glad he took a great first step in quitting smoking this year. Score two points for my dad. Glad he dodged a big bullet.

It's been a brutal week for hearts from what I hear too, what with George Carlin AND Tim Russert biting it and both from heart-related disasters. I am so glad that I can't count my dad among that unfortunate group of gentlemen.

It was also a brutal weekend for my outhouse. I was in it a lot ridding myself of some food poisoning. All better now... for now.

And if you've sent us anything, none of us has gotten any yet. Sorry. I guess no one has come up from the capital city yet with it. Apparently, we may not actually get it for another week. I hope that's not the case and I hope what you sent made it.

Looking forward to talking to my brother Kevin my tonight/his morning.


Day By Day

We thought you might enjoy knowing a typical day for a Peace Corps Trainee. The following is an amalgamation of both of our schedules.

4:45-5:00am – Wake up due to sun peaking through the windows.

5:00am – Fall asleep again.

7:15am – Wake up for real.

7:20am – Put on shoes for quick trip to the outhouse before breakfast.

*7:30am – Nathan’s Mongolian Mom says “Caixan amarcan yy? Xool edej!” breakfast of 2 hard boiled eggs, sourdough bread, and Akbar tea.

*7:30am – Leslie gets ready for class.

*8:15am – Leslie’s Mongolian Mom says “Leslie, XOOL!” and she goes to the main house for breakfast of 1 fried egg white, bread with jam, and tea.

8:30am – Leslie picks up Evan (other PCT) at his house across the street to walk to school together.

8:35am – Nathan leaves to pick up Patrick to walk to school together.

9:00am – 11:30am – Mongolian Language classes. Sometimes cut in half by Cross Cultural training.

*11:30am-Noon – Local children in Leslie’s village show up to play Frisbee, football, or hacky sack with them during break. They are getting really good at Frisbee!

*11:30am-Noon – Nathan’s group hangs out on the front steps of the school.

Noon – 1:00pm – Second half of language class.

1:00pm-2:30pm – Walk home from school for lunch. Nathan usually has soup or rice and meat both with bread. Leslie’s meal usually varies, but it always awesome! Her Mom is a great cook!

*2:30 pm-5:30ish – Technical training. Nathan’s Economic Development group usually travels to local NGOs to learn about different programs and projects Mongolian’s use to build economic capacity and quality of life. For example, last week they visited the Chamber of Commerce, local bread factory, and the outdoor market. This providence is particularly known for its sourdough bread, smoked fish, and honey.

*2:30pm-5:30ish – Technical training. Leslie’s Youth Development group doesn’t travel as much because the Economic Development and Health volunteers travel every day (and use the Peace Corps transportation). Their main resource is children, so sometimes it is just a matter of walking out the door. They did spend one day at a local children center that provides several classes and groups for after school programs. They also present ideas for life skills classes and programs for the community.

5:30pm – Walk home for dinner.

6:00pm – Dinner with our Mongolian Moms (and Nathan’s little sister). Nathan’s is usually meat, noodles, and potatoes. Sometimes dinner is fried or steamed dumplings and bread. This week he had some tomatoes, but normally there aren’t vegetables. Leslie’s dinner has varied. While her 22 year old sister was in town, she made Leslie some great meals including an antipasto salad with a fruit salad with yogurt for dessert. Leslie is spoiled!

*6:30-bedtime – Nathan studies in his room or occasionally plays Barbies with his little sister. Nathan spent three days this week doing a medium-sized load of laundry by hand. He also bathes every couple of days in the same traditional Mongolian shallow basin. Leslie’s family has a solar shower. Leslie is spoiled.

*6:30-bedtime – Leslie studies in her room, is visited by friends or goes out to visit them, hangs out with her sister when she is in town, plays ankle bones (traditional Mongolian game using actual ankle bones), plays with local children, and studies some more. Leslie’s village is significantly more social than Nathan’s village. Leslie spent 45 minutes this week doing ALL her laundry with the help of her Mongolian mother and the mechanical agitator. Leslie is spoiled.

*9:30pm – Nathan’s Mongolian Mom serves him yogurt, sometimes with fruit/jelly in it.

10:00pm-11:00pm – Usually lights out. Nathan reads himself to sleep while the sun is still up/uses his crank flashlight. Leslie studies and listens to music to fall asleep.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Things we're glad we brought/Wish we brought

Things we’re glad we brought:
1. Leslie’s guitar – gained easy points with local youth.
2. Sunglasses – there’s a lot of sun here.
3. Extra water bottle – there’s a lot of hot here.
4. Funny shirts – gained easy points with Peace Corps volunteers.
5. Pants – there’s also cold here.
6. A backpack – rolling luggage on unpaved roads is a bit ridiculous.
7. Hiking boots – some good hiking here. Boots make it pain free and fun!
8. Black dress boots – Leslie can go “business casual” and there’s no toe dust.
9. Sandals – Thanks, Kathi! Our host mothers make us wear them at all times in the house.
10. A good sense of humor – there’s a lot of go with the flow, make it up as you go. You can’t take yourself too seriously when you have to mime everything.

