488Re: Calling M-16 volunteers to Mongolia
- Mar 21, 2005Hi Jenny,
I'm an M-16, too. I'm out in San Francisco, so it seems likely that
I'll be welcoming you all into my fair city for Staging. I was just
writing my recruiter when your message came in. (I'm subscribed so
they come to my email.) I was asking for contact info for another
volunteer in San Francisco who is an M-16, too, to see what her plans
and packing list were looking like. If I do get her info, I'll see if
she'll post here her ideas.
I've gone through all the posts on this site and there were a few good
messages about packing -- what to bring and not what to bring. I've
pasted one of the best below my sig.
For preparation, I've got a big list going -- mostly clothes that I
think will stand up to a good beating and still keep me warm. I'm
planning on bringing an old laptop to use for music, etc, which I can
then donate when I leave. I'm a music junkie and couldn't live
without my music. It seems like we'll have electricity, as teachers
in a fairly good-sized town. I'm assuming a lot there, based on the
fact that we'll be teaching at High Schools or what-have-you.
I'm trying to keep it simple and light, but I'm a minimalist in
general. When I go hiking (3-5 days), my pack weighs in at about
20-25lbs, even snow camping. That said, it seems everyone overpacks
and I'm sure I'll be wishing I'd left a ton of stuff at home. Jaime
(below) suggests that you can get a lot of local stuff at good prices
or ship stuff from home for use later. In my mind, I'd rather bring
two large bags with me with all my stuff, rather than trust everything
I want to bring to some foreign (or domestic for that matter) customs
A friend of mine was Peace Corps Nepal and she's been following my
preparations and has given me tons of good advice. She nixed the
solar battery charger immediately, which some others on this message
board recommended against, as well. I figure its gonna be a bit like
living at home and a bit like camping, with more emphasis on the
'living at home' bit. Bring what you want, but bring only a few items
I'd be interested in hearing about your teaching experience and if you
have any ideas or plans for adapting your teaching to Mongolia.
From: "jaimeforsyth" <jaimeforsyth@y...>
Date: Thu Apr 17, 2003 5:01 am
Subject: Just bring what makes you happy!
Sain bain uu, Soon to be Peace Corps Volunteers,
I'm an M13 here in Mongolia (i.e., from the 2002 PCV group) and have
enjoyed reliving all the packing uncertainties I went through last
year as I read through some of your emails. The best advice I got
from a current volunteer, "Just bring what makes you happy."
Other than that, the best advice I can contribute is: Don't spend a
lot of money beforehand. It's more fun, less stressful, and much
much much cheaper to buy things here (or have them custom-made) then
it is to schlep everything here only to find out that you could have
gotten something suitable here for a fraction of the price. Also, if
you spent alot of cash on something in the States, you'll probably
feel obligated to get it back to the US, too, and mailing from here
is horribly expensive and carrying additional stuff is no fun either.
With that said, I'll try to save you a few dollars and a few pounds
1. Vitamins: Once you're sworn in, the PC will provide Centrivite
multi-vitamins, Calcium supplements, Vitamin C/E/B6 and Iron
supplements (and any other prescription drugs). Just bring enough of
those for the summer.
2. Sunscreen/bug juice/moisture lotion: I think we got all of this
in our med kits (when you first arrive)...Lubriderm moisture lotion,
DEET bug lotion (you might want to bring your own), and a thick,
greasy SPF 28 sunscreen (definitely bring your own). Caveat: This is
from last year; things can always change.
3. School supplies: You can get notebooks, folders, pens, glue, post-
its, markers, paper clips, all that kind of stuff in UB, if not in
smaller aimags. The only thing that I haven't seen is good quality
chalk, blackboard erasers, stapler, scissors. Also, the markers
aren't the best quality. Still, who wants to haul all that stuff
around? Bring what you can't live without and have a care package
sent later if you really can't find it here. There are a few
stationery/office supply stores in UB.
4. Seeds: ADRA (an NGO) provides free seeds (mostly vegies, not sure
about herbs) and is conveniently located next to the PC office in
UB. We just had a big distribution to all the PCVs that wanted them.
5. Wool tights: The women wear wool-like tights under skirts that
can be picked up in any market for < $1.40. You can also get other
(nicer) options for a little more money.
