Saturday, October 6, 2012

Readjustment

I know I haven't finished updating with all of my travels yet because I'm a terrible blogger. But I'm in the mood for a different kind of post today.

I've been back in the states for almost 2 weeks now and I'm floundering. Nothing feels real. I'm floating between houses, crashing in my mother's spare room and on my sister's couch. I meet up with old friends and do activities but I'm "off". I don't talk as much as I used to; I don't react the ways that I used to. People don't mention it, but I feel like they notice it.

I don't have a car, so I rely on others to go anywhere which means I'm never away from the house on my own. I haven't gotten a chance to find something solid. I'm not really and truly connected to anyone or anything. If I up and left the country again, I don't feel like my absence would affect anyone. While I was gone, everyone - friends, family, work - moved on and adjusted to me not being here. And it will take a while for them to make space for me again, for me to become a part of everything that I left again. For now, I'm just extra.

It'll get better. I'm sure it'll get better...but for now, readjustment sucks. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Balkans: Bosnia i Herzegovina and Serbia


I finished up my trip with Jo and only had a week remaining on my Balkans tour with the most important stops still to come.

Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Hertzegovina
and
Belgrade in Serbia

I chose the Balkans because I wanted to learn about the wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia. BiH and Serbia were the two main combatants in my picture of the war and so I was very interested in visiting these two countries more than any of the others. One week for two countries is a terrible schedule, but I tried to make it work.
I left Montenegro by bus. I traveled all along the Montenegrin coastline and it was stunning. I highly recommend that drive to anyone who has the opportunity. Take a car so that you can stop at any of the beautiful little coastal villages along the way. The bus arrived in Dubrovnik in the early evening and I settled down in a hostel. Went out for dinner and a little sight seeing after sunset. Dubrovnik's old town is lovely all lit up. Morning boat ride plans were ruined by rainstorms, but the silver lining was the start of my real Balkan war tour. I'd seen fliers for a war photography exhibit and made my way to the gallery through the rain. The exhibit had blurbs explaining the different conflicts and photographs from many different photographers. Some were black and white and very bleak. They showed families trudging down long muddy roads and the refugee trail. Others were red...filled with fires and blood. They were disturbing and frightening. I've become accustomed to the war photography of the World Wars. GIs and civilians in the hospitals and on the fields, doomed to die or to live ages before I was born or thought of. Their uniforms, hair styles and faces identify them as part of a world that doesn't exist anymore. Those pictures don't ring of the real world. The exhibits in this gallery did. Bottles of coke littering the streets, children wearing Nike or Adidas and the color. I spent a few hours staring at the still photographs, watching the slide shows and listening to the radio broadcasts before heading into town and catching my bus to Mostar.
Mostar has a lovely old town, especially when you consider that the entire old town has been rebuilt since the ceasefire. I must confess that the famous bridge in Mostar looked like a bridge to me and that I cannot fathom how it earned its fame. The jumping competitions off of the bridge would be a sight to see though. The river looks stunning running through the city, and Mostar is home to the only mosque on my trip that allowed me to climb a minaret for a gorgeous view. The town's entire tourism seems focused on that one bridge though and I really would have liked to see what else it had to offer.
The train from Mostar to Sarajevo is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train routes available. The river Danube flows alongside the tracks almost the entire way. And it was lovely, but definitely not more so than the Adriatic had been on my earlier bus ride. I arrived in Sarajevo and met up with my host for my few days in Sarajevo.
First stop was the "Tunnel of Hope". Apparently it's a very famous museum which I'd never heard of before planning this trip. The museum tour begins with a short movie which follows the war from start to finish. The first shots fired to the peace talks in Dayton, Ohio. After watching film of people running from snipers and tanks destroying homes and schools, the video shifts to a conference room where old men sign a piece of paper with expensive pens and simply end the war and the violence.
The museum used to be a private residence. The community members in this small outskirts town in Sarajevo decided to dig a tunnel to filter supplies into the beleaguered capital and this home was the starting point. Only a small portion of the tunnel is still open. The parts that ran under the airport obviously had to be boarded up for security reasons. It's a short tunnel in which I can barely stand straight. Thousands of people traipsed through that tunnel carrying food, water, arms and other necessary supplies. Others traveling the other way, evacuated children and the elderly to safety.
Inside the museum they have artifacts from the war. Tools used to build the tunnel, meal boxes that were supplied by the UN forces and old shells that fell in and around the area. Also they have photographs and notes from some of the museums most famous visitors...whose names I no longer recall, but they were very famous.
More museums the next day and more very depressing videos coverage of the war, but also a lot of inspiring exhibits of how Sarajevo survived the siege  Posters from plays and concerts performed during those four years, paintings from children doing school projects.
I met up with some couchsurfers for a bit of non-depressing time and attended a free concert of famous Balkan performers. No one that I had heard of...but I loved it.
Bus from Sarajevo to Belgrade arrived early in the morning and I stored my luggage for a few hours of exploring the city. Not enough time to do anything too extensive, but I enjoyed walking around downtown Belgrade with two of Belgrade's walking tours: the free walking tour and the underground Belgrade walking tour.
The free tour was great, as they always are. We explored the main sights like the fortress and the Republic square. Friendly guides and interesting stories: ask me about Silicon Valley. Underground Belgrade was kind of short and disappointing. It was a new tour and not as much was available as might be in the future. We explore some (formerly) secret military bunkers, an arms storage area turned night club turned museum and a cave turned wine cellar. Enjoyable, but they'll probably have more available on it if you go sometime in the future. After the tour, I got the best souvenir of my trip from the National Bank of Serbia: a bank note for 1684 Serbian dinars with my smiling face on it! I grant you that in America we can get these fake bills printed at any mall photo booth...but mine was printed by the National Bank and that makes it legitimate in my brain. This option is also available in Hungary from the Hungarian National Bank (so I hear, never tried there).
The war with the rest of the Balkan states rarely came up in the tour guides information except when discussing the inflation or difficulties brought on by the UN sanctions.
         Caught the train out of Serbia and landed in Budapest the next morning. More on that later...if I feel like it. I'm back in the States now and so visiting with friends and families and getting my life in order has taken precedence over updating this blog on my travels

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another behind the times update


