My parents have been hounding me for photos of where I live since I arrived at site a little over seven months ago. As I finally get around to taking some for them, I figured I might as well write a short blog post while I’m at it. So, here goes nothing. My name is Emma. Welcome to my crib. (Question: Can a Peace Corps Volunteer write about their space without referencing MTV Cribs?)
Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia generally live in one of four types of housing: traditional gers, wooden houses, apartments, or dormitories. My situation is a little different. I live in none of the above. This causes much confusion for the staff, as they’re not sure how to classify it in the system. I inhabit one room in a larger house, but it functions much like an apartment. Think of it as a studio, with an outhouse instead of a bathroom. The room, by my estimation (which shouldn’t be taken too seriously), is about 10’ by 18’ or 180 square feet. Yea, that’s pretty small. The previous inhabitant, who was also the previous volunteer at my school, called it her monk’s cell.
I live on the ground floor of the building. My landlords live on the second floor. I share an entrance with my landlord’s mother, who lives in the room next to mine, and her dental practice which is just across our little hall. There is also a small convenience store attached to the building. Unfortunately, it’s not a full supermarket. That would just be too convenient.
Despite its size, my room has almost everything I need to get by. Along one wall I’ve got my fridge, oven and stove, a table for my kitchen items, and my wardrobe. Along the other wall I’ve, got a bookshelf, a dining table/desk, my bed, a credenza, and my sink. At one end of the room is my door and a wall of hooks for my coats and scarves. At the other end my window and radiator.
I had to get a little creative with the space since there’s so little of it. For example, when I wash laundry (by hand) I use my site mate’s hammock ties which I’ve tied to the water lines that run through my room. I connect them with a carabiner when I need to hang something up and then disconnect them once the clothes have dried so they hang vertically and don’t take up any space. When there are clothes on the line, however, I’m constantly ducking to get between my kitchen and my sink or my kitchen and my bed. I hang smaller items like undergarments and socks on the bars underneath my kitchen table. Thankfully during the summer and most of the autumn I can hang my clothes on a line outside, but during winter they would freeze and during the spring we have dust storms so they’d be dirtier than before I washed them if I hung them outside.
As I mentioned, I don’t have an indoor toilet. What I do have is a metal, pale blue outhouse which stands along the back of the property the building is on. You might also notice that there isn’t a shower. At the weekends I’ll shower at my site mate’s apartment and in between I’ll take little bird baths in my tumpin which also serves as the wash basin for my clothes.
After seven months, I feel pretty settled in. I’ve added touches to the space to personalize it. Photos of family and friends hang on the walls, as do postcards that people have sent me. I’ve also made a dry-erase days of the week calendar with paper and tape which I’ve hung above my kitchen. The map of Mongolia provided by Peace Corps and the map of my aimag given to me by one of my site mates from PST hang in the corner. Within the next few months I’ll also be adding a hand-embroidered Kazakh wall hanging.
So this is my space. It’s not much, but it’s home.