Monthly Archives: January 2012

The week in photos: I like being inside

But then, who doesn’t.



I’ve spent way too much time thinking about winter footwear in this country.  Pictured above are the fifth and (half of) the fourth pairs of boots I’ve bought since moving to Mongolia.  It will be a miracle if these guys last the rest of the winter.  The fake leather is starting to flake off in ways I can no longer disguise with shoe polish. The Shoe Repair Guy, who is a chilly, inaccessible iceberg of a man, has seen me so often lately that he actually twisted up his mouth into a semblance of a smile the other day and begrudgingly asked, “So…what do you do?”

I mean, I guess it’s nice that I’m making friends with Shoe Repair Guy but THESE GODDAMNED BOOTS.

I’m going to stop myself before I write a treatise on overpriced crap Chinese-made boots, so if there are any incoming PC/Mongolia lady volunteers reading this, hear my cry: Consider bringing a pair or two of nice, high-quality, knee-high leather boots with you.  They will save you a lot of grief, and a lot of tugriks.



Ryan came home from work on Monday and asked, “How was your real birthday?”  I said, “It was okay.  I took a nice picture of myself.”  He said, “Well…I guess you deserve it.”

(I also bought myself a bottle of fish sauce)



This is what the courtyard looks like late at night, when you’ve just realized that you haven’t taken your daily photo yet.



This is what the refrigerator looks like late at night, when you’ve just realized you haven’t taken your daily photo yet, and you’ve already taken a picture of the courtyard.



This is us, having a moment of weakness on Thursday.  Ryan was out at our weekly English Movie Night with the other volunteers; I was home, being sick.  At around 8, he burst in the door with an insane gleam in his eyes.  “What’s going on?” I asked.  “There’s a puppy in the stairwell,” he said.  “And I took a video of it!”

So we watched the video, and wrung our hands for a little bit, and had our usual conversation (“Can we bring it inside?  We can’t bring it inside.  That’s a bad idea.  Maybe just for a little bit?  No, we can’t”), except this time, we did not make the mature decision.  Look how cute she is!

She did us the favor of acting like a total shithead right away, gnawing on our heels and tearing at our rug and barking at us.  “Oh right!” we said.  “We just remembered: You can’t stay here.”

So we made her a plate of rice and milk and took her outside.  “So long, Shithead,” we said.  Ten minutes later, she somehow made her way back inside the stairwell and showed up at our door.  So Ryan took her outside again.  And we haven’t seen her since.  Good luck out there, Shithead!



The sun comes up at about 8:40 these days.  Which makes it easier to sleep in on the weekends, at least.



Here: Evidence that I went outside.  I think I should limit myself to one “livestock in the city” shot per week.  Please hold me to this.



I’m going to try some sneaky shooting from the hip this year.  Mostly because I still can’t get up the courage to ask the really cool-looking old timers for a photo.



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Last weekend was pretty fun, I guess

Remember my last post, where I grumbled about blogs that play into peoples’ most simplistic, sunny impressions of Peace Corps life?

Me neither!  Now then, let me tell you about my Peace Corps Brochure Weekend.



Friday night:  The teachers and staff  at my school all took part in a multi-sport tournament: Basketball, volleyball, ping pong, billiards, and chess. Once again, I was compelled to play on the Foreign Language Department’s basketball team; once again, we won our first game but got knocked out of the tournament when we lost our second; once again, my instincts for self-preservation meant I mostly avoided the ball.

Unlike last year, though, I kind of found myself wanting to win.  We even went to the Teachers’ Room and practiced setting picks before that ill-fated second game.  I also let myself get a little angry and I yelled (in English)(specifically: “JESUS CHRIST LADY”) at an elementary school teacher who was doing some serious over-the-back fouling. On me.  She deserved it. She needed to get up outta my space.  The math teachers razzed me later about it, though (“Oooo guys, Katie is angry“).

Afterwards, I met some other PCVs at a bar and we were really loud and American, so I guess I wasn’t on my very best Integrated Volunteer behavior that night, but whatevs, close enough.

Saturday morning: On Saturday morning the volunteers all went out to the orphanage and baked cookies.

On our walk there, we were laughing about how stereotypical our morning was going to be: Baking cookies!  With orphans!  This is what everybody thinks we do all the time.

(We do actually go to the orphanage every Saturday morning; this was our first cookie decorating party, though, thanks to a care package from my mom.  Good idea, Mom!)

Even though we accidentally burned the first batch (and even though Bayartsetseg, my star English student and the de facto orphanage den mother, told us we were a bunch of idiots for doing so), we thought the morning went swimmingly.  The older kids basically ran the show, while the younger ones dumped sugar all over everything.

There were a couple of new kids there that morning, and we’ve noticed that the new transfers (or, god, the newly orphaned) tend to hang back from the crowd.  Ryan had the following exchange with a guy who was just kind of standing against the wall, watching the action:

Would you like to decorate the cookies?

…I can’t.

Of course you can!  Come here.

That’s him in the photo above, being very serious about his sprinkles.



Ryan’s Flip camera was also a big hit, as you can see.  Coming soon: Thirty+ minutes of kid-directed, cookie decorating footage!

