Return of the Blog!

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Tomorrow is the first day of our third year of school here in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It’s hard to believe that two years ago, we were about to start our journey at our high school. Those two years flew by while also making it feel like we’ve been here a lot longer–in a good way.

I hope to post some updates on what we actually did this summer, but in the meantime, enjoy this video with traditional music and dancing:

Cheers,

Beth sig

“What does the fox say?”

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Let me begin by saying, “He’s here!” Also, he’s been here for two weeks now. Welcome to Mongolia, little dude!

I may write a post specifically about Z’s birth story in the future, but for now, we thought it might be neat to include some Mongolian traditions surrounding pregnancy and postpartum that we have gleaned over the last nine months. As a reminder to Western readers, cultural differences are not “weird”–they are just different. We seem weird to our Mongolian friends, but we’re just different too. 🙂

For starters, I’ve already shocked many of our Mongolian connections by leaving the apartment “too early”. New moms and babies usually stay home for 30 days or longer and visitors stay away for that amount of time as well. This is primarily for mom and baby’s health as newborns’ immune systems are still developing. When you live in a place where a wider variety of diseases is still common, it’s a pretty good idea to do what you can to prevent those from affecting your kid. Although we have gone out, we have been choosy about our destinations and the duration of time spent outside.

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Super swaddle!

Something that we’ve noticed in general about Mongolians is that they by and large prefer to be warm or hot than to feel cool. This translates over to new moms who prefer to wear several layers–more than I’m comfortable wearing as my hormones have been triggering what I can only describe as hot flashes–and babies are kept warmly swaddled as well. If you’ve ever watched the documentary Babies, you will have seen the heavy-duty traditional swaddling on the Mongolian subject. (see image) Z was well-swaddled in the hospital (although not to the same extent as the kid in the picture) and has preferred swaddling at home.

There are Mongolian food preferences following childbirth that I discovered while in the hospital. New moms typically eat mutton soup following birth to regain their strength, and this soup kept popping up at hospital meals and between meal times for snacks. Seeing as mutton disagreed with my stomach throughout pregnancy, I was concerned that I would still have a negative reaction to it, but it was some of the most delicious soup that I’ve ever eaten. One of my Mongolian friends who attended the birth, stayed with us the first night, and helped the baby and me get a good breastfeeding latch made sure that I kept eating throughout the day and night, emphasizing foods with higher fat contents–yogurt (~3.2%) and cream pastries, for example–to help boost my milk supply. I’ve kept up a decent snacking schedule since coming home from the hospital, and it’s definitely helped Z keep on track with weight gain.

Our first evening in the hospital, several of our colleagues visited us to see the baby and congratulate us, and this is where we learned about the fox (hence the post title). Apparently, hanging a felt fox or the image of a fox over a baby’s crib is very common in Mongolia. The idea is that the fox keeps the baby company while the baby sleeps and helps prevent bad dreams. Some of my 12th grade students gifted us a felted mobile of a ger with a string of animals below it. The animals are all typical livestock, except for the last animal which is a fox. We didn’t really think much of its inclusion when we received the gift, but now we understand!

There are more things that I could probably include in this post, but a) it’s getting long and b) this is all that stuck out in my sleep-deprived mind for now. So here we are in Mongolia, new parents, and about to set out on the next season of experiences!

More to come,

Beth sig

Approaching the Finish Line

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Eric and I are just a week and some change away from our finish line, but we are approaching that line in two different ways. That finish line at the end of May represents two different goals: 1) reaching the end of our second school year in Mongolia and 2) our baby’s due date. It’s uncanny how close those lines are.

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Taken on Sports Day, September 2014. Imagine this is us racing to the finish line, only all I can manage at this point is a rapid waddle. So on second thought, don’t imagine that at all. Carry on.

I began my maternity leave at the end of April giving myself approximately four weeks to get ready for the final push before Baby Judd arrives. Compared to my American mom friends, I realize how blessed I am to be able to take a whole month off prior to our due date, rather than needing to work right up until labor starts as so many have to do. (Mongolian maternity leave is more generous and flexible than what is typical in the US.)

