Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 02/Jan/2010 09:24, 34 days ago
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It has been an interesting two weeks since my last post and a very cold two weeks as the temperature has now dropped to proper Mongolian temperatures meaning it has been -30 during the day and -40 at night. So it is a little chilly. Dressing and undressing now takes even longer with layers upon layers having to be put on and taken off every time you want to leave the house and I can no longer imagine wearing clothes without at least one layer of thermals underneath!So what have I been up to in the last two weeks?Well the fundraising party was a huge success according to my colleagues which is a relief. We had a big meeting the following week to discuss the plans for my year here and it was a very informative meeting which allowed me to discuss the reservations I had about the placement, to have them tell me why they wanted a volunteer and to set out activities and goals for the next few months. So I now have things to do for the next few months with another review in May. It is certainly nice to have some structure to my work.Because the party had gone so well and everyone had worked so hard work took us out for dinner to Los Bandidos, a local Indian Mexican restaurant which was really nice. It was a really nice evening and gave me another chance to get to know my colleagues and my boss better which is good.We have been planning Christmas for the last few months and a group of us decided to head to Darkhan where there were 4 other VSO volunteers to get out of UB, get some fresh air and clear our heads. Sarah headed up early as she organised some work up there and the rest of us headed out on Christmas eve, the coldest day of the year so far. Unfortunately it was an unmitigated disaster. We taxied to the bus station only to learn that the busses were all cancelled til Monday due to a massive snow storm in the north and a dust storm in the south. So we repacked all our bags into another taxi and headed for the taxi rank where the taxi's to Darkhan leave from. We got there, negotiated a reasonable fare to get us to Darkhan and all 5 of us piled into one taxi. Getting going was slow as we had to stop to get petrol and put air in the tyres. As we were sitting around a police car passed us and we thought nothing of it. As we drove on we hit a toll bridge and the police car had stopped and was stopping all the cars as they had closed the road to Darkhan. After a number of conversations through the help of the very kind VSO staff translating via mobile, we decided it was safest to turn around and head back to UB. Although this was communicated to the taxi man he then tried to take us the back roads to Darkhan, we refused assuming that if the main road wasnt safe the back ones would be much worse. We eventually got back to VSO but the taxi man had put all the money we had paid him into petrol money and so we were not able to get any money back.It was a real shame we couldnt make it to Darkhan but there were some advantages. I was able to attend midnight service on Christmas eve which was a lovely small service with carols by candlelight. On Christmas day we cooked the food we had planed to take to Darkhan and took it over to another vols apartment and shared with everyone. There were the 5 of us who had tried to get to Darkhan, a couple of others who were too sick to go to Darkhan, a couple of guys who were trying to get home to Arvaikheer the day before and who got stuck in UB and those who had planned to stay in UB originally - so it gave us a pretty big group. It was a difficult day to be away from the family but we made the most of it and had a nice day. I was also able to skype home and open presents with the family via webcam and talk to my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents which made the day much easier. Along with that my Mum had spoilt me and send me a rather large box of presents and a stocking which was great.After skyping home I headed over to work via VSO becuase a parcel had arrived on Christmas morning. In fact when I arrived Santa must have been because there was a table full of parcels from home! It was great! I picked up all the presents for the UB people and headed to work where they had Mongolian secret santa also known as monitor. Basically everyone buys a present for the person whose name they pulled out of a hat and they are all put on a table so you do not know who bought your present. You then open presents and guess who bought you your present. You have 3 guesses and if you dont get it right you have to do a forfeit. Luckily I knew who had bought mine, but the person I bought for didnt guess me so she had to do a forfeit. I managed to escape after eating chocolates, drinking champagne and getting a present and headed back to the VSO party. The evening was spent playing party games and charades! It was a pretty good day and I didnt get too homesick.Unfortunately I came down with the nasty cold everyone in VSO has had in the last few weeks and spent the weekend after Christmas in bed. Luckily I had the following week off work so I spent the start of the week sleeping and watching Jane Austen.On Wednesday one of the other vols convinced me to go skiing at the new Mongolian ski resort. It was a great afternoon but it was so cold we had to go inside to warm up fairly regularly. But there were 2 intermediate and one advanced run along with quite a few beginner runs so it kept us busy for the afternoon. As most Mongolians have never skied before it is probably a good standard for beginners, but for those of us who have skied before the runs were a little boring - no moguls etc, but I figure I will have a couple of goes and practice technique. Might as well make use of the cold! It was a good day and I was glad I was well enough to head out.Thursday was New Years Eve which is the major celebration at this time of year in Mongolia so everywhere was crazy! We went to a great house party full of VSO's AYADs, Peace Corp and other young ex pats. Sarah made some amazing mulled wine and we had music, dancing and games. I managed to convince everyone to head to Sukhbaatar square for midnight even though the official fireworks were cancelled because of swine flu and it was a really fun place to be. It was pretty scary too as there were lots of unofficial fireworks going off, most of them held by small children. It showed how conditioned we are in the UK about firework safety that all of us were horrified at the lack of safety measures in place. But we got our fireworks in Sukhbaatar square and we brought champagne with us which froze in or glasses! A crazy and cold way to bring in the new year!Friday was pretty much a write off of a day but as one of the vols had a birthday we headed out that evening for dinner at Los Bandidos - the birthday restaurant! It was a nice crowd and a good way to spend the evening.Today Sarah and I tried to head to Narantuul for some shopping but apparently a lot of places are closed this weekend so we headed out for lunch and then had a wander round the National Museum of Mongolia. It is apparently the best museum in Mongolia and it was of a good standard and there were some really interesting items like the costumes and the recent political history section, but it didnt have much description of the events and their effects on the people here. I think I shall have to find a Mongolian history book to fill in the many gaps.It is hard to believe that it is now 2010, and I never could have imagined that I would be in Mongolia, standing in a freezing cold square welcoming in the new year! What will this year bring! I hope that 2010 is good to you and great things happen!