Archive for August, 2009

A quiet summer it was not.

I had expected to go to Renchinhlumbe in June (see last blog) and then spend the summer right here in my own home in Muron.  But since then, I’ve been out of Muron 3 different times and am about to go to Ulaan Baatar for Peace Corp’s Mid-Service Training for a week.

The first trip was to some nearby “mineral springs” and was the result of an invitation from Sara, my supervisor at the Chamber of Commerce.  She and her father visit these springs every year for a week or so as do many other people, even from far away.  As if often the case, the time we left was delayed.  I expected to leave on a Monday morning and we ended up leaving about 6 p.m. with several stops en route.  Thank goodness for those long Mongolian days. We went with several other people who were also going to the springs and stopped at several gers along the way.  Several of the people we were with brought some loaves of bread from Muron that they traded for yogurt and milk to take to the camp.

At one ger, we all went inside and an older woman who was there immediately offered tea and some arrol, of course.  A very dear and sprightly lady but her posture must have come from years of living in a ger.

My new friend  in her del and hat

My new friend in her del and hat

When she walked, she was in an almost sitting position, bent at the knees, thighs almost parallel with the floor and her torso bent far forward.  I don’t know how she did it.  After our refreshements, we all got in the jeep, started off, and then suddenly circled around and stopped in front of the ger again.  It turned out someone thought I should take a picture of her–so we went inside and she started putting on her deel (the long skirt she had been wearing was full of holes in the back) and a hat too. She wanted me to take a picture of the two of us–you’ll see it here.  Another new friend.

Then, on to the springs arriving before dark. The springs (not so sure about the minerals) are located about an hour and half from Muron.  They are set way back in a valley and are overseen by a “lam”, or Buddhist priest, although there also seems to be a shamanist influence.

The lam, me and other friends

The lam, me and other friends

You can camp or rent a ger and many families come there to relax and drink the waters.  Sara said she thought there were some 600 people there at the time we visited.  We camped on the side of a hill near the lam’s home—a special privilege I believe due to Sara’s father’s connections.  There were 3 other tents near us with their families.  The site overlooked a beautiful valley and the land was covered in wildflowers.

Looking down the valley

Looking down the valley

Animals are not allowed in this area both because I think it is considered sacred and also so nothing will pollute the springs. As a result, wildflowers are profuse.  There must be hundreds of varieties.  Oh to be a botanist…

a lily they call a potato plant because of tubers

a lily they call a potato plant because of tubers

The view from our tent was spectacular but there was one problem.  Because it was on a hillside, my slick Peace Corps sleeping bag kept slipping down during the night.  It seemed as if every half hour, I’d be waking up and find myself about to slip out the door of the tent and down the hill. Then I’d have to hitch myself uphill and start over again.  But it was a small price to pay….

View out our tent door

View out our tent door

The routine was to visit the springs several times a day.  The waters came out of a tall mound with an ovoo on it (tall wigwam shaped structure with lots of blue khadags, a ceremonial silk scarf symbolic of the open sky tied on it and offerings piled around it).  Each little stream trickled out of a small log hollowed out.  There were a number of little streams coming out all around the mound and each labeled with a word painted on a rock to indicate what that particular water was good for, e.g. stomach, liver, back, heart, etc.  We drank them all.

Sara getting water good for liver and bile

Sara getting water good for liver and bile

A little further downhill, some of the streams emerge again and flow together through larger hollowed out logs. Where these spill out, people gather under them to allow the water to flow over whatever part of the body is troublesome to them.

Drinking the waters

Drinking the waters

During our visit, I met three children who were visiting with their grandparents and staying in the tents near us: one 16-year-old boy and his cousins, one 14-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother.

My three good friends

My three good friends

We became best friends and spent most of our time together, hiking up to visit a sacred tree on a mountainside, drinking the waters, playing a Mongolian card game (call Hoozer) and, for them, learning Othello (a game I brought with me and which they loved).  How many situations can you think of where a friendship like this could exist? From 10 to 66, boys and girls. No generational or gender hang-ups!

Me and friends in front of ovoo

Me and friends in front of ovoo

I was there for 3 days and then returned to Muron because I was flying out the next day to UB to accompany a Mongolian friend from training last year who now works for ADRA ( www.adra.org) .  I will tell you more in the next blog about my nearly two-week trip helping to train men and women who belong to ADRA’s Self-Help Groups. These small groups practice self-enforced saving and then issue small loans to their members to build their small businesses, e.g. vegetable growing, honey, small restaurant, selling old clothes, felt making.  It was a great trip!

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