Tuesday, September 30, 2008
One is very minor. The drink that we reluctantly sampled when we visited in the herdsman's ger, the fermented mare's milk, is spelled "airag". You will remember that I spelled it "erek", but I did say I was spelling phonetically, and I stand by it. That's pretty much how it's pronounced. However, if you should choose to check it out on the internet, you wouldn't find it under my phonetic spelling.
Now, for the important thing! I have a follow-up on Little Nate, and I know everyone will want to know how he's doing. I'm very happy to report that he's doing wonderfully well. Those of you who are receiving this who were part of the expedition already know about Nate's progress, but this journal is going to a lot of people who weren't with us, and therefore haven't received the updates that we have.
We have received some emails from Jerry Smith, and I'll share part of it with you. You will remember that when Little Nate was found and brought to the CTW (Change The World) compound, he was pitifully thin, weak and frail. He could barely hold his head up, and was completely unable to sit up unaided. Remember, this child is four years old. Had he not been rescued, he probably would have lived only a few more days.
He has been with the CTW staffers now since the second week in August, and there have been some changes. For one, he's had a haircut. A very close one, for sanitary purposes, I'm sure. He has been getting at least three square meals a day, and enjoying them very much. We're told he particularly loves ice cream. He has been bathed, and held, and rocked, and loved on a lot. He has received visual and verbal and tactile stimulation. A kind and talented man built him a little chair, similar to a high chair, in which he is gently supported, and he is able to sit up comfortably for the first time in his life. I don't have all the details, and I'm no expert, but I'd be very surprised if he doesn't make some tremendous progress in his motor skills and abilities over the next year or so. Just look at these pictures, to see how far he has come:
Can't you see the hopelessness and despair in this little boy? He's tired, and weak, and just doesn't have the spirit to try any longer. He just laid his little head on Jerry's shoulder, ready to accept whatever life was about to deal out to him. Bless his sweet heart, he just had no idea!
How many four-year-old children have you seen who would just lie there passively, and submit to the examination being conducted by two big strangers? There was a frightening resignation in his manner on that first night.
Isn't it amazing, what can be accomplished with a little food and a lot of love? This child is the embodiment of what Change The World Ministries is all about. Jerry Smith frequently says they are trying to change the world, one child at a time. Who knows who little Nathan will be in twenty years? If he can learn to talk and communicate, even if he's not able to walk normally, he can still be a voice for God someday. If he never learns to do more than smile and make someone's day brighter, he will still be living proof of what can be done by an individual or an organization that seeks God's will and tries to follow it, to help to ease some of the suffering in this world and let a little light into the dark places.
I have never been so moved, so impressed, so spiritually touched as I was in Mongolia. There will be another expedition next year, and if my health and finances permit, and if there is a place for me on the team, I will return. The work that is being done there is absolutely amazing, the growth has been astonishing, and the potential is limitless. Remember, this is a country that only recently was under Communist control. It is primarily Buddhist (or atheistic), with a strong animist influence as well. We talked about this in an earlier installment.
The government does not normally look kindly upon Christians. However, in the few short years that CTW has been active there, the Mongolian government has gone from barely tolerating their presence, to deeding more than a hundred acres over to the ministry, free and clear. This leniency and generosity on the part of the government is making it possible for a lot of things to happen there much, much sooner than anyone expected. Because funds didn't have to be used to purchase land, they have been able to build dormitories for the children, greenhouses, kitchens, storehouses, feeding stations for outreach in the town, and to begin work on a lovely worship center. They will be able to house, feed, clothe and educate children who would otherwise be living in the sewers of Darkhan and other cities.
These children will be led to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, gently and patiently, one at a time. No child is coerced, but they are taught by example that God is Love, and that they are loved as well. The work is young there, but who can tell where it will lead, and what will be accomplished as these children grow into Christian adults and spread out over Mongolia, taking the Word with them? Who knows, my mischievous, smiling little back-massager may go out one day and lead his country from darkness into God's light.
It has been an indescribable privilege to be a tiny part of the work that is being done in Mongolia. It has been a joy to get to know some of the kind and gracious Mongolian people. It will be my ongoing joy to continue to participate in that work by sending a little money now and then. It won't be a lot, I don't have a lot, but I can send some, and I will. By the grace of God, I'm not living under a staircase!