Since this is my first time to go through a full-term labor and delivery, I was concerned about being prepared–not to mention being a newbie means I have no idea what I’m doing. Add to that being in a country where I still can’t fully communicate in the national language and where getting things done just seems to take twice as long as I’m used to, and I was worrying that I wouldn’t have time to get things done that I wanted/needed to accomplish before the baby showed up. So for me, May has been a combination of resting, running errands, and continuing to attend our Mongolian language lessons.

Eric, in the meantime, is still teaching at our school. He picked up some more hours–along with our Aussie coworker–to help cover my classes when I bowed out at the mid-term. Every day, he comes home with anecdotes about the entertaining and frustrating elements of the day, which I appreciate because it helps me feel connected to school still. I’ll be honest: I miss my students! Yesterday, I went to school to eat lunch with him, and it was a lot of fun to see the teachers and students again. 🙂 (I’m planning on making this a regular occurrence next year, only with Baby Judd in tow.)

In a week, my mom will be flying in from the DRC to stay with us for a month, and then in early July, Eric’s folks will come from the US to stay with us for about the same amount of time. We are looking forward to seeing family–since we aren’t heading back to the States this summer–and to get a chance to show them around the city and country that we now consider home. Of course, we’re also looking forward to having some help with a newborn because, again, we have no idea what we’re doing, and they’ve at least done this a time or two before! 😉

Until next time!

Beth sig

 

PS. For those interested in helping us get some last minute items for the new baby, here is a link to our Amazon registry. Purchased items will be shipped to Eric’s folks and will arrive here with them in July. Thank you in advance! ❤

Women’s Day and Soldier Day

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Admittedly, this post is not exactly a timely one as Women’s Day occurred on March 8th and Soldier Day happened March 18th. Last term was a bit of a whirlwind, and spring break was spent planning for the final term of the academic year. Once fourth term started, I’ve been trying to figure out maternity leave and baby stuff, so yeah…

Anyway, Women’s Day is similar to the US Mother’s Day, although it celebrates all women–mothers or not. Soldier Day is a bit of an equivalent to Father’s Day, but again, it celebrates all men–not just fathers. (And some of our female students complained this year that not all soldiers are men, but this is more or less the distinction between the two holidays.)

We celebrated Women’s Day at school and then after work with our colleagues. The male students put together some fun presentations at school for the female staff and faculty and for the female students. Here are a few pictures:

Then after work, we headed up to an event center past Zaisan for a special dinner (khorkhog) and karaoke!

To explain what I’m doing in the top right picture…khorkhog is roasted sheep that is cooked along with stones. The stones help distribute the heat better (I assume) and make for a better cooked, more tender meat. (Seriously, it’s so good!) When the khorkhog is served, people pass around the hot stones and hold–or quickly pass them back and forth between their hands–as it is thought to be healthy. It certainly helps with circulation! Because I’m pregnant, I got a stone of my very own and was encouraged to keep it for as long as I could. Eventually, my hands adjusted to the heat. 😉

Soldier’s Day occurred when we were at camp in the countryside. Again, there were student performances as well as camp counselor performances and even our staff/faculty got in on the fun. (Eric too!) After the general get together, the teachers left for their own celebration. It was a lot of fun!

Hopefully, I can get a few more posts up in the next few weeks to try to catch up the blog!

Until then,

Beth sig

A Foreigner’s Guide to Riding the Bus in UB, Pt. 2

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There have been a few adjustments to public transportation around UB since we first posted about how to ride the bus here. When we returned to Mongolia from the US at the end of the summer, we returned to a completely overhauled bus system–new payment method, new bus lines, and new bus numbers/routes. Just to be safe, we avoided riding the buses for the first few weeks until we could figure everything out a bit. Even so, we’ve had a few mishaps–of course!–but nothing too grievous.

The biggest update is the method of payment. Instead of a fare collector moving up and down the bus and getting you to pay up, the system is much more automated. Now, you buy a bus card and put money on it. Once you get on the bus, you let the electronic reader scan your smart card and the reader automatically deducts money from it. It reminds me a lot of the ORCA cards in the Seattle metro area, actually.

