Saturday, July 25, 2015

Newborn Expat in a Brave New Land

Fresh Meat and Fruit/Veggie market
I suspect many of you want to know.....how is it really going over there in Mongolia? What is the true sitrep? (Situational Report for all you non military folks.) I've ruminated on this enough to give you a post that is both authentic and well considered. So here goes....

Our apartment is in an excellent location--the heart of downtown UB--and I can walk to nearly anything I need. Just yesterday, Zorig took me on a tour of various supermarkets within walking distance of our apartment. Megastores are a thing of America, and not of Mongolia. BUT, there are a plethora of "super markets," one on nearly every block. Yesterday I observed LOTS of good meat, fruits, and vegetables, as well as a number of canned products and other goods. Prior to yesterdays outing, I was worried about getting food that I knew how to cook....but my worries are now gone. 

When it comes to meat, it's just OUT THERE here. It isn't sealed up nice and pretty in plastic and stryofoam here. Quarters and ribcages and hunks of meat simply lay on the counters and you tell the butchers what you want and how many kilos. In one deli, there were stacked (pre-cooked) sheep heads for sale; in the same store, I observed small squids and octopuses in the freezer aisle. This land is an interesting mix of meat from the nomadic herders (beef and sheep being the most prominent) and shipments of fish and other water creatures from the Asian coastal countries. 

While I am yet adapting to the foreignness of what I find in stores here, I'm also comforted to find some things that look familiar. As time passes I realize that my stress around shopping has less to do with what I am finding, and where to go to find it, and more to do with the adjustment of knowing I will be shopping every 2-3 days. The refrigerators here are small and one doesn't buy in bulk as so many Americans do; also, the produce doesn't keep as long, it's already traveled a great distance to be here. I assume people who live in large cities like New York, Chicago, and the like, also do smaller shopping excursions more often. This is less about being in Mongolia/UB, and more about adjusting to life in a big city. 

You CAN buy fermented mare's milk at the store!
I've already begun to make friends! This is good because I have experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation after Z departs for work in the morning and I have an empty, long day ahead of me. But thanks to Facebook--which they use far more effectively here--I've been making connections.

There is a teaching couple from my school that opted to stay here for the summer. I've already met up with Christy twice and we are planning a third get together soon. They've been living as expats for seven years and just finished their first year here in Mongolia. They are a wealth of information and advice, and already know quite a bit about where to find stuff in my new city. Additionally, I'm Facebook friends with three other "American wives" and they've all been in country for three or more years. We have a great camaraderie already, despite not having yet met up in person. They've directed me to stores and the appropriate library. 

It's time to get to work on the language! This is no small task and from my networks I've learned there is no real organized (aka school or training center) way to do it. I will just have to do a little each day and work at it. Yesterday I added three words that will be helpful when I ride in taxis: zuun (left), baruun (right), and chigeeree (straight). Part of what makes it tough is that it's written in both alphabets--the cyrillic and the latin. I don't know the cyrillic alphabet but have observed that it will be MOST useful to do so. So that is on my list and I think I'll ask Enji to make me an alphabet reference sheet (his hand writing is VERY good). 

We've been w/o hot water for some time now and each day the cold water is off for most of the day. I have observed construction workers tear up a trench behind our apartment building, pull out old pipes, install new ones, and then refill the trench with earth. They do a section each day and are amazingly efficient. My understanding is that they are replacing the wastewater pipes. The hot water pipes are under the street on the other side of the building. They do not have hot water heaters for each apartment building, but rather heat water at a central facility and then pipe it to the buildings. I've adapted to life w/o hot water rather quickly. :) In a month or less, the upgrades will be complete and this time will be a faint memory. 

Zorig and Enji have been most welcoming to this foreign woman. Zorig took me to the post office one day, to MobiCom (phone provider) the next, and then brought me a dresser on another day. I'm not sure what they have observed about my habits, likes, or dislikes....but I'm sure a number of things. They've made space for me everywhere--both physically and emotionally. I DO feel at home here. Z has done most of the cooking to date, so I try to help by keeping up with the laundry. And two nights ago was my first mini-milestone. I made dinner for us all AND it was good. 

My first home-cooked dinner
This was no small task in my mind. Knowing that meat, boiled and cooked with vegetables and noodles, is a staple, I ventured across the street to Nomin and purchased food. I managed to get a half kilo of some sort of seasoned pork, potatoes, cabbage, and broccoli (already had onions and carrots at home). Then I began to learn my way around the kitchen. Enji kindly offered to help--but I knew it was important to do this on my own, at least until I learn where things are and gain some level of competence in my new kitchen. It took some time....but my meal of pork-potato-carrot-onion-cabbage-noodle soup and steamed broccoli....went over quite well. I was even surprised by the tenderness of the pork (It required no dental floss, Dad!) When Z arrived home from work at 10 pm, he ate three helpings, a sure sign of success. I may be a 40+ yo woman....but I felt like a girl in Home-Ec who just made her first meal and earned an A+. Funny how something so simple and basic.....made me feel so good and accomplished.

So.....the report is that I am doing well. Plenty of moments that begin with fear or discomfort or uncertainty. I remember my favorite quote--"Behind every fear is a person you want to be," and I choose to breathe, to smile, and to think about what I can learn or who I can become by stepping forward. I may ask questions or consult Google maps, but then I simply put one foot in front of the next. The fear, discomfort, or uncertainty.......well, they simply dissipate into the background. There's always a new moment ahead, but it gets easier to face them with each passing day. 

Thanks for reading and continuing with me on this journey. 

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