Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting Ready for Naadam...in a really big way! Just a tease today though...

So....guess what I did today!??  No guesses?  Well, here's a hint - these are snaps of an integral part of Mongolian life and culture! This is the beginning ( just the beginning! ) of what is sure to be our next amazing adventure!  More updates soon!

Oh, and just a note to those of you reading this in Mongolia...taking photos in certain corners of Naran Tuul can get you yelled at...and I do mean really yelled at!!  Thank goodness my wonderful driver Baira (aka body guard!) was there to give as good as was got.  Although, it does lose something when people chew you out in a language you don't understand.  Still - part of the adventure I suppose! Nothing worth having comes without its difficulties as they say...and this is definitely worth having!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Amazing Kids of Notre Dame Orphanage - the Next Veloo Foundation Project

So, as promised, here are the details of the next Veloo Foundation project - that's the beginnings of our new logo up there... isn't it cool?  Sorry - couldn't help myself...love the new logo!  Anyway - the project- right!  It is all about the 24 wonderful kids at the Notre Dame Orphanage right here in Ulaan Baatar.

First of all , they all speak french...beautiful, lyrical soothing Francais..which makes it great for me because I also speak French, although mine is not quite so lyrical and soothing..but at least I can communicate with them - which is wonderful!

Second of all, in all the times I have been to the orphanage ( several...many...lots!) I have been impressed and amazed by how wonderful they all are to each other.  There are 24 children at the orphanage ranging in age from 3 to 12 or so,  and all of them have been there more or less since infancy.  A number of them are not technically "orphans" but come from such abusive and dysfunctional families that it is impossible for them to live with their parents, which makes the fact that the orphanage is such a caring and nurturing place that much more special!

Thirdly, their funding which previously was covered by a private group in France has recently been completely cut.  As in not... one .... more ....dime. ( or for the purists in the audience...pas...meme...plus....un.. sou...or something like that!)

We'd like to help, so it is becoming the second orphanage that the Veloo Foundation will be helping out. (is it inappropriate to cheer???... might be..but I still feel like cheering anyway!)  Unfortunately we are not the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation so we can't foot the entire bill, but we will be doing what we can....

 If you are inclined to help, the two delightful nuns who run the orphanage have let us know that it cost $60.00 /month to cover the schooling, food and care of each child....
 That's $720.00 / year for those of you who find math a challenge...and yes, the orphanage dog did just have puppies...awww...

 So, if any of you would like to sponsor a child here in Mongolia, please let us know and we will make sure that your donation ( 100 percent of it!!) goes directly to the orphanage.
 As this is all a very sudden thing, we do not, as yet, have the mechanism in place (unfortunately) to process actual monthly payments, so we are hoping that if you would like to help out you will be able to send either six  or twelve months worth of donation at a time.
 And we ( all of us) really hope that you can....
 ..because no one wants to see these kids kicked out of the only home most of them have ever known and into the Mongolian social welfare system...
 Wait... is there a Mongolian social welfare system..???
 I don't think so...hmmm.  That could present a problem couldn't it!
 For those of you in the States who want to help out, if you want to make a donation to the Veloo Foundation, you will get a full tax deduction for your donation and 100 percent of it will go to the kids.  Honest.  We don't take any money for operating the foundation... it is seriously all about helping orphans in third world countries.  We were thinking about adopting a child from the third world a number of years ago, but decided that setting up the foundation to help as many as possible might be a better way to help out...
 So that's it - that's the spiel.  I could show you mournful sad faces of children needing your help...
 If I had any...unfortunately when we were there last weekend the kids all seemed to be very happy, healthy, curious, outgoing, interested,....you know, like kids are supposed to be! Seems to me like life at Notre Dame is working out pretty well for them...
 ...including the resident photographer...

 .......   the bicycle repair man...

