Monday, May 31, 2010

Nyamtaivan End of May Update

With the extraordinary support we've received from family and friends since April, we have now met our minimum goal of $8,000 in cash and in-kind gifts to send Nyamtaivan to the States!

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.

For more information about Nyamtaivan and why we're raising money, click here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Close of Service Conference

By the end of next week, we'll have been here for 2 full years. It's kind of hard to believe because it's gone so quickly, but then again, 2 years is a long time.

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.

We spent a few hours a day learning about our different post-Peace Corps options and discussing our accomplishments over the past two years. Thanks to Kat Pepperted for the photo.

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.

We didn't get any pictures of the competition, but here's a rousing photo of the judges hard at work choosing from the smorgasbord of the best food we've tasted in many a month. Thanks to Kat Pepperted for the photo.

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 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

Mongolian Herding and the Harsh Winter (Dzud)

Mongolia's continental climate with its extreme and sharply fluctuating temperatures can be difficult for herders to weather, and the 2009/2010 winter has proved particularly harsh. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the bitter and long winter, which followed a dry summer, killed an estimated 8 million of Mongolia’s 44 million animals (nearly 20%), about a million more livestock than the previously worst winter of 1944. These conditions, known in Mongolian as a “dzud”, also wreaked havoc from 1999-2002 when Mongolians lost an estimated 11 million head over three winters, according to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) that is among the international NGOs that have been operating in Mongolia since the early 1990s.

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 coverage.

Samuel De Jaegere / AFP - Getty Images from
A cow carcass lying frozen in the snow near the fence of a cattle ranch on the outskirts of the Mongolian district of Sergelen Soum.

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: