Survived nomadland! I’ve been back in UB for the past few days, basking in civilisation after a month sleeping in a ger in the Mongolian steppe. It was An Experience for sure…very different and much harder than I expected. The background: I was staying with my host mother and father and their 4 year old little grandson/monster. I helped out where I could, which was mostly with the cooking and the poo-collecting and the cow “herding” which basically consisted of me chasing after the calves on foot. Disappointingly there was very little horse-riding. In my (abundance of) free time I read, doodled and climbed the mountains – which were just magnificent. The sense of sheer vastness you experience standing on the peak of a mountain and being surrounded for miles and miles in every direction with nothing but a beautiful but almost barren landscape is THE definition of Fucking Epic.
It was pretty difficult at times, chiefly because for days at a time I’d have very little to do and absolutely no one to talk to. Being so isolated wasn’t particularly fun. However, there were two other volunteers also in the countryside: Sena, this amazing 16 year old (!) girl from Korea, and Jennifer, a English woman who likes running and oats and travelling (so you can imagine how well we got on!). After the first week their families moved to about an hours’ walk away from mine, so I was able to visit them occasionally. These visits were the highlights of the trip, I loved going to see them (and there was always a lot more activity in their host families). They really helped me stay sane out there.
Some really cool and some really not-so-cool stuff that happened:
- Got to attend a traditional Mongolian wedding. UNFORGETTABLE. There was a *huge* feast: towers of bread topped with dairy products, whole goats on trays, plates of salads and sweets, vats of stews and soups, endless bowls of fermented mare’s milk and 100 bottles of vodka. The wedding consisted of a short ceremony with some speeches and gifts, and then 48 hours of singing and drinking. Jennifer and I infiltrated the elder’s party and were given vodka and snuff, which was a right giggle (and, apparently, a real privilege).
It was a shame about the circumstances of the marriage: they were only going through with it because they’d recently had a baby. It wasn’t exactly a happy, loving relationship. The groom, I was told, did not even like the bride (something which became obvious just by watching them). During the wedding he barely even looked at or talked to her – but he’d flirt with (or rather pester) other girls.
- And then the day after the wedding (celebrations were still continuing), one of the Mongolian woman (actually Jennifer’s host mother) nearly lost her life after consuming vast quantities of alcohol. I think the men thought it would be funny to get her really drunk, and it just got completely out of hand. The poor woman was in such a state when I left, and I heard afterwards that she passed out, her heart and her breathing actually stopped, and it was only because Jennifer was on hand and knew First Aid and was able to perform CPR that she actually survived. OH THE DRAMA.
- Witnessed a genuine Shaman ritual. A priest came after the events at the wedding, had robes and a mask and a drum and channeled a spirit which spoke to the family and everything.
- Celebrated Sena’s birthday 🙂
- Saw how goats and cows are slaughtered, cleaned and prepared. The slaughtering is an amazingly quick and efficient process. The cleaning is pretty grim and involves basically scraping, squeezing and flushing out the contents of the digestive system. Fun fact: they make a blood sausage by squeezing out contents of of the intestines, then pouring a mixture of blood, onion and flour into them, sealing it up and boiling it in water. I didn’t try this, but Sena said it was really nice…
- Ate goats head (surprisingly delicious), liver (ditto), and some unidentifiable part of the innards which made me sick afterwards.
- One of our dogs gave birth to a litter of seven puppies! Sadly, when I went to check on them the following morning, only one had survived. Three dead stiff little bodies lay nearby, and I wondered where the rest were…and that’s when one of the other dogs ran up, took one of the dead ones in its jaws, lay down and starting devouring it. OKAY THEN. I didn’t know dogs did that.
- Helped my family “move house” to their winter location (another fun fact: it takes one car and about half a day to completely relocate a home).
- Witnessed the most horrific alcoholism I’ve ever seen. I thought I’d seen some “extreme” behaviour, but this really shocked me. Men would think nothing of consuming a bottle of vodka before 10am in the morning. Or drinking for 2 days solid, being violently ill during the night, and then going straight back for more in the morning. They don’t have anything in the way of recreational activities in the countryside (except watching TV), and during the cold months there’s often not a lot to do. So they just drink. A lot.
So yes. *Very* glad to have had the experience, but it’s not something I want to repeat. Enough talk! Got some really nice photos (mostly taken by Sena & Jennifer). Here are a few…
Tomorrow: SRI LANKA. 😀