(April 9, 2013)
(Posted by Kristin, embellished by Xavier)
We arrived at Bilgee’s property around 8pm, piled into the ger, and were introduced to the rest of the family: Bilgee’s father, brother, and the wives and kids. By now, after waiting all day, I really had to go. You wouldn’t believe how happy I was to see this lovely toilet facility, even in the freezing weather and under a starry sky. Welcome to the semi-nomadic lifestyle.
We spent a few hours getting to know the family, drinking milk tea (and vodka, of course), eating delicious soup and a platter of beef delicacies.
I wasn’t too into trying the funny-looking stuff but Xavier had a field day with Bilgee as they both dug into the beef bone marrow (and I think that’s a heart valve or something on the right). Mmmmm good?
I guess. One thing for sure, it was all grass-fed, free-range beef!
Exhausted from a long and wonderful day chasing camels in the Mongolian countryside (see Camels, Camels and More Camels!), we finally decided to call it a night. The two brothers and their families went to their shared concrete duplex next door to the ger.
We stayed in the ger with Oyuka and the father (it was his ger). They piled our bed high with blankets so heavy we could barely move.
It is so wonderfully warm in a ger when the fire is blazing — I swear the father tended to the fire all night so it was always nice and toasty.
As everyone stirred the next morning, the family gradually trickled into the ger, and milk tea and food magically appeared from nowhere, as it always seems to do in Mongolia.
We all hung out in the ger eating and laughing for a few hours until it was time to get the day going. There was work to be done.
Warm fur-lined Mongolian boots appeared for me and Xavier, so we were ready to go! But the grandfather insisted that Xavier wear his dell (coat) and hat along with his boots. It was quite a scene to see the grandfather dressing Xavier and strapping him in the dell with a long sash that wrapped around him several times.
I didn’t escape the fashion show either.
We eventually got back into our boring clothes — but we both kept those wonderful sheepskin-lined boots on…toasty toes! Out we went to spend the day with the family, tending to the animals (admittedly, Xavier did most of the helping while I documented everything).
The first task of the day was to let the sheep and goats out of their warm shelter.
Can’t get enough of these baby goats!
Some kids needed a little extra attention.
Next task was scooping up the dung — all hands on deck.
Then it was time for fun with horses! At first they didn’t trust Xavier to ride on his own…
But then he discovered his inner cowboy!
My turn next.
But we had nothing on the man of the house. This is life on the ranch!
Then there was the other trusty steed.
But there was still work to be done: goat bellies to be brushed…
Cows to be milked…
Water to be pulled from the well…
And always, a little relaxation, exploration, and play thrown in!
In addition to documenting the day-to-day activities, we also did a more formal photo shoot with the family.
We couldn’t get enough of these little cousins (the two on the left are brother and sister).
The families were excited to have their pictures taken and got all dressed up.
They also loved dressing us up.
As a perfect bookend to a perfect day, later in the evening two guys on horseback came by with some goats in tow…and next thing you know, one of the goats gave birth! Spring!
We wrapped up a wonderful day back in the ger, relaxing with the family. Throughout the stay we had relied heavily on Oyuka for translation, but also just used a lot of hand gestures to communicate. As we had often done on our trip, we also used photos on our phones to share stories and show them where we come from. Through it all, we really cherished our time with this wonderful family and just remember a day full of laughter and love in this beautiful place.
During our time there, and many times afterwards, Xavier and I have reflected on our unforgettable experience of staying with a Mongolian family in their countryside ger. No electricity (except for the solar panel), no running water (except for the well and river waters), no indoor plumbing, no central air or heating (except for the Mongolian winds and wood/cow dung fueled stoves), no cable TV, no computers, none of the modern conveniences we are so accustomed to having every day (although they did have amazing cell phone reception) — and these people were by far the happiest, most loving, easy going, and from what we could see, stress-free people we had ever met. What does that say about us in our modern society? We don’t know, but it made quite an impression on us. It will forever make it hard for us to complain about not having enough of anything ever again.
We were sad to go, but at around 8pm we piled back into Bilgee’s truck and headed off to catch our overnight train to Erdenet. It was time to meet the rest of the family.
As a token of our gratitude we sent each family a photo book of our brief stay with them — we hope to see them again one day!