UNFPA

An American Perspective: Angeline in Mongolia

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A visit to the unregistered migrants mining for gold and coal
9/25/2007

We hit the road at 8am friday to beat traffic for our 2 hour drive to Darkhar (I know I'm spelling that wrong, but I don't know where to look it up!) where there are mining sites for both coal and gold.


Funny thing. We arrived there at 1:30pm. Five and a half hours later.


There were very bumpy roads but not really that much traffic, so I'm not quite sure what happened. Lucky for me, the company in the car was compelling and, I was able to take a cat nap or two. Dr. Munkhuu had this great cashmere back brace that she offered up for me to use, but I said that at more than half her age, I thought she deserved it more than me! Apparently the brace costs about $6USD which to me sounds cost effective, practical and trendy! Sign me up for one! Cashmere is plentiful here…but cashmere is still cashmere and even at the discounted price, you are still paying a lot.


It was my first day free of a camera crew, and though they were fantastic, it was nice to not have to think about interview questions, or video footage.


The governor of the Soem where the mining takes place, two of his staff and a few others, met us in a Jeep about a hour away from the mining district to direct us the rest of the day. Everything seemed to be 30 more kilometers or 10 more kilometers but everything seems to take at least another hour. At the time, the distance didn't really phase us—the countryside was very peaceful.


We were shocked though, after driving for hours through empty fields to see a massive city crop up in the distance. The mining district that we visited was at the tip of the city, but still in a very rural location.


As we approached the mining fields we saw 2-3 people in various quadrants in the distance. Each hovered near a bed of water, seeking their treasure. The mining industry is filled with unregistered migrants—which to UNFPA equates to people who are in dire need of help because they government can not officially offer them care and support.


We drove "10 kilometers more"—30 minutes and we met several miners and their families. Unlike the rich herdsman we met yesterday, these families literally had merger fabric tents pitched on the sand and very minimal resources. Two little boys helped their dad—we asked where his daughter were and he said they left them with family in the city because he didn't want to expose them to this lifestyle. (The boys were all about the photo ops as you'll see!) My pictures show them working hard, sieving through the rocks and gravel and achieving success in finding 4 small (tiny) pieced of gold. I was pretty impressed that they found some on the first try.


The adults have been encouraged to get jobs in the Soem Center, but they say "the money there is worse and they have to report to a supervisor." "Here, I am my own boss."


Unlike most of the UNFPA projects that I talk about, in this case, the men are the particularly vulnerable group. They have hard, laborious working conditions, low income, poor shelter, few resources, and they have little to no access to social services or health care of anytime. There wives suffer too, of course, but you can see the worry and hardship in each man's face.


We gave them a carton of apple juice as we left and the few families living in the neighboring tents gathered together with joy. If only apple juice was a long term sustainable solution to ensure then happiness, health and dignity.


We made our way back to the city and I met with the video crew to pick up the tapes. Anika left for the airport at 4am the next day and I left at 10:30am.


It was time to say goodbye to Mongolia.

Our Ger Experience
9/25/2007

Though we didn't get to sleep in a Ger, a herdsman knew that we were coming to visit the Mobile Clinic and had heard that Dr. Munkhuu would be receiving an award with us, and as such, invited us in for a home cooked 5 star lunch. We dined in his guest ger—which was absolutely gorgeous. He's a rather wealthy herdsman, with 500 cattle of his own—though I don't know where he kept them because I only saw 2 or 3). Anika, by day President of Americans for UNFPA by night as aspiring interior decorator—was taking detailed notes on the ornate decorations. I will not be surprised if her daughter Amani's bedroom is soon decked out in Ger style. To be honest, the workmanship was incredible. It felt like a lifesize dollhouse. Even the entrance to the ger is done with beautiful workmanship.


There were four beds inside that lined with walls on the ger—all were carved and painted with an orange base and blue design work. The design seemed to have Moroccan influence and they basically felt like "Day Beds." We sat on them…apparently the men are supposed to sit on the left and the women to the right. They had an amazing coffee table in the same design and all of the spokes holding up the ger were also ornately designed in the same colors. The herdsman (in his spare time) built, carved, painted EVERYTHING. He said the coffee table alone took him four months.


