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Culture & Community, Nomad Project in Mongolia by Ellen de Jongh

Ellen from Holland joined our Nomad Projects in Mongolia in summer 2006 on a career break. This is one of her emails home written just after she had finished her stay with the Nomadic family.

Hi everybody!

Right now, I'm sitting slightly tipsy behind a computer, back in Ulaanbaatar, again. Why? Tonight I returned from my stay with the nomad family. My host dad insisted on seeing me off with vodka and araig made of fermented horse milk and I think some alcohol as well!

Having a beer

I have been sleeping in a ger with the family. The dad is 63 and mom is 57. They have seven children, though four of the sons are mostly away in the mountains herding the horses. I shared my adventures with Naraa, the youngest daughter who is 20. She showed me how to dig water from a small river, that no one in the west would ever call a river. They drink it, but I stick to the bottles of water and share some of it with them.

Every morning I wake at 7am. Naraa and some of the others are already milking the cows. My first day I try it: hell of a job! I'm much better at milking the goats (yamma!). It's so funny to catch these animals by their horns or tail with the others and place them in a row, yelling tatatata in a high voice.

Milking the horses

Every other day I walk over the hills with Naraa to the ger of one of her brothers. I help them catching the foals and holding them, while Naraa or Yuraa (Naraa's niece) milk them. Six times a day, every two hours we milk them. People arrive regularly from a chalet in the neighbourhood with their cups to get a cup of milk. I love it: it's a little bit sweet and warm. Everything is milk here, although we eat goat again. And I mean the whole goat, everything except the brains!! They get me to try wrestling again. Naraa and Yuraa are suddenly scared of me and go down, but Gana I can not beat. No wonder, she eats all day!

In between milking the horses, we play games with the bones, or play cards.

The family cooking dinner

When I walk back over the hills to my dad's ger with Naraa and Yuraa, the whole family is waiting for me with meat, milk tea and candy! They want to see who this Dutch girl is. Unfortunately, my Mongolian is not the best, but I have a little point-it book and using that I can communicate much better. A few days later a German speaking Mongolian arrives and he translates so I can speak with the dad about differences between Holland and Mongolia. Oh yes, we do have cows, horses, goats and sheep!

The ger

My host dad asks if I could prepare a meal. So right here, in the ger, in Mongolia I prepare spaghetti, with gherkin and I grate the aruul like parmesan cheese. I'm so happy that it works out well for seven people! He puts up his finger saying the word "sain". Now I know that means good. So I'm relieved and happy! I learn the different plants for toothache, shampoo, tea and headache. With Naraa I climb a mountain, but for some reason Mongolians always go straight up and not from left to right. At the top fruit grows and we eat a belly full.

Every evening I walk with Naraa to bring home the cows, clapping our hands and yelling "huch" and "hook". As we walk she teaches me a song for little children that they sing to Bodre the two year old daughter.

My clothes are so dirty and although I wash them with water from the small river (first digging the water, then washing!), the next day I'm a mess again!

I find a cap I really like, but when Utro picked me up today, she tells me it won't bring me luck and so I throw it away through the window. A good gesture, she tells me.

With the goats

When it was time to leave I gave gifts to the family. Naraa gets my necklace, which brought me good luck. I cleaned it and showed her how it works. The only really nice shirt I have with me, goes to Yuraa. I will miss her for her joy. I gave chocolate to mum and Gana, a cowboy hat for the nephew and cigarettes for the brothers. But what could I give my dear dad? He is so nice, and has tried to teach me Mongolian and as I get a warm goodbye he even gives me a kiss on the cheek. I will really miss them. He does not smoke, or drink, so I give him gherkins and fruit. My dear mum gives me a pullover. How can I not love these people, who showed me so much and took me into their home as if I was family?

I started to feel comfortable in Mongolia and secretly I hope to come back next year!

Love Ellen

Ellen de Jongh

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