Sunday, August 8
Once again, we rise early and meet the rest of the group for a good breakfast and some words of inspiration from Omar. He's a gifted speaker, and every morning he sends us on our way with a great devotional to think about as we go. I love to hear him pray. It's like eavesdropping on a conversation between him and God. His prayers are simple, direct and personal. He sounds completely comfortable, no flowery language, he's just talking to a friend. It's beautiful.
One morning, he told us about the "under-rowers" on the tall trireme ships, used in ancient times primarily as battleships. There were three tiers of rowers, and those on the bottom tier, deep in the hold of the ship, had the hardest and least glorified job of all. Their oars dipped more deeply into the water than did those of the upper tiers, yet they had to maintain the rhythm of the rowing for the rest of the ship. They rowed to the beat of a drummer, faster or slower according to the tempo he set. No one could slack off or lay back at all, because then the oars would become crossed, the rhythm would be disturbed and the whole ship would be put at risk. He encouraged us each to see ourselves as an under-rower, probably not a recipient of any glory or recognition, and often with a difficult job to do, but nevertheless a vital part of the group effort. We left that morning, eager to do our part, and there was never a word of complaint from anyone that day.
Today, we're going out to a different site. During the night, the Mustangs have dismantled our two tents and five gers, and moved them to the new site. In our clattering vans, we drive further over paved road, then turn off onto a rough and rutted track, rougher than the road to our original site, if that's possible. When we arrive, there are our two tents, and our five gers, and a sixth ger, about a hundred yards away from the others. This, we learn, is the food tent. Our original five gers now house the pharmacy, three doctors, and a dentist from town, who has joined us today.
By now, Toom Chris and I know the drill very well, and set up our table and benches quickly. We each have our own stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and there is a pedi-size cuff that we keep on the table between us and share it. We each sit astride a bench, and our clients come in and sit on the bench in front of us, with our interpreters hovering nearby. What on earth would we do without them? They are unfailingly cheerful, and carry their little English-Mongolian dictionaries to help them over rough spots. BatBubba is a bit more proficient, having spent some time in the US, but the girls are pretty good, too, and eager to learn. My sweet Biamba has been replaced at this site by equally sweet Moogi, (or Moogii, I'm not sure) and she's a joy. Here's a picture of all three:
We begin seeing clients, and for the most part, it's pretty much the same as the last three days. Terrible blood pressures, pain in kidneys, stomach and joints, gallbladder pain, headaches. Toom Chris and I have decided that this is all attributable to their diet and the fact that they beat themselves to death on those awful saddles all the time. My kidneys would hurt, too! Heredity may influence the blood pressure, and the blood pressure isn't doing their kidneys any good, and certainly will give them headaches. The stomach pain may be from that wretched erek, the mare's milk concoction. Anyway, we have it all figured out. We should be doctors!
The people look much the same as the ones we saw at the original site, though if anything, they're a bit more "rural", if such a thing is possible. At any given moment, there are about thirty horses tied to the trees surrounding the clearing - a Mongolian parking lot.
We see a steady stream of people, and then it's time for lunch. We close up shop and walk the hundred yards or so to the food tent, wondering what lunch will be today. I could go for some more of those little meat pies. However, today we have something different. Under the lid of one five-gallon bucket, we find a mixture of diced potatoes, MUO (that's meat of unknown origin, you'll remember), a little onion and a mild seasoning. Mongolian hash, and it smells good! In a second bucket, we discover shredded potatoes, MUO, a little onion and a mild seasoning. Hmmm. The choice seems to be between diced or shredded potatoes. No problem. I get a little of each! A little slaw (there's always slaw), a hunk of bread and some Mongolian catsup rounds the meal out. Mongolian catsup is good. It's a bit thin, and tastes like a cross between catsup and Tabasco, so naturally I love it, and it's great on the potato dishes.
With a handful of the ever-present dried peaches to chew on, we return to the tent and go back to work. We finish up, and the day ends uneventfully. We make the bone-jarring ride back to town easily. We're used to it by now, and manage to make congenial conversation the whole way. The landscape is so vast and beautiful, the cloud formations are breathtaking with the setting sun reflecting on them, and the peace that descends at this time of day is almost palpable. I could learn to love this country.
