Settling in, sort of.

So I’ve spent the past few days during bureaucracy things, and by that I mean I shadow the poor guy whose job it is to help me from building to building and occasionally produce HIV tests and pictures of my face on cue like the world’s most jaded magician. My passport is currently on its way to UB where some stuff will be done to it and I’ll get an alien registration card that I can flash like it’s something cooler than an alien registration card. Otherwise, I should be mostly done bureaucracy, I think.

Khovd is…something. It’s all dust and stellar architecture for which Boris the Sad Soviet probably won awards, with the occasional cow wandering around my apartment complex for good measure. As one of about twenty non-Mongols in this town, I get stared at by everyone and shouted at by all male children under the age of 25. On a related note, seeing as how I’m now an English teacher and all, it worries me that the only phrases my future students can produce are “Hello, American!” and “Fuckyoufuckbitcheseverywhere.”

Things of note in Khovd:

1) Winner’s, a local pub that everyone keeps telling me is excellent. Unfortunately, the nuances of the pronunciation are lost to a Mongolian accent, and every time someone says “When you have time, we eat weiners,” I pray for the strength to keep a straight face.

2) Lots of small shops, which I have thus far been too afraid to go into because my Mongolian is limited to “hello” and that is not sufficient for buying things. I can’t even say “fuckyoufuckbitcheseverywhere” to at least express a range of emotions.

3) The black market. No rocket launchers or hard drugs on this black market, oh no, this one sells vegetables.

I found the supermarket, which was a victory unto itself, so I stocked up on essentials like bread and Arizona fruit punch. Food out here is waaaay more expensive that I had counted on—unless it’s made in Mongolia, then it’s cheap. However, since the Made in Mongolia list starts with “meat” and ends with “more meat,” it’s safe to say I will be spending a pretty solid portion of my limited income on things that aren’t meat. Before we set out on our roadtrip, my boss saw me clutching a box of cereal and agonizing over the sliced cheeses in UB, and she laughed and said “In Khovd, this is expensive. You will learn to do without cereal and cheese.” She knows what she’s talking about, but I’m such a bad eater anyway, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that the foods I eat make for a cheap meal in Europe but a very expensive meal in Central Asia.

Luckily, I am not alone in any of this—there are way more foreigners than I had expected. There is, for example, Other English Teacher, several missionaries, a couple Peace Corps volunteers, and a bunch of other foreigner teachers/government workers.This is excellent news! It means I’ve got people I can bitch to when the difficulty of life here stops being novel and just starts being difficult.

To everyone who has sent me emails and Facebook messages, thank you! I haven’t answered any of them because while the university has wifi, the battery on my laptop is broken and doesn’t last very long when it’s not plugged in. And since I have yet to find someplace with both wifi and an outlet—outlets seems to be more precious than water in this country—my internet usage has thus far been confined to twenty-minute bursts for copy and pasting blog posts I’ve prepared ahead of time, deleting spam emails, and taking a cursory look at Facebook. I will, however, be getting internet in my apartment, possibly as early as this week. So we will partaaaaay, and by partaaaay I mean I’ll post pictures and answer your emails in a timely fashion.

Until next time!

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Welcome to Mongolia. Now we try and kill you.

Hello all! I’m here!

After nearly two days in transit, I finally arrived in Ulaanbaatar late Monday night. I was picked up at the airport by a really nice small man with virtually no English who took me out for Korean food and told me to get a Mongolian boyfriend. Then I got picked up by my boss; it had apparently been decided that the hostel I booked was not acceptable so I should crash on her couch until such time as I could fly out to my future home in Khovd City.

Khovd, for those of you whose Central Asian geography needs brushing up on, is on the other side of the country from the capital Ulaanbaatar. Most people elect to fly because the alternative is to drive. I had heard about the overland trek to Khovd—a two-day, thousand-mile journey over unpaved roads that suck and paved roads that suck only marginally less. It is, by all accounts, a mind-bendingly brutal trip. So of course when my boss said “We’re driving to Khovd tomorrow, do you want to come instead of flying?” I said “Totally,” mostly because I wanted to see how mind-bendingly brutal it is for myself. And also because nothing says “Welcome to Mongolia” like a spontaneous roadtrip.

So the next day, eight of us—four adults and four kids under the age of 11—packed ourselves and our stuff in a single Land Cruiser and headed out of UB. It was here I got my first experience with Mongolian roads: this one was paved, and that’s about all that can be said for it. “This is the nicest road in Mongolia!” said my boss, as a giant pothole cracked my head on the ceiling. “Is it now,” I said, as we fishtailed off the road to avoid another one. “It’s only two years old, but bad winters mean potholes,” she said, as we bounced back onto the road and immediately lost the front of the Land Cruiser in a rut. “You don’t say,” I said, as we swerved into the other lane to skirt around the gaping maw of what was not so much a pothole as it was the cavernous entrance to the deepest circle of hell.

And then the road ended. And didn’t come back for some 24-odd hours, so we bounced along unmarked dirt roads and all there was to see was steppe and sky and yurts and all the horses, yaks, sheep, and goats one could ever hope to scare out of the trail. Insider tip: if you ever need to scare sleeping camels out of the road, the secret is to roll down your window, pull out your camera, shove the top of your body out of the Land Cruiser and yell “HELLO, CAMELS!” at the top of your lungs. Camels are not fond of this.

We drove for ten hours the first day and fifteen hours the second day, with occasional breaks for noodle-making and peeing, both of which take place wherever and whenever the urge strikes you. I was told: “You think you have freedom in America, but there are too many rules. In Mongolia, have real freedom. You can pee wherever you like.” Chew on that, John Boehner.

In the past 48 hours, I have tried camel’s milk (weird) and fermented mare’s milk (weirder). I have tried numerous questionable meat products. I have crossed the open steppe and the Altai mountains in the back of a car. It’s going to be an interesting year.