So, I'd left Romania one wallet poorer, but a lot of new friends richer. Next stop was Macedonia to meet another new friend, Jo. Jo and I had exchanged messages through CouchSurfing and decided to share the road for a while. Once again, the great country of Bulgaria stood between my origin and my destination points. This time however, I had at least a few hours to spare for the capital city.
Bulgaria was never on my original tour list, but neither were most of the countries that Jo and I decided to see together, so I decided to give Sofia a day's chance to impress me. Bulgaria started on a high note when we drove through the border check and cyrillic letters returned. I grew quite fond of cyrillic in Mongolia and seeing it again boosted my opinion of the entire country. I used my wonderful skills during my day walking around exploring Sofia. It is a beautiful city. Nice narrow winding streets filled with shops and restaurants. Public transport is everywhere, but walking is also quick and easy with streets that have visible signs at every corner. I enjoyed a pastry breakfast with my host before heading off to catch Sofia's free walking tour.
The tour was great, as they usually are, and filled with fun and informative stories about all the important parts of Sofia's history. Like Bucharest, Brasov and every city in this region, the tour focused largely on the big two: Communism and Orthodox religion. Unlike most of the cities, it had a little more to offer. Sofia added Islam, Judaism and Catholicism to the religious tour. In one spot in the city all four religious buildings are in sight at the same time. Just below that point is the other special part of Sofia: the roman ruins beneath the city. Roads, gates and even and ampitheatre sit just below the modern roads, houses and restaurants. It's interesting to see and walk around in. There were excavations going on while I was there, so maybe when you visit there will be more to see and read about it. Unfortunately, the descriptions were usually written in Bulgarian without English translations.
I had less than 24 hours in Sofia, but it was enough to decide that I would like to go back and explore some more. If you get the chance, I'd say check it out.

I skipped straight through the capital of Macedonia (Skopje) and arrived around 2 am in Ohrid. No room available at the hostel that I'd had prepared for the next night, so I camped out in a hotel lobby and watch Thor with the night guard. Good times...woke up and walked to the lake where I promptly sat down pulled out the computer and stole wifi from a nearby cafe, while enjoying the beautiful sunrise by the lake.
Checked into my room and dropped off the bags and then went exploring some more. Struga (a village on the north end of the lake) is small and without great big tourist attractions. Luckily, I can make a tourist attraction out of nearly anything. The market was great fun and I got some lovely peaches for practically nothing. Denari (the currency of Macedonia) is wonderfully cheap compared to the Euro/Dollar/Pound. Pastries, local drinks and more fruit still didn't hurt my budget at all. Saw and art show with some beautiful paintings...I wish I could have identified the artist. Then got a call from my landlord saying that Jo had arrived.
With Jo, I wandered through the countries of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. We swam in lots of different bodies of water, climbed a mountain or two, and lay down on some sandy and some pebbly beaches. But we're gonna skip over most of that just for the sake of brevity. I'll just throw out some of the best bits, in case anyone is reading this for advice on what to do and see.
Macedonia: Do - if you like boats, take the ferry across lake Ohrid from Ohrid to St.Naum. It was 10 euro for a return trip and it's a lovely ride. About 1:30 each way with a monastery and some springs on the St.Naum side.
Don't Do - the Struga international poetry festival. It was boring...The best events were organized just for the actual poets, not for spectators. And the great reading at the end was in Macedonian. The poets read in their native language and everything was translated into Macedonian. I'm not saying that it should have been English, but if you want to understand the poems, just giving you a heads up.
Albania: Do - Pellumbas cave. It wasn't spelunking in the proper sense. No crawling on the ground or lowering yourself through holes in the ceiling/floor. But it was a fascinating cave that I wanted to spend more time it. Take your swim suit with you and go for a dip in the river at the bottom of that mountain, great water and a free fish massage.
Don't Do - Petrella Castle/Fortress. It's an old fortress which has been completely turned into a restaurant. If you're looking for a tea and fancy a climb up a lot of stairs, have fun. But if you want dungeons and towers, look elsewhere.
Montenegro: Do - visit Ulcinj and the 14 km sandy beach. It's beautiful to the ocean side, if a bit rubbish filled to the land side. Also, do take one of the lessons offered by the schools on the beaches. I did windsurfing, but there's also kitesurfing, parasailing and more. Also, do wear watershoes to avoid the weever fish. He stings.
Don't expect buses to run frequently past the 1st of September.
And with that we'll wrap up the post for now. Sorry for the lack of details (or you're welcome), I'll introduce you to Bosnia i Hertzegovia next time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Travel Update

It's been brought to my attention that I don't update this as often as a traveler probably should, so here goes!

I'm no longer in Turkey. It was an amazing place, but I rushed out to catch a CouchSurfing event in Romania.

A group of CouchSurfers created an "activity" on the website of hunting down Dracula's tomb. It was a trip that had everything. Not only vampires, but a vampire's tomb...in a secluded monastery...on a forested island...surrounded by a lake and more forest. So the event was sightseeing, hiking and swimming - i.e. exactly my kind of trip.

After taking a late bus from Istanbul, I arrived in Romania (Bucharest) at around midnight. I hadn't gotten a Romanian phone yet and I didn't have wifi access, so I couldn't contact my Romanian host. I ended up sitting in the bus office from midnight to 7 am just watching old TV shows on my laptop. I love my laptop; the battery life is simply amazing.

Then the great WiFi/internet cafe search of 2012 was underway. I walked for hours around that crazy city without success. I inquired for internet cafes at local newstands and from random strangers, but no luck at all. No WiFi stickers in the windows of restaurants, nothing. McDonalds and KFC don't even have the stickers. Eventually a man on the street tells that the McD does have WiFi. So my first Romanian meal = McDonalds Pancakes (anytime you see pancakes while I'm still in Eastern Europe, read Crepes).

So internet problem solved, I contacted my host and walked over to his apartment. Octavian (that's his name) helped orient me around the city, gave me a bus pass, and helped me figure out what to do while I was there.

---I'm being far too detailed.

I took a walking tour in Bucharest and met someone who was also going on the hike the next morning. Great tour with lots of information about how the city was during the communist times (also saw lots and lots of churches).

I got up early the next day and packed my things in a little bag for the hike, just the essentials - camera, sun screen and Hayley Bear - in a little backpack that Octavian lent me. Unfortunately, it was my day to be a careless tourist and my wallet got swiped on the bus while I wasn't paying attention. I really want to stress how careless I was being, wearing a back pack on my back and standing near the door (it might even have been unzipped), because Bucharest and Romania in general get a bad rap for crime and I don't think they really deserve it. If I'd been so irresponsible in UB my wallet would have been taken as well.

So I didn't make the hike, I got off the bus, noticed my wallet was gone and went to the police. I guess I've been trained right, my automatic response was to file a report. But that was the silliest thing I've probably ever gone through and I knew it was pointless the entire time I was doing it. Octavian came down to the station to help me fill out the report since the police didn't speak/write/read English.