If you'd like to participate in the Change The World ministry, here's the address:
P.O. Box 153029
Irving, TX 75015-3029
You may be wondering, why an Irving address? That's because Change The World Ministries has a local base, with a local account, and contributions are gathered into that account and handled as a whole, rather than having the money sent to Mongolia in little individual checks that they would then have to try to cash over there, which would be virtually impossible.
I make no apologies for this little commercial. This is a genuine, working, fruit-bearing ministry, and it must have funds in order to continue to function. I firmly believe that God will bless every little dime that is given, and the rewards will be totally out of proportion, above and beyond whatever the amount may be. God can take a little, and turn it into a lot!
Well, that's the end of my journal. I hope each one who has read it enjoyed it. Most of all, I hope everyone got a sense of what is happening through CTW in Mongolia. God is at work there, and God is good.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I suppose we can say it's still Thursday right now, and we are still going about to one place and another, seeing the sights and shopping. At one point, we're all standing in a group on a sidewalk, waiting for our bus to find us. We have been mobbed, as usual, by street vendors, and a couple of our folks have bought from them. There are some young policemen standing nearby, and they call David over and tell him to instruct us not to buy from the vendors. Their manner was calm and friendly, but David later told us that failure to obey their instructions could conceivably result in seizure of our passports! Apparently, the Chinese government is trying to put a stop to the harassment of tourists by these vendors, fearing it may be detrimental to the tourism industry in general.
We discussed it briefly among ourselves, and decided it would probably be best not to have any more to do with the vendors and beggars, and I was quite comfortable with that. I certainly didn't want to lose my passport!
And then it happened. As we were all standing there, I noticed that those on the fringes of the group had fallen silent, and were stepping back, opening a narrow pathway through our midst. Through that little opening, I saw a man and a woman slowly walking, and I couldn't suppress a little groan when I saw them. Both were small, of short stature and slight build. The man's left arm ended a few inches below his elbow, and he walked with a limp. With his other hand, he held the arm of the woman.
It was the woman's face that struck so at my heart. She had been horribly, pitifully, hideously burned. I don't know if she had any hair, as she was wearing a little knit hat. Both ears were gone, just little ridges beside the openings on the sides of her head, hard to distinguish in the thick, rough surface of scarred skin. Her face appeared to have melted, like wax. There was no nose, just two holes in the middle of her face. Her right eye was either gone or buried under thick folds of scar tissue, but obviously there was no sight in it. There were no eyebrows. Her mouth was a grotesquely twisted slash in her lower face, and her neck was a mass of leathery, wrinkled skin.
It was her left eye, her only eye, which held my gaze riveted to her face. The upper lid was gone, and so a large expanse of the eyeball was visible. She had control of it, and it moved left to right, and back again, as she searched the faces of those of us who were unable to take our gaze away from her. It has been said that the eyes are the windows of the soul, and I think that is right. In that single eye, protruding so eerily from that ruined face, I was able to see strength, an indomitable spirit, and justifiable pride. Her bearing seemed to say, "I have survived this. Could you have done the same?"
As the two moved through our group, they never said a word, never asked for anything. The woman simply held one hand cupped in front of her. If we wanted to help, she would accept it, but she would not beg. I couldn't stand it. I forgot the presence of the police, and hurriedly grabbed the first bill I got my hand on in my wallet. It was a $5 bill, such a small amount to an American, but probably a significant amount to her. I hope so. I pressed it into her hand, and that all-seeing eye swept downward for an instant, enough to see what she held, and then rolled back up and looked directly at me. For an instant, our gaze locked, and she rewarded me very generously with a quick, brief nod of her head. There was no gratuitous thanks, no judgment about the amount, just a dignified acceptance and acknowledgment of what I had given her. I wish it could have been much more, and I might have gone into my wallet again, but she and her companion were moving on through the crowd. I'm happy to note that others of our group gave her something, and I feel sure that everyone would have done so, given the time. It all took place so quickly, that the pair were gone before many of us knew what was happening.
I'm also happy to report that the police, who must surely have seen what was going on, seemed to be very preoccupied with something across the street, and never said a word to any of us. May the Lord bless them for that.
