Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gengis Khan and Dr. Munkhuu- Two of Mongolia's Biggest Names

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!

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