Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Questions about Mongolia

Some friends sent me some questions regarding Mongolia, my answers are below.

1. What does it smell like, the air outside, during the day and at night?  It smells dry.  The Gobi Desert is one of the driest places on earth.  It smells of dryness and dust at all times.  During the few rainfalls, it smells muggy and stale.  This does not take long to change, the sunshine is exceptionally bright here, and the moisture in the air soon disappears.

2. What noises do you hear at night?  The desert is silent on most nights.  In the past two weeks, the wind has been blowing all day, every day.  At night when every thing else goes quiet, you can hear the strength of the wind.  It’s crazy how strong the force of the wind hits my window; you’d think it’s going to break.  I live in a one level resident block, so it’s not too bad but the guys that live in the gers have it much worse when it's windy.  A Mongolian Ger is a wooden post structure covered by layers of fabric and sheep's wool felt for insulation and weatherproofing.  The sheep’s wool will act as a barrier for the wind, so the Ger is a homely place to live but the sheep’s wool cannot insulate sound.  The straps that lock down the fabric to the wooden structure can flap very loudly.  

Remember if you are ever in Mongolia, it is a Ger; do not call it a Yurt.  It does not insult the Mongolian people by calling it a Yurt, but it is not proper to refer to as so.  The Ger has been used for thousands of years by the nomads of Central Asia and is still a common sight throughout Mongolia.  They are designed to be easy to take apart, transport, and reconstruct; perfect for the Mongolian Herder.  Despite this portability, they are warm enough to keep the coldest winter temperatures (-40C in winter) at bay and strong enough to withstand heavy winds. 

The Mongolian Ger

3. Do you have different dreams when you are over there?  Interesting question, I’m a constant daydreamer, but rarely do I remember my dreams.  When I first got to Mongolia, I had several dreams about my love ones back home.  They were not pleasant dreams.  I dreamt that bad things were happening to them.  These dreams were probably a result of me leaving home and worry about not being there for them.  As I got use to my new home, these dreams stopped.  Now that I think about it, I don’t remember a single dream I’ve had here, except for the ones involving my family.

4. Do you find the air quality there better or worse? Do you have more allergies, less allergies, more sickness or less?  The air quality in Mongolia is, lets see, how do you say this politely, well there is no way, it’s horrible! Ulaanbaatar, the Capital of Mongolia, is the second most polluted city in the world.  The city’s main power source is coal and the plants are right in the city, as you can see in the picture.  The Gobi Desert’s air is a lot better then Ulaanbaatar but still horrible in comparison to home.  The Gobi is extremely windy and it hardly ever rains, so there is nothing that can keep the dust down.  The dirt in the Gobi is very fine and with the wind, you tend to breath in a lot of dust.  It is so dusty here, that when I comb my hair at the end of the day, my hairbrush is covered in dirt and I need to wash it daily.  All that dust that is collected in my hair, is what I breath in everyday. 

My allergies are worst in Mongolia then anywhere else I have ever been too.  I have to take an allergy pill everyday, if I don’t, I can’t stop sneezing and it feels like I have a feather up my nose.  Mind you, I have bad allergies back home, but they are seasonal.  In Mongolia, they are all year.  I had two-sinus infection in my first month living in Mongolia alone.  Since I’ve been in Mongolia, I have had four-sinus infection and two cases of tonsillitis.   In 10.5 months of living here, I have been on antibiotic’s six times; I’m averaging getting sick about every seven weeks and that is not including the times I simply have a cold. 

I don’t think I can blame all my sickness strictly on the dust; working ten-hour days, working 52 days out of 56 before I get a break, may have something to do with me getting sick, but the dust doesn’t help.  I never get this sick, this often at home.  I’m on antibiotics once maybe twice a year tops!


5. What is the weirdest outfit you have ever seen while over there?  I wouldn’t call it weird, certainly different from home, but not weird.  The deel or kaftan, is the garment traditionally worn in Mongolia.  It can be worn on both workdays and special days.  It is a long, loose gown cut in one piece with the sleeves; it has a high collar and widely overlaps at the front; the deel is girdled with a sash. Mongolian deels always close on the wearer's right, and traditionally have five fastenings.  They can also be very warm.  I have seen these tradition garments worn by the locals on numerous occasions.  Mongolians are a very proud people and their traditions are kept very close to their heart.