Twenty of us gathered in their Ger—which I'm guessing was about 30 ft diameter. They fed the doctors, trainees, drivers, video crew and all of us from UNFPA and Americans for UNFPA. They served lamb, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, cubed cheese, crème( which was a cross between butter and clotted crème) and bread and Dr. Sumbertzel's wife and daughter packed us a picnic lunch with we shared with all of them. The food is cooked over hot stones and just before we ate, we each were given a hot stone to toss in our hands and improve circulation. It was HOT but I'd definitely do it again.


We also had fresh Mongolian yogurt (both Anika and I are big fans) and Horsemilk—which is fermeted milk which smells very potent of alcohol. The Mongolian tradition calls for either a drink of horsemilk or vodka 3 times during every visit—at the beginning, to line your stomach, at the middle (for fun??? I'm not sure, actually), and at the end to send you off. Right. In an effort to respect tradition, we had a sip each at the beginning and end….but lets just say, we'll stick to the yogurt!


As is obvious, we won't forget the experience. The herdsman and his family lived in the ger next door which was decorated in a minimalist style. While their home still had lofted beds, it is rather common for mattresses to be at ground level, or to just sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground.


I'm still worried about how things are going back in NYC…maybe I can convince one of my colleagues there to guest post and fill us in. A natural disaster, caused by rain that lead to a steam pipe explosion…?! I hope all is well.

Seeing a Mobile Clinic Made the Bumpy Roads Well Worth It!
9/25/2007

I wrote the following blog a couple days ago, but haven't had a chance to upload them until now….


 


When I signed onto the internet Thursday morning, I was pretty shocked to see "steam pipe explosion near Chrysler Building" as the top story on yahoo news in Mongolia!  There is a 12 hour time difference between NYC and UB.  For those of you that don't know, Americans for UNFPA's office in NYC is located just across the street from there.  Thankfully, no one from our office as hurt- Deni and Marcela were the only employees in the office and they were quickly evacuated from the building (So quickly that Deni's cell phone, wallet, and the video footage from her visit to 2007 Honoree Mdme Traore in Niger are still sitting on her desk..oy!)  I've since heard that the external damage to the building is quite bad and they are waiting for reports about the inside.  Our office and the entire building are closed until mid next week at the earliest.


 


About 20 minutes later, that same day, I learned that there was an Anthrax scare in Kar Khorem—the ancient city—where we were planning on spending the night in the Ger.  Who knew that there was more to Anthrax than being a chemical weapon?  Apparently it is actually first transmitted through cattle.   According to Dr. Munkhuu's son, (the dean of public health), there is no evidence of cattle to human transmission, yet.  None the less, there is NO WAY we are going to Kar Khorem today.  Anthrax in Mongolia and a natural disaster explosion in NYC—definitely not a lucky morning for Americans for UNFPA.


 


As planned, we carried on with the first half of our day—a visit to a UNFPA funded mobile clinic.  Once my photos are posted you won't have to rely on my descriptive visuals—but in the mean time—picture two tents pitched in the middle of countryside fields with an emergency mini-van beside them.  The only things in any proximity were two gers about 300 meters away,  A couple of cows and horses close to the gers and our two cars pulled up in front of the tents.


 


Right there, in the tents, they had two pretty impressive things going on.  In the first tent, they were conducting an ultrasound on a pregnancy woman and in the second tent, about 8 doctors were seated on the floor for a "train the trainer section." I kid you not when I say a laptop was loaded up, and a powerpoint presentation was reflected on a screen at the front on the tent.  Technology.. it is everywhere.


 


The mobile clinic serves about 500 patients a year and spends a week or so at a time at each of its regular locations.  I've seen many pictures of mobile clinics, but I never realized conceptualized how remote they actually are.  We traveled bumpy, unpaved roads for several hours to get to the clinic.  Even when the roads were paved, we often drove next to them because some how the grass/dirt was smoother.  We saw zero street signs and a couple dirt forks in the road.  A doctor from the clinic greeted us about 20 minutes away from the mobile clinic and directed us the rest of the way. If our car took off, I'd still be standing there and would probably become best friends with a stray cow. Moo.


 


But, the clients that need the services seem to know exactly how to find them. A great deal of public awareness and advocacy exists locally to ensure that remote rural communities receive quality care.  They receive a lot of support from the governor, which I guess helps a lot.


