Sunday, October 28, 2007

Murphy and Me
Most American’s are well acquainted with “Murphy’s law.” A universal principle which states: if things can go wrong they will. Mongolians are also well acquainted with this law except they call it “going places”.

My trip from UB to site began haphazardly. I thought I was travelling with my Aimag-mate Greg. He had been informed earlier in the day that we would be leaving at five that evening, which, in Mongol time means anywhere between 5 and sometime the next day. Thus, I was rather surprised when my Director interrupted my morning cup of coffee to inform me that she was waiting outside my hostel. Unfortunately, I was enjoying my morning cup about ten blocks away. After sprinting back to my place and throwing the contents of my room into bags and loading those bags into a “jeep” we were ready to begin our journey.

We started by touring most of UB. We visited various family members, my director needed to stop by the ministry of education, we went to the bank, and hung about various other spots for a good four hours. After five hours in the car we embarked on our twelve hour car ride.

Before I continue it is important to clear up a few aspects of Mongolian culture. First, a car is not considered full until all of the seats have been loaded up with bags and people are sitting three to a seat. The back of our two seater jeep contained five people plus luggage. Add to this a small child and you are in business. I was lucky enough to sit in the front seat and only shared my seat with my luggage. All told we had seven people plus several hundred pounds of luggage in a vehicle slightly smaller than a “geo cruiser”. Second, the word road is loosely applied. It can mean a paved stretch of land or it can mean open field in which a car may pass. For the most part road means a dirt path that doubles as a testing site for bunker busting bombs.

Upon leaving the city limits I took some Benadryl and prayed for sleep. Despite the late start and the road condition the beginning of our trip went smoothly. We knocked off a good 100 kilometers in about six hours stopping occasionally for gas, food, and smoke breaks. The little kid in the back was remarkably well behaved and a benevolent God had answered my prayers. The next hundred kilometers would not go as smoothly.

The road went from bomb target practice, to nuclear accident. The only difference being that nuclear accidents, I am told, leave flat surfaces. To make matters worse many roads were under construction. When roads are being worked on here the construction crew deposits a giant mound of rubble across the road to prevent people from driving on it. These things are hard to see at night and we almost hit several of them. At one point I woke up in the act of crashing. We did not hit anything.

Sometime between sunset and sunrise we got stuck in the mud. It was late and dark and the driver decided that we would sleep in the field rather than try to un-stick ourselves. I woke sometime around dawn and helped push us out. Three kilometers later we ran out of gas. I found this particularly vexing as I had offered the driver twenty thousand Tugriks for gas earlier in the night. We eventually found some gas and got into Tsisterlig or about 26 kilometers from my site.

We broke a leaf spring in Tsisterlig and had to wait until the jeep was repaired before we left. Our time in Tsisterlig was pretty nice. We were not moving but the town is pretty and I was able to entertain my-self. More importantly, it had an outhouse which was great because I had Guardia at the time. With the jeep repaired we finished off the remaining 26 kilometers without incident.

28 hours after leaving UB I had travelled two hundred kilometers and found myself at home…sort of.
You do or see anything enough and after a while it will just start to seem normal. We adapt to our surroundings and what seemed exotic only a few months ago now fails to even gain attention. October has been a normalizing month for me. It no longer surprises me to see my students riding horses to school. Or to have my class interrupted by a women wanting to use the internet. I am no longer surprised when drunks (I do not mean that disparagingly) wait outside school to chat with the “white guy” or when my students slide down the stairway banister.

Somethings I have grown quite accustomed to and will miss when I am gone. I will certainly miss the ability to send students on personal errands. And I will defiantly miss the “Jijurs”. A Jijur is a cross between your grandmother and a ninja. They live at the school and spend half the time washing windows and sweeping floors and the other half beating students with a bow staff. I love these women. I mean it, I actually love them and we have a great relationship. They know that I only pretend to understand what is going on in school and help maintain that illusion through daily beatings. Any student who is even suspected of fooling around in my class is shown the business end of bow staff and perhaps a round house kick or two. On my end, I turn a blind eye when they are mopping the carpet with Mongolian Vodka. It has been a while since high school biology but I believe this is called a symbiotic relationship.

All that said, there are still moments which give me pause. Consider this headline from our local newspaper. “Herder Boy Has Plague” as in bubonic plague, as in the Black Death. Like most Americans I believed that the bubonic plague was something that had decimated Europe’s population in the 14th century and died out. I was unaware that it still existed and that people still actually got it. I was even more surprised to discover that my province has an unusually high rate of infection. Finally, I was amazed to learn that I have the cure to the bubonic plague in my med kit.