The Deel

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Breaking the Barriers

I want to discuss my new family here at site and some of the stuff we've gotten ourselves into.  Every day of my life I’m learning.  Sometimes the information you acquire is not wanted.  Sometimes its information you’re shocked you never realized before; but most of the time it’s something that is simply useless, yet worth discussing anyway.  When you decide to move away from your home for whatever the reason, one thing is guaranteed; you will have an adventure.  I believe life is an adventure and if you are not learning, growing and having a laugh, then you’re dying or living a mundane existence.  I want to focus on my interactions with my co-workers and how we have been able to begin ‘Breaking the Barriers’.  For the record, this entry is very crude, so to warn all of you, if you do not like swearing or potty jokes that are extremely juvenile, then stop reading. I am warning you!

As my surroundings and the people around me have changed, I’ve found that different qualities in my character have come out of hiding; some good, some I’m not so fond of and some that would simply result in an aggressive slap to the back of my head by my Grandmother.  I’ve been here for a while (10 months) and have come to know my co-workers well, far better than my co-workers on average at home.  The work environment here is very different; I actually prefer the work life style here more than at home.  Mostly because it is more laid back and you can say what you are thinking with a smaller penalty.  Everyone that knows me knows I have a ‘little’ bit of a trucker’s mouth and suffer regularly from foot in mouth syndrome.  I use the word ‘little’ loosely, what can I say, I grew up in a hockey rink where the ‘f’ word can be easily used as a noun, verb and adverb with complete acceptance.  So as you can imagine, I fit right in here. 

Sitting at my desk at site is more entertaining than at home, where Human Resource's has a larger presence, but here, it is not uncommon hearing, ‘I spent an hour in the shitter, that beef hit me hard,’ or ‘You got to be f**king kidding me?’ or ‘Give me a f**king break’ or my all time favorite, ‘I f**king told him’ (aka site equivalent for I TOLD YOU SO).  And for all of you, who think I’m making this up, I'm not, I hear this stuff every day; people do not hold back.  If you are not seeing the painting I’m trying to paint, think of a five year old child telling you what they think, then add in some profanity.

When you work with your co-workers, have dinner with your co-workers, drink with your co-workers, become as absolute drunk mess in front of your co-workers, they are no longer simply co-workers, they become friends and in a way, an adoptive family.  In my adoptive family, I’m known as the ‘token’ and probably several other things that aren’t spoken in my presence.  There are a lot of women at site, but very few white women, and hardly any under the age of thirty, so the ‘token’ kind of stuck.  This is just one of many somewhat not kosher decisions we’ve made.  When I say we are ‘Breaking the Barriers,’ we are doing just that.  For the first month I was here, I took it somewhat conservative, till you are left with nothing to talk about with your co-workers. When you live and breathe around the same people all day, every day, the conversations start to get a little dry come month two. So you begin opening up, and holding back begins to be something you do back home. I’m sure a group of us may need to be re-house broken, when we move back home.

I’ve commented a few times in this blog regarding the food.  Yes, it’s not great but one thing I haven’t mentioned is that it screws with your internals.  I remember the first and only time I ate the meatballs, let’s just say, I felt I was reenacting Ridley Scott’s famous Alien scene when the Alien popped out of the guys stomach.  But instead of something popping out of my stomach, it was being popped out of something else.  The first time a co-worker mentioned a similar story; I was sitting eating dinner, and shockingly had no problem finishing my food.  This was the moment where the barriers of common social behaviour began to be demolished (can you hear the glass shattering?).  A lot of the humour discussed at site, I refer to as ‘shit humor,’ because we literally discuss shit or things that any normal person wouldn’t give a shit about.  I’ve learned that it is possible to have a several hour/multi day/month conversation regarding other cultures bathroom habits.  Seriously, this conversation never gets old.  It really doesn’t get anymore useless then bathroom conversations, but I’ll bet half of you who are reading this are slightly curious to what was discussed.  And I can guarantee you will not find it in a Lonely Plant book.