 


Mobile Clinics operate in 7 provinces in Mongolia .  (They call provinces/states—Amags..pronounced Imags.)  In the province of Tuv , where this particular mobile clinic was located, the clinic visits 4 distinct locations (they call theses soems…which I guess are the US equivalent of a county). 


 


Through the train the trainer program, annually UNFPA helps train 3000 doctors, nurses, counselors and other social services providers.   The project operates in 9 sites, seven of which are rural and 2 that are urban.   


 


It's pretty incredible work. 


 


We arrived back in Ulan Bator at about 6:30pm and spent a bit more time at the UNFPA office.  (I received my third lesson on Amags versus Soums, etc…and finally grasped the concept)  


 


In retrospect, timing wise, it probably worked out for the best that we were unable to go to the ancient city. The bumpy roads without four-wheel drive made the trip pretty long and tiring.


 


Anika and I went to a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant for dinner that night called Silk Road.  The hostess told us the wait would be two hours, but I spotted a daughter/dad pair that were clearly about to finish their dessert.  About 20 minutes later we were seated.  The ambiance was great—although there was a tour guide seating across from us that felt the need to speak at the top of his lungs non stop for the entire meal.  We are convinced he didn't stop for questions or even air.  I can still hear his voice in my head.  All I can say is I'm glad I didn't pay to have him as my tour guide.

Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday July 18th
9/25/2007

Today we met with U.S. Ambassador Mark Minton and Mr. Dan Nadel, a Presidential Management Fellow working at the Embassy.  Turns out Ambassador Minton used to work with our former Board Chair, Phyllis Oakley and Dan is originally from Queens, NY.   Oh the small world we live in!


 


From there we had additional media interviews….apparently when Jagga, the media advisor at UNFPA Mongolia, arrived at work this morning, her phone was ringing off the hook from a variety of media asking why they had not been able to interview Anika or Dr. Munkhuu.  I know a segment ran again on tonight's 8pm news because a friend of Dr. Munkhuu's called her during dinner to say congratulations..she just heard the good news on the news.


 


Our evening tonight with Dr. Munkhuu's family was unforgettable.  Dr. Munkhuu hosted a lovely dinner at the Mongol Hotel—which is a must see location that takes you back to Genghis times in its historic scenic step back in time.  We met almost all of Dr. Munkhuu's children, grandchildren, and even a great grand child, and had a wonderful celebration in her honor.  We also celebrated Susie Smith's birthday—Susie if you remember is the Peace Corp Volunteer who met me at the airport and also played a significant role in organizing our trip logistics.  BTW Susie's heading back to the U.S. this fall and will be entering a job search…did I mention she's personable, professional, a great organizer, culturally sensitive, speaks a bit of French, Spanish, English and Mongolian, and has her Masters in…something.  She'll be heading home to Denver, Colorado but will go where the wind takes her when she begins her job search.  (Ahh, the glory of networking)


 


After dinner we made a quick stop at Strings, a "club/lounge" where a band from the Philippines, "Midnight Shift" was playing.  Delia is originally from the Phillipines and it was our last chance to chat with her before we leave. She'll be on mission when we return from Kharkhorin.  We caught part of the first set, classic American favorites like "Africa" and they sang happy birthday to Susie.  We promised to stay for one or two songs as they transitioned into a more dancing set.  


 


In the spirit of the small world we live in, I'll share the following:  I accepted an invitation to dance with a friend of the Band, also from the Philippines.  We started out Swing dancing (I don't swing, but thankfully my red polka dot dress at least twirled a bit) and quickly I was safe as the song shifted to salsa.  Anyway, I explained that we were in town from the U.S., he said he thought India..I explained that my parents are from Sri Lanka…and in "classic Angie style" he used to live in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  I didn't get a chance to hear much more, because I was pretty tired and we needed to head back to the hotel and I needed to blog! : )  Delia by the way can tear up a dance floor!


 


Hopefully, you all are enjoying the blog and living the experience vicariously.  Though sleep is hands down one of my favorite hobbies I'm cool with sacrificing it now and again for the greater good. And what greater good than taking the opportunity to share with the world my experience with Mongolia (my first UNFPA field visit), my deep respect for Dr. Munkhuu and my thanks to UNFPA and Americans for UNFPA for allowing me to witness this important work.


 


Mobile ClinicTomorrow morning we head to Tuv aimag to see a mobile clinic and then will visit Kharkhorin soun, the ancient capital of Mongolia.  We'll be staying in a Ger in the middle of a remote area so there will be no entry until Friday at earliest.


