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Jottings contributor Esther Halvorson-Hill shares memories of a trip to Mongolia 20 years ago.

COURTESY PHOTO  - Esther Halvorson-Hill and children from Mongolia on a visit Halvorson-Hill took as a nurse years ago.

In a previous Jottings article in 2016, I wrote about my visit to Mongolia and my teaching in a nursing school in Ulaanbaatar. That was an amazing adventure. My unassuming translator turned out to be a pediatrician who was responsible for all nursing in the country. Her name was Naranchemeg and we called her Naran for short. She became a friend.

Another significant contact was the administrator of a hospital district in Ulaanbaatar. He evidently was also a secret Buddhist lama. I didn't know this until later. Most of the Buddhist activity had to be done in hiding under the Communist regime. Naran had come from a familial line of lamas. When I was taken to see the ruins of a monastery, I was told of the Buddhist lamas who had been taken out behind the mountain and executed.

This country in 1997 was still quite isolated. There were two flights a day into Mongolia and letters would sometimes take a month or more to arrive. When the country was connected to the world wide web, the rest of the world opened up for them. Talk about culture shock! They seemed to be enamored with the West. A group of diplomats had come from the United States not long before I was there as did the Dalai Lama. There was such an atmosphere of excitement, hope and possibility. The government had just passed to a younger, very progressive group of leaders.

Several months after my trip, I was able to bring Naranchemeg and Yondonsu to Oregon to view medicine in the US. I started with my husband's private practice in Ashland and the small hospital there. Then I took them to Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford. Finally, I brought them up to Portland to tour Oregon Health Sciences University and hospital. It seemed as if their eyes got bigger and bigger. Naran took back a copy of our State Board of Nursing Exam. Yondonsu went back to Mongolia and sent word back that they now had a Family Practice Association.

One humorous event was when Yondonsu, who didn't speak English, went for a walk by himself in Ashland and came upon a Mongolian barbecue restaurant. He recognized the name Mongolia and went inside where he proceeded to tell them "No, no that not right." I'm certain that they didn't know this strange man was actually from Mongolia.

About a year later, Mongolia held a competition to choose representatives from many disciplines (medicine, engineering, business, music, etc.) to be sent to other countries for government financed education. It turned out that Naran won for nursing and her husband won for medicine. I was able to get a letter from the administrator of OHSU inviting them to study. They and their children came to live in Portland. They studied internal medicine and nursing at OHSU for almost a year.

I'm glad that Portland has had a small part in shaping medicine in Mongolia.

Esther Halvorson-Hill is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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