The office I work in is a large portable that is across from the Concentrator.  When I first started working here, I didn’t really think to much about the design of the building, sure, my cubicle was tiny, but no big deal.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for all of us to see the one major design flaw in this particular office.  I’m not sure who or why someone decided to put the washrooms in the middle of the building, away from all doors and more importantly away from ALL windows.  Surely, someone at some point would have seen the error in putting office cubicles surrounding bathrooms. Sadly, they didn’t.  Everyday during last summer, we were greeted at our desk by the fresh smell of decaying feces.  First thing in the morning wasn’t too bad, but after everyone had their coffee, yeeeaaaahhh, run and run fast to the field! 

I was lucky that my cubicle was further away from the black hole then most people.  There were a few days where my coworkers came to my area of the office to work cause they couldn’t handle the smell.  There were several emails sent out to the staff regarding this issue, letting us all know that they were addressing the problem and trying to fix it. The subject of the emails were ‘Bad Smell,’ not kidding, I actually saved the emails. They give me a good laugh when I’m having a bad day.    

There are a few comical incidences/conversations that have happened here that would not be possible unless you have a mutual understanding amongst your coworkers or rather a mutual understanding that any conversation is up for discussion.  While in the company of men, conversations can get very deep and detailed.  They don’t simply scratch the surface of a conversation; they dive right in and discuss the good, the bad and the inappropriate. 

I remember one particular conversation we had in December, which till this day makes me laugh.  To give you some background to how this conversation even came up for discussion, I have to first explain to you that the toilets here can’t handle having anything discarded into them.  Of course people don’t read nor pay attention to the signs hanging in absolutely every stall, so plugged toilets are a common problem.  One of the rules here is if you go into a stall with the toilet lid closed, approach with caution or better yet, move to the next stall.  So as I said, a group of us were having drinks and talking one night when the problem of the plugged toilets came up.  I was the only woman in this conversation, so I didn’t realize that the toilets in the men’s bathroom were always plugged.  And it didn’t occur to me before that men only use the toilet for one thing, or rather for a number two thing. 

So as my coworkers told me, there are times when every stall is plugged and when you got to go, you got to go. What do you do, when you got to go but there is nowhere to go?  Do you risk the back splash and go for it?  As my friends explained to me, if you got to go, you go and hope for the best.  As I said before, this is a regular occurrence and sometimes you forget how high that poop line really is.  My coworker described a story of a time, when he was finished doing his business and went to clean himself and before he knew it his hand was covered in shit.  Yeah, that’s not a time you want to have a mind fart, especially when your hand is covered in someone else’s fart.  This story led into the next plugged toilet story of another coworker who said he was squatting over a toilet, when his legs were getting tired, so he decided to lean up against the side of the stall, and when he did this, part of his ‘man parts’ dipped into the toilet.  Now if you are not completely disgusted by all of this, I haven’t even told you the worst part.  After these two conversations were told, we actually discussed what was worst, having your hand or balls covered in shit and on top of that, we voted on it!  I forget which one won, but this conversation will stay with me till death, certainly one of a kind. 

My last little site story is about a prank-gone bad, well gone better, depending on whom you ask.  One of the guys grabbed a friend’s camera and took a picture of his ass.  Unknown to my friend and all of us, while he was showing us the photos he took of site that day, this guy’s ass showed up while he was scrolling through pictures.  We all had a good laugh and after some non-orthodox research we found out who took the photo.  My friend thought that to one up this guy, he’d print out the photo, fold it up and slip it into the guy’s cap.  He thought when he put in on, he would see the photo, well, that’s not exactly what happened.  The photo went unnoticed all day by the guy and while he was in his office with a vendor, he took off his hat to scratch his head, when a piece of paper fell to the ground.  This guy picked up the piece of paper and opened it right in front of the vendor, and there it was, his own ass staring up at him.  It’s lovely when someone gets exactly what he deserves in front of company!  Don’t worry; everyone had a good laugh and no one was sent to the principles office. 

