Too much happened to fit in one blog post! In our last NFtF you read about our trip with WCS Mongolia, a bit about how cooperatives work in Mongolia, and how two of our Bankhars are doing.
The rest of the week we spent based out of Nomgon visiting herders and their families. There are no paved roads in Nomgon or to any of the surrounding herders, and working in a transhumant culture means finding peoples’ precise location is a bit challenging. But with the help of Bat-Erdene and very knowledgeable locals, we located almost all of the herders that had been recommended to us to interview. We visited about 11 families and collected 8 interviews.
The ritual of visiting someone’s ger is pretty similar no matter who you visit. You show up, say hello, go inside the ger (entering clockwise usually), and then your host hands you a bowl of tea to be received with your right hand (and if you want to be polite, you receive it in your right hand with your left hand under your right elbow). And then they offer you a bowl of candies, small parties, arruul (a sort of hard curd, which seems to me like cheese but Mongolians tell me isn’t cheese). Sometimes sugar cubes are included as well. And then you talk about whatever you can for. At some point they will also likely offer you a brimming bowl of Ingenii hoormog (a white, milky sort of yogurt of varying degrees of fermentation, usually made from camel milk). This might also be done with a bowl of normel (homemade vodka, typically not as strong as normal vodka) mixed with warm oil. Guests are usually served in whatever order they sit in. It is handed to each guest and refilled by the serving host before handed to the next person. And depending on the time of day someone (usually a woman) will cook some buzz (meat dumplings) or khuusuur (like a meat dumpling but fried) or soup. Or a bowl of meat will be set out for everyone.
I really love this part of Mongolian tradition. There’s a really specific set of things you do when you visit someone. The culture embraces visitors and the fact that a commonly known custom exists makes just showing up at someone’s ger that much easier. And it makes sense – if you’re traveling out in the Gobi and you really need some water or food or just someone to talk to, people and resources are few and far between. No one seemed surprised to see us show up at their ger camp even when they didn’t know we were coming ahead of time.
It also happens to be birthing season for camels, goats, and sheep. Unfortunately for the guys in the truck, I ow’ed and aw’ed at all of the baby camels we saw on the drive. Often there will be one or two kids or lambs too weak to stay outside so herders will keep them inside their ger until they get stronger. Which meant I got to cuddle with baby animals while conducting interviews. Pretty much a career-goals grand slam.