Afterward, I struggled with my feelings for a while. It occurred to me that our English language is lacking in some ways. There are just some things for which we don't have an adequate or appropriate word. What happened there with that tragic woman is a case in point. I can't find a word, I don't know what to call the exchange that took place. It wasn't charity. Now, charity is a very nice word, and it certainly has its place. It comes from the Latin "caritas", meaning love or affection. However, if one isn't careful, today it can carry a note of condescension, and that should be avoided. No one wants to be dependent upon the "charity" of others.
It didn't feel like charity to me when I gave her the money, it felt like a privilege. I am certain that she didn't feel like she was accepting charity. There was too much dignity in that eye, and in her posture. I think the closest I can come to a single descriptive word is "sharing."
Friday, August 13. It's time to go home. We're all excited and anxious to get back to our lives, but there is an undercurrent of regret, as well. This was felt most strongly as we left Mongolia, and the scheduled time in China was meant to help us disengage, to "debrief" as it were, but now, as we're preparing to leave for home, we're sharply aware that the whole experience is coming to a close. I'm not sure I'm ready for that.
We board our bus, arrive at the airport and get through there without mishap. Once on the plane, we all begin to realize just how tired we are, and sleep overtakes many of us. The flight to Chicago is long but uneventful, and we have a layover there. Soon, however, we're on another plane and after what now seems like a pretty short trip, we're in Dallas.
Jerry is there to meet Eloise and me, and brings me directly home. I pull my "hand-painted periwinkles" luggage into the house, and stand in my own kitchen again for the first time in nearly two weeks. Enough food in the pantry and freezer to feed me for weeks. Hot and cold running water, which is clean and drinkable. I walk through the rest of the house, on soft new carpet. I count two and a half bathrooms, and each fixture has its own water supply, it doesn't have to share a leaky, movable faucet with something else. There is a soft, comfortable bed with nice linens. There are ample towels, soft and fluffy. There is cool air blowing from a vent overhead, and touching a switch brings light. There are TVs, telephones and a computer. I cannot help but wonder, "Why me, Lord?" I think of the families living in tiny, cramped apartments or in some situations, in the space beneath staircases in Mongolia. Very little food, undependable water, certainly no air conditioning, no beds, nothing. Just a place on the bare floor to lie down to sleep, crowded with several other people. And I wonder, "Why not me, Lord?" I have no answer. I can only trust that He does.
After a hot shower that lasted about three days, I finally get into my own bed, and find that I'm unable to get comfortable because my little dog, my constant companion, is not there. She's with my granddaughter, and I'll get her very soon, but for tonight, I miss her. Once again, the disparity of it all hits me. There are people in Mongolia tonight who can't sleep because they're hungry, and too warm in the stifling space beneath those stairs, and crowded in with too many other people. I can't sleep because I miss my dog, who eats and lives much better than many of the people I've just left. The irony is painfully obvious.
Searching my heart, I really don't believe that God begrudges me the companionship of my little dog, and I think He expects me to take proper care of her, to feed her and provide for her. I do believe, however, that He also expects me to remember, to never forget, the needs of the people who have so little, and to help in any way that I can. This, I intend to do.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Another very enjoyable thing we did was the ricksha ride. You probably know what a ricksha, or rickshaw, is but I'll catch you up anyway. It's a small buggy, typically seating only two people at the most, and in older times it was pulled by a man who placed himself between two poles extending from the front of the little buggy, and holding the poles, he would run along the streets, pulling the little buggy behind him. Nowadays, the buggy is attached to a bicycle, and the driver rides the bicycle, which pulls the buggy.
Eloise and I got into one together, and our driver was a large, genial man who was very friendly and kind to us. Toom Chris, who (mercifully) rode alone, had a driver who was small of stature and didn't look very strong. The expression on his face when he saw Toom Chris was priceless. The man may have been small, but he had a large sense of humor, and we all had a good laugh when he partially encircled Toom Chris's huge bicep with his hands, then transferred his hands to his own thigh, indicating that Chris's arm was bigger than his leg. Which, indeed, it was. However, once we got under way, it was evident that those thin little legs were made of steel, as he had no trouble at all in powering the ricksha right along with everyone else.