This is the stuff people get themselves into when they live in the middle of nowhere, and remember I warned you!!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Too Much Time to Think

I’m living in a place where time can seem at a standstill, where the days mold together as one.  As you wake up day in and day out, you begin to feel like a zombie, numb to change.  Once in a while something catches your attention, and wakes you up temporarily, whether it is something that fills the air with laughter or the noise of glass breaking as you threw a chair through a window, depends of the day but most days do not differentiate from each other.  At times, it can be a struggle just to figure out what day of the week it is.  This is not a grievance of my circumstances, but rather the only way I know how to describe the life of living at a mining camp.  You become complacent, get into a routine, and the only thing that snaps you out of your haze, is when something interferes with your routine.

Life at camp can be rather boring.  My daily routine is typical. Wake up, Breakfast, Work, Lunch (call home), Back to Work, Tell myself I’m going to go to the gym tonight, Make up an excuse as to why I don’t need to go to the gym, Dinner, Watch a movie, Go to bed.  The odd time there is a substitute, like instead of watching a movie, I’ll go to the bar and once in a blue mood, I will actually get my ass to the gym.  In a nutshell, you have a great deal of time to think. 

When I decided to move to Mongolia last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone told me, ‘Expect the unexpected,’ and as I’ve learned, there is no real way to really prepare for the unexpected, except to over pack.  I knew I’d come here and learn a great deal about my industry and to a lesser extent, learn about myself.  Now nine months into my assignment, both my knowledge of the job and my personal growth have grown somewhat at par.  I find certain things I’ve learned about my character, quite surprising, mostly because of my reaction to certain experiences.  My reactions were different then I would have first anticipated.  I’ve known for a while that I am not a patient person, but I would have never predicted exactly how impatient I really am.  

Mongolia has certainly made me work on my patience or more accurately forced me to work on it.  I’ve learned I’m a creature of habit more than adventure; this is one of the more shocking discoveries I have concluded here.  I’m someone who is always up for a new experience, case and point, why I’m here.  But to my surprise when things get changed up or interrupt my routine, anger, and discomfort are feelings that rise up within me, before enjoyment, and excitement.  In a place where time does not move, I certainly don’t feel I have a great deal of it to waste or spare.  My impatience is the main cause of this discomfort; I’m certainly not a person who likes to ‘go with the flow.’  I don’t know exactly why I expected that by placing myself in a foreign country and integrating myself into a new job, that having control over my circumstances would be a luxury I would be accustomed to receiving.  As they told me, ‘Expect the unexpected.’  Yes, I’m starting to understand what they meant by that. 

Expect not to be in control and maybe, more importantly, expect to learn about how not to be in control.  I’ve learned that when I’m caught off guard, my anger rises from 1 to 10 in a rather short period of time.  And when I say I’m caught off guard, it’s very, very rarely something big, but rather multiple small things that are impeccably timed.  For example, the showers in the female blocks all have timers on them (approx. 10min), not a big deal you’d think, except when your time runs out in the middle of shaving your legs and you are covered in soap. And not ONE of the other six stalls is free.  Or the time I was getting ready to go to bed (it was already passed my bedtime), and the spring on the bathroom door adjacent from my bedroom door decided to break and when it closed, the force of it shook my entire building; let me just tell you this, that no, I mean absolutely no ear plugs can shield you from a fake earthquake.  This must have angered someone else in my bloke as well because when I woke up the following morning, the entire spring on the door was ripped off and left to tangle for the world to see.  Interfere with our sleep and I suppose you’ll see the female wrath.   

