Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The 2 Epochs: Pre-Mongolia and Post Mongolia
The main areas we think we’ll be most affected are in travel and living conditions. For example, we flew for a whole day from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow to London, and since it was in a plane with a bathroom and a helpful staff, it was like a dream in a seat compared to the long, dusty bus trips in Mongolia. We didn’t have a complaint in the world. Also, for two years we mostly lived in one room of a small apartment that lacked a shower and was prone to electrical fires. Now, houses with dining rooms and living rooms that go unused most of the time, or complaining that the hot water is all used up seems a bit ridiculous. We know we can live without a great deal of things we’ve taken for granted – not that we necessarily prefer to live in squalor, mind you.
It will be those comparisons that dominate our conversations with each other for a while as we adjust to each place we travel around Europe until Christmas 2010. Hopefully by then the shock of soap in the restrooms, deliciously organized lines for things like the post office or bank, and feeling more like a guest than an nuisance at restaurants will have worn off so that we can spare our friends and families the annoyance of surprise at the site of potable water.
Mongolia was a wonderful place to visit, and we met a lot of wonderful new friends who are warm and caring. These friends enriched our lives with their smiles, hugs and generosity. When we needed help, they helped willingly and often without being asked. And we did the same. We will never forget them and wish them all the best in coming to visit us in the States.
Even still, we will probably reference our time in Mongolia as the benchmark for so many milestone trying moments and fish -out-of-water moments. Because we lived they way we did, where we did, for so long, we didn’t understand how incredibly stressful it was until we left. In many ways we’re more the same also because we hardly know what a Justin Bieber, we don't know what LiLo is up to is, and we’ve never seen a Kindle or an iPad.
We have changed in many fundamental ways we can’t really even put our fingers on yet. One thing we know for sure though is that we will always, always treat foreigners in America with more consideration because we know that some days just a helpful point in the right direction or a warm smile can change your whole life for the better. We hope you’ll do the same.
Future Resources Including our Forthcoming Book
So we close our Peace Corps blog and hope that if you want to travel to Mongolia or join the Peace Corps, you’ll look up these resources to help you on your way, especially the travel guide we’re writing with Andrew Cullen and Ashlee Christian, both former volunteers in Mongolia. Hopefully we’ve done the hard work for you already.
Other Places Publishing: Mongolia (February 2011)
Nathan Chamberlain, Leslie Ann Shaffer Chamberlain, Ashlee Christian, Andrew Cullen
Online with major retailers like Amazon.com and with most local retailers by order.
The Unofficial Guide to Peace Corps (NEW!)
"Peace Corps may be "the toughest job you'll ever love" but you don't always have to learn that the hard way. This is the handbook we wish someone would have given us, something no one has provided before..."
Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004)
Modern Mongolia (2005)
Saturday, June 12, 2010
To celebrate the new-found sun, we walked to the nearby river with our site mates Tysen and Wally. It was the perfect day with temps at 70F (20C) and a clean breeze. Oh, yeah!
We went to our local Ching Hai restaurant, whose spiritual movement invites vegetarianism. They attract followers through small restaurants, and though we have not adopted her particular philosophy, we have been eating there almost every day since it opened late last year. On the menu were steamed rolls with tofu and cucumber, and cookies. We brought our own mustard, honey mustard, hot sauce and soy sauce because the flavor of the "oroomog" rolls is not exactly overwhelmingly strong, though clean and fresh.
With a blanket, Coke and condiments in hand, we made the 10-15 minute walk eastward from the Bayankhongor town center toward the Tuin River (pr. 2-een). The wind was in our hair and sun on our faces. As we sat down for our little feast, we were overwhelmed by the sweet perfume of flowers aggressively wafting past.
Monday, May 31, 2010
We still need to raise about $1,500 more to help her cover pocket money and incidentals while she studies from September 2010-June 2011. We'll find out where she'll be placed by the end of June.
