Kiev, July 2008. The kids jumped all over me as soon as I arrived, my son jabbering excitedly in English and my daughter in Russian. It’s hard to believe they grew up in the same household. This is one of the consequences of my spending two years in Aceh, Indonesia, which was a non-family post when I went there in 2006. While I was there I parked my family in Kiev, where my wife is from. With the school year over, I’m back in Kiev to pick them up and move them to Ulaanbaatar.
The contrast between Ulaanbaatar and Banda Aceh is huge and required a lot of adjustment when I moved there last May. One day I was in a lush, hot, humid, jungle climate, with endless ocean, the next I was wearing jackets and sweaters and surrounded by Soviet architecture. I was astonished that in mid-May there were still no leaves on trees, and that the mountains around the city looked brown and parched. I almost wept when, on the morning of May 28, I opened the curtains of the hotel and saw a city covered in snow.
But moving here is the best thing for me and my family. Being apart for so long was having a bad effect on us. Once I wanted to buy my boy a book, but realized that I had no idea what he liked to read or even what his reading level was. And my girl is utterly and completely Russian. Not just linguistically, but culturally. When she wants to play chase, she doesn’t say I’m gonna chase you like a kid would in the States. Instead she says, I fox – you rabbit. This means run! It is clearly time to get the family back together.
Ulaanbaatar was the perfect place to go. It is much more like Ukraine than Indonesia is, and has a very good international school. Work is exciting too. IFC is expanding its activities there, both in investments and advisory services. Our office is small but we have a great team, with a lot of support from the World Bank. But best of all, Mongolia itself has done a lot to improve its business environment, and now it could really take off. It is blessed with abundant natural resources and has a real democracy. It is really exciting to be in Mongolia now.
And though there is no ocean, Mongolia has its own wonders. It has the most spectacular landscape I have ever seen. If you climb a mountain, you will see an endless sea of hills, with a vastness and openness like no other. It is a great place for the outdoors. There are endless opportunities for camping, hiking, and horse riding. Every expatriate family I talked to loves it. But the best thing of all is that I will have my wife back again.