Back at the hotel, we have dinner and again share the experiences of our day with the other teams. The construction team reports on the progress they're making as they work on building bathrooms onto each Mustang dormitory, and try to get the plumbing finished. They had a problem when they ran out of materials at one point, but they were undaunted. A couple of the men simply boarded a train for Ulaanbaatar and went after what they needed! That trip took us four hours by bus, and that was a direct run. The trains make every little whistle stop and winding detour, so it took them much, much longer, but they went anyway. They got what they needed, which took quite a bit of shopping and looking - remember, there are no Home Depots in Ulaanbaatar. After a while, if I remember correctly, they were met by a truck from CTW, and returned with the goods. The work goes on.
You'll recall I told you earlier about the group that works at the infant feeding station. This is a daily endeavor, and takes a lot of time and devotion. A few mothers are fed there, too - the ones who appear particularly undernourished and sickly. Not only is the ministry concerned for the mothers themselves, but if they're lost, then the child becomes an orphan, along with any siblings, and will add to the numbers of children who are under the care of CTW.
The humanitarian aid team has been visiting in the apartments, passing out bags of food, and has uncovered some real horror stories. They are seeing the absolute poorest of the poor, and the things they have seen are almost unbelievable. I know we have poverty and want in the US, but I'm not sure we have anything like this. They tell of finding whole families living in the space under a staircase. That would have to be about 5x10 feet, not much more. Many of us have closets larger than that. They have no power, no heat, certainly no a/c, no water, no toilet. One woman heads a family of eleven living in such a space, all dependent upon her for support. She ekes out a living by sweeping the doorsteps of nearby apartments, for which she is paid a few cents a month.
This story was told at one table at dinner, and we had just learned that a ger sells for about $600. Well! We have the answer to this woman's problems! There are about thirty of us present, and if each kicked in $20, we could buy this woman a ger, and move her out of that staircase hole. We're about to pass the hat, confident that we can do a humanitarian deed here in a few minutes.
Then Jerry Smith appears, and with great tact and kindness, he helps us to see that our effort won't work. Yes, we can buy her a ger, but where would we put it? She has no land. True, we can put it out on the plains, where she could live for four months without paying anything for the land, but then she would have to either move or pay up, and she would have no water and no way to go get any. She has no help or vehicle with which to relocate the ger, and no money to pay up. Also, her livelihood is tied to these apartment buildings, and if we move her to the country, she has no income at all. The herding families have their livestock from which to obtain milk, meat and a little money from selling the offspring, but she has no livestock, and probably doesn't have any experience with animals, either.
Jerry also tells us that in many cases, these families have been offered job after job, but they refuse them. Many of them prefer to eke out a living by picking up cans and other recyclables and selling them, sweeping doorsteps, whatever, because they can do these things or not, whenever it's convenient. They don't want to be obligated to show up for work somewhere. Often what money they do manage to get is spent on alcohol. Hmmm. This all has a rather familiar ring to it. Not much different from the welfare rolls at home..
Jerry says he'd much prefer that we just continue to support CTW as we have been doing, and trust them to administer the funds responsibly, applying aid where and how it's most needed. He thanks us for our generous spirit, but then gently points out that we're here for only a week or so, and his staff is here all the time, and know the people and their needs better than we do. He needn't worry about trust as far as I'm concerned. I really can't imagine questioning him on anything he does. After all, he's willing to live in Mongolia, and I'm not.
In one apartment, the team saw a child who was said to be four years old, but was extremely small and thin, weighing about twenty pounds. He appeared to have some brain damage, doesn't walk or talk, and his eyes don't track. He was just lying on the floor, seemingly unaware of his surroundings, crying a little now and then. The team left a bag of food with the family, but still felt that something more needed to be done. As they shared the story with us at dinner, their concern and distress showed on their faces, and we were all touched by the story.
After dinner, Eloise and I returned to our room, neither of us talking very much. We looked again at the makeshift faucet arrangement and the wet tiles in our bathroom, at the stained pillows and ripped pillowcases. We sat down on our hard, low beds and looked across at each other, and then simultaneously we said, "At least we're not living under a staircase!" It is to become our watchword.
A Certain Sadness
1 day ago