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Monday, December 24, 2012

Shin Jiliin Mend Hurgee...or.Happy New Year - At the Peak!




Well, it's nearly 2013 and we have a New Year's  party happening up at the Peak next Sunday, December 30th!  For those of you not living in Mongolia, New Year's is the big celebration here - not Christmas...although the evolving celebration of New Year's here looks a lot like what we think of when we think of Christmas. There are some very excited kids up there ( like this one!) who are getting geared up for a special day which will include a wonderful meal, play time with some visiting adults, singing traditional songs, perhaps some Christmas carols, with luck, a roaring fire to huddle around, and...of course.. presents!

 For those of you who can't be there for the party, here's a quick look at what those presents will look like and how I managed to finagle so much for so little!

 I spent last week out shopping, determined to get some great gifts to give to the kids up there and still stay inside our budget....a meagre 5,000 per child...that's about $3.50 for those of you who aren't familiar with Tugrugs.  We are buying for 200 kids so we had to keep it low....but that didn't mean that we had to be cheap.  Take a look at what a lot of begging, browbeating, bulk purchase will buy you here....

The first order of business was to make sure that everything ( and I do mean everything!) that will be part of the gift will be either entertaining or useful...starting with the gift bags.  I found the material at the black market - 6 bags / meter and one meter costs about $1.00...and the lady who made them for us did it for 500 tugrugs / bag.  Total cost per bag was about 45 cents..and the bags are not only lovely and colourful, but will also serve a multitude of purposes for each child and their family.

 Here's what I really wanted...right from the beginning I wanted each bag to have a brand new pair of camel hair socks - made in Mongolia and amazingly warm!
 I went to the Black Market to price them ... but the cheapest I could find them for there was 4,000 / pair. Way out of my price range.  But as has happened so many times on this adventure of building the sanctuary, when one of the ladies at the Black Market found out what we were doing and why, she told us where the factory was and suggested we head up there and speak to the boss as he was  a nice guy.  A nice guy indeed, when he found out what we were doing with the socks, he discounted the wholesale price to 2,000 Tugrugs / pair.  Expensive, given my very limited budget but I decided that it was worth it to make sure the kids had warm toes throughout the winter.  And yes, Kim, I bought enough  for the orphanage too as you requested!  The only downside will be that we will need volunteers to actually put them on the children's feet as they get their gift bags because if their parent's get ahold of them while they are still in "as new" condition, they will likely be sold for cash rather than worn for warmth.  Anyone want to help out with putting socks on 200 pairs of feet or so on the 30th??
 Next it was off to a Mongolian shopping centre way out on the edge of the ger district ( I think I was the only ex-pat there!) as suggested by my driver.  The result? An extremely helpful fellow who didn't have what we needed, but obligingly took us around to people who did. That's how we acquired teething toys, squeaky toys, action figures...
...and cars!  Who could have a gift bag without cars?


For the girls....?? Little baby Barbies...playing cello!  How cute is that!? Each of these was about 1,000 Tugrugs.  So far so good....
  Next, Bayaraa whisked me away to a large local book  store ( where they wouldn't give us a discount!) we nevertheless found a selection of books ranging from 400 Tugrugs ( 30 cents) to 1000  Tugrugs ( 70 cents).  Some of these books have both English and Mongolian, some have coloured pictures and places to colour in, some have brain teasers and tongue twisters and some are traditional fairy tales. 
  As always happens here in UB, when you can't find what you want at the price you want, the best ( and sometimes last!) resort is the Black Market. We were looking for something that older kids would like and in our price range, there just wasn't anything.  Back at the market  ( in minus 35 Celsius !!) we met a couple of really wonderful people who gave us a great discount on already really reasonably priced items ... because they too wanted to be part of helping the poorest of the poor!  The gentleman behind me sold me 80 pairs of gloves for 500 Tugrugs (38 cents or so!) a pair and this lady sold me  funky wrist braces with lovely pictures on them for the boys and wrap around sparkly bracelets for the bigger girls....


  ...400 Tugrugs  apiece!