 


Ok so I went a little over half an hour…but not too far…I'm a fast typer. Really.

“The Godmother of Mongolia” and her entourage- July 17th in brief
9/25/2007

It's great to have Anika here in Mongolia.  Anika Rahman, President, Americans for UNFPA arrived in Ulan Bator just before midnight on Monday night, after an unexpected 7 hour or so wait in the Beijing airport due to flight delays.  Nonetheless, we debriefed quickly and arranged to meet at 8:15 for a jam packed day.  So jam packed that I didn't get to post this until today.


 


Tuesday was empowering and enriching.  We learned in the morning that our camera crew's TV station was planning on announcing Dr. Munkhuu as honoree  of the 2007 International Award for the Health and Dignity of Women on the 6pm news. TV 5 is the leading news medium in Mongolia. 


 


You know the way news clips looks when, for example, a president or presidential candidate makes a day trip to a target state? You see the candidate and his/her entourage walking into rooms packed with people, standing at the podium, shaking hands with dignitaries and locals, being interviewed, ect.  Well, apparently the segment that ran on the news yesterday (and again today, I guess, because it was such a top story) was just that—except Dr. Munkhuu, Anika and I were the featured women!  I guess the President of Americans for UNFPA plus a leading advocate/politician in Mongolia = Breaking News!  Sure, we've all been on the news plenty of times before, but I personally have never been to vividly in the limelight with a news crew follow me for an entire day.  I haven't seen the segment yet, but I'm hoping to get a link to the online feed within the next day or two. 


 


We started our day at UNFPA, where we briefed the staff on the background of the award, talked about Ms. Noeun from Cambodia and Mdme. Traore from Niger who will also receive the award, and we gave them the lo-down on the fabulous 3 American Honorees, and the lifetime achievement award winner (Mr. Ted Turner).


 


From there we went to Gal Golomt National Movement, an NGO that Dr. Munkhuu founded.  I thought we were going to meet with 2-3 staff members—so when we walked into the room to see a) the camera crew already set up and filming our walk into the office and b) a room full of forty + women, applauding and standing as Dr. Munkhuu walked through the door.  At that moment, before even a word was spoken, it was evident from the emotion in the faces of the women (and one man, actually) that immense admiration and love was felt towards Dr. Munkhuu from women of all walks of life.  We heard testimonial after testimonial about Dr. Munkhuu's contribution to the country of Mongolia, her implementation of policies to support women and families, and personal testimonials about the way  Dr Munkhu touched there lives both personally and professionally.  Have I already mentioned that Dr. Munkhuu's was actually one of the signers of the new Constitution of Mongolia in the 1990s?  She showed me a fantastic photo from the signing that really reminded me of the famous photo of our forefather's signing the US Constitution in 1776.  The people in the room ranged from age 19 to 85 I'd say.  I learned today at the 19 year old, a law student and the youngest member of Gal Golomt , who was clearly one of the organizers of the morning event, is actually Dr. Munkhuu's  granddaughter!  Also Dr. Munkhuu's son, Dr. Sumberzul, who met me at the airport, is the Dean of the School of Public Health at the Health Science's University of Mongolia!  Success and commitment to the health and dignity of women clearly runs in the family!


 


There is so much to tell you about Tuesday- and it's already midnight and I just got a call from Anika, who informed me that she was making an executive decision for me to go to bed!  I promised within the half hour and reminded her that if I urge everyone else to blog consistently on trip, how can I not hold myself to the same standard!! 


 


[Michaela—if you are reading this—I'm reminding you that you should be sleeping at midnight in Malawi—Not blogging.  Michaela Maynard is the winner of the 2007 Americans for UNFPA Essay Contest for the Health and Dignity of Women.  She was selected from a pool of U.S. college students and will be heading to Malawi the 28th.  Her blog will be featured on Marie Claire Magazine's website..and will be cross posted on our site as well. ]


 


I'll keep my fingers crossed that  I can get a copy of the news segment to share with you to get a better sense of our day.  In the short term, I'll give you the highlights of the rest of our day:


 


Next stop.  Parliament.  We met with Ms. Dolgor, Assistant to the Prime Minister of Mongolia and Deputy Chairman of the National Committee on Gender Equity


à She provided a solid background of Dr. Munkhuu's accomplishments and also spoke about her own work and the Prime Minister's work on behalf of women.  She summed up Dr. Munkhuu's achievements as follows.  "Dr. Munkhuu fought for women's well being, helped develop a civil society (ie. NGO community) and at the policy level made concrete changes by make sure women's rights issues were a priority."