Yet another health related surprise came via text message. My safety and security officer sent me a text message coyly asking if I had heard about anyone getting sick. I replied that I had not. A few moments later I got a separate text message from my counterpart asking for my regional supervisor’s number. It is important to understand that in general no one likes to talk with the Peace Corps office. The folks there are exceptionally good at what they do and do not adhere to the laissez fair life style of the Hudo Folks. Hence, most calls to the Peace Corps office equals a dramatic increase in ones’ workload. That my counterpart was voluntarily calling the Peace Corps set alarm bells “a-ringing”. After a little digging I discovered that reports had surfaced of an anthrax infection only a few kilometers from me. Anthrax!!!??? That’s right Mongolia is one of the few nations in the world that boasts naturally occurring Anthrax. Thus, in a land area roughly the size of Alaska, with a population smaller than the state of Rhode Island and a climate similar to Siberia one can find Bubonic Plague, Anthrax and Bird Flu. Fortunately for me Mongolia is a member of a certain willing coalition so I do not have to worry about my felt tent being targeted by a freedom defending smart bomb.
uch Love
Stasz the Mongol.

Thursday, July 5, 2007



Hello all and happy Independence Day.

I hope all of you are celebrating our nation’s founding by drinking cold beer, grilling meat and blowing something up. Here in Mongolia we just celebrated / are still celebrating a festival of our own. It is known as Nadaam and celebrates manliness. It occurs at slightly different times each year and the national Nadaam often occurs at a separate time than many of the Sum Nadaam’s.

Nadaam has a couple of themes: horses, wrestling, eating hosher, and getting drunk…then shooting arrows. My Nadaam began at about 7:30 when my little brother woke me by announcing “Hoy Jep” NaaaDaaam. My little sister then presented me with a plate of Hosher. Hosher is essentially a homemade hot pocket. They are packed with onions and spicy meat and fried then eaten with ketchup. They are wonderful. After my hosher I went outside where I was met by a small heard of horses and ton of people (also eating Hosher)

We hung out for a while and my Dad insisted I put on my wrestling outfit (more on that later) and take pictures with people. We then all headed off to Nadaam which looked like most town festivals you have been to with a few notable exceptions. About half the people were on horseback.

Mongolians ride horses like most people walk. Seriously, everyone here rides and everyone here is a good rider. The general rule is that if you are big enough to climb on to the horse than you are big enough to ride it alone, if you are too small to climb on alone than you are probably a good size to race that horse.

The first athletic event is a horse race. The horses are grouped according to age and the course is straight but pretty long. This year they increased the minimum age of the riders from five to seven. The use of a saddle is still up to the rider. If you ever want to be truly impressed by another human being, strap a seven year old to a big horse without a saddle and tell him to go as fast as possible. These little guys go like hell and hang on for dear life. Again, it is pretty impressive.

Wrestling is the main event. Mongolian wrestling has no age or weight classes. People wear a special outfit and grabbing clothing is completely legal, the bout is over when any part of your body, other than your hands or feet, touches the ground. This year four of us wrestled and all of us lost in the first round. People were generally excited that the “Americans” wrestled and most everyone agreed that it was a particularly good Nadam because we chose to wrestle.

Drinking is a pretty big part of Nadam. People drink all day. I drank with my friends 82 year-old grandfather. I have subsequently become his favorite drinking buddy and he tries to convince his American to go get me so we can drink together.

The night ended with us all going to a dance. The dance was held in a gym and featured a Casio Key board. I did meet the tallest man in the world though which was really cool.

Yesterday we celebrated the fourth. It was great and it made me miss Budweiser and cheeseburgers. I hope all is well.



Thursday, June 14, 2007

June 11, 2007

. I am about an hour north of Darkhaan and a few kilometers down a dirt road. Mine is the only training site without internet so posts will be less frequent this summer.
It was rainy and cold the morning we left Darkaan. PC hired a couple of Micers (Russian Vans) to take us north and the trip was pretty uneventful. We stopped a couple of times for unknown reasons and once at a pyramid of stones with flags stuck in the top. These are pretty common in Mongolia. We all walked around it three times for luck and moved on. Half an hour later we arrived at site. The host families met us all at the school where we each took a sip of hot milk from a communal bowl (again for luck). Then we loaded all of my gear into a car and went to their house.
My family is as about as nice as they could be. There are about six people in the immediate family but different relatives seem to drift in and out pretty freely. Family is a big deal in Mongolia and families tend to be pretty close. My brother is 15 and I have two sisters. One is 23 and works in UB as a teacher; another is about 17 and pretty shy. The other is little (8?) and is a pistol. She is constantly yapping about something and running around. We live on a little farm with chickens, pigs, two cows and an enormous vegetable garden. My room is clean and is much better than what I had in Darkhaan.
Mongolians are really big on dairy. I am not much of a milk drinker but I have recently become one. They make this milk tea which is absolutely increadible. From what I have been able to figure out thus far it is made from rice, milk, sugar, and salt. I am not really sure. Every night we have a bowl of hot fresh whole milk. To many Americans out there this may sound like an artery clogger. However, when you live here it is just part of the game. The stuff is delicious and I am rapidly growing a dependency on it.
Tomorrow I head back for my first round of TEFL presentations. I have a two strong activities planned and I am pretty excited to present.
Mongolian is still really hard.