No hike for me...:(. That was my saddest feeling at the end of that day.

But light on the horizon!! I check the CS page and there were others who'd really anticipated the hike and missed it. So I met up with Noah and we agreed to go the next day on our own.

The hike was great, we saw the tomb that may or may not hold the headless remains of the Romanian prince who enjoyed impaling the wicked and drinking their blood. We saw pretty ponies hanging out on the island and we went swimming in the lake. It was a good day, then we met up for a game of Catan and a home made meal at Noah's apartment. I've finally learned Catan!!

The next day I met up with some more CouchSurfers for a tour of the natural history museum in town and then a walk around some parks. And we agreed to meet up again to take a trip out of the city to do some hiking in Brasov (Jason's old Romania site for the Mongol PCVs reading this).

They bailed on me at the last minute of course, but introduced me to yet another person who wanted to go hiking as well. Jo and I took a train out of Bucharest and went to Busteni where we climbed up and saw a tiny waterfall (with a cafe right next door).

Next day the museum group from before showed up (with the addition of my host for Brasov) and we all took the cable car up to a giant cross on the highest mountain in the area, then hiked back down. Great day ended with everyone heading back to Bucharest and me heading on to Brasov with Alberto.

Brasov was beautiful, just like Jason always said it was, it has a nice old town that is surrounded by communist apartment blocked. But these blocks aren't the ones I remember from Mongolia. They're tall, they've been updated and renovated. Inside Alberto's apartment was anything but spartan. And he had a gorgeous terrace with a view of the whole city. We took a night time walk around the city and then went up on of the mountains to get a view of all the lights from above.

Next day Alberto had to work, like a grown-up, and I was on my own to explore the city. I met up with another CSer from Brasov and he showed me around the city a little bit and then we took a short drive out to one of the places I most desired to see in Romania - the seven ladders waterfall. Jason had so many pictures of this waterfall on his computer that I was entranced. It was a fun climb all along the waterfall. Then that host had to work, so I joined up with the Guided Brasov walking tour and saw some more of the city (oh...I also climbed up to the big Brasov Hollywood sign). Brasov was less communism and more ancient history, a fun change.

And...the 1am train to Constanta! I really missed my Mongolian train that night. Romanian (and eastern Europe in general) oversells the tickets in 3rd class. But they sell the correct number of seats, then everyone else just has to stand or sit on the floor. I couldn't believe that...for a 7 hour train ride through the middle of the night, people were standing. I fell asleep on my bag on the floor and slept marvelously.

Sea bathing in the black sea with a big fire raging on another beach near me. And then back to Bucharest. I spent the next day arguing with the card companies and delivery companies trying to find out when/where my replacement cards would arrive. Success with FedEx and the card arrived promptly the next afternoon. Had a goodbye night on the town with my museum/hiking group and then hit the road for Sofia (1 day) and Macedonia/Albania/Montenegro.

----Really tired of writing now, so more later, I should be exploring Vienna.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Turkey

             Border control is an interesting experience. This is my first time in a long time crossing an international border by anything other than airplane. It's cool that it's almost a continental border. As I type, a Bulgarian official is going over our bus for illegal goods. I don't know what it is illegal to bring into Bulgaria, but judging from the other people on the bus, I'd guess there is some rule against cigarettes. One woman ran into the duty free shop at the Turkish border and bought several cases which she passed out among the passengers who promptly stuffed them down their shirts, pants, bras, bags and anywhere else they could find. I can't believe that Bulgaria doesn't have cigarettes, but I guess they might simply be cheaper in Turkey.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Egypt


Mohamed, my spontaneous city guide
Aug 1 -

Today was a long, long day. I woke up at an undetermined hour and set off on my first Cairo adventure. The streets were almost entirely empty of people and cars. I met up with another walker, Mohammed from Yemen/New York, and he offered to help me find a map of the city since every shop was closed. When we failed to find a map, he changed his offer into a personal tour of the city and its sights. So I know, don't get in cars with strangers is the biggest and most important rule of travel. In a foreign country, with no phone, no language, and without the protection of even a single friend, it's about the stupidest thing a person can do. But we all know that I'm a trusting person, trusting the point of being an idiot. So I went on a tour of the city and Mohamed was a wonderful guide. We took a ferry across the Nile river and I rode a camel at the pyramids. A great start to my trip.
It was hot out though and I had been trying to fast, so I was tired and went back to the apartment to rest. I gave up the fast and grabbed some food and rested for a few hours watching American tv shows and playing on the internet. But I had a short time in Cairo, so I decided to brave the big city again.
Terrible idea. I got lost despite the map I had finally acquired and spent hours wandering in the terrible hot sun. I did get to Cairo tower eventually and got some lovely sunset pictures. The smog of Cario actually made some pretty rings in the photographs.

Aug 2 -
The Egyptian museum isn't air-conditioned! Call me whatever names you'd like, spoiled, ethnocentric, what-have-you, but museums are supposed to be air-conditioned. I thought it had something to do with protecting the artifacts. They have to be in a controlled environment, not subject to the whims of mother nature. Well, the Egyptian artifacts have survived 3000+ years without the benefits of AC, so I guess they'll survive for a while longer, but it was a shock to my American way of thought. I did make a quick loop through the museum and saw so, so many relics from the time of the pharaohs with a few Romans thrown in. There were statues, vases, jars, games, boats, palanquins, tombs, jewelry, coffins, and lots of mummies. I didn't even buy the extra ticket to see the royal mummies because mummies are just dead people and I think that it's creepy to stare at dead people. But the general admission ticket had plenty of mummies anyway. Please...never let me be mummified because thousands of years later someone will find that mummy and put me on display no matter how insignificant my life was.
The Egyptian museum (no cameras inside)
Couch Surfing friends by the Mediterranean sea


Evening - wandered around and got lost again...

Aug 3 -
Went to Alexandria! Saw a concert! It was wonderful. We spent the morning on a bus, paved roads the whole way, one seat per person. Great beginning to the trip. We were met by a friend of our host who took us all around the city. We saw the citadel where the famous Alexandria lighthouse used to be before they gave up rebuilding it.  We saw the catacombs: creepy but so much cooler than staying above ground. And we went to the beach and chilled by the shore of the Mediterrean Sea. And then in the evening we drove over to the Jesuit Cultural Center and watched a performance by a local dance/song/music group.



