Letter to all, 7-10-00



I just got back from the who-do (countryside). It all started at 4:00 am. I'd been told we'd leave about 5:00 am after I had gotten my butt up earlier than I would have liked, cuz I knew that we were going today. The jeep showed up at 4 and my host cousin popped her head into my ger and said we were going to the countryside now - at least that's how I translated it. I heard the word who-do and she beckoned with her hand.

So I grabbed my shoes, 2 dictionaries, camera, chocolate bar (you must give a small gift when going to someone's house for the first time) toilet paper (though later I would learn to choose to hold it till I had the comfort of my own outhouse. Because they just walk out a ways and drop their pants; maybe not too big a problem, I've done it before, but here I'm quite the curiosity at all times and the food has lately made me… not want to do that). So I tossed it all in my backpack (thank you David!) and padded it all with my jacket. Hurry up and wait. They were still getting themselves together.

I finally climbed into the backseat of an old Russian (?) jeep with non-safety glass cracked windows. Grandma with child in lap, driver and a young boy sat in front. My little "sister" myself, my host mom, another child and a man sat in the backseat. Then there were 4 children in the rear area. We drove on paved roads a bit, then on what looked like a foot path. I would suggest a sports bra for any who plan to travel by jeep. I kept seeing gers come up, than thankfully be passed. I wanted to feel like we had gone far out. For some refer to the "countryside" as the area at the end of our valley - walking distance from the hashoa district. So we finally came to Tole's sister's ger.

They had a line of 10 foals tied to a low rope. Every so often (3 times while we were there) they'd walk out a milk the mothers. You take the foal loose, let it suckle, then putt I away, keeping it close to the mother. The boy holding it would sometimes make a suckling sound, or trill, maybe to keep the other horses away. Women only do the milking; on bent knee, one arm between the hind legs. I was only allowed to escort the foals back to the rope because Tole was afraid I'd get kicked if I milked. I asked a brunch of time, but she worried what the Peace Corp would say. I did get to ride! The saddles are dreadfully uncomfy and my knees were bent painfully. I couldn't get him faster that a trot, not matter how much I "chew-chewed". But it was still a wonderful short jaunt. I got them to let go of the lead line reluctantly and had no trouble controlling the horse.

They also had goats and sheep that they herd together. Then there were cows. They only brought these over near the end, corralled the babies and tied the moms one at a time. They only milked 3 at this time. The back legs are tied and I convinced my mom to let me milk. With about 5 people watching, I battled through and was able to do it. While there, I had 2 bowls of airag. The fermented horse milk. It wasn't the strong version that I had had once before. Ramsey described it as champagne and milk. Quite true. Not sweet and with a sharp tang like plain yogurt. I also had some yogurt. I'm not sure if it was made with horse milk (same) or cow milk (sue). I played Frisbee with the kids. I showed them how once and in 3 throws they were all launching it. Many times I just sat and looked at the great expanse of land and sky. One can see so far with so little interference from man made things. The gers don't really even distract from the scene. The couple of gers nearby and maybe the 7 I could see in the distance naturally blend in and the hills roll out and there seemed no defiant valley; but just rows of swelling ground.

Lots of people dropped by while we were there. I don't know if it's usual or just because Naadam (the People's Revolution Day and Summer Celebration) is tomorrow. At one point they gave a bowl of milk to a horse and I was told - in Mongolian pantomime - that he would be racing tomorrow. Overall it as a very warm, wonderful trip. On the way back the drive was on a paved road and suddenly turned off to take a route I feel didn't save anything the paved way wouldn't. Was it a show for me? Or believed to save gas. Jeeps are meant to such things. Or just "hey, we want to go this way?". The concept of roads just aren't' thought about.



Naadam has passed. I missed the opening ceremony because my host mom was late getting ready and we had to sneak away from my little sister and I somehow missed the closing ceremony too. I thought there was one, but communication is different for such complicated info as that. It lasted all yesterday and today. Ulaanbaatar Naadam is today and tomorrow I think, but I just attended the local one.