LANNI AND ELOISE IN A RICKSHA
You'll remember that earlier I mentioned that we felt like we were being shown the best of Beijing, but knew that there must be a darker side somewhere, just as there is in any large city. At one point, our bus was passing through an area that obviously had not undergone any renovation. David commented on this, and acknowledged that it's a problem for the government. They want to tear it down and rebuild, but are delaying, surprisingly, for humanitarian reasons. Apparently some of these old sections date back for two hundred years or more, and the little homes within those rabbit-warren areas may have been in a single family for many generations. There are narrow little lanes that traverse the neighborhood, really too small for auto traffic, but bicycles and pedestrians have no problem. The people are well known to each other, and form a very tightly-knit community. They look after each other, and share in each other's joys and sorrows. In short, however poor and rundown the area may look to outsiders, to the residents, it's home.
When the government does tear a neighborhood down, they make every effort to relocate the residents into nicer surroundings, but the people don't want to go. They want to remain where they are, with their old friends and neighbors, and in many cases their family members, close by. We were privileged to be invited to visit a home in one of the back-alley areas, and were surprised at how nice it really was. From the outside, it looked very rundown and dilapidated, but inside it was quite lovely. There was a large TV, comfortable furnishings, family pictures, a modern refrigerator, all the comforts of a home. Outside, there was a tiny patio, with a grape arbor overhead, and some beautiful flowers. The resident, our host, was hospitable and charming, a well-spoken and obviously educated man. Of course, this visit was arranged by our tour guide, and we know that there are areas that he would not want us to see, but then there are parts of Dallas to which I wouldn't take a visitor from China.
Once again, this has grown too long, and I think I'll save the rest for tomorrow.
NOTE: I do know how to paragraph my text. This program does not know how to honor the commands I give it. After re-paragraphing this about four times, I gave up. My apologies.
Monday, September 15, 2008
After breakfast, we board the bus and head out for a day of sightseeing. Our tour guide, David, is aboard, and Eloise and I are fortunate enough to be seated at the front, so we can hear him well. His accent is heavy, and sometimes we have trouble understanding him, but mostly we get it. There is, however, a small disadvantage in sitting in the front. We can see everything! We see every car that passes within two inches of our bumper, every bicyclist that escapes annihilation by the thickness of a coat of paint, every pedestrian whose head just bobs alongside and across the front of our bus, seemingly totally unaware of our existence. The driver keeps up a steady rhythm of little beeps of the horn, and absolutely never loses his temper. I can't help thinking that in traffic like this in Dallas, someone would get shot, or there would at the very least be a fistfight or two. It's absolutely certain that there would be wrecks, but we have yet to see one.
We inch along at a snail's pace, but this is fine with us, because we have a chance to take in the beauty that exists in much of Beijing. David tells us that a major beautification project is under way across China, and this includes Beijing. It's easy to see the results. There are beautiful, new high-rise buildings. There is lovely landscaping along the roadways. We are aware, of course, that what we're seeing now is strategically placed to enhance the tourist's impression of the city. We strongly suspect that there are areas that are not so nice, but of course, that's true anywhere. Dallas has its seamy side, too.
We're going to visit many places and points of interest, and I'm not at all sure of the timeline, when we went wherever, so I'm not going to try to reconstruct it. I'll just tell you the more interesting things about each place.
One major stop was Tiananmen Square, the scene of the bloody standoff between the Communist regime and the young resistance movement. Who can forget the picture of the young man in the white shirt, standing alone, facing an advancing column of tanks, blocking that advance with nothing but his own body? If you don't remember, or want to know more, just run a Google search on "Tiananmen" and you'll find enough to keep you reading all day.
A light rain was falling, but we left the bus and walked out onto the square, along with several thousand other people. The square is huge, and even though there were so many people, it wasn't crowded at all. You see a lot of police personnel, but they don't seem to bother anyone. There is a feeling in the air, though, an impression, that one had better watch one's step. This is still a Communist nation, though I wonder how long it will be so. The uprising in Tiananmen Square was brutally put down, leaving many people dead, but the movement still lives, and I believe that the day will come when Communism will be a thing of the past in China. I pray so.