Aug 4 -
Morning - trip back to Cairo. Another nice air-conditioned ride down a paved road. We arrived and rested for a little while before heading out again on a shopping excursion. The bazaar was simply huge. People calling out from all directions claiming to have the very thing your heart desired and at a very reasonable price too. There were pyramids of all shapes and sizes (excluding life sized) and made out of all types of materials. Usually they came in sets of three to match the 3 at Giza. There were also sphynxes, golden bracelets, Egyptian gods of all varieties and sarcophogi (including a little toy mummy inside). I don't understand the fascination with mummies; they're corpses wrapped in bandages. Anyway, after all the shopping was an amazing concert in a mosque.






Aug 5 - Took an overnight bus to Hurghada by the Red Sea. Woke up and spent the entire day just laying either in or near the water. Then another night bus back to Cairo
Sunrise over the Red Sea

Aug 6 - Today I went and saw a lot of religious sites. Churches, Mosques, a synagogue and even the baby Moses well. Then I went to a big couch surfing gathering on a  boat in the Nile before having a final goodbye meal with my host. Great time in Egypt, but my 3am flight to Istanbul awaits.


My final meal in Cairo



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Preparations

Hello again people who happened upon this page,

It's something like...36 hours(as I write this) until I leave Mongolia (my math could be wrong). So I'm finalizing my preparations for Egypt and Turkey. I've got a few more signatures to collect on my paperwork and a few more souvenirs to purchase, but the bag (notice the lack of plural there?) is packed, the plane tickets are purchased and accommodations have been found.

Since I'll be traveling in largely Islamic countries during the holy month of Ramadan, I've decided I should observe some of the rituals to be respectful, so I'm going to begin fasting tomorrow at sunrise. I know I missed the start date, but better late than never applies to everything, right? I've also found a decent headscarf, but I feel silly wearing it. We'll see if that's really expected or considered important. I'll try to keep the blog updated as I make my way up through Europe, but no promises.

Now... I had said I would write something about Mongolian travel, so here we are.

I'm sure everyone has had experiences when traveling that were frustrating. Tires pop, flights get delayed and sometimes friends bail on plans. Sure it might make you want to tear your hair out, and sure maybe your entire trip has to be scrapped, but these instances of unpreventable trip disaster are the exception rather than the rule.

In Mongolia the opposite is true. It is exceptional when a car ride doesn't result in some kind of breakdown. It is remarkable when scheduled buses leave on time. It is almost unheard of that all passengers arrive on time. Sounds unbearable, doesn't it?

Thing is, that it is bearable (for me anyway). These things, these travel catastrophes, are out of my control. They are an inevitable part of travel in a country with no roads and few off-road vehicles. And since they are inevitable, I just have to give myself up to the fates and accept what happens. I I have adopted a new travel philosophy here that makes travel almost a zen experience. There is no point in getting upset, getting impatient, getting frustrated, or feeling despair. None of those things will alter your ETA in the least. The only thing that they will do is make my trip less enjoyable.

As a supplement to this Hakuna Matata travel mode, I also simply decided to trust in the driver. You do this when you get into an airplane as well. You surrender control and simply expect that the pilot knows how to fly a plane better than you. You cannot judge his methods because you yourself are not a pilot. With cars it is different. If you can drive, then you judge the driver. Why did you take Main St? Peachtree has fewer speed bumps. The speed limit is 75 and you're only going 60 (or you're going 85). You typically cannot refrain from offering advice or comparing the driver's way of driving to your own. I've stopped doing that here. I trust my driver to get from point A to point B through a network of roads that don't really exist except on the map. The reason I trust my driver is the same reason you trust your pilot. He has the skills and experience that I do not have and never have had. The Mongolian countryside is at least as confusing and strange as the world above the clouds, so if the driver choose to drive on the grass rather than the paved road, I trust that he has a reason.

I enjoy traveling in Mongolia. When I travel, I give up control of my life for a dozen or so hours. I trust in the universe and in my driver to deliver me to my destination unharmed. And so far at least, they always have.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Readjustment Worries



This will be yet another installment of Lauren's self-analysis series as she prepares to leave Mongolia. So if this sounds boring, as it should to any normal human being, feel free to skip and wait for the next installment, which will probably be a detailed description of why travel in Mongolia is simply terrible. For now...an internal monologue.

It's 9 days until my flight to Egypt. Between now and then, I have no remaining Peace Corps duties. I had thought that once my final project was complete that I'd finally start recognizing how soon my departure was, but the realization still eludes me. America still feels just as far as, or farther, it did when I arrived two years ago. Usually, I find it impossible to reconcile the calendar and my reckoning of time. I can't wrap my brain around the fact that soon, very soon, I'll have an indoor toilet, soft toilet paper, high-speed internet, cars, and constant, ever-present English. I don't know how I'll handle it.
I don't know how many of the people that read this blog have lived abroad. From the stats, which I do enjoy checking, I know lots of you find the blog through PC Journals. So you've at least though about it, or served yourself. Do you understand why it frightens me when I realize that I'll soon trade my outhouse for a porcelain pot? Do you understand how high-speed internet and washing machines can be more frightening than coming here was in the first place? As silly as it might sound, I think I'm afraid that when I go back to America and all it's finery, I'll forget everything that happened here. I'll become the same person I was when I left and it will be as if the last two years never happened. I'll fall back into my old patterns, see the same people, go to the same places, eat the same food. And if that happens...what was the point? If I go on as I did before, and the people here go on as they did before, then why did I leave at all?
And what if I don't fall right back into place. What if America, which also went on as it always has, has gone too far and I cannot catch up? Justin Beiber, Ipads, and an election, that's too much already. But my family has also continued on without me, I have to catch up with them as well. At least 3 new babies, a marriage or two, children that used to be babies, new jobs, new apartments, holidays and family reunions, I honestly don't think I know anyone anymore.
Simply put, I can and do worry about almost anything. But you my lucky blog followers, are just about the only people who get to read about my internal insanity. People have moved, adjusted, removed and readjusted for centuries, and I can only imagine they will continue to do so for the next few centuries. So I'll manage fine in the end. Look forward to a less whiny post next time around!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Activities

So you're a TEFL Peace Corps volunteer and work at a secondary school. School starts on Sep 1 and ends on Jun 1, so that obviously means you have all of June, July and August to drink and be merry, right?

Not so! Just like all the other sectors of Peace Corps, TEFL volunteers are supposed to be on-duty 24/7 for the time they're in country. Since school is out and your main job is null, you are expected to find secondary projects to fill that time. Really this just means that you are now on an even keel with the other volunteers (at least in Mongolia) and are forced to make up your own job for a little while.

