In the time that I’ve been at my training site, I have seen almost half a dozen houses built. I am constantly impressed how, within a week, a new house will appear on a plot of land. Fences also got built at surprising speeds. A хашаа (khashaa = literally means fence but is used to describe the plot of land on which a family builds a home) down the road from mine went from being entirely open without fences for a month, to a fence encompassing half the хашаа in two days. The fences and houses, from my minimal construction experience, appear to be well-built, especially in comparison to the older homes. In addition, the bigger хашааs typically have farm animals. One хашаа across the street from mine has cows, goats, and sheep. The goats and sheep are typically herded in at night, while the cows wander home on their own. This occasionally causes problems as our gate is frequently left open during the day, allowing wandering cows to explore our luscious grass. Unfortunately, this has been an especially dry summer for Mongolia, so our grass is not actually luscious. Furthermore, being on the side of a mountain means that there isn’t an abundance of water, so the tiny garden my ээж (host mother) maintains is quite a rarity. When the cows wander into our хашаа, they are greedy and like to eat our green onions in the garden (this saddens me greatly as onions are one of the only forms of flavor in Mongolian meals). My аав (host father) usually makes me chase the cows out.
Luckily, I have Ask (our dog) to help me. I yell “хууч” (hooch) while Ask nips at their ankles and barks. Eventually the cows leave, although not without attempting to catch Ask with their horns. It’s slightly terrifying to watch as I keep expecting Ask to be impaled. I am also continuously amazed by how quickly Ask can turn from acting like a puppy and playing to protecting the хашаа. The dogs here are definitely treated differently than in the US. Most dogs run free and likely don’t have owners. The dogs with хашааs are identified by some type of collar typically made from cloth. The families with dogs, typically don’t give them water. The other PCTs and I went on a hike, and Ask accompanied us. We ended up making him a bowl out of a can we found and pouring our own water into it. He drank about 1 liter.
Many children are afraid of dogs. Luckily, the children in my neighborhood know Ask is nice and don’t chase him away. Sometimes though, they do throw rocks at him, even my host nephews. However, no one pets him. The only humans besides myself I’ve seen petting dogs are the other American PCTs at my site. My аав doesn’t even pet Ask and tells me not to pet him either. Now, he likes to explain this by miming what he calls “mosquitoes” jumping off of Ask and onto me. In other words, Ask has fleas. I try not to pet him for too long and not in areas that I’ve seen him nibbling. Sometimes I can even see the fleas crawling across his fur. One evening, my Aав told me that Ask has “mosquitoes” which makes him sad, but that it costs money to maintain a flea-free dog, so unfortunately, Ask remains flea-ridden. While this was sad to hear, it was relieving to know that ridding the family dog of fleas, in a country with a culture that doesn’t treat dogs as pets and doesn’t care for dogs as diligently as most people do in the US, was on my аав’s mind.
Besides trying to come to terms with the treatment of dogs in Mongolia, I have experienced other slight difficulties. On a walk to school one afternoon after lunch, a car pulled up next to me and a man I’d never seen offered to give me a ride. He kept motioning for me to get in the car and followed me for about half of my walk to school. I said “үгүй” (no), and he eventually left. Another time there were two men walking in the middle of the street. One was visibly drunk. I tried to pass them on the side quickly. The drunk man turned to say hi to me and wanted to talk, but I kept walking. I then heard him yell and spit at me. Luckily, due to my quick speed walking, I was out of spitting range and continued on my merry way. I also had my first difficulty with regards to my body. On the train back from camp, I got a fever. The fever stayed for a day and a half, and finally broke Sunday morning. The hard part was deciding how much physical activity to do. I ended up still fetching water and playing cards with my host nephews, but I left laundry until Sunday afternoon. One final slight difficulty arose last weekend when I was washing my clothes. After washing my socks, which my ээж promptly made me redo as she considered them gray instead of white, I realized my fingers were hurting as I continued with my business casual clothes. I looked down and saw my fingers were completely rubbed raw. It’s been a week since then, and the scabs are slowly coming off. My аав got a kick out of my scabs and then told me to scrub my clothes on my palm by my thumb where the skin is thicker. At our family gathering, he then proceeded to show the entire family, who all laughed at me accordingly. Who knew washing clothes by hand was such a difficult life skill?
This week was the start of both the provincial and national Наадам (Naadam). Наадам is a holiday involving three sports and one food: wrestling, horse racing, archery, and хуушуур (khuushuur), respectively. I’ll include more on Наадам when our soum Наадам roles around in two weeks. Most of my family didn’t go to the local Наадам stadium; only my youngest host brother and my host nephews went. However, almost all of my host siblings came up with their entire family and in-laws. It was interesting being entirely surrounded by Mongolian culture and experiencing some traditions I hadn’t even known existed. For example, I came home one day to a goat head hanging on a tree branch and the goat’s fur just chilling nearby. A couple hours later, my second oldest host brother (whose 31st birthday was the same day) called my youngest host brother over to help him. They lifted up the goats fur, which turned out to actually be the goats body, without any organs left inside. It kind of looked like a goat-shaped, goat fur purse… From the fire, my host father brought over some hot stones. Using tongs, he placed the stones into the goat’s body through the neck. Eventually, potatoes, carrots, ribs, and other goat meat was added back into the goat’s body to be cooked. My second oldest host brother then used a torch to burn/cook the body from the outside as well. When the meal was completed, we all gathered around, and the semi-goat look-a-like was chopped up and eaten. As my second youngest host brother said “this is real Mongolian BBQ”. By the end, this was all that remained…
I was later told by a fellow PCT and by my language teacher that this is a traditional form of cooking called боодог (boodog). However, it’s been clarified that it is actually хорхог (khorkhog). Apparently the difference is whether the goat’s head is still on its body… since the head was cut off, it’s хорхог. I tried some of the skin, but left the fatty parts for the rest of the family. It was quite a communal meal, with people taking bites of a potato and a rib, and then returning those pieces to the bowl and cutting board. Afterwards, with my host father and host mother, we went for a short ride around the soum in the car and sang “Barbie Girl” together. Living the high life!