Things we’re glad sister-in-law Kendall gave us:
1. Crank flashlight – pwr went off first day (and easy pts with local youth). Nathan uses every night for outhouse finding.
2. Carabineers – perfect for clipping water bottles, mosquito nets and pillows to pack.
3. Travel pillows – easily clipped with carabineers, good for sleeping in Mongolia.
4. Water bottles – also easily clipped and good for carrying water. Did we mention the amount of constant, hot, arid sun?
5. Indoor/outdoor thermometer – good for telling the temp in Fahrenheit. Math is hard and I don’t know what 35 feels like. Usually that’s pretty cold and I need a coat. Not here.
6. Colored duct tape – because it looks good holding my stuff together.
7. Frisbee – PC folks loves them some hacky sack and Frisbee. Dirty hippies.

Things we wish we brought:
1. More effing socks – Leslie’s socks are nasty. Even Michael Ray wouldn’t wear them.
2. Shorts – “business casual” is inappropriate for volleyball with the neighborhood kids.
3. A basketball – lots of hoops here, even some with rims, but hardly a basketball to bounce in Nathan’s neighborhood.
4. A hat – lots of sun.
5. Fiber pills and multivitamins – after a week of meat, white bread and potatoes with a side of meat and potatoes, the outhouse is the last place you want to hang out.
6. More note cards – Leslie makes a flashcard for everything. Even though we cut the ones we had in half, they really go quickly when you’re obsessive about learning every one of the 400 words your host family constantly points out. Every day is a pop quiz when your host mom is a teacher.
7. A sim card cell phone – Peace Corp won’t pay for them, but you can buy sim cards that pop right into some US phones. No charge for calls into a cell phone here.
8. A hand held recorder for language classes – it’s hard to remember what the two “y”s, the two “o”s, and the two “e”s sounds like, not to mention the diphthongs. Am I saying “hair” or am I saying “water?”

Week 2 - Boy Named "Sukh"; Oggie, Boggie, Leggie

Boy Named “Sukh”:
My host family gave me a Mongolian name in a late evening ceremony this week. My host dad wrote 4-5 names on little torn-off pieces of paper then rolled them into tiny scrolls. They put all of them into a little bowl, covered them with these couscous looking pellets, and then my host dad shook the dish back and forth quickly. When the first name popped up out of the pellets, he unrolled it to reveal “Cyx” (Sukh = ax).

Men’s names in Mongolian typically represent strong qualities or tough things like ax or stone and interestingly enough, I’m named after a great Mongolian hero, Sukhbataar (Ax hero) for whom our host city is named. Women’s names typically represent flowers or ideas like peace, love, or sunshine.

So far, I couldn’t be happier with my host family. The food has been good, and the company has been awkward but warm as we navigate our language barrier. I have my own room, as all trainees do, with a lock, a bed and a desk. The desk is a little short for me, so it must look a little funny, but I spend a lot of time there studying. We have an assortment of cows and calves, a garden and the outhouse is clean. What more can you ask for, really?

Leslie and I are sharing the weekend at her host family’s house, which isn’t too far away. Week one down. We’re off to a great start!

Oggie, Boggie, Leggy
The Peace Corps did everything possible to place all the CYD (Community Youth Development) volunteers with families with children. Imagine my surprise when I found out all of my дуу (doo = younger siblings) lived in a city hours away. On Thursday миний дуу (my younger sibling/sister) came home and brought her best friend with her. To make it easy for me, the 22 year olds introduced themselves with their nicknames; my sister Boggie and her friend Oggie (like Lisa Auge). Soon after, my host mother dubbed us Oggie, Boggie, and Leggy.

I’ve had a great time with them learning traditional Mongolian games and staying up late learning Mongolian using silly voices. Oggie thinks English vowels sound like people talking while holding their noses. I told her Mongolian has too many vowels anyway, so we called it even!

My family is amazing! I live in the family’s summer home and have quite a bit of room. My mother is a math teacher and always ready to teach me the next thing, since she doesn’t know any English. She even gave me a notebook to bring to every meal so she can teach me something new three times a day. She is also silly, fun, and charming and I’m so grateful being placed with her! She definitely my speed!

My classes are great and I am thankful for my hysterical and supportive classmates. I couldn’t imagine that I would become so close to so many people so quickly! Life is эх сайхан (very good)!

Editors Note: Pictures are still not loading well, even at low resolution. Hopefully we'll be able to find a way for you to see more of this beautiful country and our host families, but so far, no dice. Please keep reading an commenting. We appreciate knowing that someone other than our country director, Jim, might be reading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

First Week in Mongolia


We’ve arrived in Mongolia and have already had some remarkable experiences.