So... there will be some mix and match of the gifts, and not everyone will get the same thing...but everyone will get a beautiful sparkly cloth bag, a pair of camel hair socks (hooray!!), two toys ( or a toy and a book ...or a toy and a bracelet... or a book and a pair of gloves..you get the picture...right?) - the bigger kids will get socks, gloves and the bracelets or the wrist braces..and  everyone will get a mandarin orange, and apple and some candies in their bag as well...and all for under 5,000 / bag!  Well - truth in advertising here - I took the orange and apple out of the food budget - and they won't go right into the bags as I fear the books might not fare so well if we put fruit in with them.  Volunteers will be handing out the fruit along with Winter Grandfather who will be handing out the gift bags...now I just have to assemble them and get ready to put some smiles on some faces...


 Like this one!

All that's left to say then, is Thank You.  Thank you for your support and encouragement in 2012! You have truly made a difference in these children's lives ( and those of their family members!).  Oh...and in ours too!

Merry Christmas everyone, and, from us to you, sincere best wishes for a healthy and wonderful New Year! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Building Buildings ... and Bridges


This week saw a remarkable event up at the Peak - we'll get to that in a minute.  First, for those of you who are following such things, an update on the progress of the construction!

Things are coming along up at the site...We have had some delays due to the electricity being shut off during the day off and on for a couple of weeks  now, but it looks like we are back on track now!  The  house rebuild is nearly done..Looking good for the new teacher & security guard who will be living here!

New interior walls, new exterior walls, new insulation ( LOTS of that!) new ceiling, new roof, new chimney, new windows, new doors, new floor....you get the idea!

 Warm and snug and cosy already with the final exterior finishing still to be done!

...and it will be warm all winter long with this great new "heat" wall chimney that is so common here in Mongolia.  The chimney runs through the wall creating a large heat mass which helps keep the house warm all night!  The new fibreglass insulation ( instead of the cardboard box insulation that was previously there!!) will help too!
The exterior finishing for the gers has been slowed down by the electricity outage and the drop in the temperature, but Zagdaa, as usual, has a solution. Here is the new material that will be covering the roof - on top of it will be a rubberized fibreglass that is being prefabbed off site.  The exterior is scheduled to be finished by the 15th! Getting so close now!

So, that's the construction update...on to how the project is helping to build bridges here in Mongolia...and no, not actual bridges...!! 

 Last weekend we had a few very special visitors up to the Peak.  The first, Carol, one of my very good friends here brought along a huge donation of winter jackets, blankets and toys! Some of these items had been donated and brought into Mongolia by Carol's niece...from Dubai!  Wow - who would have thought that this little project would inspire people from so far away to go to such effort!  Thank you Carol for spreading the word about the project and then putting in the effort to get the donations up to the Peak!!


 The other special guests were a group of teachers and students from the American School here in UB who, as part of their public service curriculum, came up to run a soup kitchen for the local community at the dump. The students were all from more affluent Mongolian families and had never been to the ger district before, so it was a really eye-opening experience for them!

First it was off the bus  and into the ger with the soup & bread...

 ..and in the ger there were somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 kids and a few elderly members of the community all waiting  to meet the generous kids from ASU and their teachers. For those of you who have never been in a ger - 60+ people in a ger makes for a very very full ger! For the mathmeticians in the crowd, the ger is a circle with about a 16 foot diameter.  You do the math.
 The six students and Robert, their teacher, squeezed into the jam packed ger and started the distribution, and got their first look at the people of the Peak.





 The principal from ASU takes her turn with that gorgeous baby!  After we had eaten it was time for some playing outside with the kids...

 It was lovely to see the men around - they are usually up at the dump working when I'm up there.  Here they had managed to find a piece of wood that they were cutting into tiny little pieces so that each family could have some wood to burn.
 Full bellies make for happy kids!






 And the beard provoked quite a lot of interest and experimentation.  She really had to find out if it could be pulled off!
At the end of the day, it was another really wonderful opportunity for building bridges between our two communities....



...and it was SO wonderful to see Mongolian kids up there getting a  first-hand look at a part of their city that they had not really known existed.  And the best part?  They want to come back and help again!!  Wonderful kids - and a wonderful community service programme going there at ASU.  

Thanks you guys!  See you up there next week!