I wish you could have seen her face when we told her we had enough to cover her tuition, fees and plane ticket. She was extremely overwhelmed and appreciative of the support that she couldn't even talk for a few minutes. I think it's all becoming more and more real for her as we come into the summer break. Now that she finished the year with all 100% in her classes she is ready for new challenges. Though, this isn't new. She has only received less than 100% one time in the last four years.
Not only has the fund raising been extremely successful, but New Voice has also taking a shine to Nyamtaivan's situation. When she met with them at the beginning of May, they partnered with Mongolia's Education Channel to do a 4-part story on her. They filmed the first part then, they'll come to Bayankhongor soon to interview her family and possibly us, they'll film her getting her visa in August, and then the last part will be while she's in the States.
She also had a story in the newspaper Unuudur (Today), which has nationwide distribution. She was so humbled and embarrassed about all the fuss that she didn't get a copy of it. We've asked New Voice to help us get a clipping at least.
To help you get to know Nyamtaivan a little more, we put together a little video of her showing off her ger. Take a look.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
During the three-day conference at a luxury ger camp between Ulaanbaatar and Darkhan, Mongolia's 2nd largest city where we finished our training 21 months ago, we discussed post-Peace Corps topics like insurance, job hunting, resume writing and social readjustment. There was a panel of 3 guest speakers who work in international development in various capacities for various lengths of time. From this, we learned about the many options for employment we hadn't yet considered that now make post-Peace Corps decisions even more difficult.
At the cooking competition, Nathan's team one with a trip to the Indian subcontinent. The challenge was to create a salad, an entree, a redesigned Mongolian dish and a dessert. There was a lemongrass curry cole slaw, three curries, sweet and savory samosas with a yogurt sauce (the mod Mongol dish), and a chickpea chocolate surprise. Congrats to Team West for winning best over.
There was also some dancing and general merry making among the 40+ who were there.
On May 31, 2008, 65 of us met in San Francisco. We flew to Seoul, Korea, and then to Mongolia. By our count, 23 terminated their service early either for family, medical, safety, or other reasons. This 35% attrition seems right on par with Peace Corps worldwide according to unofficial statistics at http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Early_Termination. Those who were missing, especially some recent departures, were missed.
To commemorate our service, Leslie created a slide show. Set to music, the pictures provided by various volunteers showcase highlights of our 2 years from June 2008 to May 2010. Enjoy.
Just after the slide show, we were treated to a magnificent sunset and rainbow. It was quite a majestic site.
The Secret History Ger Camp during our COS and a fiery spring sunset.
Nathan's training group, our Bayankhongor site mates (minus Leila who went to the States unexpectedly and has since returned), and Leslie's training group.
When we returned to UB, we all had our final physicals and dental check-ups. We're both fit and healthy as a horse-head fiddle. Those of you who have been following the weather with some interest, it made it into the high 70s yesterday, got down to freezing overnight, and has settled in about a high of about 47F again today with a stiff breeze. Nonetheless, it's feeling a little bit more like spring now that we can leave off the long underwear.
For now, Leslie and I will travel back to site, finish up some projects, hopefully put on a summer camp, and then we'll return to UB in early July to complete some other pending projects. Our official last day of service is July 22. We have tickets booked for July to London, the first leg on our European tour that will last until late December 2010.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
In 2003, the dzud conditions caused an urban migration as herders and those supported by herding income scrambled to find work. Now the government is waiting to see how the market will handle such an impact before it really intervenes. The UNDP has been paying herders to bury carcasses to prevent the spread of disease. For more on the latest so-called "Cash for Carcasses," click here for the msnbc.com coverage.
The Importance of Herding in Mongolia
Central to their livelihood and the basis of their culture, roughly one-quarter of the country's 3 million people are pastoral nomads who move with their households in search of grasses for their animals. Their movement is seasonal, linked to rainfall and the availability of good forage for their animals, and they usually rotate their herds on roughly the same swaths of land that are close together. They depend on those lands to be free each year, though there are usually no formal agreements among herders as to who may use what land or when, herders know the allowable spots. Even still, many herds overlap, though this does not seem to bother most as it is a professional courtesy and code of the steppe is to share and share alike. Because of this lifestyle, herder families are usually remotely located, sometimes hours from their villages where their children attend schools and live in dorms for part of the year. Others raise livestock in or around villages utilizing slat board barns with angled roofs that typically face south to protect against winds from the north.