6. Pillow: If you're at all particular about what you sleep on,
bring a pillow. Options here range from flat-as-a-pancake to the
Rock of Gibraltar. I bought a travel pillow case and stuffed my down
jacket in it for the summer, and that was fine, but was glad to have
a 'real' pillow waiting for me in my 'winter' box in UB.
7. Summer (i.e., smaller) sleeping bag: unless you're planning on
taking some backpacking trips, you might not want to bother; it's
just one more thing to carry back and forth from the States, and one
more expense. You can get fleece, cotton, or silk sleeping bag
liners made for you here for a fraction of the cost. I haven't seen
them, but I know they make sleeping bags here for really cheap and
you could buy that or a quilt if you need extra warmth in winter.
Recurring theme: You can get almost anything made here for cheap!
One PCV just asked if I knew anyone who wanted to buy the sleeping
bag that she had brought with her, as she was already worried about
the hassle of bringing it back next year.
8. Coats/winter boots/accessories: You can get everything you need
here; these people are the experts. Most of the PCVs have had local
seamstresses whip together various types of coats or jackets for
them, and there are plenty of hats, gloves, and scarves here.
Typical examples (these are the low end typical)...Women's long, down
coat: $14; Custom-made long, wool coat: $18-$27, fleece jacket with
Mongolian designs: $14. (Even if a zipper breaks or seam gives out,
you can have it repaired on the spot at a repair shop or by a local
seamstress for about a buck.) Traditional Mongolian boots can be
bought or custom-made for around $30-35, I think. One thing that I
brought which worked better than a scarf at minus 40 was a neck
gaiter (aka, neck warmer). As it's just some fleece stitched into a
tube, which I'm sure can be made here, but you can probably pick one
up cheap at this time of year...or make it yourself. If you have
favorite gloves or mittens, I'd probably bring those, but you will
certainly have alot to choose from here. (Note on the boots: If you
know you have a problem with cold feet and want to take your chances
with the high tech boots you can get in America, check out Baffin
boots, www.baffin.com . After I was erroneously told that I wouldn't
be able to get wos. size 9 shoes here, I bought a pair of Baffin
Acadia boots online rated to -94 F (I wanna know who had to test
them!), and they're relatively lightweight and were toasty at minus
45; and my feet get cold really easily.)
9. Great things to bring to your training site: Frisbee, hacky
sack, deck of cards (Uno is good, too). You will make instant
friends of every kid in the area when you bring out the Frisbee.
10. Watch batteries: They have watch repair shops all over the
place, at least in UB. Because they usually last around 2 years, I
just saved myself the hassle by replacing my battery right before I
11. Duct tape: So far, you can't buy it here, and it's infinitely
12. Photo album: Your host family and every other Mongolian you meet
will love to see the pictures of your family and friends. They're
more interested in people than scenery.
13. If you bring a sports magazine (with pictures of NBA players)
and a teen magazine (with pictures of the latest pop princess...last
year it was Britney Spears) you will make a teenager or ten very
happy. (note: basketball is very popular here and most towns will
have at least one basketball standard for the boys to play. Even
poor people also often have satellite dishes, and are familiar with
some NBA players. One little boy asked me if I knew Allen Iverson.)
14. Wire hangers: Easy to pack, and almost everyone's home in the
US seems to have a bunch from the dry cleaner. Handy to have,
especially since they bend into lots of different shapes for lots of
different uses. Even furnished apartments don't seem to have many
hangers to speak of, and in a ger, it's easy to bend them to hang
anywhere. You can buy plastic hangers here if you need to.
15. Tupperware: Pack anything that needs protecting into tupperware
containers. They're great to have afterwards for storage, especially
since the cheap Chinese ones here aren't leakproof.
16. Toiletries/make-up: You can get everything you need here
including American toothpaste and toothbrushes, and I'm starting to
see floss occasionally. For women: they have all your cosmetic
needs...all of them. They even have Revlon, Estee Lauder, and
Clinique products if you don't want to try the Swedish or Korean
brands. Tampax tampons are available, but they're more expensive
17. Dried fruit: I've seen raisins, apricots, and plums pretty
18. Food: I saw someone had a list of everything s/he would bring.
Everything on the list can be found in UB ...maybe not every time you
check, but on a sort of regular basis. There are times when we're
out of Skippy/Jif peanut butter or macaroni and cheese or whatever;
but you just learn to grab things when you see them, even if you
don't need them at the moment. UB has a good selection of fresh
fruits and vegetables all year round; it's more hit or miss in other
19. Plastic egg container: Only 1 volunteer seems to have found one
of these in Mongolia, but since you get eggs piled in a plastic bag,
it's a very handy thing to bring (from a camping store).