Friday, June 8, 2007

June 5, 2007
Welcome to the Steppe

Hey all,
It was dark when we arrived so I could not see the countryside. This morning I woke up at about 7 to go for a run with another volunteer. What I saw when I walked out of my ger was breathtaking. The first thing that hits you is the sheer size of everything. The landscape is practically deserted and stretches a third of the way around the world. The steepe consists of massive rolling hills. There are few trees and the grass is short and sturdy. The few trees that do exist tend to be short and clustered in on the back side of a hill where there is enough protection and there is a small pocket of water. The second thing you notice is the breeze. A soft breeze tends to blow across the steppe at all times. What is unusual is the utter lack of humidity. This dry wind hits you, robs you of your water and moves on. No one sweats here. Even when it’s hot (and it is hot right now) the air is just too dry.
My camp was also surrounded by herds of wild horses. These herds litter the country side and when it comes time to get yourself a horse you go out and risk life and limb to capture one of these little rascals. One of the girls in my class tried to offer one an apple and it was having none of it. Apparently the Mongols figured out the apple trick a while ago. Massive birds of prey are also pretty abundant. I saw a couple different kinds of hawks and a few eagles this morning. Some places use eagles to hunt small animals. There is a pretty decent chance that I could acquire a real hunting eagle to keep Freedom company. If that happens I am going to name him Liberty and hunt all kinds of shit.
The final thing that has blown me away is the sky. Mongolia is known as the land of the eternal blue sky. To try to convey what this is like imagine the sky in North Carolina. It is a deep blue and on cloudless days it seems to defy description. Now take that sky and transport it to Montana, big sky country, now triple the size of big sky country and that is what the sky in Mongolia looks like. From what I have heard we have about four cloudy days a year.

J. Stasz .

Sunday, June 3, 2007


June 3, 2007
The adventure has begun. We arrived in Seoul, South Korea last night around 5. We flew with the sun so my body has absolutely no idea what time it is. Surprisingly, I am not at all jet lagged; I slept for the last four hours of my flight and then went out into Seoul. This morning I went running and now I feel like I have adjusted to the time change.

Seoul looks like a lot of other cities in the world, bright lights, traffic, clubs, bars, restaurants, shops etc. One difference: everything is brand new. Nothing looks older than thirty years. All of the cars are brand new as are all the bridges, buildings, shops, bars, clubs…etc. It is as if someone willed a city into existence.

We wandered around Seoul last night. I stumbled onto a dance competition in the middle of the street. A stage was set up and everyone was dancing to a fusion of American-Asian hip hop. Picture a hundred boy band wannabees dancing with everything they’ve got. Some of them were actually pretty good, others were not so great. We wandered around for a while, grabbed a drink in this cool little jazz bar and then headed home. Seoul at night is spectacular. The bridges are all lit up and the colors change. Going into the city is like transporting into a neon story book. It really is incredible.

I have a long day ahead of me so I am spending the day relaxing. I had some breakfast this morning and ordered “shaved ice”. I thought I was ordering some sort of slushy magic. Actually I was ordering some kind of ice, sweet bean, whipped cream, fruit, condensed milk, concoction. It was pretty tasty. When you mixed it up it tasted a lot like iced coco pebbles. It sounds gross but I am telling you…sweet beans and marshmallows are one hell of mixture.
I am off to Mongolia tonight.



Saturday, June 2, 2007

June 2, 2007

So this is my blog. I always thought I would never write one as I generally hate them, however, this is sort of a special occasion. This is meant for my family, friends, and folks generally interested in life in Mongolia. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of Peace Corps, the United States Government or Americans everywhere. With that bit out of the way let’s get into it.

I graduated from Brown University on May 27, 2007. I studied economics and love Brown more than I should. I joined the Peace Corps for a variety of reasons none of which seem to matter anymore. I could tell you I did it for my career, or because I believe in service, or because I wanted the adventure and maybe because I wanted to delay life for a bit. The reality is, I joined because my gut told me it was the right thing to do and this was the right time to do it.

I flew from Portland Maine to Atlanta Georgia on May 31, 2007. In Atlanta we registered and trained and got to know each other a little better. There are about fifty of us in my group and we are all going to Mongolia. The folks going with me are as diverse as the United States. We have young and old, married and single. All of us are tasked with different missions and bring different educations and world views to the table. Binding us all is an intense enthusiasm and general believe that we can change the world for the better. A general fear of cold also bids us all together.

Today, June 2, 2007 we fly to Seoul South Korea. We have a 28 hour layover in Seoul and then we are off to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We spend our first night or two in a ger camp and then we are off to a hotel and meet our host families for training. We will be training in UB for about three months.

Training focuses on language and skills. Mongolians speak Mongolian, Russian, and Chinese. We will be focusing on Mongolian. It is a tricky language but Peace Corps commit any amount of resources to help us learn it, which is nice.

Am I excited? Sure am! Am I nervous? Well….It’s tough to be nervous when you have no idea what you have gotten yourself into. Instead, I permeated with an electric sense of curiosity. I have often wondered what is on the other side of the world. This is my chance to find out.