Here, I don’t have control of my accommodations, or how thin the walls are.  I don’t have control of the colour of the water (which at the moment is a steady brown as you can from the photo), my towel is slowly turning brown, and leaving your mouth open isn’t really optional.  The only thing I have control over is my reaction to these changes. And as you can suspect, this conclusion does not make me happy.  But at the end of the day, none of these things are deal breakers in the sense that I would quit my job over them; all they do is make me appreciate home more and gives me a new definition of what roughing it means.  I remember going camping back home for a few days and thinking I was roughing it. Right, really roughing it, since I was met with a clean and hot shower at the end of the weekend. As my friends back home say, this is a character building exercise, easy for them to say from their recliners.  The way I see it, if I’m in a character building exercise I cannot control, my friends can atleast have a laugh at my expense.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Being a Woman in Mining - Part I

Something interesting happened to me the other day and it got me thinking.  A friend from home gave me a great compliment, and frankly I don’t know if I’m deserving of it.  I was telling her what it’s like being a woman here at site and how certain things tend to bother me at times. I was telling her that one of the biggest things that upset me is how the Mongolian women get treated by their own men and at times by the expats.  Sure I’m a woman working in a male dominated industry, and I’m the minority, and to a certain degree I’ve always felt that since I am part of the minority, I should conform to my environment, at least to a certain extent.  I’m a believer of ‘why should the majority have to change for one person, or a small group of people.’  This mentality is correct if the majority is in the right.  But if history has taught me anything, this is not always the case.  I’ve been asked by several female friends from home to write an entry on what it is like being a woman at site and for some advice. I have avoided this topic, because some of my true feelings on this matter have been kept to myself, and can be easily misinterpreted and are somewhat controversial.  I will write this entry in two parts; part one will be my thoughts and advice on being a female expat on an international assignment, and second part will be about the women of Mongolia and what I have learned from them. 

The compliment my friend gave me was, ‘Good for me and all the other ladies in the office that you're out there, paving the way.  It'll be tough on all of us, but hey, you're making it easier for the next woman that works with all the people you work with, and some woman made it easier (by some degree!) by coming before us.’  I don’t know if I’m paving the way for anyone; I don’t know if I am being a good example for mining woman at all and you can all judge if I am, after I explain my approach.  But I do agree with me friend on that there were woman who did this before me and they certainly deserve some if not all the credit.  No doubt in my mind, that women who worked at site twenty years ago had to go through a great deal more then what I have to go through, which is really very minimal in comparison.  When I finished school in 2006 and started working as an Engineer in the office; when I mentioned that I was interested in going to site, I had two opposite opinions from my senior co-workers, some of them were thrilled that a young engineer is willing to go to site and encouraged this, then there were the others that said I’d probably not be able to go, telling me it’s very rare for women to be sent to site. Really? Is it really that rare? Or is it that there simply has never been a great deal of women in the mining industry, so it is simply considered rare because we never had the numbers.  It’s probably a bit of both but I thank the females who came before me, for allowing me to be even given this opportunity. 

Now don’t get me wrong, this industry is not for the faint at heart. It’s mentally and physically demanding. The days are long, and the rotation are weeks/months apart.  If you are a soft person (meaning you like comfort), man or woman, maybe being a mining expat is not in the cards.  But for the women thinking of doing this line of work, there are a few things you should be aware of before you agree to take an assignment:

  1. If you are a woman who is not prepared to turn in her high heels shoes and nice clothes for steel-toe boots and PPE,
  2. Not prepared to overhear crude jokes without jokingly laughing them off,
  3. Not prepared to be in the TRUE presence of men (meaning they don’t hold their tongue for the benefit of your ears)
Then you are probably not prepared to come to site.  If I can give advice to any woman thinking of coming to a CAMP site, especially international, make sure the three things I listed above do not bother you or you can at least live with them and to make sure you know your bottom line very clearly.  What I mean by ‘your bottom line,’ is make sure you know exactly when someone crosses your line of what is acceptable and what is not, make it clear when they went too far, and remember above all, to choose you battles wisely (and by the way, with some of the experiences I’ve gained here, the three things I listed above are not worth trying to correct, even if they hurt your feelings and you are in the right, don’t waste your breath, YOU don’t need to like it, but you will need to move on from them).  If you choose to come to site, and if you do choose to have these battles, then you will have few friends and if you can live with that decision, then good for you but at least be aware of this.  Just remember, no one wants to be around someone who makes everyone conform to their beliefs or worst yet, makes them walk on eggshells, this is not the attention you want to bring upon yourself when you are the new kid on the bloke.  But at the end of the day, the one making the decision is the one that has to live with it and only the individual can make those decisions.  If you are not sure what your line is, sit back for a while, don’t do or say anything to drastic, take in your new environment and it will be become clear to you.

