Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bonding Time

A couple Saturdays ago I got home from hanging out with some friends and I was immediately pulled into the kitchen to help make dinner. I do not/cannot/don’t enjoy cooking, but I usually at least try to offer to help prepare things for the cooking, although I’m typically refused. Apparently I also cannot satisfactorily chop vegetables and meat. However, on this fine day I found something that I actually can do!
I can fold these!
I put my things away and went back to the kitchen where my family was making buuz, a Mongolian dumpling. My mom showed me how to get a bit of meat and then properly fold the dough around it. You only use your right pointer finger and both thumbs, and fold the dough between your right pointer and thumb as your left thumb shoves the meat into the resulting pocket. I was horrible at it. I was laughed at. I laughed at myself. But I kept trying, because it really didn’t seem all that hard, it was just a matter of getting it right.
We kept making buuz, and my pathetic attempts were kindly put into the steamer alongside the cute folded-pocket ones. After a while, I got better. My first slightly successful attempts were applauded and passed around the kitchen with awe. Finally, I could do something half right. A few buuz later mine were nearly indistinguishable from the rest! I was bonding with my host family! And dinner was delicious!
The following Saturday, my class/sector got together for a Mongolian cooking class, where I was deemed the buuz “expert.” While this is not necessarily true, it was good to know that the skill stuck and I’m somewhat more prepared to feed myself this winter.
On Sunday afternoon, the day after our buuz dinner, my family took me to the countryside. Keep in mind that mine and my family’s communication is incredibly limited, so I was told this by having the word “country” pointed to me in my Mongolian-to-English dictionary with them saying the word “tomorrow” in Mongolian, which I know. Other than that, the details were very unclear.
The packaged product of my demise
So around 5 I was herded into the car with my parents and younger children and we drove about 45minutes to the country. To get there we drove through old Darkhan, where we mysteriously stopped at the train station for about 10minutes, and then a store, where my dad got us all soda and packaged ice cream cones. From the store we drove a bit, including past a river where people were swimming that I desperately want to go to, and then we just pulled off the road onto an unmarked dirt road and went down that for a good while, until the city was no longer in view and we were officially in the country. It was beautiful. I rolled down my window and started taking pictures.
Eventually we pulled off the mysterious dirt road to a ger. I still do not know my family’s relation to these people. Friends? Relatives? I don’t know. But we hung out in their ger for a bit and they gave us milk tea while the adults talked. I’m essentially always part of the “children’s table,” although they don’t talk to me much either. After a while my mom and the other women took me down the hill to the other ger, a smaller, cooking ger, where we made a fire out of cow poop [баас] where we cooked noodle soup. After the soup got going I was basically left to my own devices.
The family’s ger was on a hill that over looked this beautiful, grassy valley where hundreds of cows, goats, and horses were grazing. Off in the distance, mountains enclosed the valley, which must have had a river, because the grass was a deep green. The ger-children took me around to see their family’s cows and goats and down to the valley to take pictures.
I met back with my mom and children at a different ger, where our host disappeared and came back with an adorable baby goat, which I immediately held and smothered in love. My host siblings also wanted to smother him in love, but there was a bit more smothering than loving going on. Eventually, prompted by the screams of the tiny goat, I intervened and declared baby goat-play time over. I asked to ride a horse, and I think they were going to let me, but I was wearing my Rainbows and a skirt, which admittedly, is not ideal riding apparel.

the Mongolian countryside

my host siblings love-smothering the baby goat

I spent most of the afternoon taking pictures, but by the time the sun was beginning to set, around 9ish, I began to feel quite nauseous. I assumed it was just because I’d eaten a lot of sugar that day so I tried to quell it with plenty of water, but that didn’t really work. A sudden dust storm sent us back into the main ger for a while where I was taught Mongolian poker. Apparently my brain was only up for learning one new skill over the weekend, because I had no clue what was going on. Then my dad came over and said “goat,” (in mongolian), and put his finger over his throat in a slicing motion, which, as noted by Star Lord, is the universal symbol for killing someone/thing. It was finally time for the traditional Mongolian goat kill and I was ready. Except that I was nauseous and had cold sweats.
my host parents sniffing snuff during the dust storm
The women led me back outside, past the ram tied up to the ger, and headed toward the cows. Apparently we were gonna milk some cows while the men folk killed the goat. I thought about asking to watch the goat kill, and I probably would have if I had been feeling better, but instead I just went with it and headed toward the cows as well. Thankfully, I later learned that women aren’t actually allowed to watch animals being slaughtered, they’re just expected to prepare it after its been skinned, so my nausea helped me remain culturally appropriate.
I’ve milked a cow before, and I don’t know if its because I wasn’t feeling well, but this time around I wasn’t getting anything from that cow. While my mom and hostess milked several cows I sat around and tried not to be sick, which, while successful, was not tons of fun.
By the time we got back to the ger, complete with a freshly skinned goat carcass, I needed to tell my family that I wasn’t feeling well. We left soon after, but it was a shame to end the day that way. I’m sure everyone thought that the poor white girl got sick after she saw the innards of a goat, therefore bringing shame to my whole family and all of their ancestors.
In conclusion, I spent the next 12hours vomiting and then the proceeding 12hours in bed. While miserable, this did have the continued effect of further endearing me to my host family. They bought me apples and once I was feeling better they let me cook my own egg, which was a big step up.
Since recovering, life has gone back to its Mongolian normalcy.
This past Wednesday the whole Mongolia26 group got back together for several days of continued safety and informational sessions. I didn’t have a great time. It was awesome to see everyone else again, but getting constantly reminded about all the rules and regulations we have to follow is a bit of a downer. Also, going from being surrounded by 12 Americans to 73 Americans is quite overwhelming. But I got back to my host family yesterday afternoon and after processing everything I began to feel better about things again. I had my interview with our country director today, a truly fabulous woman, and it went really well. I’m definitely starting the week with a better mindset.

possibly what my deel will look like,
but hopefully without the pained facial expression
After I got back from my interview, my parents loaded me into the car with my little sister and we went to get fabric for my deel for Nadaam, a holiday coming up this weekend. I’m really excited for it and you’ll never guess what color it is!!....

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