Monday, August 28, 2006

Peace Corps Partying

Last Saturday night, one of the Peace Corps volunteers threw himself a birthday party, and invited me. I brought two Australians and one American who had just arrived in Mongolia. We walked in the door of this beautiful apartment to find 20 people surrounding a beer pong table. It was kind of surreal.

There are 90 Peace Corps volunteers in Mongolia, which seems like a huge number to me, 10 of which are located here in Ulaanbaatur. The one throwing the party is actually a 3rd year (Peace Corps volunteers are required to stay at their posts 27 months -- three months training, 24 working). There are actually several 3rd year Peace Corps people here in Mongolia, which really shows how much they enjoy Mongolia. In a lot of other countries, 27 months is more than enough.

One of the girls at the party had blow-dried hair, highlights, and ironed clothes, while the rest of us were in jeans and t-shirts. The thing is, she's spent the last year living in a ger with a dirt floor all the way in the East of Mongolia, without any other Americans around. I couldn't do it. So it makes sense that, on a weekend off, she might want to dress up.

The other strange part of the evening was that all the Peace Corps kids kept talking about events as if they were yesterday, but it soon became clear that much of what they were talking about happened at least a year ago. For many of them though, they get out of the countryside so rarely, and they see other Americans so rarely, that memories from a year ago are their most recent memories outside of their ger lives.

Oh, and on Saturday, I saw the Dalai Lama, which was pretty incredible. He just finished a week tour of Mongolia. China was so angry about it (because they don't recognize the Dalai Lama) that they suspended Air China flights to Mongolia for a little while, which further fostered the animus Mongolians tend to feel toward the Chinese. Mongolians, however, were wildly happy about the Dalai Lama's visit -- his seventh. The word Dalai is actually Mongolian, and 80 percent of the Mongolian population is Buddhist, so seeing the Dalai Lama is a huge deal.


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