Jo in Mongolia

During the end of 2010 and early 2011 I worked closely with Jo Birch, (no relation before you ask) on the Inspiring Women Leaders – Dare We? conference. During that time it became clear that Jo had a real passion for working with communities and for creating leadership opportunities where none had existed before. Nonetheless, it came as a complete surprise to learn that Jo had decided to take her skills to Mongolia!

There is a link to her blog in the “Blogs We Like” section of the magazine (look down the right hand column for links) , and I’m sure it will make fascinating reading over the next 12 months.

To get us started, here are the first two posts following her arrival in Ullambator


Jo in Mongolia

1) Wow, here I am in Ulaanbaator!

The most striking initial sense is the pace and space.

I met volunteer colleagues in Moscow and the five of us arrived into Ulaanbaator, a calm and quite matter of fact airport. Just one person quietly whispered ‘taxi?’ as we passed through the exit gate – such a contrast to my travels in India.

As we moved towards the door to outside we were warned by our driver to put on hats and coats… the air is very different outside, and we took the step into the huge vast space that is Mongolia. Bright, bright sunlight and wide open space… all the way into Ulaanbaator. The space continues in the way people move around the city – the roads are wide, the pavements are wide, and the cars and people are few.

We arrived during a holiday period so maybe things will be different next week.

It is cold. The air leaves a gentle icy trail as it passes into your body. However not so cold this week we are told. “It’s spring now”

Definitely Mongolia is different from the UK… and yet there is not the assault on my senses that I experience in India – the only place I can think of comparing it to. I’m thinking the space makes a lot of difference and this is interesting to explore.

We arrived Saturday morning at 7am. Most of Saturday was an exhausted, chilly haze. We were collected by Leo and taken to meet other VSO volunteers at Amsterdam Café – popular with volunteers and visitors to the city. We were later taken to purchase local sim cards and were glad of Leo’s fairly confident Mongolian.

I hadn’t noticed any anxiety about being ‘alone’ in this vast country – however the action of adding names into the phone brought me a sense of calm… of security and a connection with building something – moving into a new way of life for the coming months.

My exhaustion was greatly transformed by a long, long sleep into early Sunday afternoon. Late afternoon we walked along Peace Avenue to the Wrestling Palace. We met with Jo C who lives close in a fantastic, warm apartment. Laura had also arrived from Arvaikheer, the countryside town where I will be living in 2 weeks’ time. We heard about their experiences and asked lots of questions – and went out to eat in the nearby Korean restaurant before our brisk walk back to Lotus Guest House.

I’m really noticing such a contrast to my arrivals in India. It’s no secret that India is the land of my passion, my yearning. Yet here I am in Mongolia.

My arrivals in India have been to the notice the immediacy of the ‘culture shock’ – the insistent, crushing, vibrancy of India and its variety of cultures, crowds of people, noise, smells, street life… it’s so different here. There seems time, ease, air… and inside me a different reaction – less excitement, less rush of adrenalin required to attend to being, more ease. I wonder… will I grow to love Mongolia?


I can see I have fallen into what isn’t the same…as the UK, as India. And what is the same?

So far my connection has been with other volunteers and people associated with them. I notice how quick we connect, how quick we see the common and same-ness between us.

I’m having a little chuckle because as I write this I have stayed behind after our first day of training, there are two of us but I might walk home alone. I’ve been like a duckling for the last three days, never away from the siblings! This might be my first stepping out!

One of the women I met here, another volunteer, herself a little beyond pensionable age, said yesterday with a smile “in England I would just be a ‘pensioner’, here I have a broad spectrum of friends and I am working and contributing”

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