Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Mongolian "9 Nines"

Oh how this Man moves me!
I first wrote about Cold & Pollution back in mid-October and think it's time for an updated post on the topic, as everyone wants to know how cold it is NOW. Dec 22nd marked the start of the coldest time in Mongolia (Interestingly, that's the day that Z arrived to me in the U.S. last year--he's a smart one!). It's the start of the "9 Nines," of which I am now in the fourth 9. The third and fourth 9s are said to be the coldest. 

This morning when I awoke a little after 7 am it was -36 F; it's now 9:30 and up to -27 F. Today's high is predicted to be -15 F. This sounds cold and it IS cold, but it doesn't feel as cold as it sounds. At least not to me. Once you have the proper gear--warm socks and boots, outer pants (aka snow pants--though there is very little snow here in UB--too cold for real snow), layers, a good down coat, scarf, hat, and mittens--one can be quite comfortable moving around outdoors. The downside is that it's impossible to just "run to the store." It takes time to bundle up and then unbundle upon the return home. However, one does get accustomed to this necessity. 

This afternoon I will walk to the U.S. Embassy to get my new passport (returning to my maiden name officially!). Perhaps I'll have a different opinion about the temperature after I walk those four miles (two there, two back).

The pollution as seen from my library at ASU, morning
The pollution also has not been as bad as I anticipated (expecting the worst imaginable was good on my part). But do see the picture here--as you can see that the coal smoke from the gers (foreground) and ger districts (way off in the distance and not visible here) IS what creates it. Taken from Zaisan (where I work at ASU), one should see the mountains on the other side of UB, past the skyscrapers. But the pollution was so thick that morning--an AQI rating of Hazardous when the picture was taken--that you can't even see to the center of UB. There are mornings when I step outside of our apartment building and the smell of coal smoke is strong--it goes right to the sinuses, between the eyes. I put my disposable mask on immediately. Though the pollution has hours and days where it's bad (usually following a very cold night or two), it DOES shift out of the city fairly quickly. In a matter of just a few hours, it can be down in the Healthy range. The day I took this the photo, the air was CLEAR and smelled good when I walked home from the bus stop after 4 pm. I was halfway home when it occurred to me that I didn't even notice the air. That's a good day! 

Sunrise this morning, from our apartment LR window
I was sick a couple of times back in November and December. I had a cold and a couple of fevers. I also had a nagging cough that I'm sure was pollution generated. I did not feel strong, nor like myself in those months. I'm chalking that up to being my environmental adjustment period. This month I feel strong, well, and fully like myself. There is a skip in my step even though I'm walking in these temps. 

Mongolians sometimes ask me if life here is hard. My father-in-law recently asked this while I was out staying at our ger for a night. I know he's referring to the weather, the environmental conditions. I don't think it's hard, but it is different as I stated before. Perhaps growing up in Michigan prepared me for the weather--even going outside at 3:30 in the morning to pee when it's -27. I don't think much about the cold and one can easily make adjustments to deal with the pollution (wearing a mask, limiting outdoor activities, etc). 

"Heather Caveney" in Mongolian Cyrillic
Soon it will be Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian Lunar New Year Celebration) and I'll have a week off from school to partake in the festivities. As I walk through this initial year of life in Mongolia, everything is new and populated with "firsts." Today I will happily return to my first and original name--Heather Caveney--and will remain so for the rest of my days. Zorig and I's wedding certificate has my name written as Heather Caveney (see how it translates to Cyrillic in this image). Zorig's last name is his father's first name (that's how they do naming here--children take their father's first name as their last name), my last name is also from my father. 

I will wrap this post up by saying that my life is good. I'm happy and I'm healthy. The unexpected events in my life over the past year and a half have led me to joys I have not known before. I am growing, expanding, and stretching. Though not always comfortable, evolution is a glorious thing. Thanks for your time in reading this post. Sharing with you makes this journey that much more worthwhile. Until next time--Be well.

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