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The cards have all different kinds of designs, but this is what mine looks like!

When we first bought our cards, we had a hard time tracking down a kiosk where we could purchase them and add money, but now they are much easier to find. Most of the major bus stops have kiosks nearby where you can either purchase a card or refill your card. Just look for the UMoney logo (image below). In a pinch, you can still pay in cash as you get on the bus (there’s a collection box next to the card readers), but I’m not sure if that will be a permanent alternative or not.

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Look for the UMoney logo! If you can find that, you can get a bus card. 🙂

Fares themselves don’t seem to have changed. It’s still 500 tugrug to ride the buses. I can’t speak for the trolleys since I haven’t used once since we’ve been back. I suspect that’s the same.

Something we forgot to mention in the last post which is pertinent to riding the bus and being in a crowded area in general. It’s considered rude to step on or kick someone’s shoes/feet in Mongolia. On a crowded bus, especially if you lose your footing and have to stumble to regain your balance, it’s very easy to accidentally stumble into or onto someone else. In that case, if you know whose feet you’ve trampled, a simple hand shake and an “уучлаарай” (pronounced roughly: oh-chla-ray) go a long way. Even strangers tend to smile when foreigners know to do this. 🙂

Another cultural tidbit…most Mongolians are pretty quiet on public transportation, at least compared to Westerners. Most people, if they talk at all, have quiet conversations with their traveling companions. If you don’t want to stand out more than you already do as a foreigner, keep your conversation volume down. Usually I’m so focused on trying not to fall over and keeping an eye on my bag that I don’t have the brain capacity to chat anyway, and anyway, having a conversation means you’re paying less attention to your surroundings, which makes you both more likely to miss your stop and to be a better target for pickpockets.

Hopefully this helps!

Beth sig

Winter Air Pollution

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It’s September, the morning after the first snowfall of the season, and Otgontuuya already knows that winter will be brutal. She sits on a pink plastic chair in her living room, takes off her thick jacket and breast-feeds her crying toddler. She has just gotten home, having walked across the uneven dirt roads overlooking the city, where the white ground is slowly turning a slushy gray. Even when the weather is nice, sharp turns and steep inclines often make it impossible for off-road vehicles to reach her neighborhood.

Otgontuuya is 28, and like most Mongolians, goes by only her first name. She is married, a stay-at-home mother who spends her free time sewing traditional tunic-like clothes for her kids. “I live for my children,” she says, rocking her 1-year-old daughter in her lap.

Along with freezing temperatures, winter brings memories of the child that never came. Six years ago, Otgontuuya was informed during a routine checkup that her baby had stopped growing. She miscarried at 12 weeks.

The culprit, doctors told her, was air pollution.

Thus begins this article on maternal health in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, by Liana Aghajanian (on Al Jazeera). I very strongly recommend that you read that article, which explains the tenuous situation well and includes photographs of life in the capital city for its residents who do not live in apartment buildings.

Somehow, in all of our preparations and research about Mongolia prior to arriving in the country, we missed the fact that Ulaanbaatar has terrible winter air pollution. Still not sure how that happened. Although I’ve read conflicting reports on this, UB is purportedly the most polluted capital city in the world in winter and the pollution is worse than in Beijing, China. The primary reason for this is that central heating comes from steam plants, which run on coal, and the city is lined with ger districts with residents burning coal and other flammable items for heat and cooking. I don’t suppose it helps that the city lies snugly between mountain ranges.

We are fortunate to live and work on the southern end of the city where we have a lot of wind that helps clear out the worst of the pollution. Even so, the outside air smells of coal smoke from late October to March or thereabouts. Depending on how cold it is, there are times when we can’t see certain parts of the city because of how thick the smoke is. Like all difficulties, it’s manageable with the right gear, but I have yet to meet a UB resident who doesn’t complain about the pollution. Looking at the rest of winter ahead of us (and this year’s winter looks like it might be a dzud), I don’t suspect we’ll have clear air for awhile. Fortunately, this too shall pass.

Do keep mothers and babies in your thoughts as winter progresses. (And sorry that this is not a cheerier post so close to the holidays…)

Beth sig