20. Plastic insulated mug and spoon: It was a hassle to find a
spoon when you just wanted to have some noodles in your room, or to
stir the ubiquitous "Coffee King". Having an insulated mug that was
bigger than 6 oz. and had a handle in which your fingers actually
fit, would be a nice thing, though not a necessity.
21. 1 liter, wide-mouth Nalgene bottle: It must be the unwritten
rule, because I think every single PCV has one. Besides the obvious,
they're also handy to use as measuring cups. I brought 2 for some
reason, but really only needed one.
22. Solar battery re-charger: I have a brand-new, never been opened
one that no one here seems to want to buy from me. One of the
problems is where to put it where it can get 12 hours of sunlight
(not that you have nearly that much in the winter) while you are
away. If you have a ger, you don't have any windows either. The
perception of one person who used one was that the batteries were
never fully charged. You can buy an electric battery charger here
that will charge 4 AA batteries in about 4 hours, and you can
probably get that much electricity in one day even in the smallest
soum (town); that is, unless the power's completely out, which it can
be for a period of days every now and again. You can supplement by
bringing a family-size box of batteries that you can draw on when you
need to. You can buy Western quality batteries here for the regular
retail price, i.e., not as cheap as from a US shopping warehouse.
The Chinese ones available everywhere are terrible.
23. Laptops are great because it can be your journal, stereo, video
game, and DVD player depending on what type you have. You can store
all your CDs on it, and bring small battery operated speakers, or buy
some here if you will have electricity in your site. Buy a padded,
snug-fitting, zippered pouch to store it in; and ALWAYS keep it
zipped up to protect it from all the dust here. I talked to someone
living in a ger and he never had a problem due to the cold; he used
coal during the coldest parts of the winter, which retains its heat
much longer than wood. You can also buy small gel packs that can be
heated and put in with the laptop (in the laptop's insulated bag) at
night if you think it will be a problem. (I haven't had to test this
theory) As far as theft: I brought a laptop lock which I've never
used, but it's good to be concerned about theft. Some of the
volunteers who have been victims of theft from their ger, never had a
problem with their laptop, because in a small soum, you cannot
possibly show up anywhere with a laptop without it being obvious that
you took it from the volunteer. Most thefts were children stealing
money or anything that looked cool and was small enough to hide. And
if you don't live in a ger, you will probably have a good enough lock
on your door that anything inside is safe. Yes, you have to be
willing to accept risk if you bring it, but there are alot of long,
winter nights to consider and I haven't yet heard of anyone who was
sorry they brought it. Also, the PC has a technology initiative, so
you could also use your laptop as a teaching tool and introduce your
local Mongolian friends to the possibilities. While most are too
poor to own one themselves, more and more are available in schools,
internet cafes, or gov't sponsored student computer rooms. The PC is
offering a computer workshop in a couple weeks for PCVs and one each
of their community members who are interested in learning how to
train other people on computer skills.
24. Heavy-duty ziploc bags are great for all sorts of things. For
example, rice and sugar come in cheap, plastic bags that are easily
25. Books/magazines: Pack everything you could possibly want, or be
willing to donate to the PC library, into boxes and ship to yourself
at the PC office in UB via the "M bag". This is the slow boat to
Mongolia, anywhere from 2-6 months but it's only $1/lb. It's only
for printed material.
26. Musical instruments: Half a dozen of our group brought guitars
or fiddles and I haven't heard any complaints and they were great to
have around. If you have an expensive instrument, I'd keep it at
home and find something cheaper to bring with you.
27. Dispelling rumors....No, you will not have to forage for wood,
nor is it likely that you will have to chop it if you don't want to.
Wood is so scarce in most of your communities that you will probably
have coal at least in the winter, or maybe some will use dung at some
point (really, it smells more like the vegetation it used to be than
anything nasty). The few forests are being depleted so rapidly that
it's illegal to cut the wood in most cases, though that law is
thoroughly ignored; still, it's not a good precedent to set for the
PC to have the volunteers illegally taking wood if you happen to live
by one of the increasingly rare forests. The PC has arranged with
all sites to have fuel and water supplied. In reality, some people
get their water brought to them and some get it from the local well.
