December 27, 2008

In-Service Lovin'

It was really special to be able to spend time with the other Peace Corps Volunteers during IST. We don’t get to see each other very often, especially now that our budget has been reduced and our previous 15 days (In-Service Training, Project Design and Management conference and Mid-Service Training) of training has been reduced to 5 days (IST). We are all still hoping for the Peace Corps budget to increase some with the new admission led by Barack Obama, but until then this might be the last time we all see one another until the summer of 2010. That’s hard to imagine, but that might be a reality for us in our group. Regardless it has been wonderful to see everyone, our counterparts have been wonderful and we have all laughed over and over and over all week.

Leslie said it right when she said that it is a cruel joke for Volunteers to learn to love each other so much during two and a half months of training together only to be separated for two years and hardly ever see one another. IST (In-Service Training) was incredible and wonderful, but it was also very hard on each of us. We got to see some of our favorite people, hugged each other almost every hour, and then within a week had to separate once again for another six, eight, or maybe even sixteen months. Until we meet again, we will continue to text each other, call each other and hold onto all the memories we are able to have.

Counterpart Development

In-Service Training (IST) is like Pre-Service Training which we all went through as Peace Corps Trainees over the summer in that it prepares us for our work as Peace Corps Volunteers. It is different however in that it is not preparing us for our first few months at site, but rather preparing us and our counterparts for our remaining one and a half years. We learned about how to design and manage projects, how to better communicate and collaborate with our Mongolian coworkers (who we call counterparts or CPs) and how to effectively plan and manage our time as Volunteers. At this point in our service most of us are pretty excited about the seemingly infinite possibilities in our jobs and in some cases the overwhelming enormity of all things we would like to accomplish. There are grants to write, ideas to turn into projects, projects to turn into realities and realities that we would like to make out of huge dreams.

During IST each of us is allowed to invite one counterpart from our host agency and every session during the conference is taught, either together or separately, in both the English and Mongolian languages. Munhkzul, my IST counterpart, is a brilliant Pediatrician in our hospital who speaks wonderful English and whom I was very lucky to have accompany me to the conference. She is a very busy woman, both professionally and at home with her family, but having her at the conference has been really wonderful. We brainstormed together on all kinds of projects and reminded each other of all kinds of possibilities in our hospital and health department. I learned a tremendous amount about Munkhzul, about Peace Corps, and about how to work on projects in the coming months. We have a lot of great ideas and exciting plans for the future, including seminars on time management and effective planning and goal setting which Munkhzul wants to teach to doctors, nurses and health care workers in the hospital. I will be advising her, watching her when she presents and then sharing my thoughts with her afterward to help improve her future presentations. Other plans for us include teaching seminars on nutrition, hand washing, stress management, creating resources to teach community members about how to live healthier lives and sitting down once a month to plan out the upcoming month's activities. We are both very excited and look forward to an incredible year!

December 22, 2008

Erica Beezy

While out on Saturday night after training, a dozen of us went out to eat together and then visited a tavern called Budvar. It was a lot of fun to see everyone and we laughed, told jokes, shared stories and made a shout out to one of our favorite friends who is no longer with us here in Mongolia: Erica Beezy!

Leslie decided it would be cool to take a picture of us trying to write this special girl’s name with our hands, so we did that spectacularly. To you Erica Beezy!