The off jokes, the swearing, the demanding work environment, are some of the reasons I like working here.  I like working in an environment where I can say what I’m thinking and do not need to sugar coat it. I like it that I work with people that are ‘what you see is what you get,’ even if I don’t like what I see, at least I know what I’m going to get, there is honesty in that.  It has been brought to my attention that I have a worst trucker mouth then most of my male counterparts (this has been pointed out to me a couple times), which is the truth.  I know sarcasm can be the lowest form of humor but it’s still the humor I choose to use.  For the most part, I enjoy my new co-workers even if what they say or do, are things I don’t agree with at all times.  The ‘bottom line’ I have established for myself is somewhat grey.  Most of my closer friends here know it pretty well and once in a while they’ll cross it, mostly to get a rise out of me, and they succeed everytime. 

I hope people are not misinterpreting me and think I’m changing who I am to gain my co-workers respect. Honestly, changing who you are, will rarely gain you respect.  I’m merely compromising.  And you must compromise to fit into a formula that is already set or at least isolate the variables that can be changed.  Frankly, gaining peoples respect is not why I’m here; I’m here to learn, gain site experience and go home; this is my goal.  If I earn the respect of most of my co-workers then this is a bonus and something that can only help my career.  My end goal is what has helped me establish my bottom line.  What am I willing to let go or compromise to achieve what I came out here for; this is a question I encounter regularly.  I see this being no different than being in a relationship, what are you willing to accept about your spouse to remain happily married, cause your end goal is to remain happily married (well I hope it would be).  And just like everything, this goes both ways, I’m not the only one comprising.  Everyone has their deal breakers.  Personally, I would love it if men and women could work together as complete equals, without ridicule or judgment but let’s be realistic, we are not there yet. 

I’ll never know how the minds of men work, but through trial and error, I have learned what usually gets me the results I want.  When I was younger and played ice hockey on all boys’ teams, for many years, I was the only girl in the league; I stuck out like a sore thumb, just like I do here.  I learned that being a woman that gets along with men, will usually get me a lot further in achieving my goals then being a women trying to be a man.  It’s obvious I’m not a man, nor do I want to be one. I enjoy working with men, and when I was younger, I enjoyed playing hockey with them.  I didn’t want to be treated differently; I just wanted to be accepted as a teammate and a friend, as I do here. And if, I had to enter a fight to stick up for a teammate, then that is what I did, even though, I was guaranteed to lose the fight, since I had never won a fight in my entire life, but I would take a punch for them, as I expected they would for me.  And most of the time they did.  If you want to be accepted as an equal, you cannot allow anyone to give you ‘special’ treatment or anything that can be perceived as special treatment, if this happens, don’t accept it and take immediate action to correct it, it may help you in the short term but very rarely will it help you in the long term.  This is the approach I have taken here, and for the most part, it works for me, simply because this is essentially who I am.  In this industry or any industry that is primarily all men, having a woman on the team can change its dynamic.  This can be an opportunity to gain experience, knowledge and growth, in black and white terms instead of becoming the cancer that spreads a disease, be the cure.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Land of the Free

It’s been over seven months since I’ve moved to Mongolia. During this time, I’ve learned a great deal about the industry I work in, the country I’m living in and more importantly, I’ve learned a great deal about myself.  I’ve learn that I’m spoiled rotten, to put it in black and white terms, I am spoiled rotten simply because I was born in a first world country and until I moved here, I didn’t realize how privileged I am for it.  Basic rights, basic amenities I was given just because I was born.  Many people including myself think these are birthrights or entitlements and deep down I believe they should be basic human rights, but unfortunately for many people they are not entailed to these rights, these amenities.  Mongolia is a country like no other, on the surface you may think it’s a second/third world country like all the others, look a little deeper, you will see an ancient country that has been reborn and is beginning its infancy.

