Outreach Road Trip

Outreach road tripAbout 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.

A herder driving his horses.
A herder driving his horses.
Pulling into one of the small  soums  where we visited a school.
Pulling into one of the small soums where we visited a school.
A couple of the schools in small villages fed us in their cafeterias. At this one, the kids happened to be eating with us, and we were quite the attraction.  This school is also memorable because they had the best bread I have ever had in Mongolia. No joke.  I wish they could show some of the bakers in Ulaanbaatar how to make bread that good.
A couple of the schools in small villages fed us in their cafeterias. At this one, the kids happened to be eating with us, and we were quite the attraction. This school is also memorable because they had the best bread I have ever had in Mongolia. No joke. I wish they could show some of the bakers in Ulaanbaatar how to make bread that good.
A couple of photos inside of one village school.  Most schools and buildings had at least one prominent picture of Chinggis.
A couple of photos inside of one village school. Most schools and buildings had at least one prominent picture of Chinggis.
Rest stop.
Rest stop.
Pulling into the city of Murun. With the snow you can see how bright the roofs of Mongolian houses really are.
Pulling into the city of Murun. With the snow you can see how bright the roofs of Mongolian houses really are.
Getting ready for my television debut.
Getting ready for my television debut.
Pulling into Erdenet. This is the biggest city outside of Ulaanbaatar with a population of 83,000.
Pulling into Erdenet. This is the biggest city outside of Ulaanbaatar with a population of 83,000.
Murun's wrestling palace -- I love the statues of the wrestlers (left).  A building in Erdenet with an awesome metal portrait of Lenin (right).
Murun’s wrestling palace — I love the statues of the wrestlers (left). A building in Erdenet with an awesome metal portrait of Lenin (right).
One of our cultural stops was to see the northern border with Russia.  The far side of the river is Russia (left). You can see a Mongolian watch stand in the distance (right).
One of our cultural stops was to see the northern border with Russia. The far side of the river is Russia (left). You can see a Mongolian watch stand in the distance (right).
The Mongolian guard was awesome -- when he saw we were taking pictures he walked to the edge nearest to us and gave us a big smile.
The Mongolian guard was awesome — when he saw we were taking pictures he walked to the edge nearest to us and gave us a big smile.
We visited Eej Mod (my second time here.  This time with some Mongolian guides, I learned that fenced off space near the tree where people go to give offerings (photo on the right) is where the original Eej Mod was, but it was burned down during the communist rule.
We visited Eej Mod (my second time here). This time with some Mongolian guides, I learned that fenced off space near the tree where people go to give offerings (photo on the right) is where the original Eej Mod was, but it was burned down during the Soviet eara.
I love this.
I love this.

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Part of a town we passed. The tallest building is no longer in use.
Part of a town we passed. The tallest building is no longer in use.

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Dogs in the city are nice and avoid people, but dogs in the countryside are legit guard dogs.  Some are crazy enough to confront cars driving by.
Dogs in the city are nice and avoid people, but dogs in the countryside are legit guard dogs. Some are crazy enough to confront cars driving by.
We went through an agricultural area and saw a few clusters of silos and lots of grain fields.
We went through an agricultural area and saw a few clusters of silos and lots of grain fields.
Yaks.
Yaks.
An old volcano, apparently there is a lake in the crater at the top (right).
An old volcano, apparently there is a lake in the crater at the top (right).

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