December 21, 2008

My Favorite Part of Lynch House

One of the greatest years of my life was my senior year of college. There were a lot of reasons for this, but I can easily say that the biggest reasons were Chase, David, Wee, Pawan, Garrett and Tim. I was lucky enough to live with these incredible guys and they changed my life. They showed me new ways to measure success, be a leader, an adventurer and a friend. We lived together for a year and saying goodbye to that year was something that was hard for all of us. We had Halo nights, fire drills, made chocolate chip cookies, experienced Wee Wan's Banana Night and Moon Cake festival, played at least 57 soccer games until sunset, played frisbee games all around the house and the campus, opened David's new MacBook, ate incredible dinners at P.F. Chang's, watched dozens of Netflix movies, camped on the beach, played tons of 6+ hour games of Risk, nicknamed Pawan "The Dictator", spied on Garrett and Kelly, stared at Chase & David's incredible ceiling, got Tim, Pawan and Andres to make peace, took Wee to Kentucky for Thanksgiving, had a Christmas Gift Exchange, watched half a dozen movies in the theater, made a movie about Gandhi Gazoo, played baseball, watched Wee and Pawan have some kind of telepathic connection when no one else could hear the other one ("Wee? Wee needs me. Pawan?"), made jack-o-lanterns, made people piss in their pants on the Haunted Trail, were astounded by Wee the crazy clown, made trips to Hickory to eat at Akito's, convinced people that aliens will come in 10 years, finally got into the basement, made oatmeal cookies and coconut cream pies, went to an interview with Peace Corps, visited the famous Fort Sumter, had phone wars between David and Pawan, visited Crabtree Mall tons, ate at Sunni Skys who knows how many times, made jerseys for Lynch United (the coolest team ever!), made Garrett laugh the funny way, ate at Hibachi Grill, ordered in pizza and played games all night, solved the Rubik's cube, saw Wee perform his recital, ate a pyramid of Chik-fil-a sandwiches, gave the Dictator the Golden Axe, had dozens of late night conversations, had an end-of-the-year gift exchange, addicted everyone to LOST, and eventually went to graduation, but not before everyone listened to quotes like "For the love of god! Wake me up!" - Garrett, "Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, ToyoTAHHHHH!" - Wee and 50 mph soccerball, "It smells like something died in the basement...animalwise." - Garrett, "It's the Da-Da-Da-Da-David Rengifo Show!" - Travis & Chase, and "There are aliens...that's a fact. Give it ten years, you'll see." - Pawan. All of this happened in one incredible place that none of us will even forget, Lynch House.

So when my good friend Shaw Rowe messaged me with this message and this picture, I thought to myself about all the incredible memories (Orientation, Fall, Winter, Spring, Graduation) we were all able to create together in this special place and all the future memories will be able to create because we met.

"Lynch House is no more. To all the good times you spent in this house, pour out your best drink, toss a morsel of bread and dream a happy dream, for tonight the house will eternally rest. Thank you Lynch House, you served us well."

I am very grateful for all the incredible friends in my life and the amazing experiences we have been able to enjoy together. Thank you Chase, David, Wee, Pawan, Garrett and Tim. You are my favorite part of Lynch House.

December 4, 2008

WorldWise Schools

I just got off of Skype with two of Michael's classes in New York City (who we partnered up with through Peace Corps's WorldWise Schools) and they were wonderful! They asked tons of great questions about the culture and people of Mongolia, about my life, and about the Peace Corps. In the first class we had three young boys who were in the first grade: William, Matias and Omri. One of my favorite questions was from Omri, who asked if there were any jungles in Mongolia. I think it was Matias who jumped in and said, "Yeah, and are there any cheetahs?" I told them it was too cold for jungles here. I was about to explain it was 30 degrees below zero at the moment but we moved on to more talk about what animals were in Mongolia and what I like to eat.

The second class was 4th through 6th graders: Wan, Jacob, Leonardo, Marcus, Lev and Christopher. Their questions were impressed and some were quite advanced. They asked a lot about Peace Corps, what we do, how many of us there are, why we work for no money and when I will be coming home. An interesting question, which I'm still not sure the answer to, was if I will ever come back to Mongolia once I leave in two years. I have a feeling I will. I also have a feeling we will talk again. I told Michael I had a lot of fun and I really look forward to meeting with both classes in a couple of weeks after IST (In-Service Training) in the capital which I leave for this Saturday. Thanks for the opportunity to talk with your classes Michael, it was a blast!

Destiny Calls

Here is the newest trailer for my favorite show, LOST, which starts on January 21st. Some interesting things to note from the trailer include a logo for an airline named Ajira Airways and at the end of the trailer John Locke, my favorite character, is looking out into the valley and if you pause the frame you can see a small group of tents under his arm. Here also is the new logo for the fifth season. Things to point out: (1) there is a space on the right, which might represent a character thought to be dead such as Jin or Michael, (2) Kate and Sawyer appear to be looking at each other and (3) there is a six of lights on the building behind Hurley and Desmond. I'm excited about this new season! How about you?