 ..the soccer hero...( one of the youngest at only four years of age!)
 ..and, of course, Little Miss Happy.  Oh come on, you read those books, you know you did!  This little one was full of fun and teasing and smiles!  Beautiful!!
 And then, of course, there are their fearless leaders!  In this case, Sister was checking out a little baby raven just learning to fly that was creating a stir in the compound...but it all worked out beautifully in the end...

Let's hope the orphanage  and all these kids are as lucky.  
Please email me at internationaldeparturesblog@gmail.com if you would like to help.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Are So Beautiful.....Yes, you!!

Well, believe it or not, this is my 50th post!! I can't believe it!  When I started I wasn't sure I would make five, much less 50!

 Some amazing things have happened since I first started out...including, but not limited to, having over four thousand five hundred people  read my blog!!!! ...people from places like Latvia and Chad and Azerbijn and Iran and India and Sweden and Russia and China and Bahrain and Cambodia and France and ...well, you get the idea.  And just to put your mind at ease....I don't know who you are...I only get to see the statistics of where you logged on from. Believe me, I would love to know who you are and how you found me...it boggles my mind every time I log on and see a new country highlighted!  I am thrilled and touched that you have all taken the time to read ...oh, and some of you, to help out!  I decided last week that the fiftieth post was something special and I would like to share a bit with you all about what kinds of cool things have happened to (through?) me as a result of all of you wonderful people out there and fill you in on the outcomes of some of the things I told you I would be doing in earlier blog posts. 

In the wonderful kind of timing that I love to exploit, a few days ago a package arrived in the IWAM mail box....for me...well, actually for the women at the Mother and Child hospital - it was just addressed to me.  This package came from a wonderful, generous woman in America who read the blog and felt moved to help.  She sent a fantastic assortment of shampoos, body lotions,fragrant hand soap and combs to be donated.  Thank you!!! I can't tell you how touched I was to be able to take those items and package them up to go to the women and babies in the premature ward of the hospital. It made not only me, but a number of the women in the room all dewey eyed when I told them how we got this donation.  I will make sure the women in the hospital also know that it came, with love, all the way from America. Here's a shot of our projects co ordinator, Vickie, getting ready to bundle them up to go with our next visit to the maternity ward.

A lot of great things have happened to a lot of people because there are so many great people out there reading and caring... You know who you are..  Here are a just few examples....

 The bed (an almost traditional Mongolian Ger bed!) is from Dave's Cave: see the blog post Zero Degrees of Separation - but be warned, if you haven't read it already, it is a tearjerker.  Even more so since the young man who we were going to help decided to leave Dave's Cave and go back to the streets drinking and begging rather than have the operation and move forward.  You can't win them all...and who knows, maybe he will change his mind and return.  Dave certainly thinks so. And we still have the large donation made by a very generous soul in Utah (Thank you thank you thank you!) to the Veloo Foundation to spend on another needy cause.  We just haven't quite decided what yet. Many of these beds and other bits of furniture are in ( or on their way into) local homes as women are lining up around the block to get a lovely traditional Mongolian piece of furniture AND help out such a great cause at the same time! No international orders yet, but who knows?

Next item of synchronous assistance? (Sorry..sometimes my own verbosity just overcomes me. ) These elegant purses which are more copies of my ever so most favorite purse ever ( again...not trying to schlock the blog but if you are interested in the story, please read .. Saving the World One Purse at a Time.)  But wait - I said this blog was about outcomes right?  So what has the outcome been of me asking Mr. Bat-Erdene to copy my favorite purse...?
 Well, to date, IWAM ladies from Mongolia, Canada and Australia ( you know who you are...give yourselves a hand please!!) have ordered (to the best of my knowledge)  over two dozen of these numbers, which translates into 50 or so working days for our friend Mr. Bat-Erdene and his crew of handicapped leather workers.  Yesterday when he delivered his most recent batch I watched with delight as he showed off another new design and took orders for three of those.  Another wonderful development in this story is the possibility that a designer in Canada might be working with him to develop and produce a line to be sold at home parties in Canada....how wonderful would that be!!?


