Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Corawill Returns to Vratsa

In August, Corawill had their largest group of volunteers ever volunteering in Vratsa, Bulgaria. The 23 volunteers included students from Western Connecticut State University's (WCSU) Creativity and Compassion Club and Danbury High School (DHS). This year, two volunteers were on their third trip with Corawill to Bulgaria. We were joined by a wonderful group of Bulgarian volunteer translators. Our activities centered on two social homes, one for special needs children.

The activities included games, sports, 'magic sand,' painting and puzzles. The students from WCSU also shared aspects of their traditional backgrounds, with one volunteer showing everyone how to wrap and rock an India sari. We all played endless rounds of UNO and the matching game and had a blast with a Mexican piñata. We also made s'mores and American pancakes with fruit. Our painters put a shiny new coat of chocolate brown on the fence that surrounds the faciltiy and we ended the week completing hand-prints with biographical poems translated in English and Bulgarian so that we call all learn about each other. The highlight for everyone seemed to be our two trips to the community pool with an ice cream treat. The volunteers also took the children to the Ledenika Caves where everyone enjoyed the light show. It was cold inside! The final day ended with our traditional pizza party and music.

Many new friendships were formed. Many volunteers expressed interest in returning next year. See you then!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Road Trip Mongolia

  1. On the way to Ulgii from Murun.

    1. noun
      1. 1. 
        a wide way leading from one place to another, especially one with a specially prepared surface that vehicles can use.
      2. 2. 
        a series of events or a course of action that will lead to a particular outcome.

    For people used to car travel in the US and Europe, a road trip in Mongolia could present a journey in semantics: for example, what is a road? From Murun to Ulgii, just 70 of the 1500 kilometers is paved. Or, for those of us who regularly travel interstate highways in the US, what is a road-side restaurant? In that vein, what is lunch? or a toilet? Traffic jams can be quite different in the Mongolian countryside, and they may not include cars. As the saying goes, "it's the journey, not the destination that counts." 

    In total, we covered 5500 kilometers on our holiday, from Ulaanbataar to Murun, on to Tsagaannuur where we jumped on the horses to visit the Dukha reindeer herders, back to Murun, continuing to Ulgii and to returning to Ulaanbataar through Altai and the Gobi. From forested taiga in the north to the snow covered high peaks and glaciers of the west to the desert like 'mini-Gobi' in the middle, it was a great adventure. And along the way we learned new social-cultural meanings surrounding the semantics of cross-country road travel in Mongolia. I would also add the term 'luxury travel' to this list. No five-star hotels, swimming pools or Michelin starred restaurants were to be found for us outside the capital, but the peace and quiet of the countryside, the amazing star filled nights, the endless blue day sky, myriad flowers, birds and domesticated beasts, and the wonderful hospitality of the Mongolian people was indeed luxurious, serene, and yes, priceless.

    Before you travel
    Unless you are a professional mechanic, speak fluent Mongolian, and know how to find your way around this country on unmarked roads, do not attempt this type of travel without an excellent guide and driver. Many thanks to Chimeg, founder of Classic Journeys Mongolia, and to Baysaa and his trusty 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser for our adventure. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

In the Land of Blue Sky

White Lake, Tsagaan Nuur. This is the only boat I saw on the lake.  I learned that tourists do come to fish, though I didn't see any other vessels during my stay.
Our visit to the Dukha reindeer herders in northern Mongolia began and ended in Tsagaan Nuur sum. After an 11 hour ride in a Russian Furgon van we checked into our guest house. The road was unpaved and we crossed over small rivers and streams, passed herds of yak, cattle, sheep, horses and goats. We saw occasional gers and people on horseback going to or coming from either Murun or Tsagaan Nuur. There was a stop for lunch at a ger canteen in Toom and a quick visit to a friend in Ulaan Uul.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Views from the Taiga with Nomadicare

Crowded into our urts watching 'Migration.'

