|Posted on 31 August, 2015 at 17:20|
Sain baina uu- Hello in Mongolian
On July 17th I packed my bags and headed to Mongolia for volunteering in a kids camp to teach English. I was very excited, but at the same time very nervous! It was a far away place and a complete unknown land for me, but since I was very young I always wanted to go there. So, I arrived in the Mongol capital, Ulaanbaatar 15 hours later. My first impression was that it is a developing international city, formerly occupied by Chinese and Russians, and their influence can be found everywhere!
Next day, we took a minibus and traveled about an hour west to our camp. The camp was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hills, a few Gers/Jurt (a round tent where the natives live) and a lot of farm animals. I got to stay in one of these Gers together with five other volunteers, four lovely girls from Taiwan and Korea, and a friendly guy from Spain. It was a good group and we got along well right from the beginning. All together in the camp, we were eighteen volunteers from all over Europe and Asia.
My Ger and the Campsite.
We all started working the following day. We all had some chores to do like taking turns of teaching, cleaning the facilities, cooking, watering and maintaining plants/trees at our camp. It was all real fun! The kids were very eager to learn, but I wished we would have had more kids in our group 'cause I heard from previous years’ volunteers that there were used to be more kids from an orphanage. We all started our work early in the morning, then after lunch we had two hours break, which I normally used for making walks and getting to know the surrounding area and the natives.
The sights around us were amazing, pure untouched nature, with herds of goats, lambs, cows and horses. On one of my walks with my Spanish Ger-mate, we met a young and friendly shepherd boy. (Below picture) He invited us to his Ger, where he lived with his parents and two younger brothers. He kindly offered us some goat cheese and milk. Their cheese is made without salt, whereas the tea is served with salt. It was fascinating! The Ger was a beautiful structure, small and organized inside and housed in this case five people. Mongolian families usually are large in size with an average of four people, and often many children. To the right there was the kitchen, to the left the bedroom and in the back the living room.
The kind sheperd Boy and the Kitchen side of his Ger.
On my other walks, I often met some hungry/thirsty dogs, which here around belonged to shepherds, but in Ulaanbaatar they were mostly stray. Sometimes I had food or water with me so I gave them some and this way I made some good friends in- and outside the camp. They made our daily life more fun and exciting! (Pictures below.)
Our kitchen and bathroom in the camp were very simple, minimalistic; we only had cold water to shower with and only a few ingredients to cook with. But thanks to our multinational volunteer group (some people brought spices from home), we had excellent Korean, Slovenian, Spanish, Taiwanese and French specialities.
The kids' dinning/play room. Playing outside.
After two weeks in the camp, I was eager and ready to discover the bigger Mongolia!
Roads are not so good, often simple pistes, and in some areas are really dreadful; it took us many hours to make just a few hundred kilometers. There was of course no way I could see this big and beautiful country in just a week, but I was lucky to see the "little Gobi " desert and the beautiful White Lake and some other sights.
They were absolutely amazing and so different from each other; and it was definitely worth the bumpy ride! In these gorgeous, remote areas, people live a very hard life, especially in winter time when temperatures can drop to -40 degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit! For lunch, we normally stopped in a place next to the roadside. The Mongolian food is largely dominated by mutton/lamb. Once I was happy to see a vegetable soup on the menu, ordered it and got a nice vegetable soup, but with lamb meat in it! I loved these roadside restaurants; they were pretty small and operated by kind families. And while they were preparing our food in front of us, I had time to sit down and observe. These were also the opportunities to meet some beautiful and interesting people outside of the restaurant.
A few days later we were back in Ulaanbaatar. At the beginning, I was not too crazy about this city, but it grew on me. It is a quite international city, people come here from all over the world, tourists and businessmen. Especially Koreans like to come here in order to see the beautiful big, blue sky and also to do all kind of business. Like in any big city, there are skincare and massage salons here. And I really wanted to try one, not to say that I also needed one after almost three weeks! So, I found a nice looking place advertising all kinds of therapies. Inside, the place looked nice and clean, with dimmed lights on the walls. My therapist guided me to a cozy room, which I was about to share with two other clients. After putting on a short and a T-shirt, my massage could start. It was a mixture of Thai and Shiatsu massage. Thai massage is full of pulling and stretching; shiatsu is a pressure-point massage. The combination of both really was divine! But then, two other persons came in for massage and even though they were not too noisy, my moment of relaxation was ruined. I definitely preferred the private setting. The massage lasted an hour, I paid and left with mixed feelings.
The Massage room and the Salon from the street.
The next few days, I spent with sightseeing in and around the city and, on my last day, I decided to attend a traditional Mongolian dance and music performance. First, I thought it will be something very touristy and kitschy, but my mouth dropped as soon as the artists started their performance. In a pretty simple, almost poor theatre setting, these artists - wearing their rich, beautiful, traditional cloths - performed superbly and I was amazed of their professionalism. After all these beautiful and unique experiences, time came to say good-bye to Mongolia - and it was hard! At the airport, one of the security guards asked me: "So, Miss, three weeks in Mongolia, how did you like it"? While answering, I teared up 'cause yes, I liked it, I even liked it very much.
The Theatre and a Buddha Statue in Ulaanbaatar.
Bayartai (Good Bye) beautiful Mongolia! Thank you for the wonderful experience!
The doggies in and outside of the camp. The one among the shoes was Jay-Jay, my best friend in the camp.