And here we have Zagdaa and his wife Amraa from Dave's Cave along with some of the gorgeous kids from Notre Dame Orphanage (see ..... So This Is Christmas....!) in front of two beautiful new clothes cupboards designed especially for them! They are low enough so that even the littlest ones can reach the rods to hang up their own clothes and put their shoes away on  the bottom shelf!.  These cupboards  were bought and paid for by a lovely lovely couple by the name of Cheryl and Steve.  You know who you are...again ... THANK YOU! This kids love them!  And the Sisters are amazed and impressed with both the beauty and quality of the finished product.  

We were lucky enough to be there playing with the kids when the cupboards arrived so we were able to see the joy in the faces of the both the kids and the nuns who run the orphanage to see something  beautiful, functional and brand new - made just for them.

And, of course, since they were made by the handicapped workers at Dave's Cave, you get twice the bang for your buck....and they are wonderfully sturdy cupboards that should stand the rigours of dozens of little boys for years!
Oh...and good places to hide too!

OK..nobody bought and paid for this Buddhist shrine, but I took this picture this weekend and really loved it...and I think its zen quality speaks to the subject at hand...moving along.

I have also received  tons of blankets, hats and booties  (for which there is a never ending need!) from a very energetic group on Vancouver Island.  These went to the women at the Mother and Child Hospital ( and yes, I have already posted the photos of that visit on the blog page The Vigil.) 

More friends and loyal blog readers are responsible that for that particular outpouring of love from Canada to Mongolia.  Thank you Laurie and Ernst who organized that ... oh and thanks for the frisbee too!  The kids at the Metropolitan police centre are loving that one!

Speaking of the metropolitian police centre...as I was writing this I suddenly remembered that ages ago my good friend Bev had given me a dozen rubber balls and little teddy bears for them and I am sure she is wondering where they ended up.  Wince.  ... in my cupboard actually.  Sorry Bev - they got well filed and until I started thinking about all the donations from people I hadn't looked in that cupboard.  I was waiting for spring so the kids could play ball outside...well, spring has definitely sprung, so I will make sure they get where they are supposed to.

Also, I was the lucky recipient of a lot of teaching books from my great Australian friend, all of which have been well used and loved by me and my students at my free ESL class for students wanting to go overseas to study or just to improve their English.

And last, but by no means least, the Veloo Foundation (yes we have our own foundation in the States - tax deductible donations always accepted!) not only got the new logo inspired by the lovely embroidery of a mentally handicapped young lady at School 63 , but also got our next big project! (more on that in the next blog post...promise. )

So here it is...the great unveiling seemed a propos for the 50th Blog Post
This is the logo.  Isn't it gorgeous??  I am thrilled to be able  to incorporate some traditional Mongolian symbols into our logo - as soon as I have the full logo with print and everything, I will be taking a large framed copy up to the School, along with a royalty cheque as I used one of their student's artistry.  If you want to see the original it was taken from, check out  one of my earliest blog posts "Special Schools, Mongolian Style".

So, that is a little peek at where things stand with respect to some of the great projects I have had a chance to work on (and blog about!) over the past 3 and a half months.  Thank you for reading - oh, and giving me a legitimate excuse to take two or three thousand pictures on those great Mongolian days when everything is so visually stunning. So, for now, that's the end  of looking back.  Let's look forward at  what's coming up in the next blog...

The next Veloo Foundation project....full details next time. Oh, and I know it's schmaltzy, but thanks for caring.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Day in the Country Part 2 - Beautiful Mongolia ( ... and beautiful Mongolians!)

Looks like an ad for Coca Cola Mongolia doesn't it?  In fact, it was the beginning of a wonderful day in the country last weekend with a large contingent from the language school where my Mongolian language teacher, Saraa, works.  We were off for a day at her ger camp to learn some essential Mongolian skills, but first stopped for a bit of a gander at the largest equestrian statue in the world... Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan for those of you not initiated in the Mongolian spelling...which, I guess, is likely the correct spelling, him being Mongolian and all....) himself, of course.  

