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488Re: Calling M-16 volunteers to Mongolia

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  • russianplane
    Mar 21, 2005
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      Hi 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
      of quality.

      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
      of luggage:

      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
      very lightweight.

      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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