The way I solved this problem last year was to sign up for a summer camp. Mongolia has tons of English camps, sports camps, and I'm sure other types as well. I signed up for one camp and followed it through the whole summer. This had the advantage of not requiring me to spend money or time on finding food, lodging or travel the whole summer long. It had the distinct disadvantage of keeping me in one place the whole summer long.

This summer I took a different approach. So far, I've done a camp in the far west, worked at an orphanage in the big city and taken a short vacation to the far north, and I'm not finished yet. Tomorrow (or whenever I get a bus ticket) I'm headed out east for a seminar on Women's Empowerment. By using this method, I'm spending way over a week with my butt in a bus seat; I'm spending just over 200,000 Tugs on tickets (though I'm crashing with other volunteers so no lodging fees); and, I'm seeing the entirety of my country virtually guilt free and without using my precious-few vacation days.

If you're a really enterprising volunteer, you can find plenty of opportunities during the summer that will fulfill your Peace Corps requirement not to be a lazy bum, while still having a great time. Find all the camps, seminars, conferences and schools that might want a volunteer and do some comparison shopping. Maybe one is near a beautiful lake that you've been dying to see; maybe one will put all volunteers up in a nice hotel for the duration; maybe one just has a slue of awesome interesting activities and great participants. Working during the summer, at least to me, is a lot more rewarding than sitting around anyway. Also for some volunteers, summer secondary projects are their most lasting and effective work in-country.

Now, off to do COS paper work!

Friday, June 29, 2012

I'm Leaving?

June is drawing to a close. As July begins, I've come to notice that the number of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers has dropped dramatically. The M21 group, my group, is clearing out and making way for the new batch of volunteers (M23).

The first M21s to return to North America left over a month ago. They've already begun finding jobs, buying cars, renting apartments and taking college classes. They're so completely separated from what they were just a month ago. Most of the English teaching volunteers left Mongolia in mid-June. A lot of them went straight home, but others are traveling the globe in search of beaches and forests. It's really a very short time before I join them. I officially finish my service on July 31st and should land in Egypt just hours after I sign the last piece of paperwork. But despite all that, it still hasn't really sunk in that I'm moving, that I'm leaving this country to settle into a brand new place for the foreseeable future.

I've turned in my paper work, found my plane ticket out of Mongolia and my plane ticket back to the States, I've applied to grad school and signed my assistantship contract, so why doesn't it feel real yet? Why does it feel like everyone is just on vacation and that I'll see them all in UB again soon?

I guess maybe I'm one of those strange people that can't imagine the future until it arrives. I can't anticipate being gone until my last bag is packed and I'm standing at the airport waving good bye to my home for these last two years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Land Travel

One of the first things you learn upon arriving in Mongolia is that travel is a pain. You leave the airport and take a bus, taxi, van, whatever out onto the “streets” of Mongolia and learn that travel here sucks. The vehicles are old and rickety, the paved roads are unmaintained and the unpaved roads are…way more common than the paved ones, and the distances are far, very far. Despite all these things, people have to travel and so there are routes to get around.


Some are rather blasé, a simple straight shot down a paved road or an overnight train ride. But others are more epic and provide plenty of food for the imagination. When I first arrived in Mongolia, the most inspiring and interesting and, to me at least, attractive trip was the trip to Bayan-Olgii. Bayan-Olgii was an inspiring destination in itself. It’s where Kazakhstan meets Mongolia; it’s where shamans still perform rituals; it’s where men hunt on horses with eagles; it’s got mountains, mosques, and lakes. When I arrived in Mongolia, I’d never heard of Bayan-Olgii; I didn’t know that Mongolia had different ethnicities or that some percentage of the population speaks Mongolian as a second language and Kazakh as the first. Once I’d heard all this though, I wanted to live there. Failing that, I wanted to visit.

There are two ways to travel in Mongolia, by land or by air. Air travel is expensive and boring, so when I was planning my trip this summer, land was the clear choice. Did you ever know someone who climbed mountains just to see the view or someone who ate a chocolate covered ant just to know what it tasted like? Well, I took the bus from Olgii (the capital of Bayan-Olgii province) to Ulaanbaatar just because I wanted to know what it was like. It was long and mostly boring, but with some beautiful sights along the way that I couldn’t have seen from a plane. I met some interesting people and got to learn a little Kazakh from my bus mates. The route went from Olgii, through Khovd, Govi-Altai, Bayan-Hongor, and Uverhangai, to UB. The entire trip was bumpy and tiring, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, just very boring. Next time I take a deck of cards.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Changes - Cont...



I just had a great weekend hanging out with the Australian volunteer in our aimag center. We went for a walk/hike to the Eej Mod (Mother Tree) yesterday and then she came and visited my village today. She's a recent arrival to Mongolia and so has a fresh perspective on life here and it's made me realize a few more of the things that have changed about me since being here.

My standards for pretty much everything are gone. When I arrived the freezing gusts of Mongolia kept me hidden away in my house with my heater and stove, now, I venture forth into the wind on the slightest errand or whim. My bed, which is a sheet covering some wooden boards, used to be hard and uncomfortable, but now I prefer it the soft cozy mattresses. In America, I prided myself on not being wasteful. If I cooked something to eat, then I ate it no matter how poorly it tasted. I guess I lied about having no standards because I couldn't keep up that practice here. Sometimes you just can't finish the sugar-raisin rice or the sour-milk-curd ice cream, and sometimes there is just far too much meat in your vegetarian soup.

