Getting Our Hands Dirty
Our community and host-family appreciation festivities demand most of my attention this weekend. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been responsible for conducting a community needs assessment—this is Peace Corps speech for using a variety of observational tools to determine what a particular community actually needs. Lots of NGOs fall into the trap of developing projects and infrastructure for the places they’re trying to help by giving them what they think they need; the Peace Corps’ prime goal is sustainability. The trouble with building a brand new library or conducting a seminar on the health benefits of exercise comes when this infrastructure isn’t community identified. The biggest part of our job here is to ensure that our counterparts can carry on those breakthroughs we do achieve in Mongolia. Community support for our projects must be sufficient enough so that they can survive after our comparatively brief time here is over.
Sunday, we’re rolling up our sleeves and resurfacing the basketball court in the school playground. Basketball is extremely popular among young people here. As far as English language is concerned, young kids know about five phrases: Hello, goodbye, Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers, and Boston Celtics. This really isn’t much of an exaggeration; the NBA Finals was the only American sporting event I’ve seen televised here. I’m hoping for the World Series, but I guess I won’t hold my breath—the Cubs are about bottom of the division anyway.
Anyway, we thought this would be a good project because the court sees a lot of use and the current state of the concrete is…well…less than ideal. The winters here are probably the culprit; constant freezing, thawing, and brutal cold destroy their best attempts at pavement. One of our fellows even had a rather purplish ankle sprain from tripping over a pothole in the middle of a pickup game. I’ll try to include a post after this with some pictures of our project.
Things are really winding down here at my training site. The 12 of us will leave it for good a week from Sunday. We’ll head to the Aimag center for “Final Center Days” where we’ll receive our final work assignments and get our last bits of information to make our 2 years here successful. After this, we’ll all head to Ulaanbaatar for our swearing-in ceremony, our talent show performances, and our departure from the fast friends we’ve made here in Mongolia. It’s a hard reality, but it’s actually the last time the full 74 of us will all be together. The “Early Termination” rate and the difficulty of travel in Mongolia makes it virtually impossible that we’ll all be together again after August 20th. That’s certainly a sobering thought.
All my best,