Becoming family

The first two days we stayed here at the family ger were awkward.  We are sleeping on the floor.  They wake and the wife started prepping food while the husband leaves for a bit and returns to eat.  We usually try to get up around that time because after that they are both out of the ger for a long time milking the horses. 

I takes two people to milk a mare.  The husband (Zaya) catches it in a lasso, and holds it still while the wife (Zanda) milks it. The milk is disgusting.  But I can’t stand drinking any milk. It IS super creamy and raw so not processed at all except for straining it into another bucket.  The two little girls drink it by the bowlful.  They get about one large bucketful every morning and evening.

the wee one helping herself to some milk; its in various stages of processing in each of those buckets.

We spend the day out and about.  Packing our tent and lunch (we brought some freeze dried fruit and veg plus ramen noodles and bread) we venture up the side valleys. It’s really gorgeous high grassland.  We are at 6500 or so feet and well above the tree line, so the whole valley and mountainsides are covered in green or golden grass.  In the side valleys are cute little creeks flowing into the main river in our ger valley. We hike up these and find a spot to pitch the tent for the day.
The kids play in the creek, we read, we eat and nap. Hours pass and it’s been awesome.  We hiked halfway up one of the mountains one day, read the entire first Harry Potter, made grass boats and slept way better than at nighttime. 

We found some beautiful places to enjoy reading and playing and family time:

trying to get back quickly before that storm hit!

Back at the ger home, the wife (Zanda) just kept staring at me and I’m not sure if I’m to help or not.  Once I cut some noodles and it was obviously wrong.  She and I laughed which was good, but then I was at a loss.  I’ve tried to help but it’s difficult to know what to do.  There are only 10 bowls in the place and a few pieces of silverware, so if she has set a bowl of water on the stove I can do dishes but that’s it.  She did show me which shelf they go on. I’m at an absolute loss for cooking.  Their staples are meat and milk.  I can barely offer to add a dried poo to the fire.

The Mongolian kids mostly fend for themselves so sometimes I feel useful by playing with them and showing them how to color.  We are leaving a few coloring books here for them.  The little one who is two loves the dry erase maze book so we will leave that too.

what she does most of the day
Bryan trying to help churn the milk
The kids doing some workbooks
mmm… the pancakes were great

Anyway our turning point was on day 3 when Bryan offered to go to the market  with them.  Our driver took him, Zanda and the baby into town a half hour away. They bought veggies and coffee and candy and a brick of tea.  She was most excited for a container of laundry detergent though.  Bryan paid the bill.  Since then it’s been less tense.  May have been the market trip or just us getting more involved.  

Zoe and Avi join the other kids nightly to round up the goats and sheep.  They love it! They wander off to find the herd and push them back near the gers.  Then,  the baby goats are singled out and directed using whips on sticks and yelling into a little pen.  That is where they stay all night which keeps the mom goats from wandering.  I guess the sheep just stay near the goats because they don’t think to do anything else.  In the late morning the female goats are rounded up, singled out of the crowd, and tied head to head in a long row for milking.  There are about 20.  After that, the baby goats are freed, nurse and the herd wanders away for the day.

she took this duty so seriously

Zoe never missed a chance with the goats
This goat was funny and came to butt the door every morning and evening for some milk.  It was so nice, and Avi really bonded with it.  Guess they had hand fed it since it’s mom died when it was little.

 We have also played Uno every night, and slowly more family have joined in. First night just the 6 year old and our driver Sandeek, then dad , and by the third night (after the market) mom and even cousin Eddie joined in. He’s another extended family that lives in one of the other  two nearby gers. I was shockingly trusted to churning the butter ( oh the hideous smell) while Zanda got to play. By our final fourth night the whole extended family was in the ger laughing and playing.  It has  been fun and the perfect game to teach people who can’t speak a lick of English. 

The game brought us all together.  Zanda and I and Zoe had a blast also playing knuckle bones.  It’s their family game.   I can’t explain it quickly but it’s fun and is played with the knuckle bones from sheep and goats they’ve eaten.  I just barely lost.  Lots of laughs late into the night.

The next morning we were trusted to do some goat milking. 

Our final night was the best though.  We returned from our daily outing and they wanted to dress us up! the whole family – including the super nice grandpa from another ger came to help.  We were outfitted with their own personal fancy deel ( their traditional dress), and even jewelry and medals.  Women in Mongolia, by the way,  get a medal for each child they have. Then it was pictures!!  Lots.  And other fancy deel and winter deel and more pictures.  Just kids, just women, just olds, cousin Eddie… This was our name for him… He fit the description. We all had such fun!!  And they seemed so excited to play dress ups on the westerners. 

There were Soooooo many pictures and family combinations.  Here is a smattering:

our host family.  Zaya and Zanda and their two girls

Grandpa.  He was a hoot!

The girls

Winter garb!

Manly Mongol Men

check out my medals for having babies!

The fam again

Us and “cousin Eddie” with wife

Grandpa again!

The whole extended family that lived in the three gers

 That night we gave them our gifts.  We brought a new Uno, a silk, and a Swiss Army knife.  We also indicated we would leave the girls the coloring books and dry erase maze book, plus a cool Mongolian version of National Geographic Traveller that was all about Mongolian sights and in both English and Mongolian.  We found it in the seat back pocket on our Hunnu air flight to Dalanzadgad last week and found it fascinating.  They loved it and all the gifts. 

Then I was shocked when Zanda offered me her deel!!  I refused for a while but it was important To her. Our driver translated and said we were the first ever to homestay with them ( I could’ve guessed) AND we were the first foreigners they’d ever met.  It was so special.  So now I have a gorgeous green silk deel that she made by hand and I can where on special occasions.  Amazing! 

We were all up super late that last night playing cards and “chatting”.  Thank goodness our driver Sandeek can translate roughly. They had tons of questions about us and the kids and school and found us so very interesting.  

making some vodka for the special occasion…or maybe it was just vodka night.

We found them interesting as well!  At first it was weird but by the end we felt very much like family.  It was a bit sad to go but we were excited to get showers and use toilets and sinks and refrigerators again.  The simplicity of their life, though, is something to take with us. They have very little by nature or by choice. 

Our final morning we were finally trusted to ride the horses…a little….for a picture.

As we left on the 5th morning each ger household tossed a bowl full of milk in the air for us.  A ceremonial guesture to ensure a safe trip.  It was quite moving, especially I see grandpa run out not to miss us.  

 Zaya and Zanda road their motorbike up to the ridge crossing to say their goodbyes.  It was on honor! I gave them hugs instead I handshakes. They were surprised… Pleasantly, I believe. 

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