In Mongolia, the livestock roam free while the people are fenced in. Without pasture fences, livestock meander through villages, towns and most cities as they forage while people are restricted inside adjoining fenced-in properties (khashaa) with their families’ brick, block or wood houses and gers (or in any combination based on region). This also creates frequent traffic hazards as vehicles on approach honk to persuade livestock to provide a gangway.
- For more on herding in Mongolia and the Mongolian economy, click here.
- For more on the dzud from Peace Corps volunteers and the BBC, click here.
- For a succinct Sky News video of the devastation, watch this:
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Who is Nyamtaivan?
Nyamtaivan (pr. Nyim-ta-vin) means "Sunday's Calm." Nyam comes from the Tibetan for Sunday, and taivan means calm.
She is 16 years old with a bright affect, hard-working attitude, and is very mature with a sense of wide-eyed optimism. For the past 4 years, she's received perfect 100% grades in nearly every single class, and she has been the top student at her school since 2007.
Not only does she excel at academics, she's also somewhat of a track and field star and enjoys spending time with her many friends. She's a student leader and a glowing an example of politeness, respect and empathy. To know her is to like her.
Since we began our fund raising efforts, her placement agency New Voice has also taken a shine to her. She's been profiled in the Mongolian newspaper "Unuudur" (Today), and the Mongolian Education Channel has begun a 4-part story on her.
Nyamtaivan came to Nathan in March 2010 and said she wanted to study abroad, but she didn't have any way to pay for it. She explained that the education system in Mongolia is too limited for her, and if she could study abroad it would help her achieve her goal of being a lawyer and interpreter, so she can put her skills to use changing the Mongolia education system.
We want to help for many reasons.
- Motivated, hardest working person we know
- Wants to be part of education change in Mongolia
- Networking in Mongolia and USA
- Comes from a poor family, fewer opportunities
- Mom is a single parent
- Adult sister has a disability
- Nyamtaivan has stood out to the Peace Corps volunteers because of her inquisitive nature, her ability to speak English as well or better than most teachers, and her drive to make a difference. We want to help her study in the states because we know she will do great things for herself, her family, and her country if given the opportunity.
- Among the motivators she explained to us is that she wants to be a part of education change in Mongolia. She wants to raise the standards and practices of education for the next generation. To do this, she needs to know how other systems work.
- Corruption and nepotism rule the workforce, so we want to give her the ability to work around and through the system by getting a good education, becoming connected with more Americans, and becoming connected with the affluent Mongolians who have studied abroad.
- Study abroad programs are only available to rich kids in the capital. She comes from an extremely poor rural family, and the reality here is that hard work is usually not enough. There are no scholarships for people like her to study abroad.
- Her mom is a 48 year-old single parent who works as a janitor in a retail section of the market.
- Nyamtaivan also has a 25 year-old sister with a mental disability that prevents her from working, so Nyamtaivan helps look after her when she's not at school or studying with friends.
How will money be raised?
Among the 7 of us Peace Corps volunteers in Bayankhongor, we will each raise $1,143. Divided in this way, our minimum goal of $8,000 can be achieved with a little hard work and from the generosity of friends and family who also want to turn the opportunity into a reality for Nyamtaivan.
Who is in charge of the money?
Leslie and Nathan Chamberlain are in charge of holding and dispersing the money from the Paypal account linked to StudenttotheStates@yahoo.com. They will pay the placement agency New Voice.
What will the money go toward?
The money we raise will be used for her airfare, tuition, visa and placement costs through the agency.
Tuition: $5-6,000 (we'll know exactly how much when she's placed)
Airfare: $1,300 (approximately)
Placement cost: $1,200 ($600 already paid)
Required spending money: $1-2,500 (100-250 for each of the 10 months in USA)
Visa: $131 (Nyamtaivan's mom will pay as her contribution)
What is New Voice?
New Voice is a placement agency that sends over 200 students abroad every year who are required to have a minimal English fluency and be able to pay the fees. They also place university students. To read all about New Voice, you can go to their Web site.
This one of the only possible placement agencies for a child with a rural upbringing. All other placement agencies we saw were only for kids in the capital. Few programs even work with Mongolia. For example, there is to AFS that placed Europeans in our high schools when we were growing up.
What is Paypal?
Paypal is an online merchant service owned by Ebay that can also be used for donations and paying back friends. All you have to do is create a username and password, plug in the numbers of the credit card you want use, and then make the donation. The money will come from your credit card through Paypal, unless your Paypal account already has money in it.
If you already have money in your Paypal account, there are no transaction fees. However, it does charge 2.9% for each credit card transaction for the incredible convenience.
Click here to donate now!
What if I don't want to use a credit card to make a donation?
You can send a check to Leslie and Nathan. Please email email@example.com for details.
What do I get if I donate?
Besides the satisfaction of helping a special kid achieve her dreams, we want you to get a little something too, so here are the suggested giving levels.
Help send Nyamtaivan to the States by giving:
Added to Nyamtaivan’s email update list*
Get a personal email and picture from Nyamtaivan
Get a postcard from Nyamtaivan
$108 (1 month’s salary)
Hand-painted Mongolian card
$216 (2 months’ salary)
Hand-painted Mongolian card & 1 felt handicrafts
$324 (3 months’ salary)
Hand-painted Mongolian card & 2 felt handicrafts
$432 (4 months’ salary)
Hand-painted Mongolian card & 3 felt handicrafts
$540 (5 months’ salary)
Hand-painted Mongolian card & 4 felt handicrafts
$1,300 (Est. airfare)
Tax incentives (negotiable)
*All donors will be added to her email
What is the deadline for the fund raising?
Our fund raising goal is to be finished by May 31, 2010. The bill is due in August, so we will continue to raise money until then and even after if we need to. But we are all volunteers and have many other projects we focus on that also demand much of our time in our community. Additionally, most of us will be finishing our Peace Corps service this summer with camps in the countryside throughout June and July, so we won't be available to continue the day-to-day fund raising efforts.
In short, we hope you'll make your donation sooner rather than later, though a few of our friends and family have pledged to help by sending money each month until August, which we encourage and can certainly accommodate as well.
How can I stay in touch with the project as it develops?
If you give money, you'll receive periodic updates from Nyamtaivan on her progress. You can also join the Send Nyamtaivan to the States Facebook group for more pictures, videos and written updates.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Nathan recounts his trainings trip
After returning from the long summer in UB as a Peace Corps trainer, I had a few days rest, saw my awesome new office, met up with my counterparts including my equally awesome new manager, and then I left town for a week to talk board and committee structure to representatives of our self-help groups in Zavkhan Aimag, the province to our northwest.
For two days, our driver Chuka (pr. CHOke-uh, short for Stone Hero) and I braved the wide open yet very rocky road for the few hundred kilometer trek. Despite the language obstacle (he doesn't speak English) and that he doesn't hear so well, we were great travel companions. We left about 4 hours after the 6am start time he'd set (I was up at 5am), which gave me a little time to work on a good case of whiplash as my body kept going limp vying for spurts of sleep along the jarring terrain.
The gloomy and sleepy drive was uplifted by this unknown family that yelled for me to take their picture.
In Uliastai ("With Birch Trees"), the provincial capital, we met up with the training manager and project manager who had flown in early from UB. After some rest and preparation, our first day of three began with great energy as all participants were on time and checked in before we arrived 5 mins late. This energy carried throughout the entire training all the way to the end of the third day, in no small part due the staff's ice breakers, energizers and engaging games.
