There is a place in Mongolia which, translated into English, is called The Countryside
, a phrase that is usually used without any other modifiers. It is the heart and soul of Mongolia, and is where most people, even if they don't actually live there, have their roots. They grew up in The Countryside
. Their parents or relatives live in The Countryside
. They visit The Countryside
when they are visiting relatives, or on the weekend, or over the summer. Aside from the fact that many, many Mongolians are herders, living away from the city is often the preferred way of life.
Our visit last weekend with Davaa and her family to her Countryside
was a three and a half hour drive to the southeast of Khovd, starting out along the main braided dirt road to Ulaanbaatar. Just after the newly paved section at Mankhan started, we turned off onto a small track that wove through grazing land, past an occasional ger, and through one small group of mud buildings. Along the way we let off some of the passengers we had brought from Khovd—children who go to school in the city during the week, and others like us, who are visiting The Countryside
for the weekend.
Although we had Naura, a recent graduate with English speaking experience, to translate for us, most of what happened over the weekend didn't need a lot of explanation. We looked at camels and goats and sheep and horses and cows. We ate simple Mongolian food everywhere we went. After milking camels, we stopped to play at some sand dunes. We visited other relatives, drank a little vodka, and then headed across the pasture to where we pitched our tent—among the animals and on top of several layers of thick felt offered to us by our hosts. Most of the rest slept in the ger, though three adults found more felt and blankets and moved out into the open with us.
On Sunday afternoon we headed back. We went home with large bottles of areg, and Davaa took a small milk can to sell in her store. We took the skin from the sheep that was killed for lunch, to sell at the market. For Judy, Shogo, and me, it was like a weekend campout. For those who we were visiting, it is how they live every single day. For Davaa and her family, I can only imagine that it is somewhere in between.