Everybody and their dog were in for a wonderful day....
...and for those of you who are interested...here is a shot of everybody ( and their dog).  After the Chinggis statue, we headed off for the Mongolian steppe, where  horses are everywhere....

...well, almost everywhere.  From time to time you come across a very cool Mongolian version of
Easy Rider.

But I digress....which, given the number of times I do it, I am seriously considering inserting that line in as a second tag line for this blog.... International Departures..The adventures of an expat Canadian living in Mongolia...but I digress.  Has a nice ring to it...but I digress.  Moving right along then, the day's activities included both setting up a ger (I use the word setting up loosely...) 
and making Khorhog one of Mongolia's wonderful national dishes that is usually prepared only for special occasions...guess we were special!

Baagii, our busy busy host ( Saraa's husband) and a couple of his friends put on the demonstration of how to do it....first thing to do?  Heat up the river rocks in the fire for a couple of hours and cut up the meat.  Then a layer of meat goes in....
...and a layer of hot rocks ( the hot rocks provide the heat to cook the Khorhog), then more meat...
 then a layer of hot rocks, more meat, more hot rocks, more meat... you get the idea. At the top the potatoes, carrots  and salt go in .....seal it up, and wait for 45 minutes or so and then you have a feast!
I would like to say we were helpful, but mostly we just watched and recorded the event...and ate the end result of course...but that was later.

First let's take a look at "building" the ger. As you might imagine, we had a great time, but I am not so sure we were really a great help. I definitely had the idea that had we left the three Mongolian men to do it themselves it would have been finished in half the time!... but where would the fun be in that?  It was ( like the rest of the day really) the All Baagii all the time show.  I do not know how he managed to be in so many places at the same time!  

Chelvan really got into the nuts and bolts of ger construction and even managed to get "certified" to do some of the structural stuff...albeit under the watchful gaze of the foreman!

Once we got to the point that the "rafters" weren't all falling off ( which took a while!) things went pretty quickly.
Of course, to get to that point we had to have a steady crew holding the centre...literally.  We were told that traditionally the two people who hold the centre still while the others lay in the rafters are called the ger's Husband and Wife....guess who was who...?

The neighbour stopped by to help...I think he wanted to make sure the Baagii and Saraa wouldn't be killed by a falling ger this summer...loved his dell though.

Every good crew needs a good supervisor...we had our fair share of those...and most of them had cameras. 

...First stage complete!  Finally!  We went off to enjoy lunch and as we did, the little girls went in to play "house."  Proudest Mongolian Moment to date...one girl said to the other one " Manai shin ger..yamar goy bain!" .. and I understood it - every word!  ( Our new house ... isn't it beautiful!)
Lunch is served...by ( who else?) Baagii...well Chimgee ( the other teacher, pictured here) and Saraa helped too...

Saraa even snuck in a minute to grab a bite to eat herself!

Neighbourhood kids...our little cowboys!

He who works, eats!

...and then rests.  I can't think of a better spot for a little "digestion" break!

...everyone had a ton of fun!

We even had a little serenade...which lured the boys away from their horses and watermelons for a moment of serious intensity.

Yamar Goy Bain!  

..but the herds are waiting and they won't herd themselves, so the boys were off and away!

Some of the folks headed off on a horse ride, some of us just walked down to the river to see what we could see..and it was ( pretty much like everything else in the day)...gorgeous.

And it turned out that the main sheep herder was, in fact, Grandpa.  Great neighbourhood where you can put up a house, get invited to lunch and just leave your job grazing around while you help out.  Looks like poetry on that horse too...but then, to be fair, they all do.  Maybe it has something to do with starting when you're three?....

Then it was back to the camp to help finish the last stage of the ger assembly...can't really call it building I guess...

It is way easier to wrap the cord around the ger if someone isn't standing on the other end..just sayin.  And it you notice who is doing the work?  Yup, Baagii again.  In our defense, the tourists offered, but I think this part is a little more critical and he just preferred to do it himself. At the end of the day though, it was another gorgeous day here in paradise.
See what I mean?