Someone once told me, the Gobi Desert is one of the most unforgiving places in the world, and after living here for seven months; I tend to agree with them.  The extreme weather changes, the dry climate and the fact that you can’t grow any food; makes the Gobi a very difficult place to live; yet people have found a way.  So you can understand my surprise to a fact that continues to blow my mind, is that people willfully chose to live here.  And for all of you, who are thinking these people are poor so they don’t have a choice, let me correct you and say they absolutely have a choice. Mongolia may be a poor country from a North America perspective, but the Mongolian people are free.  This is the freest country I’ve ever been too.  I am not defining Freedom, as the basic right to vote or the basic right to choice, both of which the Mongolian people have, what I’m talking about is much deeper than that. 

Some background information, Mongolia is a democracy, through peaceful protest via rallies and hunger strikes, the people of Mongolia established a democracy in Mongolia when the Mongolian People's Republic resigned in the nineties, this was done without bloodshed.  This peaceful revolution is why many believe the Mongolian people went back to their thousand-year-old traditions, and the rebirth of Genghis Khan as a National Hero. This may be the case, and it can certainly be argued, but from my personal belief is that after years and years of suppression from China then Russia, the Mongolian people are as loyal as ever to their country.  They are loyal because somehow a couple of the largest empires in the world have occupied them at some point in the last 100 years, yet they remain free, a democracy and their own country.  It wasn’t long ago that this country was under Russian control, less then 25 years ago, Mongolia was not free.  They had no god given rights that I take advantage of every single day of my life.  They did not know freedom, so I find it amazing watching a country in its infancy of freedom.  As the Russians left Mongolia and the Mongolian People's Republic rose to power, it was the countries youth that said ‘No,’ and they didn’t scream and start riots, they knew they were right, and when you are right, you don’t need to be violent, for a country that has seen so much violence throughout there history, choose to peacefully protest the suppression and through this protest began a voice which could not be silenced and by the mid nineties a democracy was created and a new constitution was written that protected the Mongolian peoples right to free speech, and freedom of religion. 

To go back to my original opinion that the Mongolian people are the freest in the world, I say this for several reasons.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Mongolia and their people, there are certain things I’m not accustom too and probably never will be.  Mongolians are an extremely proud people and can easily be judge as arrogant, but again the longer I’ve been here, the less I see their pride as arrogance.  I’ve spoken to several locals about the history of their people and their country, and they are very humble in their expressions.  Many people were alive during the Russian control and they have not forgotten, they take their freedom in a literal sense, and express it daily.  For what can be interpreted as arrogance, is a form of expression.  Mongolians do what they want when they want, period.  And good luck to anyone who tries to get them to conform to the western ideals.

I’ve personally have not had problems working with the Mongolians but many of the expats here have.  The mentality is simply very different.  In general, the Mongolian people live everyday as if there is no tomorrow.  If they want to drink themselves into a coma because they are having a great time with their friends, it does not enter their thought process that they may have work the next day.  Everything is right now; tomorrow is a question mark.  This way of thinking is the biggest reason the expats and Mongolians clash.  What is perceived as irresponsible or lazy, is not what or how the Mongolians view it.  Us westerns are taught from a young age to conform to society, we are members of society and we must be good, hard working taxpayers.   I’ve heard the analogy that Westerners are chained to their desks, and to a certain degree, this is true.  Mongolians are living, walking contradictions to this analogy.  If you don’t believe me, go visit Ulaanbaatar and try to cross the street.  Just because the light is red, don’t think for a second that a car will stop; the driver will stop because they feel like it, not because the light is red and therefore most cars drive through red lights.  As I said, they take on the literal sense of the word freedom. The Mongolians come and go as they see fit.  They live where they want too, and if that is the Gobi Desert so be it!!!

