Week 1 of ICT
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 26/Oct/2009 08:36, 34 days ago
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From the faces and smiles of previous volunteers they hadn’t really enjoyed their ICT (In Country Training)so much as they found it mind numbingly tedious! So we were really really really looking forward to starting these 3 weeks.The way it works is we spend the first week at VSO getting information about VSO, Mongolia, VSO’s policies and our placements. The second and third week we spend at language school learning Mongolian which is according to the Peace Corps the second hardest language for the countries they work in – they only harder one is Chinese! So no pressure then!It has been a rather long first week that included nearly getting pickpocketed, walking 666 steps to a Russian war memorial and finding a good pizza place on top of 5 full days of in country training.I am not going to bore you with all the details of the various sessions we sat through this week as although most of them were very informative and interesting to me, they may not be to those not based in VSO Mongolia! In short our sessions covered everything from safety and security, a talk on each area VSO Mongolia covers- Health, National Volunteering, Education and Secure Livelihoods, working with and without interpreters, child protection, HIV/AIDS, Visa's and work permits etc, etc, etc. We also had a visit to the two medical clinics which both appear to be Western standard which is nice and reassuring!All these sessions were carried out in a rather small space so we did suffer a little from cabin fever but we survived and managed to get to a few social occasions during the week!The vols who were taking these sessions had come in from the countryside and it was nice to meet them and make some contacts who may be useful in the future via email or for a floor to sleep on!On Monday during lunch Sarah and I went shopping and managed to buy the makings of Spaghetti Bolognese and even communicate via sign language that we wanted minced meat, and we got it! This was a big achievement as we have about 3 words of Mongolian between us. Unfortunately I wasn’t paying close attention to my backpack on the way home and half way back I discovered a guy with his hand in my bag. I was astonished that when I shouted out he just looked me straight in the eye and then walked on slowly, he didn’t even appear guilty. Apparently this is normal but I was a little shaken.However aside from that we made it home without bother and that evening Sarah and I cooked. The Bolognese turned out really well, but unfortunately the spaghetti went all starchy and was revolting. We rinsed it 3 or 4 times with cold water but nothing was going to save it so eventually we had to have rice Bolognese. It was a pity but it still tasted good. We also made the most of the current supply of fruit and we had pineapple for dessert.On Tuesday I had the morning off which was nice as I got a lie in and a leisurely start to the day. We were warned to go easy on the layers at the minute because if we wear all our layers now when it is just below freezing we will not have anything left for when it gets really cold. So we have scaled back and it actually is much easier to leave the house!Richard cooked a beef bourignon for us which was fantastic, even if we learnt that we should never buy Mongolian wine as Mongolia is not known for having a climate that is good for growing grapes!! But it didn’t taste too bad in the food.Afterwards some of us ventured out on our first evening excursion to one of 3 Irish pubs in UB, the Grand Khaan. I am pretty certain I am the only Irish person who was there that night and according to other vols, in the last year! But the cocktails were good, if expensive for volunteers and there is some western food on the menu which is worth noting for the future. There was some really weird Mongolian drinking games which we refused to get involved in, 2 songs from a band and some singing competition, very strange but funny!On Wednesday although exhausted the UK vols did still make it to Mike’s apartment that night for dinner and drinks! Omelettes, Mongolian Vodka and good company made a very enjoyable evening.On Thursday Sarah and I decided to go for some Mongolian lunch at a place recommended by VSO staff and volunteers just across the road. They spoke very little English so we got out our food sheet and the waitress pointed at what they had! I had the noodles with mutton which was fantastic, and Sarah had the Beef Goulash which came with mashed potatoes which tasted really good! It also only cost just over 1 quid which fits in with my budget– I can see myself eating at this place quite regularly as my work is just around the corner.In the afternoon I had a meeting with Tsolmon, my programme manager who is essentially my contact within VSO who is in charge of my job in Mongolia on the VSO side. It was really great to hear what was expected of me in terms of which bits of the job description were most important. It seems to be that I am going to be doing a little of everything: Networking, fundraising, awareness raising as well as organising a handover conference in the Spring and setting up and running a debating programmes in the high schools of Mongolia. My organisation have a lot of stuff based in rural areas and 7 regional offices and they take field trips every month so hopefully I can get out and about a bit as 20 days off a year is not much when you want to see a huge country!In the evening we had our networking event with the other volunteer agencies based in Mongolia– Peace Corps – Americans, DED - German and AYAD – Australians. They were all really nice - and most of them were quite young which is great. We had free food and alcohol which made the networking much easier and it was great to also get to chat to the other VSO vols as well. From there we headed to Oasis – a cheesy ex-pat nightclub which we arrived at at around 8.30!! It was very strange being in a nightclub so early but after a few drinks we managed to start dancing and enjoying ourselves. However I am just giving up on even trying to look good as the Mongolian girls are naturallybeautiful and I cannot compete! So the Western guys all love the Mongolian girls and then the Mongolian men are not that attractive themselves so we have very little choice!On Friday our final volunteer arrived and she is vegetarian so we had vegetarian for lunch and in the evening we met some other vols for vegetarian at Luna Blanca. This was much better than the lunchtime meal because there was fake meat which was better than veg!I have opted to do the homestay next weekend which sounds a bit scary but an experience.