Dear Friends and Family,
If you ever travel to Ulaanbataar, befriend a local, and receive an offer to live with her cousins’ cousins in the countryside– Just do it.
Although I can hear my own mother cringe at this piece of news (sorry, Mom), trusting my instinct has been a good idea so-far. I spent the past week living in a yurt with two herdsmen in their 40s, Hyagaa and Chimgee Onhooliin. Neither speaks a word of Engish but, like me, they are easy-going and quite adept at communicating by gesture. When I mimed, “Is there a toilet?,” Hyagaa responded with a laugh. Throwing his arms wide, as if to encompass the whole valley and its surrounding mountains, he seemed to say, “Anywhere you want, baby girl!”
Arriving here directly from São Paulo (well, after crossing 11 time zones and changing planes three times, that is) I was struck by the differences between our lives (access to plumbing, electricity, and internet being most notable). But then Hyagaa pointed out an interesting, if not now obvious, similarity. One evening, as we were playing card games, he pointed to my backpack and said, “ger,” which means “home.” As dissimilar U.S. culture is from Mongolian, I realized that I too am a nomad this year, living with my whole life crammed on my back; seeking ways to stay grounded and build community wherever I am.
On a day-to-day basis, I follow Hyagaa and Chimgee around and try to absorb as much as possible about their lives. Together we milk 12 cows by hand, herd livestock on horseback, and cook meals using dried cow manure for fuel. There is not so much milk right now (it is spring in Mongolia and we are waiting for the new calves and foals to be born) but Chimgee is teaching me the Mongolian way of making cheese. I will write more about this later but the process is unlike anything I have seen. (Hint: we curdle the cow milk using soured horse milk and then hang the cheese to dry on the walls of the yurt.)
At night, I curl up under a pile of blankets and coats (including Hyagaa’s цув: a head-to-toe length “beast” of a thing that looks as though it could protect you against anything). I hear the cows munching, an occasional horse whinney, and my hosts breathing across from me. There is no privacy in this one-room home but it is easy to snuggle down and sleep.
(My Mongolian name because Linnea is too difficult to pronounce).