 


From there we met with Her Excellency, Minister Tuya.--Minister of Health.   She had an incredible presence and I was very taken with her willingness to take time to meet with us, her openness to questions and her support of UNPFA.  She also gets my personal award for the best quote(s) of the day.  I asked her what set's Dr. Munkhuu apart. She responded:  She has very high intellectual capacity, high organizational capabilities, she's indeed a godmother to all of us."  She said, you know "like the Godfather movies—she's the godmother.! 


 


LOVED IT! 


 


I wanted to say, oh my goodness you are the coolest, but instead I said thank you very much for your time! J


 


Delia Barcelona, UNFPA Mongolia Country Rep, and our host for the week, joined us for this meeting. Though I know that UNFPA does great work around the world, I thought it was very gracious of Minister Tuya to take a moment to publicly acknowledge and praise Ms. Barcelona's commitment and contribution to the country. Having had the opportunity to witness Delia's compassion, commitment and efficiency, I can't help up share with you Minister Tuya's comments.   Minister Tuya was explaining how important it is to grasp the different and unique characteristics of countries and regions so you can operate effectively.  She continued…"Dr. Barcelona, from the moment she came, has been very sensitive to the unique differences.  We love working with her because everything goes very smoothly and effectively."  She extended her thanks to UNPFA for bringing these kind of very capable people to come and work with them.


 


As I hope I've made obvious, Her Excellency Tuya herself was very impressive and I loved that she could mix humor, bestow appreciation to Dr. Munkhuu (and UNFPA), represent the government to us in an incredible fashion, and still hold a powerful presence over the room.  (She also had great fashion sense) Together, she, Ms. Dolgor, and the women of Gal Golomt showed me that Dr. Munkhuu's success is not the exception in Mongolia but rather it's increasingly becoming a standard. 


 


Just as we were finishing the meeting with the Minister of Health, one of her colleagues interrupted the meeting and handed her a phone.  Next thing we new she said good bye, apologized for having to leave, and was whisked away.  Apparently she'd just received a call that the Opposition party was calling for the abolishment of the Cabinet…so yeah, she had some things to attend to!  Quite the "West Wing" moment.   For the record, the Cabinet has not been abolished…


 


From there I was able to visit UNFPA project sites—including a hospital, a maternity rest center and a youth health center.   The Youth Center was actually modeled after Mount Sinai in NYC.   I have TONS to say about the UNFPA sites…But, my half –an-hour before I turn into a pumpkin has passed so I must go to bed.   


 


Happy Birthday Jeanine! 

1.5 people live per square kilo in Mongolia-- imagine life without neighbors! July 16th
9/25/2007

Mongolia is one of the least densly population countries.  The population is about 2.6 million.  There are 1.5 people per square kilometer in the country.  At the same time, Ulan Bator, the capitol, is very crowded.  45% of the population lives in UB and there are actually 205 people per square kilo in UB.  From one point five people to two hundred and five from urban to rural. In the rural areas, who do they borrow egg or milk from if they need some in a pinch?!


I asked why we are taking two cars to the rural area on Thursday and it's because the areas are so remote that its too dangerous to go alone, in case you have car trouble, etc.


The Western region, where Dr. Munkhuu grew up, is the area of the country with the largest nomadic community and the least resources.  She grew up in a herder family.  She witnessed the daily list of responsibilities-and saw how even a day after giving birth, women (including her own mom) were back in the fields, tending the livestock and caring for the family. UNFPA has programs in 5 of these western provinces focusing on reproductive health and Dr. Munkhuu is amongst the many people now making sure that women in these communities have access to better health care. Still there is way more work to be done. The maternal mortality rate in urban areas are 93 per 100,000 (is 45 per 100,000 in the U.S) versus 380 per 100,000 in the rural areas.   


I learned more today than I have in a long time, and what i've mentioned above barely scratches the surface. My brain is still digesting. One thing is clear. Dr. Munkhuu has influenced the lives of so many.  Her impact is long standing- both for the success of the country and the growth of individuals. 