Our all female Team Nomadicare left Tsagaan Nuur for the east taiga on June 1. A Russian made Furgon van delivered us with our gear to Hogrog where our horses and wranglers were waiting. Once at the reindeer herders' camp, we moved into our accommodations, three people in a tourist urts (Siberian tipi) and two in tents. The next day, we arranged visits with the reindeer herders where we distributed hygiene kits to every family and updated our database. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life and Art: Young Reindeer Herders in Mongolia

In the north of Mongolia, not too far from Russia, I just completed a small research study on tourism among the nomadic Dukha reindeer herders of the East and West taiga. This community moves four or more times a year taking their animals to fresh pasture. When not interviewing their parents, my interpreter, Chuka, and I also did some 'day in the life' drawings with the children. I had brought colored markers and paper. I've conducted this exercise in many countries with children throughout the world: kids on Fogo Island in Cape Verde drew volcanoes; children in India their villages in the countryside and their families; in Bulgaria they drew photos of the sports activities they enjoyed, pizza, flowers and friends.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Day in Tsagaan Nuur

13 ovoos on the way to Tsagaan Nuur

Our drive from Murun to Tsagaan Nuur took 11 hours. It was a very bumpy but beautiful ride over dried mud tracks, through pastures of grazing sheep, goats, yak and horses. Our sturdy Russian Furgon forded streams like a vehicle built for the outback.  We made two stops on our journey.  At a ger canteen in Toom we lunched on hand cut noodles and mutton.

While waiting for our midday repast we enjoyed the scenery: one herder was mending her ger behind the restaurant. Across the way, while two small children played in a wooden cart, their family was unpacking their ger and household furnishings from their winter hut, readying for a move to their summer camp. In Ulaanuul, we visited Sas’s friend, Yura. Another nice reunion with hugs, catching up on news of family and friends. Yura welcomed us with soup and milk tea.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Final day in UB for now

Khongorzul with the new blood pressure cuff and stethoscope.
Today was filled with the happiness of meeting an old friend coupled with anticipation for our trip north. Khongorzul, a reindeer herder from the East taiga who has just completed medical school, stopped by our apartment in Ulaanbaatar to pick up a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff donated by Nomadicare.

Khongorzul taking Sas's blood pressure.
Of course, Khongorzul immediately tried out her new gifts and took Sas's blood pressure.  During her visit, Sas and Chimedee and Khongorzul caught up on news of family and friends, reminisced about past visits to the taiga, and talked about the future.

Afterwards, Sas and Khongorzul discussed Nomadicare's seven-year health database of the reindeer herders, pointing out various health issues that seemed to appear frequently such as dental problems, high blood pressure, and joint and back pain. When riding their horses herders sometimes fall off. Since they don't wear helmets, they are  at high risk for concussions. I asked how often the herders see a doctor - I was thinking about the regular check-ups we have in the US - and Khongorzul laughed and said that they only go when they are really sick.

Looking at the health database.
 Sas mentioned later to me that it may also depend on the location of the camp. In the summer, reindeer herders generally migrate farther away from the sum (county) center where the doctors are located. Khongorzul also told us that the oldest active reindeer herder now in the East taiga is 62. When they get older, most reindeer herders move to the sum center. In the West taiga, one elder woman is still living a nomadic life at 78 despite being blind. Khongorzul would like to practice medicine back in the taiga but currently there is no open position.

Watching the trailer for "Migration"

Sas also showed Khongorzul the trailer for "Migration;" she is the first reindeer herder to see the film. It was very moving, so much so that tears were shed. In particular, she loved the Tuvan music. It is possible that Khongorzul will be in the taiga during the time we are there. Good! We look forward to another reunion.

We are nearly packed. Tomorrow, Chimedee, my translator Chuka and our driver Munkhuu will leave in the morning for Murun by car. Sas and her camera person Urangoo will fly. On Monday we will go to Tsagaan Nuur, again by car. On Tuesday we drive to a meeting place for our horses and with the help of wranglers will travel to the spring camp of the reindeer herders.

Last night Sas and I had a very nice dinner with the resident director of the the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS),  Marc Tasse. Sas and Marc discussed possibilities for showing "Migration" and "Ceremony" when we return to Ulaanbaatar. Summer is a busy time and several university groups will be coming to Mongolia on study tours. These groups get much assistance with their in-country travel from ACMS. There is a complete list of seminar topics on their web site.

This evening we will had a quick dinner with our team. Tomorrow early, off to the taiga!
Sas, Marc and Jeannie
Food shopping - rice and noodles.

Fresh fruit and vegetables.

Just for fun, a gold BMW.