Ambulance to Mongolia
Health care in Mongolia is administered by the state and a handful of charities, and all medical and hospital services are free. However, the country's 3 million people are spread over a territory roughly equal to that of Western Europe, and many people who fall ill face a trip of 1-3 days to see a doctor, often for conditions requiring urgent treatment. Lacking the ability to deliver medical services to many scattered communities, the state is forced to focus on emergency rather than preventative treatment, which is key to improving the long-term health of the population. The extremely low population density is combined with inadequate infrastructure, extreme climatic conditions, and growing health care demands -- the result are enormous strains on an already stressed rudimentary health care system.
One of the most important assets in supporting a healthcare system under these conditions and to improve both preventative and emergency care is ensuring the existence of an adequate fleet of sturdy functional ambulances. They are sorely lacking in Mongolia today, with most ambulances in being small retired Russian military jeeps. In addition to being well past their useful livespans, the jeeps, without electric sockets and generators, are capable of providing only the most basic of care.
We are a team of three whose goal it is to find, purchase, refurbish, and drive such an ambulance with all equipment London to Ulan Bataar in July 2010 as part of the Mongolia Charity Rally, which is organized with the registered UK charity Go Help. Once in Mongolia, we will donate it to a rural hospital or a local charity providing such medical services. In July-August 2010, we will be taking to Mongolia a fully functional used European ambulance which can be used both as a traditional emergency care ambulance, as well as a mobile clinic for preventative care of vaccinations, screenings, and basic health education.
Parag Khanna is a senior fellow at the noted New America Foundation think-tank and has travelled extensively in Central Asia as well as written a book of political analysis on the region.
Sebastian Strassburg is a proven logistician with global experience in a variety of fields, from shipping to security and an avid outdoorsman who is handy with a ratchet as much as he is with a pen. He currently works at [ ] in Dubai.
Mikhail Zeldovich is a London and Moscow-based investment consultant and part-time adventurer, former international trade negotiator, and fluent Russian speaker, who has also travelled widely through the region.
We plan to cross Western and Eastern Europe into Ukraine, and travel through it to the Russian border and to Moscow. From there we plan to drive towards the Caspian, passing through Astrakhan and Makhachkala and on to the Caspian Sea port of Baku in Azerbaijan. Then we will get a brief respite from driving by taking a ferry across to Turkmenistan. Crossing that country quickly (so the transit visa doesn’t run out), we will travel through the Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan and cross into Kazakhstan, arriving in Almaty. The next phase will see drive through the desolate emptiness of Eastern and Northern Kazakhstan, crossing briefly back into Russia will allow us to pass north of the Tien Shan mountains and back into Russia, from which we will enter Mongolia towards the final destination of Ulan Bataar.
The alarm rings at 6 am and I insist on one more hour of sleep; no one protests.
“Ok, one more hour then we go. Listen, we’re going to a big city so if we make it there you can have a nice brunch in the morning.”
My ears perk up. Brunch is like cat nip to New Yorkers. I’m looking forward to it already.
After a quick breakfast we hit the road. The first section consists of rough roads—bumps, dirt, and pot holes—so it’s slow going.
By the time I get in we haven’t covered much ground. My section is better so I decide to push the car past our self-imposed 75 mph speed limit and keep it between 80-85. We manage to make up a lot of ground.
“I’m just eating away at the miles! I am the mile monster!”
Our hope is to get to Irkutsk, which is supposed to be a nice big city, on the early side in order to use the internet. We also have a reservation at a restaurant that is famous for it’s game meat.
We arrive on the early side to find that the hotel is no better than our truck stop motels, as a matter of fact it’s not even as nice as our last truck stop hotel. It’s really more of a hostel and it does not have internet. Oh, and the shower is in the basement.
We’re all tired after pushing ourselves so hard for so many days so we decide to head right out to dinner. The restaurant was aptly described as specializing in (see obsessed with) game.
Outside there are statues of a moose being taunted by dogs and a huge bear. The restaurant is located inside a hotel and leading down the staircase the wall was covered with photos of game hunting: guys sitting on dead lions, guys standing proudly next to dead tigers, and a photo of a guy standing next to a remarkable large horned animal that seemed out of a science fiction movie that we could not identify. Inside the restaurant is decorated with taxidermied owls, pheasant and other fowl, knives, horns and more hunting accessories.
The menu boasts wild boar, elk, venison, mutton and pheasant. I point to something and ask Mikhail to ask the waitress about it.
“Is it like steak frites?” He replies in the affirmative and my mouth begins to water in anticipation.
Our appetizers arrive and I get a little dish with mushrooms sautéed in cream, it’s almost like a thick soup, smothered in cheese. On a cold day, while feeling run down, this is the best thing I could have ever ordered.
The boys both order deer which they are quite content with. My dish is placed before me and it’s not exactly what I had pictured. It’s a hamburger, though not made of beef but some kind of “game mix,” and boiled potatoes. What did I think? This isn’t a Keith McNally restaurant in New York. I eat the potatoes and leave the game burger. Oh, what I would do for steak frites from Balthazar.
By the end of the meal we are all exhausted yet once again. Back at the hotel there is a little kid running up and down the hall screaming “Mom, mom!” Another night of little sleep.