Enkhjargal, a UNFPA colleague who first worked with Dr. Munkhuu almost 25 years ago in parliament, says that any time she has a big issue that she needs to discuss, personal or professional, Munkhuu is the first person she turns to.  Undarya, National Coordinator for MonFemNet, the Mongolian Women's National NGO Network told me that Dr. Munkhuu's leadership in organizing the first national conference on family planning in 1990 is what lead to the liberalization of family planning.  Her creation of a Women's Federdation (rather than the former Communist Women's Committee) opened the door for collaboration with women's movements of the opposition's political parties. Bulgan, a young associate at UNFPA, talked about how impressed she was with the way Dr. Munkhuu cares for her family, alongside her numerous political, NGO, and UNFPA commitments. She showed me a picture of her 11 month old baby and said she hopes that her daughter will grow up to have the compassion  and accomplishments of Dr. Munkhuu. My camera crew and I stopped by a monestary and the gate keeper let us in with open arms when he heard that we were filming landscape shots of Mongolia for a video featuring Dr. Munkhuu.  Her influence is more far reaching than I could have imagined. 


The socialist - democratic transformation of Mongolia is enlightening. When I asked Dr. Munkhuu what made her decide to be a doctor, she explained that it wasn't really her choice; it was the socialist government's government moved her to policy work and then made her leader of a youth movement, and eventually to Parliament. She explained even though the choice was not her own, it was a great honor to be selected by the government to play such roles.  She in turn gave 100% to every project assigned.  She draws very much on her personal experiences and prioritizes sharing the lessons and fortune of her own life with the wider community.


Days are long in Mongolia. Both in terms of sunlight and the hours people work. It's 8:15pm now and its still bright as ever and the sun isn't expected to go down for a while.


I need to go practice all the new names I've learned.  Interestingly, business cards say the  only the intial of your last nam and your first name.  So Dr. Munkhuu's would read D. Munkhuu-- D stand's for Dorj, her dad's name but it's not carried on. Even when you get married you always keep your own name, your first name.


Oh and get this, the reference I made to Lincoln Memorial yesterday; the Genghis Khan memorial is actuallly modeled after it!  Who Knew!

I forgot to mention my quick jaunt thru Beijing- looking back to July 14th
9/25/2007

Beijing, by the way was great.  Very crowed, very bustling.  I'd say it offers some serious competition to NYC.  I arrived in mid afternoon and transited overnight there after my 13.5 flight from Newark. Determined to see more than my hotel lobby, I ventured out into the city for the few precious hours I had.  I stayed pretty close to the city center and felt extremely safe.  I stopped by a small art exhibition and learned about calligraphy art and rice paper, saw three versions of "the four seasons," and tons of drawings of horses! Since I was born the "year of the horse" I'm well versed in how lucky the horse is meant to be. Adjacent to the exhibit, at about 6pm, the steps of the Catholic Church were filled with skate boarders and crowds watching, and at midnight the streets were still full. They have a snack market that lines the streets from about 8pm onwards and instead of pretzels, cotton candy and hotdogs- they have dumplings, fruit kabobs, noodles, every other kebab you can imagine and stall after stall of vendors selling Chinese trinkets.  (People could not understand why I couldn't be persuaded to by a fan or a jade budda!).  Like Canal Street in NewYork there were tons of fake Gucci, "prados," coach bag. The vendors thought I was crazy when I said I would only consider buying a non-designer purse WITHOUT any labels.  I think it was the first time they heard such a request! 


 


Ironically MANY people have complimented me on my "Men in Black" watch. I don't even know if they wore watches in that movie, but basically the day before I left the city I realized I didn't have a watch or my travel alarm clock.  I picked up a massive rubber strapped digital watch with a huge face and an alarm clock that was sitting at a store near my office, about 70 percent off—calling my name.  It looks like it does a lot more than I'll ever know -perhaps transmitting messages to the aliens.  Thanks to Jesse, our outreach coordinator, in about 2 minutes he figured out how to use it and 30 seconds later I learned how to work the alarm clock. Lucky for me the time difference between NYC and Mongolia is exactly 12 hours so the time is still correct!   Anyway- the watch is a BIG hit here, and apparently I'm on the cutting edge of fashion.  Ha! 