Saturday night:  A couple months ago, I promised my teachers I’d teach them how to make pizza.  As with a lot of things around here, people expressed enthusiasm for the concept of a pizza party, but scheduling the danged thing was a living nightmare.  Finally, I took the bull by the horns and announced at our staff meeting that Pizza Night would be at my place, that Saturday.  There was a brief silence while everybody considered this; before anybody could say anything, I blurted, “Andyouhavetocomebecauseit’smybirthdayparty.

So, here you can see Bayaraa being the only one to respond to my bossy photo-prompt (‘You’re loving this pizza!  It’s the best pizza in the world!’):

And here is everybody singing me happy birthday (around a table piled with the cakes and beer they brought):

And here’s Enkhmaa, helping me put on my new earrings:

And then a little later, I got a visit from the Birthday Hot Dog:

It was all so nice, you guys.  I’m going to throw myself a birthday party every week!


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Tom yum indeed

(Really sorry about the title. I couldn’t help myself)

So I don’t mind telling you that the food situation in our household has been exquisite lately.  Behold!  Months of hoarding and vigilance has resulted in this perfect storm of ingredients:

From left to right: A jar of tom yum paste that showed up, mysteriously and by itself, at one of our grocery stores eight months ago; a bag of dried lemongrass, chilies, galangal and kaffir lime peel that a pal brought back from her Southeast Asia trip this summer; coconut milk, which our fancy American store just started carrying last week.

Add some lime juice, vegetables and tofu and oh hey, check it out:

This shit tastes so much like Thailand, it makes me want to weep.

Wait, what?  Thailand?  As in Southeast Asia?  Oh, you mean, like, the place we’re going for about four months starting in July?  Yeah, great, hold that thought for just a second, I need to search the entire internet for Laos travel blogs.

Just kidding.  I’ve already found all those blogs.

Here is one strange thing about being deep in your second year of service: Realizing that there are people in the newer class of volunteers who are preparing for upcoming international vacations, while you, dullard that you are, have yet to leave the country, or even travel very extensively inside it.

Another strange moment: You are stalking another (non-Mongolia, long-finished) PCV’s blog.  You are actually reading the whole thing, every last entry.  This person takes amazing, exquisitely lit photos; this person is a very fine, observant writer; this person seems to have had a genuine, meaningful, small-town experience (deep connections; neighborliness; a sense of family and belonging), the kind of experience that makes people want to join the Peace Corps in the first place, the kind of experience that sometimes, when you’re being brutal in your assessment of your service and your relationships, you feel you have not quite had.  This person Really Did It.  And their photos are way better than yours.

Then you come up for air.  You realize something.  You browse through the posts again and see that yes, it’s true —  this person, in their two years, took at least five vacations out of the country, including two visits home to the states.  For whatever reason, this fact reminds you of the central truth of Blogging and Facebooking and Peace Corps (as well as anything else that’s similarly romanticized): People are full, to the brim, of their own smelly crap.*


Woah!  Let’s rein this in a little.  I guess I just want to make the following two points:

1.  I don’t mean to be a jerk about people’s experiences and their representations of those experiences.  Maybe that blogger’s service really was that pure and heartfelt; maybe it really was better than mine in some ways.  Point is, I’ve been trying to not b.s. you (or myself) on this blog.  Things are awkward with my host family and they always will be; I get annoyed when I feel that somebody in my community is trying to nakedly use me for their own benefit; we don’t have a lot of money and sometimes that makes me grumpy.  Et cetera.  And it’s because I’m trying to avoid b.s. that I feel comfortable telling the internet that

2. Hooooooooly cow I need to stop thinking about vacations and traveling.  I have been all up in Lonely Planet and Wikitravel and Time Out Asia as of late.  When I have a free moment, I Google stuff like “Myanmar Bagan guesthouse price.”  I am actually on the precipice of making a list of outfits I want to take with me on our trip (even typing that sentence makes me quiver with anticipation).  I mean, I think I’m finally starting to come out of my third quarter blues — I had an actual pang, like a wistful pre-nostalgic pang, at work today — but jesus, I need to keep my head in the game.  Seven more months!  Only seven more months in this beautiful place that has been so good to us.  Only seven more months with my teachers, who are friendly and hardworking and fun-loving and beer-drinking and basically everything I could have wanted in a group of colleagues and friends.  Those things are not b.s., and I only have seven more months to enjoy them.

And so I’m doing that thing where you take a picture every day for a year.


It’ll be a good way to keep me here, in the present, I think.  Anyway.  To 2012!  To appreciating things!


* One day this past summer, I was in the van with a fellow trainer, on our way back to Darkhan after a session with the new volunteers.  He’s a young Mongolian guy who’s worked for Peace Corps five summers straight; he possesses a surfer dude accent and does Elvis impersonations and is beloved by all. We started talking about misconceptions, and I asked him what his misconceptions had been of Americans before he started working with them.  His answer was hilarious (“I thought you guys were clean and dressed nice all the time”).  Then he asked me what people’s misconceptions were of the Peace Corps, and I tried to explain the vision most people seem to have in their heads of a volunteer’s day to day life: That we all live in tiny little villages where we know everybody, and we do lots of good, meaningful work all the time with enthusiastic coworkers, and everybody loves us and we love everybody.  And then he paused and said, “But that’s…not real life.”

Amen, brother.


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