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?!"