The biggest change that Mongolia has brought me doesn't have anything to do with food or culture or weather, it has to do with family. I left America without shedding a tear for the family and friends I'd be leaving behind. I had never intended to stay in Tennessee within easy driving distance of the family anyway, and with the internet, phones, and the post, I didn't expect Mongolia to feel any farther away than when I'd gone to university or if I'd moved out west.
But it is farther...and that does make a difference. Not being able to contact my family has been one of my biggest challenges and it's made me realize how dependent I actually have been on them over my lifetime. Maybe I wasn't one of those Freshmen who had to call home every night and visit every weekend, but I did enjoy going out to eat with my sister at the spur of a moment or taking my little brother out for the day or dropping in on my mother for little to no reason.
The internet is iffy at best in my area. The modem that I bought for my house has basic internet, but not nearly Skype quality. So I beg for the key to the computer lab and walk to the school at midnight. The internet is slow; it's choppy and the room is cold, but I get to see some familial faces as long as I'm willing to stay up and no one at home has to work.
A 12-hour time difference is easy to calculate but hard to navigate. While I'm awake and at home, my family is usually sleeping or working. While they're awake and and at home, I'm usually sleeping or working. Early mornings, late nights, and weekends are the workable hours. Phone calls are expensive, but phone cards and the internet mitigate the costs a bit.
And, of course, there are letters. Snails are far faster than the Mongolian Postal Service. Okay, so that's cruel. Letters from America usually take about a month and packages slightly longer than that; I've never a met a snail that could cross an ocean and a continent that quickly. The time delay of letters make them an imperfect form of communication though. I love, love, love, love getting letters from home. They cheer me up on the cloudiest, stormiest, most frustrating days, but they aren't a solid two way form of connection. They are journal entries shared via post. I get to hear about people's daily lives and their inner thoughts and it's great. But by the time my responses arrive in America, the events are 2 months our of date and the writer probably doesn't even remember what was said.
So Mongolia has brought me a greater appreciation for a lot of things in America: Vegetarian restaurants, running water, central heat, stable power grid, highways, and the USPS. But above all that, I've learned to appreciate the relationships that I used to take for granted.

Wish I Could Be Mongolian



Written and Sung by my friend Emma with photos from all over the internet put together by me.

 Enjoy this musical look into the land I've loved for 2 years and will be leaving soon.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Changes

I've been living in Mongolia and working with the Peace Corps for almost a full two years now, and I feel like it's time to reflect and see how that's changed me. Almost anyone who's served in the Peace Corps will tell you that it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience and that it's changed their worldview or their lives forever. Maybe they'd even parrot back one of the the Peace Corps taglines. It's the hardest job you'll ever love – or if they didn't like service – the longest vacation you'll ever hate. I'm afraid I'm just not dramatic enough to say any of those things. They all seem almost hyperbolic. Yes, Peace Corps service has been a unique and great experience overall, but saying that it's once-in-a-lifetime isn't fair to the rest of my life. Every experience is once-in-a-lifetime, nothing can ever be repeated exactly. A child's first step is once-in-a-lifetime, a hike with your friends to a new mountain is once-in-a-lifetime. Just because I've been living in foreign country doesn't mean my experiences are more once-in-a-lifetime, just more disconnected from yours. Mongolians wouldn't find my experiences unique or interesting. I do common place Mongolian things, but they're special to me. When I joined the Peace Corps and got on a plane to Mongolia, I'd been a college graduate and the holder of a Bachelors degree for fully one month. I had little to no life experiences outside of the educational system. For 13 years, my biggest goal was to pass the next test, advance to the next grade and graduate. So, tell me, did my worldview change? Of course, but not because I was in Mongolia. It changed because I've grown up and been an independent person for a couple of years. Hopefully, anyone who has lived in the world will tell you they're a different person than when they graduated high school or college. That said, I'm sure my changes and their changes are quite as different as the environments in which they were effected. Mongolia is the most friendly and generous place I've ever been. Seeing small children who use their only pocket money (or a sudden windfall) to purchase a packet of 4 cookies and then give three of those away, seeing people receive birthday gifts of packets of candy, cookies, sodas, or whatever, and immediately open to give them all away to guests, and of course seeing the best students absolutely incapable of not helping their struggling classmates (even during a test) cannot leave a person unaffected. I like to think I was a sharer in America, but I know that I've improved upon it by learning from Mongolians. But, I need to remember children in America will not appreciate candies handed out by a random stranger (and their parents might call the police). I've been a highly visible member of my community for my entire stay. I don't even have to do anything special and people will still remember seeing me. Oh we saw the foreigner at the shop today buying toilet paper. She buys the cheap kind! or I saw the foreigner reading a book outside. She must be lonely. No matter where I go or what I do, I'm a possible topic of conversation. One of the main things people remark upon is my wardrobe. They notice my hair, my shoes, my lack of make-up, my jacket, pants, bracelets and watch. And all articles are worthy of comment and reflection. This has made me hyper aware of my own outfit choices. I'm not saying that I've become stylish or even that I'm no longer slovenly, but now I feel a twinge of guilt whenever I put on a comfortable but slightly tarnished pair of sneakers. I miss my insensibility to style. It made my life so much simpler. Before Mongolia, mirrors were for brushing my teeth and preparing for a big party. Now I'm afraid I check myself in them constantly and clean my shoes, hem my pants and throw out shirts with stains. Remember that visibility, well it's particularly annoying when I engage in my new habit of talking or singing to myself. I represent all of America (aside from pop stars) to my village. And now they must think that Americans chatter to themselves incessantly. I only talk about normal things. As I walk to a shop I wonder aloud what it is that I want to buy, or perhaps try to remember what I had decided to buy. I talk about how much money is in my account or about when I should go to the capital for vacation. What I'm saying doesn't matter at all though because no one can understand me. The reason I (and many other Peace Corps volunteers) picked up the habit of talking to myself is that there are very few other people to talk to fluently. When I walk to the store with a coworker or student, I necessarily lower my speaking pace and vocabulary level. Talking about what I want to buy becomes work, an impromptu lesson on vegetable vocabulary. Imagine having no one that you could just talk to about pointless and irrelevant things. You'd take to talking to yourself too just to remember the enjoyable feeling of talking about nothing. I sing to myself also because there's no one to sing to. I sing the songs that all little American children know, but that even the most advance English student here has never heard. Sometimes I sing them in class and try to teach the lyrics and melody, but that's work and they aren't interested. My students want to learn “we are the world” or “I wanna be a millionaire.” So I sing to myself and enjoy a short trip home while I walk to the post office. This is getting too long. Expect more of my self-analysis in later posts! Happy Memorial Day to all you Americans and a special Happy Birthday to my big sister. I'll see you soon Sis.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

