About couple of weeks ago I went on an outreach trip with work. We took the trip to visit aimag (province) capitals and soums (small villages) to reach people in rural areas and to make contacts with schools, NGOs, and aimag officials. We did about 1,225 miles in one week on mostly good roads. Every day was packed with a full schedule and I don’t think I got back to the hotel before 10 p.m. once, but it was such a good time. In total we had a caravan of three cars and 12 people: me and two coworkers, five of our Fulbright English Teaching Assistants who are here from the U.S., three drivers, and a Mongolian alumni of a State Dept. exchange program.
I’m happy to say that after months of classes, and some special practice right before the trip, I could speak in Mongolian to introduce myself and say about 3 or 4 sentences. Only once did I need help remembering a phrase, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind my slip-up. I’m more proud to say that I could actually sort of track what was happening in some of the conversations (that were also being translated for me).
We went to the towns of Erdenet, Sukhbaatar, and Murun and stopped at small village soums in between. Overall we visited at least nine schools, I met with 3 provincial ministers and their staff, we had two public presentations at local theaters, I gave two presentations to NGO (nonprofit) leaders, and I was on two television news programs. One even aired nationally.
The furthest we went was to a soum called Hatgal, a tourist place on the southern tip of Mongolia’s largest and most famous body of water — Lake Huvsgul. Mongolians refer to the aimag of Huvsgul as the Switzerland of Mongolia. As it happened, it snowed on our way to Hatgal and everything was covered in white. More of Hatgal will be in another post.
The soum schools we visited taught grades 1-12 and had anywhere from 800 to 1,200 students in total. The schools in soums have dormitories where hundreds of students live, but the majority of children at the schools were either from the town or were staying with extended family or friends who lived in town.
Traveling with my Mongolian coworkers and having all of our meals together, I learned that Mongolians really like soup. I couldn’t take it after having soup for two meals in a row, not to mention the hot milk tea (which I do like on occasion) that was served with every meal. Just too much hot liquid. Apparently they also think it’s funny that we will drink cold water or coke with hot soup. But, as one of my coworkers put it, she’s not taken aback by it anymore because she’s used to Americans.
For the most part the countryside was still amber / brown from the winter, but it was amazing to see on the return trip how, after a little bit of rain, parts of the steppe were already starting to green. Here are some pictures from the trip, you’ll have to excuse the quality of the countryside photos because most of these were taken from the car window.