It is very different than events in the states. Wrestling, archery and horse racing all took place continuously, at the same time. Wrestling was in the stadium, archery outside, and the races were about a 15 minute walk in a area surrounded by gers set up just for this time. The times were all vague and action ebbed and flowed. These were games of skill and not geared at entertaining an audience. Wrestling is interesting to watch as some matches last a few seconds and others go on for a long time. I didn't check my watch (an hour maybe?). Several go on at the same time. When they stand arm locked it gets kinda dull. But there was a lot of quick foot work involved also. You lose if your knees, elbows, or butt touches the ground. They walk out and do an arm waving walk that is a bit of traditional dance. Then there's a guy that stands there and holds their feet.

In archery they aim at little blocks set up on the ground and rack up points. The bow is a beautiful re-curve, made of bone / horn and wood. The one lady was kind enough to let a few of us shoot an arrow. They old the string with the thumb and forefinger instead of 3 fingers as in the U.S. (excuse me if I look funky or have bad form in the picture, but I was so caught up in the bow and arrow itself, I paid little attention to the actual shot. But she said I did good. Bows cost $80 - $120, but it's hard to find someone who makes them.

Out by the archery area there is an old broken down Ferris wheel and chair swing ride. I missed the shot, but took one with less kids, but children were crawling and swinging all over these things; with adults not thinking twice of it and causing many Peace Corp Volunteers (PCV's) to be utterly shocked. That's the reason I didn't take a picture the time it was swarming with kids, because I could barely bring my over worrisome self to even look. There were also horses all over town. One had to watch themselves very closely, as they went galloping in all directions. My host father's horse was even brought in from the countryside so he could ride it around. And the vendors were all over (each selling the same soda and ice cream, right next to each other. Which confuses us all as to how they survive.) All the stores in town are pretty much the same way. And we're not supposed to drink the locally bottled stuff and the ice cream cones for health reasons.

I didn't get to see the horse races the first day because my little sister, Tsegee, was with us. She's maybe 5 and it's a long walk. It was already 20 minutes to the stadium. On the second day most of us went with our families. No one could tell us when a race was happening, so we just stood around till we saw a big group of riders leave and then the race ends 1 hour later. They all walk to the start line and we stand at the finish. After just hanging around some unknown cue runs through the ger camps and we all crowd the sidelines. I let some people around me use my binoculars to get in friendly relations, but this large woman kept pushing me and she was hot, so, being unable to think how to tell her to back off, I just moved down the line and lost my cushy spot. But it's not as dramatic as the races in the states. You see a jeep coming and then very spaced out (probably mentally as physically) riders come through. Only the first 5 riders place and rarely is there a run off at the end. These kids (all under 8 I think) have been galloping for about 1/2 hour. Yesterday I heard a horse died (not uncommon) 50 feet from the finish line. They kick the horse to try and get it's heart going again, but it didn't work this time. A few PCV's hung out and chatted after the race, but the sun was intense so we headed to a tent someone had met the occupants of before. They gave us airag and two young girls spoke Russian, French or Erud (I forget the name, but it is that "universal" language that was made up). Then we played paper - rock - scissors, the Mongolian version of that. Some other hand games and a Russian ring around the roses and spin the bottle type game with the group of kids that often collects around us.

The grandfather had asked if we were religious. This happens often, since there are missionaries here who run the "English Language Institute". I am not bothered by missionaries, I think it's great that they have a faith so strong and care to help others to a better spiritual life. And I have no problem with religion in general, but I am greatly bothered that they come to people hungry for education in the English language - hold classes and fun day camps, all the while prostelatizing their religion; which is supposed to be illegal. I don't understand how they can hand out Jesus pens and church related English lessons. I admit that I don't know enough about them. The Peace Corp is here with unsure motives, but I try to be open and honest. (I say this only because the government chose to accept this invitation and we are spreading the American way of life as a bi-product of our teaching). Yes I'm here for the selfish motivation that I will grow, but I offer myself and my knowledge freely and openly. But when the people ask for English and it is given if only allowed to be laced with religion. OK - off my soap box. It's just that this is an often irritable topic in PC groups and to add to it all, they did a routine at the opening ceremonies that I heard was poorly rehearsed and play over the Mongolian bands and regardless of that it had nothing to do with what Naadam is about. Nadaam is about Mongolian independence and celebrating it's talents. Opps, hopped back up on my box.

Quick wrap up - I'm very tired. We had a little PC get together today too. With some wrestling, goat eating, Frisbee, juggling and Max's uncle stopped by and let me ride his horse - so wonderful!!! The rush of feeling free even at a walk out here!

Peace to you all!