монгол хэл: хоёр хэсэг

Okay, I promised more Mongolian language, so here it is. These are a few of the Mongolian words that might cause you to either scratch your head or laugh out loud when directly translated. Enjoy. Foodstuffs: усан үзэм - Water Raisin – Grape далайны байцаа – Sea Cabbage – Seaweed цэцэгний байцаа - Flower Cabbage – Broccoli цагаан цэцэгний байцаа - White Flower Cabbage – Cauliflower элсэн чихэр – Sand Candy – Sugar Animals and Body parts: яст мэлхий – Bone Frog – Turtle эмгэн хумс – Old Woman's Fingernail – Snail тэмээн аалз – Camel-like spider – tarantula тэмээн гөрөөл – camel-like antelope – lama тэмээн хяруул – camel-like bird – ostrich хөх товч – Breast Button – Nipple эр/эм бэлэг эрхтэн – Men/Women Gift Organ – Penis/Vagina People and Places: төмөр зам - Iron Way – Railroad галт тэрэг - Fire Carriage - Train бие засах газар - Body Repair Place – Toilet/Restroom шөнө эрвээхий – Night Butterfly – Prostitute солонгос хүн – person from the rainbow – Korean Other: тэмээ – camel – Bishop (in chess) цагаан толгой - White Head – Alphabet цэцэг өвчин – Flower Sickness – Smallpox шал тэнэг – Floor stupid – Idiotic Hope you thought at least some of those were funny.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I can't speak for everyone living abroad, but there are some sights, sounds and tastes that induce homesickness, while there are other sights, sounds, tastes that relieve it. I'm not going to try to figure out why, but I thought the list might be interesting for my friends and family. Biggest Causes of Homesickness: 3. Pictures of Food – On the internet, on a menu at a restaurant (where the pictures are never what is actually for sale), in a really random picture hanging in someone's house – it doesn't really matter where, but pictures of waffles topped with ice cream, club sandwiches and crisp slices of dill pickles make me wish I were some place where food cravings can be instantaneously indulged. And I don't even like pickles or club sandwiches. 2. Holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, and, for me, especially Halloween are just things that should be done at home surrounded by family and friends who share the innate understanding that Reeses Eggs taste better than Reeses Trees and both are better than Reeses cups. 1. Facebook – Facebook is a blessing and an evil. Yes, with facebook you will always know what your family and friends are up to. You'll know who broke up with who and who got what new job. But most of this information will be completely disconnected from you and your life overseas. Your friends will talk about new restaurants that opened after you left or new people they met after you left, new babies that have been born. All of this would be fine, except that this information isn't directly transmitted to you. It's something you read about as an outsider. Facebook makes me feel disconnected from people while it taunts me with informational blurbs about their lives. It gives me a snippet of what life would be back if I were there, but just enough to remind me that I'm not there and that life has gone on uninterrupted without me. Best Homesickness Relief: 3. Comfort Food – Sometimes the best way to improve my mood is to spend several hours putting together a legitimate American meal. This could be pizza or a pot pie or chili, but it will be something that no restaurant in Mongolia does correctly. The act of cooking is very calming and the final meal makes me feel accomplished and satisfied. Other times a small treat is enough to lift my spirits, usually something from a package, and something that I cannot buy or make in Mongolia. Oreos and Nerds are great examples. Occasionally, just a simple grilled cheese sandwich and potato chips are enough to make me happy and content. 2. Letters from home – Unlike Facebook, letters are personalized. They are information sent directly from one person to another. They require effort and thought. When I get a letter from someone back home, I think about how that person was thinking about me enough to put aside time to tell me something about what is going on. Yes, all the things they talk about will still probably be unrelated to me, but the fact that my friend wants me to know about these things makes the connection between us stronger. For me, exchanging letters is the most meaningful way of keeping in touch with my family and friends back home. They make me feel like I'm still apart of what is going on (even when the letters arrive a month after their information is out of date). 1. Geographically Convenient Relationships – When you are having fun and being engaged in relationships in your new home, its difficult to feel sad about the friends you left behind. Or at least you have someone to talk it out with, and I believe that talking makes most all problems more manageable.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mongolian Language: Part 1

One of the things most difficult about living in a foreign culture is the trouble with communication. In non-native English countries, it's hard to find fluent English speakers outside of the capital city. It becomes even harder to find someone to converse with in English the further you travel from one of these native English countries. Mongolia, landlocked between Russia and China, is very far from any such country: India is the closest and I'm not sure that it counts as native English.

That being said, although my main purpose here is to teach English, communication is often easier if the visitor simply learns the country's native tongue (duh...). For my next few blog posts, I'm going to be educating (and probably boring) you dear readers with what I consider interesting Mongolian information, words and phrases. Very little of this information will be actually useful if you want to speak the language, but enjoy nonetheless.

Next post, we'll do something fun with the language, but first I think you need to know something about Mongolian before you can find its constructions and translations humorous. Bear with me.

Basic Mongolian Information

Mongolian and English are different for a lot of reasons, but essentially two main things: the alphabet and the prepositions.
The alphabet is cyrillic. It's the alphabet used by Russia and a lot of the former soviet states. Before I came to Mongolia, I had a bit of fun naming the characters to remember what they were and what sounds they made. A capital в does not make a 'b' sound. It sounds like a strange combination between V and W. The alphabet doesn't distinguish between the two which is why my students and many Soviet born actors have difficulty with V and W words in English. The я which I called the backwards 'R' makes a 'ya' sound. The lowercase 'R' or г is actually a G, although it has a 'ck' sound to it occasionally. You can look up lists of what the different characters sound like on google if you're actually interested. I'll type out some simple words at the bottom. Try to read them for fun.
Secondly, Mongolian doesn't have prepositions. The language does everything with suffixes. It still does have pronouns, verbs and subjects, so at least it isn't as crazy as I imagine Latin to be. But with a simple two words you can convey “I am at my home” би (I) гэр(home)т(at)ээ(my). The be verb is usually unnecessary in such simple sentences. The suffixes have various meanings and change depending on which word they are attached to, so learning them was/is quite a challenge for me. It was difficult to force my brain to accept that people don't see that би гэр and би гэртээ as the same (I am a home vs. I am at home). Suffixes have never meant much in my mind. Anyway, there might be a list of Mongolian suffixes online, but I'll give you a small sampling here.
тай – with
т – at, on, in (pretty much all location prepositions)
руу - to
ийн – of (mostly for possessive)
ний – for/of (or to make a word into a modifier 'food store' 'clothing dresser')
ийг - ~to (this is used to show the object of certain verbs. I hit him. Him would get the suffix.)

Two more small differences between Mongolian and English before we end this post. Vowels in Mongolian can be short or long. They don't sound different (not like the difference between bot and boot), they just last longer. You pronounce the а in ав for half the time that you pronounce the а in аав. The first is a verb meaning to take, the second is father. It's sometimes an important distinction. The word for бас is only one а short of becoming defecation баас: a mistake that natives find hilarious.
Finally, much like in French, the final letter isn't always pronounced. Mongolians do not say the last letter if it is a single vowel. Just end the word with the consonant. Try out your new Cyrillic skills on the following words. Next post I'll try to have something a bit more fun.