Our first night after over 16 hours of flying, we arrived in Ulan Bator (UB as they say here) and spent the night in a very posh ger (Like Gary without the “y”). We were quickly informed by the current volunteers who ceremoniously met us at the airport that we shouldn’t get used to the cement floors, connected bathrooms with running water, fruits or electricity complete with chandelier. It had four beds for us and another married couple, Darren and Laura from Colorado. Like the other married couple, Ben and Faye from Alaska, we’ve enjoyed getting to know the other “marrieds” and have been automatically bonded by our unique situations among the 64 volunteers.

In fact, last night, the married couples from the current volunteers (we’re still considered trainees until we swearing in in August) treated us to a spaghetti dinner at one of their apartments. Like almost all the buildings here, it’s a big Soviet, communist apartment building lacking aesthetics. The inside and the hospitality were nice.

Since that first day in the ger, we’ve been in a hotel, three hours north of UB learning more about the culture, some “survival” Mongolian and introducing us to our jobs. The hotel is a little different than we’re used to in the states in that the beds are much, much harder than we prefer, there’s no hot water right now and the doors only lock and unlock with a key from either side, but there’s a balcony and the walk to class is about ten minutes.

One thing we’ve noted right off is that the temperatures in Mongolia are much higher than advertised during the day, though the swing into evening is pretty severe as promised. It doesn’t get dark until about 10:00, though the sun is up bright and early at 4:30.

The first day of orientation we were treated to a ceremony put on by local students including dance, contortion, singing, more dancing and more singing. All were impressive, all were endearing, and all be learning as much of them as possible in the coming months. Leslie is especially pumped to learn the traditional two-stringed instrument we’ve yet to put a name to.

This weekend we ship off to our separate host families for some intensive language and culture training. We’re eagerly looking forward to some awkward meals, playing with our host siblings and bonding with our hosts.

Until next weekend…

P.S. We have a ton of photos and some videos we'd love to share on here, but the upload speed is too slow where we are right now. We'll see what we can do going forward.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Final Countdown

It's been a long week of goodbyes, bon voyages, farewells, and see-you-laters, but we've come to the final countdown in San Francisco. We fly out tomorrow morning!

In the mean time, we had a blow-out fun time in Cleveland complete with baseball game, feasts galore, a private boat tour on lake Erie, a ride in the rocket car, etc. in what oldest brother Ryan brilliantly orchestrated (and named) "From Cleveland to Mongolia Chamberlain Staycation Birthday Blowout!" A big thanks to the Rudo
lph crew for getting up early and joining us for the fun stuff and the somewhat underwhelming but informative adventure to the Natural History Museum photo exhibit, From Cleveland to Mongolia. And a special thanks to the Gruttadauria's for their help in planning and to Larry for banking what amounts to a couple year's salary for us in Mongolia. It was a blast seeing all of you and it was a very special send-off.

Memorial Day, we roasted weenies and 'smores with the Kings and Crams in Delroy, OH, then stopped off for some Luggie Loving in Columbiana, OH, then had an impromptu overnighter Tuesday with the Mehls in Boardman, OH, just up the road. We knew they all generally lived in the same area and loosely envisioned seeing all of them, but it worked out better than we could have ever planned. Thanks to all who fed us, allowed us to bathe, and who hugged us with enthusiasm. We're still holding on to two of those. Especially thanks to the Shaffers for making this trip possible by allowing us to drive their brand new Prius, and thanks to them for their above-and-beyond hospitality, love, and constant selfless giving.

Speaking of which, we both put on a little weight the last month, so we had to make an emergency run for some roomier clothes to accommodate for the extra American "culture" we're hoping to leave in Mongolia. From what we've learned, it shouldn't be tough to do, what with all the walking, stomach ailments and repetitive culinary specialties we can expect in our immediate futures.

Training was a blast (though elementary and repetitive), but we've already met some great people we can't wait to know better. Our buddy who lives in Monterey is coming up tonight for one final send-off. On the agenda is pizza, beer and repacking. Not necessarily in that order. We're under the 100lb weight limit, but one of us has too many bags according to PC regulations.

We'll be off the grid for a while during pre-service training (PST), but our goal is to get something out once a week, probably on a Saturday or Sunday, so stay tuned each weekend for the next 10 weeks unless otherwise noted.

We miss you already.

Nathan (and Leslie)

P.S. I think the address came out weird in the email we sent to everyone. For the first three months, it will be:
Trainee’s Name, PCT
Энх Тайвны Корпус
хайрцаг 1036
Улаанбаатар 13
Монгол улс
P.P.S. Thanks, Carmella, for the coffee and the two dollars. It looks like we'll be able to spend it a couple times during training.

Georgi: Nathan's feet are 12.5" and Leslie's are 9.5".