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Ulaanbaatar Furlough

December 12, 2010

UB trips are pretty magnificent for a sense of community around here. For me, living in a new place never really feels quite right until you go on a trip and then come “home” for the first time. This last trip to the capital and now coming back in my cozy ger has really done just that.

I’m freshly back at site from IST (In-Service Training), where we had a week of seminars with our Mongolian counterparts, with a lot of time spent talking about how we can work alongside one another more effectively. It has started a pretty good conversation between my counterpart and I, and I really hope it continues here at site as the weather turns bitterly cold and we creep towards the shortest day of the year. The six-month mark has already come and gone, if you can believe it.

A trip to UB does a good bit for the soul as well. I was warm in heated guesthouses and hotels, I ate American food to my heart’s content (even buffalo chicken pizza), I took as many hot showers as I could cram into two weeks, and I spent many late nights over a few pints of beer with my ex-pat companions braving the cold out here in Mongolia. One of our favorite spots is a restaurant called American Burger and Fries (AB & F). It’s run by a guy who was born in Korea, but grew up in Virginia, not far from Washington D.C., so his American street cred is unquestionably legitimate. It’s sort of home-base for PCVs while they’re in the city: a source of news, gossip, and generally an oasis that feels, if even for just a moment, like you’re home. The owner is nice enough to give us PCVs a discount as well, and inside the menu is a rather moving tribute to those “Foreign volunteers who are helping this country.” Makes you feel pretty warm inside to sit there and eat a cheeseburger and drink a beer—and it’s probably the most proud I’ve felt to be a volunteer since that guy shook my hand in the barber shop in America when I was explaining to everyone that I was leaving for the Peace Corps the next day.

It’s the holiday blues of an ex-patriot these days though. I can’t pretend that I don’t miss spending this time of year with all of you at home. It’s hard to think that the 25th of December will come and go this year like any other Saturday. I did get to spend Thanksgiving celebrating though. The Peace Corps puts on a pretty magnificent Thanksgiving party, with a potluck dinner of Thanksgiving classics, and all your holiday activities including a pre-recorded football game played on a projector—a great day to be sure. I hope you’re all warm and fully ensconced in the holiday spirit.

Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

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