(One volunteer joked that the only foraging he had to do was the
verbal foraging to try to talk his director into having fuel
delivered in a timely manner.)
28. If you need something desperately and don't have anyone to ship
it to you; REI, LL Bean, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble will ship
here. Amazon, for one, is great if your package doesn't arrive in a
timely manner; they'll re-ship it for free.
29. Things I saw in emails or on lists that you don't need to bring:
lighters (readily available because cigarettes are so cheap); hammock
(unless you have other ideas besides stringing it between 2 non-
existent trees); slippers (e.g., you can buy toasty wool felt ones
here); extra bandannas (they have the same made-in-China ones here
that we get in the US).
30. Most volunteers suggest that you bring socks and underwear,
including a pair of good, silk long underwear from home; as the
quality is not as good here for those kind of things or in the case
of silk (or other high-tech fabric) long underwear, I haven't seen it
here. Quick-drying hiking socks from EMS, REI, or any good outdoor
store will be a good investment.
31. If you have a favorite hat with a big brim, bring it. The
temperature got up to 110 degrees F one day last summer and the heat
wave seemed to last for a really long month. Having a wet bandanna
around your neck when it's that hot is also helpful.
32. No, there are no McDonald's here, but there is a little store
that has a pretty accurate fake "7-11" sign. There was a fake
McDonald's called "MonDonald's" (i.e., "MONgolian mcDONALD'S), but
McDonald's attorneys got in touch and made them change it
to "RonDonald's". Mongolians have never heard of McDonald's, so it
was pretty much a waste of time.
33. SARS: Mongolia is being amazingly proactive in preventing the
spread of the virus. New or possible cases are reported every day (I
think we only have a couple confirmed), most of the population is
wearing face masks (a very odd sight on the streets), the biggest
open-air market in the country is closed indefinitely, public events
are cancelled, all the bars and discos are closing at 10 (can't quite
figure that one out), and all the buildings have their door handles
wrapped with gauze soaked in some disinfectant, i.e., they're wet. I
can't imagine that it would be able to spread to the point that we
would get evacuated. (Cross your fingers)
34. Thermarest self-inflating air mattress: It's likely that you
will have plenty of chances to sleep on floors, and if you mind, this
is really comfortable to have and packs up pretty compactly. You can
also buy the 'chair' accessory, made out of nylon, that will turn
your mattress into a comfy floor chair, which is easily portable for
travel. Even though I live in an apartment, this is my most
comfortable chair (sad to say). The mattress is also my guest bed as
most of us(all of us?)don't have an extra bed or maybe even an extra
couch for guests.
35. It's hard or impossible to find good quality cotton t-shirts;
bring them from home if you like to wear them.
36. Splurge on some good quality sunglasses with all the appropriate
UV protection; there's alot of sun here!
37. If you get the same amount of paperwork that we did, it would be
handy to bring a lightweight, durable folder with dividers to keep it
all straight. You might be able to find something you like in UB,
but you won't get there for shopping for some weeks after you arrive.
38. Hiking boots: You don't need really heavyweight boots, as
you're mostly walking around on bare ground (or very uneven
sidewalks),i.e., it's not particularly rugged, just a bit uneven,
dirty, and often littered with broken glass. There are plenty of
shoe repair shops if you wear something out or something breaks, as
people can't easily afford to buy new things. In the winter, you'll
be switching to insulated boots anyway. They also sell all sorts of
variations of lighter weight hiking shoes/boots here (both cheap
Chinese and Western quality).
39. Teva (or Teva-like) walking sandals: Best investment I made.
Good for walking on rugged surfaces, wading across streams, hiking
small mountains, and using sketchy-looking bath houses. And they're
In general, pack for the summer as if you are going on an extended
camping trip; i.e., pack light. Also, bring an extra duffle bag to
carry all the extra stuff the PC will hand out during the summer:
filters, books and folders mostly, and anything else you accumulate
over the summer. Everything that you don't need for the summer can
be sent directly to the PC in Ulaanbaatar, clearly labelled "Winter
gear - leave in UB" or something like that, so you don't have to deal
with it until you leave for your permanent site.
I've rambled. Hope some of this was useful to you and will look
forward to eventually meeting all of you this summer.
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