Over the course of the three days there and in Bayankhongor this past week, I presented on:
- The intrinsic values of being a trustee on a volunteer governing board such as theirs. I adapted materials presented by good pal and fellow PCV Judy Gates, who traveled to other parts of the country with the staff in the previous month. We talked about the virtues of someone who would be elected by their peers for such a position and why the right people are important for the process. We also talked about the skills and qualities the have and will hone during the next year as a trustee.
- Conflict resolution and communication techniques, which was rewarding for me. I told them a couple ground rules for resolving disputes like making sure not to accuse the other person (use "I" not "you" language) and to only be concerned with facts. Afterward, I asked them to list their most common problems and then broke them into groups. In those groups they had to come up with solutions. Most involved writing or enforcing rules of attendance, and some were more complicated personality conflicts. Each group presented their solutions, and then I pointed out exactly how to use the techniques to get workable solutions. I was shocked to hear epiphany "ooo" and "ah" sounds as they were able to see how the techniques actually work in practice.I handed out a sheets of paper per group. I wrote the name of a personal quality/trait of a successful leader, they met as a group, and then presented their opinions to the whole for discussion. Here, a group presents about openness.
- International cooperative structures that reinforced the information my Mongolian counterparts were teaching about how to transition their business after our funding and program finishes in the next few years. I talked about a grocery co-op in Philadelphia I knew about that has been around since the early 1970's. They were interested mostly in the bulk rate purchasing power and guaranteed markets established for local produce and other goods.
After the teaching, we had a little time to relax, take in the sites, and enjoy Zavkhan, which some regard as the most beautiful of the provincial capitals. One of the most identifiable attributes is the mountain toward the center of town that plays host to 9 white Buddhist shrines and radio transmitting infrastructure. The peak, as nearly every single peak in Mongolia, also has a few ovoo, or piles of stones adorned with Buddhist scarves.
I was also able to meet up with the Peace Corps volunteers there. 2 of them will start a research project about product supply chains in the province with the workers from a branch of my NGO, starting with a research methods seminar for the staff (that went really well and was later duplicated in Bayankhongor by Leslie and me).
Cards, and an evening video with some countryside folks
We visited a nearby village for monitoring and evaluation of their businesses and were pleasantly surprised by the activity there. We also played some cards, and I'm happy to report that, even though I didn't know how to play the game at first and no one was really willing to teach me, I was able to figure it out quickly enough that my team won a best three-out-of-five hand tournament. The candy bar we won was all the sweeter.
Later that evening, we played a PR video showing the villagers examples of how the business program works around the country for others in their similar situation.
Is it okay if I sit here?
This is my most embarrassing moment in Mongolia, possibly ever. The woman who was sewing asked me to take a seat, which I did on that little bench in front of the orange cabinet.
After I sat there for about a minute and a half, my project manager said to me with a concerned face and through gritted teeth, "Nathan! You're sitting on God's chair!"
Of course I got up and then asked tensely, "Why didn't you tell me?! I didn't know!" My training manager replied, "Because we didn't know either." Every other time I sat for the next week, I would first ask if that was God's chair before plopping down.
Oh, so very, very lost
After our trip to the village, on our way to another village, we got very, very lost in the middle of nowhere for a whole day. Our driver doesn't know the roads in that province, so despite his best efforts, we eventually had to follow the power lines for a few hours before we found any semblance of civilization. We returned to Uliastai after a long day, and had to scrap the rest of our countryside trips.
After a day's rest in Uliastai, we headed back toward Bayankhongor only to be lost for that entire day as well, even driving through a neighboring province that wasn't especially "on the way." Once we knew were lost again, the women began to come unglued on the driver. We finally made it to Bayankhongor Province after a flat tire, and we crashed on the ger floor of some people we knew. In the morning, the matriarch milked some yaks for the morning milk tea, and we were on our way.
When we met up with the programs director later that week, she asked why we hadn't taken a GPS receiver. We all looked at her and the driver and screamed "WHAT?!"