 


I made it to Tiananmen Sqaure just as they were taking the flag down at sunset. As you walk down the road, the classic black and white street suddenly transforms to walls of deep red.  It very powerful to see the crowds of people and I felt an air of freedom. The Forbidden City closed at 3pm, so I only was able to see the outside.  The gardens surrounding the city and square were beautiful as you'll see in the pictures.  I never used to bother walking through Boston Common and I rarely spend time in Central Park, but I longed to have a couple more hours to spend in the Emperors garden.  It funny how easy it is to take for granted the parks and historic landmarks we have access to daily.  BTW, a historical moment: I passed "Mango" at the Oriental Plaza en route to Tiananmen and I kept walking.  I missed the Mozart Museum once; I wasn't going to risk missing the Square!


 

Gengis Khan and Dr. Munkhuu- Two of Mongolia's Biggest Names- July 15th
9/25/2007

I can't believe I'm in Mongolia. I don't really know what I expected it to be like, but I do know it's quite different to what I imagined. Ulan Bator, the capitol, reminds me of a cross between Valencia- a sea side city in Spain and the Jersey Shore off season.  Everywhere I look I see mountains where I'm guessing the majority of Mongolia's famous nomadic communities live. On Wednesday or Thursday I'm going to actually spend the night in a Ger!


 


I just had dinner with Dr. Munkhuu, who is essentially the reason I'm here.  She's one of three women to be honored this fall with the 2007 Americans for UNFPA International Award for the Health and Dignity of Women. She's every bit as warm and amazing as I imagined her to be.  She holds a million positions in Mongolia—she run's a non-profit Gal Golomt and she's also a Culture, Gender and Human Rights senior advisor to UNFPA.  Culture, Gender and Human Rights—all in one title—I wish!  On top of that, she was one of the first female parliament members, she's a doctor, she has eight kids plus grandkids and great grandkids and she seems to have an amazing sense of work-life balance.  And, she seems extremely humble.  I however have no problem telling the world about her—and I'm going to spend the next few days filming footage for a short video on her and I'm sure to talk more about her in this blog.


 


Suzie, a Peace Corps volunteer from Denver who is working at UNFPA met me at the airport along with Dr. Munkhuu's eldest son.  I've only been here 8 hours and in the first two of those Suzie walked me through me most of what there is to see in UB. I learned that the most prominent structure is a massive memorial to Genghis Khan—which looks a lot like Lincoln Memorial…and I've seen about 10 other structures, statues, posters, street signs featuring him.  Needless to say Genghis is the Biggest Name in Mongolia. (with Dr. Munkhuu a close second or third, I'd like to think…)


 


Dr. Munkhuu met me at 4pm and brought with her a medley of photos to help chronicle her life.  I saw her riding horses in the country side, receiving awards from the president, standing at an event commemorating her first collaboration with UNFPA in 1999 and beautiful pictures of her family. 


 


We just had dinner at a restaurant connected to the hotel called Casablanca—there was a huge picture of the cover of Casablana the movie on the stage of what seemed to be a dance floor; OutKast "Hey Ya" was amongst the songs played as dinner music, and the menu was about 30 pages—because every item had a photo describing it.  The menu had everything from Malaysian Beef Rendang to Spaghetti and Meatballs. There was only one Mongolian dish and I wanted to get it, but Dr. Munkhuu said I'd be eating plenty of traditional food this week, especially when we go to the countryside.  I opted for a sweet and sour fish; Dr. Munkhuu had fried chicken with cole slaw and rice and our translator had lemon ginger chicken.and an iced tea. [Dr. Munkhuu is shy to speak English (hence the translator) but word on the street is that she's far more proficient than she lets on.  I'm aiming to have at least 2 full conversations in English with her before I leave.]


 


I accidentally left my sweater in the restaurant, and in classic Angie style, when I ran back in to get it—I ran into two friends.  YES.  It's true, I've only been in the country 8 hours but two of the 7 people I currently know in Mongolia were sitting at my exact table and handed me my sweater. We stood in the wrong line together this morning at 6:45am the airport (apparently you have to go thru customs before you check your bags when leaving Beijing), we shared a pen to fill out our customs form, bonded over chocolate, and they asked me about my watch.  At 6:45pm, there they were at Casablanca!  They live right around the corner from the hotel. Classic.  


 


The driver is meeting me at 8:45am tomorrow to go to UNFPA so I better sign off.  It's only 12 hours away!