It seems like I’m doing less and less every day as the end of my visit approaches. I thought it would be the opposite. I woke up feeling a bit regretful because the night before Annjah had invited me to go on a horseback ride with her to the nearby river. I said yes of course, as long as it was OK with my hosts. Her host and my hosts had exchanged a few words on this topic I’m guessing and nothing more was said. It was unfortunate because I had a lot of idle time this day anyway.
After discussing her volunteer experience, Annjah seemed to have a lot more free time than I.
We did the morning horse pickup on motorcycle today instead of walking around and looking for them. This saved a lot of time. I did the regular goat sorting in morning and evening as usual. This day however was characterized by trash duty.I would guess for about a 150 meter radius around the Ger, my task was to gather up the trash which consisted of:
Empty glass and plastic bottles and containers
Metal gadgets including auto and machinery parts
other miscellaneous garbage, like discarded kids toys.
It actually was not very hard work at all. Because I had nothing else to do, I did a very thorough job for the net 3 hours. The trash is gathered into a wheelbarrow and then moved into the back of the nomad’s utility truck like this one:
The whole time I was gathering the trash, I pondered upon the irony of doing this in the beautiful and natural Mongolian landscape. The fact is that except for the animal bones, all of this trash was generated by nomads themselves. Nature is a luxury for us city dwellers, but just the everyday environment for the nomads.
I’m guessing they do this kind of clean up periodically, maybe once or twice a year and then haul the trash to Altanbulag (about 1 hour drive away). I’m wondering if anything gets recycled, but no way to tell.
The day ended as usual with the evening meal, and some TV. Tomorrow will be the last FULL workday and then about 1/2 a workday on the day of departure.
The early evening work would usually end between 800-830pm. The very last task of the day was to “hobble” the riding horses (tying three of their legs together) so they could graze but not wander too far. This usually occurred in the dark of night.
As I mentioned in the last post, sometimes we would eat dinner before or after this point. Biyambai usually prepared the evening meal in the late afternoon. She is a skilled and talented cook, and prepared a variety of dishes. With a few exceptions, almost all food in the camp was made from scratch (natural ingredients) even the noodles!
One of my favorites was the homemade noodle, meat and vegetable dish called Tsuivan:
After returning from the morning herding and having a quick lunch, I was again asked to pasture the goats. I think my usefulness is starting to come into play and Durukh and his wife Biyambai are starting to do things that (I’m guessing) usually can’t get to…..or so I would like to think. I noticed that Durukh is working more with the cattle and horses yesterday and today.
Anyway, the task of herding is still new to me. Here’s some clips from the afternoon. You can get an idea of how windy it is from the audio!
I was just reviewing some video the other day and noticed that I used some phrases/sayings that we may use in everyday language in the USA to mean something similar.
Phrase #1: “The local watering hole”
People use this ( or used to use this) to refer to a bar or restaurant where they may meet regularly to informally discuss a number of things -typically after work or some other type of regular meeting (like a team practice). A good example would be corporate employees going to a “happy hour” after work.
Phrase #2: “Seeking greener pastures”
Usually meant to leave one thing for something better (eg job, boyfriend/girlfriend, home). Well I’m pretty sure that the literal phrase came from moving livestock from one location to another as the nomads do.
I arrived in Mongolia about 1-2 weeks after the snow melted. The animals were weak and skinny because they had to dig through the snow with their hooves to find vegetation. The landscape is still pretty barren as you can see. When the rain comes, I’m sure the nomads will move their camp in search of “greener pastures.”
The livestock usually fatten up over the spring/summer in order to survive the incredibly cold Mongolian winter.
The type of work I do at the camp generally depends on the particular need for that day. I made this video the following morning which sums up day 5:
So as I said in the video, After the ritual horse tracking and goat sorting in the early morning, we left the Ger on horseback towards the area where some of the livestock were grazing. Durukh headed in one direction to herd cattle and asked me to meet him at the well after performing the following mission (my best video of the trip):
I usually go to sleep at 930 pm in the nomad camp. Work finishes between 730-800pm followed by a couple of hours of Satellite TV. The most popular show among all the nomads (and I’m betting in all Mongolia) is “Mongolia’s got Talent”. I’ll talk about TV more in another post.
Anyway about 1030pm, Durukh, my host woke me up, and I was surprised that there were a bunch of other people in the Ger. He asked me if I wanted to go to his younger brother’s house. Well, I was sleepy and tired but couldn’t say no….
Five of us and one child piled into this Mongolian style field truck/flatbed and drove in the pitch black night to his brother’s Ger. The details are in the video:
Anyway it was great to meet Anna. She was just finishing the last 2 weeks of her stay and going on a tour of the Gobi Desert before returning to Switzerland.
Anna if you’re reading this please leave a comment and message me your contact info!
This morning was very cold (4/10). I would guess it was about 10 degrees colder than the previous day. If you add in the wind, it makes the working conditions rather tough. It started out as usual with the search for the horses. Today they also wandered further than usual, but not as far as the first day, which had me thinking that I may have actually attached the hobble correctly.
As I said earlier, the job of a nomad can not be performed without his horse. It’s comparable to a computer programmer trying to work without a computer.
I stayed in for a good part of the morning due to the conditions. This gave me the opportunity to take some pictures and video of the Ger. The traditonal layout of the Nomadic Ger is:
I forgot to mention the night before I had a real Mongolian treat of Khuushuur, which is similar to what we know as a Piroshki.
Minced horse meat Khuushuur
Yes, the caption says “horse meat”! If your response is “yuk” read my post regarding cultural relativism.
Anyway, I woke up physically sore as hell! In addition it was incredibly cold and windy even for the nomads today. I told my hosts Durukh and Biyambah I was fine, but they wanted me to take it easy today and help near the Ger.
So I mostly just helped with the sheep and goat sorting today. The nomads have the uncanny ability to recognize their livestock. I could see no distinct brands or markings other than the colored horns, yet they were able to match goats and sheep with their respective offspring to ensure the offspring were being fed/weened.
I talk about the work here. The vid was actually taken on the (warmer) day before. I was however mistaken/misunderstood about moving the GER which they didn’t do while I was there.
As always, thanks again for reading and I hope you’re finding the posts interesting. I should have some pretty cool GoPro video of herding on horseback in my next post so stay tuned!
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