I hit the ground running, starting with project-wide meetings to set objectives and report on progress. Outside of work, I have already met a few others working in the field of geography and pasture management. When I talk to locals about my project, I am thanked and often they know people who will benefit. It is all pretty exciting.
One of my primary goals this month is to network with local NGOs working on similar issues. I am told that collaboration among organizations is weak in Mongolia for cultural reasons. This week I secured digital maps from the World Bank, but face to face contact is what I hope to gain.
Others working on my project are currently designing wells and pump houses that will survive the extreme cold, leading agricultural extension workshops, and identifying local herders to train in well maintenance. Ultimately, everything that comes of this project will be left in the hands of herders.
The Mongolian government has frozen travel to rural areas for fear of the Swine Flu. Last week they banned all buses from coming and going to the city. Door handles are wrapped in alcohol-soaked cloth. Many people are forced to wear face masks all day at work. Businesses are ordered to close at 9pm. It is also illegal to hold meetings, so my work last week was limited. Police are collecting steep fines for noncompliance. Teachers have not been paid for a month and students are on the streets. Rents are not being paid. I am not sure how long these rules will stand, but I hope this will not last much longer. I hope to visit the countryside this month.