Аяга
лааз
амэрик

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Birthday

Do you remember how birthdays felt as a kid? To me, birthdays were always so exciting and special. They were a day when the world almost did revolve around me. My relatives from all over the states would call just to wish me a happy and fun birthday. My friends would come over and bring me presents. My mom would bake/buy a cake, prepare games, make up gift baggies, and do basically everything to make my party spectacular. I would get to cut the cake; I would get to open the presents; I got to hit the pinata first. Of course, writing this now it looks very self-indulgent and I'm sure I seem terribly spoiled, but it was a wonderful day.
Now that I'm an adult, my birthday doesn't seem special. I'm not a child and so I guess it's assumed I don't need (or want) the same amount of attention. Part of the problem is probably my location and the internet. Of course I haven't gotten visitors or phone calls all day, I'm in Mongolia. Phone calls to the far east aren't cheap, and facebook messages can convey the same sentiment without the cost or time zone calculations of a real life phone call. But, I miss the phone calls and the visitors all the same. And I miss the external trappings of children's parties. Adult birthday parties don't have pinatas and gift baggies. They don't have to have silly games or funny hats. Some people even have a party without cakes, songs and presents.
In the service of “cross-cultural” education, I'm reclaiming the trappings of my childhood birthdays. I'm throwing myself a birthday party with games, gift bags, cake and candles. Later today, my 8th grade students will join me for birthday cake, pin the tail on the donkey, and pinata filled fun. After baking the cake, drawing the donkey poster, cutting out the donkey tails, paper macheing a turtle (sort of) and cleaning my house, I really appreciate all the effort that my mother put into making my birthdays so amazing. I don't think she reads this blog, but I didn't appreciate her enough when I was a kid, and I don't tell her what a good job she did often enough now.
Anyway, I have to go to sleep so that I'll be energetic enough to wrangle the kids tomorrow. Sleep tight, my friends!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's

I don't know if anyone has ever not wanted to do their work as much as I don't want to right now. I suppose some of the Nazi soldiers at the death camps probably had their reservations, but I'm not willing to grant any other exceptions.
I'm supposed to be writing lesson plans right now. Not a great many lesson plans and not with any oversight or standards to meet. I could be finished in about 5 minutes if I could just get my head around this mental road block. I honestly probably need to write 50 more words to be completely finished with the 10th grade lesson planning, and yet here I sit, typing far more than 50 words and I'm not even sure who I'm typing them to and if I'll ever do anything with them.
The aimag education department is supposed to visit my school sometime this week (tomorrow according to the schedule) and check my teacher's lesson plans. I've known for weeks that I needed to write lesson plans for the 9th and 11th grades. My teacher and I agreed to divide the lesson plans to make it easier on both of us. It was well planned out and she's finished her part of the bargain. Today, my other counterpart asked me to write lesson plans for 2 full semesters of 10th grade for tomorrow, I told her no and agreed to write a few lesson plans instead.
For some reason, I decided to do those few lesson plans instead of finishing the ones I agreed to write weeks ago; and now it's possible that I won't finish either. That's not true, I will finish the 10th grade before I go to sleep. I really had hoped to take today off, at least after my lessons, for a holiday. It's true that I don't have any of the traditional reasons to celebrate Valentine's day. But I really was in the mood for a nice American celebration. I wanted to watch Pride and Prejudice while eating chocolate and heart shaped foods with no concerns in the world. I found some chocolate and some heart shaped cookies, but as I skipped and fast-forwarded through Pride and Prejudice I felt guilty for not working on my lesson plans. Guilt ruins holiday celebrations. Also Mr. Darcy's proposal isn't as entertaining when rushed. All and all a failure of a holiday. Next major American celebration is St.Patrick's Day which will probably be overshadowed by women's and men's day. Guess I could try to pull of an amazing prank for April Fool's Day.
Anyway, happy Valentine's Day to all my friends, family and to all the strangers too. I hope everyone got to do something to make themselves and someone else happy or comfortable today.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Posh Corps

Most people don't realize that Peace Corps service is divided into two categories: Peace Corps (Khudoo/Country) and Posh Corps. Khudoo volunteers are the people you'd typically envision. They live in one room huts in Africa, felt tents in Mongolia and mud shacks in where ever else. They're the people going without electricity, running water, and communcation. They walk 2 miles in the snow or burning sun to get to work, 4 hours to get to the nearest telephone, and 8 hours to the nearest village market (I'm exaggerating of course). These are Peace Corps picturesque volunteers, but I'm not really sure they exist anymore.
Posh Corps is the polar opposite of this picture. Posh Corps volunteers live in apartments with power, central heating, and hot running water. They not only have internet access in their cities, but in their homes. Often it's broadband internet, and volunteers can stream their favorite sporting events live, skype with family members at all hours and watch YouTube to their hearts content. They have full kitchens with ovens and sinks which they never use because they also have delicious restaurants serving food from their local country and foreign cuisine. They wash their clothes in washing machines or get them sent out to a laundry service. They live it up. This sounds amazing, but these situations are also few and far between.
In Mongolia at least, the two categories are closer to each other than you might expect. Khudoo and Posh Corps volunteers have cell phones, so no one has to walk through miles of snow for a phone, Both categories typically purchase their own internet and as the country develops more and more soums (villages) are getting access to satellite internet modems. If a village doesn't have that, it's probable that it has an internet cafe (so children can play WoW). The khudoo doesn't have running water, but often the apartments have only very cold or very hot water. So Posh volunteers end up having to heat their sink water before pouring it into a tub to bathe. Apartments have heating, but it's often spotty and usually only works duing the winter months. Until the apartment owner decides to turn on the hot water and the radiators, apartment dwellers have no method of heating thier homes. Khudoo people rely on fire to heat their homes year-round and so are warm as often as they put forth the effort. Having the control outweighs the effort in my book. Ovens and blenders and sinks and other kitchen necessities are few and far between. Volunteers who want them can purchase them in the city or in the country. If an apartment comes with these nice appliances, they might be in perfect condition or they might burn and set fire to anything they touch.
The real deciding factor on Khudoo vs. Posh Corps is the mindset. If a volunteer feels like thier life is full of deprivations and that they are learnign to live the simple life, then they'll classify themselves as Khudoo; if they feel like this life is just the same life, containing different but equivilant challenges, then their probably Posh Corps. I used to consider myself Khudoo, but I just washed all my laundry in a washing machine rather than hand wash them, so I'm altering my status. It's the Posh Corps life for me from now on! Now I'm off to vacation in the city and enjoy showers and restaurants.