Immersion

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IMG_0607.JPG (2)After checking out the quality of the internet connection by skyping with Axel who was just starting the day (it was excellent) I tumbled into my big comfy king size bed and fell into a bottomless sleep for about 5 hours. This may not seem long but it was at least 3 hours longer than my sleep during the previous 24 hours. I woke up to an empty city which, I learned later, is because life starts late. As the day grew older more and more people and cars and busses appeared until total gridlock at about 6 PM.

We joined our physical therapists trainers in the hotel lobby. They had arrived last week from the Philippines and India and started the basic wheelchair training today. We joined them for the opening and got to sit at the table with high level officials. Maggie gave the speech which she does well and succinctly so everyone can get on with the work.

During the morning we received a complete tour of the National Rehabilitation and Development Center which included a 30 bed rehab hospital, full physical, occupational and speech therapy services, a vocational school for people with disabilities, training them in one year to become gainfully employed in a variety of occupations (tailoring, plant care, cooking, computer repair, software applications, and handicrafts). In the afternoon we continued the tour of the orthopedic devices workshops where enormous ‘made in the USSR’ machinery was bolted to the ground. They looked like (and probably were) relics from the industrial revolution.

Mongolia has respectively looked to what used to be the USSR, then China, then UK, then USA, depending on the affinities (and university education) of the ruling elite for economic support and technical assistance. The rehab place was born during the USSR period, as was the part of the city where it is located. The lasts in the shoemakers’ workshop looked like antiquities; the hand tools of 50 years ago were still in use. Several of the large machines had broken down and local repair had been exhausted with critical parts no longer available. The mostly older staff had either been learning on the job with a few educated in the USSR. Most are about to retire and recognized that there are no young apprentices ready to take over. The place looked like a good use a few injections of modern technologies, training and young blood.

In the middle of the day Maggie and I were taken to the Channel 1 TV studio for a live broadcast on the ‘Right Now’ actualities program. We sat around a large table in a glass enclosed room in the center of the studio, with microphones clipped to our lapels. The doctor from the rehab hospital was with us and was, to our relief, the focus of the conversation as he had some messages to pass along to the audience. All this was done of course in Mongolian so we had no idea what he said, until suddenly we were questioned about international standards and the translator told us it was our turn. It was all over and done in no time, while I was still wondering whether we were on or just rehearsing the conversation.

It has been a challenge to operate in an environment where we are clueless about what people are saying. We also can’t read the Cyrillic script although my five years of ancient Greek helps a bit for the few letters the two languages have in common. There are only a few people who speak English so we are keeping a translator within arm’s reach.

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