I have a great deal of respect for Mongolia.  My time here has been hard but educational and very rewarding at times.  Going without hot water for weeks, going without good food for months and then learning there are people here who have never had a hot water shower in their entire life till they came to this project, simply puts me in my place.  I have met numerous people that live their entire childhood in a ger without electricity yet can work a computer better then me and speak multiple languages.   Mongolia is a country on the rise and it will be interesting to see where they are in twenty years J

Friday, February 24, 2012

For a Laugh!!!

List of Sh*it that I thought I’d never Say nor Hear

I’m back from the brink of death (horrible flu) and feeling like my usually sarcastic self, so time to write another blog entry J Originally I was going to write about some of the more positive experiences I’m having here in Mongolia (it’s not all dooms day), but today something more important came up and I decided to write about that. My short list of ‘Mongolia Positive Experiences,’ will have to wait.

I’ve been pretty sick the last week, so I haven’t been eating my usually treats after dinner.  Every time I return to site, I head to the store and buy my usually treats, chocolate and Duffle cakes, they are my reward after I’ve been able to stomach and keep down dinner; my treats are one of the little things I look forward to now and again.  So you can imagine my annoyance when I walked into my room during my lunch hour today to find a pile of crumbs at the edge of my bed, yes crumbs, at first I found this strange, I’ve never eaten on my bed the entire time I’ve been here in Mongolia, but anyways, I brushed them off my bed, took off my shoes and laid down. I’m still getting over the flu so I was going to have a short nap.

So here I am lying on my bed, starting to fade into some much needed rest when all of a sudden MY duffle cakes come into my mind, yes, I’ll repeat, MY duffle cakes.  I bolted out of my bed, walked over to my cabinet and pulled out my duffle cake package, and YES, as I figured, two were missing. Holy Sh*t! My maid ate my bloody duffle cakes!!! And this isn’t even the worst of it, usually if someone is going to steal from someone, even if it is something as insignificant as duffle cakes, you would logically think that they would try hiding the evidence, but NO, she didn’t even do that, she left a pile of crumbs on my bed. I guess she had a nice rest (atleast someone is getting some rest) on MY bed while she is eating MY food and didn’t even think to clean up after herself. The Maid didn’t even clean up after herself, the irony in this does put a smile on my face, maybe this is her way of getting back at us bloody Western Expats, but only she can answer that.

So coming back to the topic of this entry, ‘Sh*it that I thought I’d never Say nor Hear.’ I’ll let you all know, me telling my coworkers that, “My maid ate my bloody duffle cakes,” is something that I honestly thought I would never say in my lifetime. 

Just for the record, the maids stealing peoples food is nothing new here, it happens all the time, it just has not happened to me until today.  This incident did led into my next story in which I heard something I never thought I would.  As I was telling the story of my disappearing duffle cakes to a coworker, he told me the several stories of his disappearing fruit.  Apparently on several occasions such as: the day he brought three plums back to his room at lunch and when he got back after work, there were two, or the time he left two bananas on his desk and when he got back from work there was one.  Seriously, that’s some ballsy sh*t, he only had two bananas, and she thought he wouldn’t notice that one just got up and walked away, ballsy, very ballsy. 

Again, so as I’m telling him the story of my missing duffle cakes, he actually said I quote, “I go out of my way to hide my bananas.”  If you don’t think a grown man in his fifties saying he goes out of his way to hide his banana from the cleaning lady isn’t funny, then you and I don’t share the same sense of humor.

List of Sh*it that I thought I’d never Say nor Hear:

1- My maid ate my bloody duffle cakes - Me
2- I go out of my way to hide my bananas - Coworker
3- Wow, a mouse is climbing up my leg - Me

4- The water looked better today, it looked more like Mountain Dew instead of coke - Me     

5- Is that mold or a dead bug? (like either is what you want in your food) - Coworker
6- My plane was only delayed 12 hours this time - Me
7- I think it’s chicken - Me
8- I went to bed at 7pm last night - Me
9- The best part of being here is my job – Me
10- Stop looking so closely at your food, maybe you’d miss the hairs - Me
11- That sealed water bottle has no water in it - Coworker
12- I shake my shower curtain so the scorpions fall off - Coworker