Because of the high volume of foot traffic, and the thick motor traffic, tunnels have been dug beneath the streets, to allow people to cross without having to get in the streets. These tunnels are long, wide, hot and very humid. People can be seen sitting along the walls with their head on their knees, apparently napping. Others just simply stretch out on the ground next to a wall and sleep. No one seemed to bother them.
Another place we visited was a silk factory. We got to actually watch the workers as they unwound the incredibly thin filament of silk from the cocoons and spun it into thread. About ten cocoons are floated in a small basin of water, and the worker sloshes a little brush around in the water until it snags a filament from each cocoon. Once they have isolated these filaments, they put all ten or twelve of them together into one thread, and this is attached to a spinning spool. As the spool twirls, it pulls the filaments from each cocoon and winds it up as a single thread. When the spools are filled, they are removed to a loom where the threads are woven into silk fabric. It was absolutely fascinating, to watch the little cocoons dancing and spinning in their water bath, as they were unwound. Inside each cocoon, of course, is a silkworm caterpillar, which is already dead and therefore doesn't mind being undressed as his cocoon is unwound.
We saw some absolutely beautiful silk fabrics, and things made from silk. One thing that fascinated me was the silk duvets. Several girls stand around a square table, about the size of a king-size bed. The edges of the table are lined with pegs or hooks. The girls start with a large fluffy handful of silk filament, which looks a lot like cotton candy. They each take hold of a section, and pull outward on it. Remarkably, it stretches and gives, and soon they have a very thin layer of silk, as large as the table. They hook it in place, and begin another. I don't know how many layers they stack on top of each other, but eventually it's over an inch thick, light and airy, virtually weightless. This is the duvet stuffing, or batting, and it's sewn into a very light silk envelope, which will then be placed into a colorful, beautifully embroidered silk duvet cover. This outer cover is removable for cleaning, and the rest of it just needs to be shaken out and aired now and then. We were assured that the silk inside would never shift or bunch up. I didn't buy one, but I wish I had.
Another interesting place was the pearl factory. This is where pearls are literally produced by the dozens in large, fresh-water oysters. In the foyer of the building there was a water tank which was filled with huge oysters. A guide opened one, and showed us how the pearls just filled the bed of the shell. Apparently, an irritant is introduced into the shell, and the oyster immediately begins covering it with the smooth and beautiful substance that hardens into a pearl. I couldn't help thinking that we should all be like an oyster. When life deals us a hurt, or an irritating thing makes our life uncomfortable, we should try to just cover it with a smooth attitude, and thereby render it harmless. T
here were about two dozen pearls in each oyster, of all sizes, and we were each given one. Mine is particularly large and beautiful, and I plan to get my brother to make it into a pretty piece of jewelry. That is, if I can find it....
We also visited the cloissonne factory, where we were able to watch the process by which the beautiful cloissonne vases are made, as well as jewelry and Christmas ornaments. It's a fascinating process, and results in beautiful products. A cloissonne vase is created by first tracing a pre-designed pattern onto a plain brass vase. Then thin strands of a beaded-texture wire are glued in place, following the pattern. Paint is then applied to fill in the spaces between the wires, creating a beautiful design. The piece is then fired to set the glues and paints. After this, it can be either polished or not. If the piece is to be polished, it's turned on a polishing wheel until it's perfectly smooth, and the rough surface of the wire disappears, giving the impression that it's embedded in the piece. If not polished, the piece has a rough, raised, textured surface that is quite beautiful. Either way, the resulting piece is lovely.
Along the way, at the appropriate hours, we would stop for meals. Guess what we were served. You guessed it, Chinese food! Fortunately, I love Chinese food, and thoroughly enjoyed every meal. Our first experience was a surprise, as food is served differently than in America. The tables are large and round, and in the center of each is a revolving platform, a very large lazy susan, if you will. At each place, there is a very small plate. It's smaller than the little salad plates we ate from in Mongolia. The plates in China are about the size of a small saucer. How, one wonders, will I ever get enough food on that to satisfy my appetite? In the states, we wouldn't feed a two-year-old child from a plate that small.
After everyone is seated, the servers begin to bring steaming dishes of food, which are placed on the revolving centerpiece. Each person is expected to take a small amount from each dish and place it on their little saucer, then give the lazy susan a little push to pass the dish on to the next person. The food is not brought in all at once, but rather with a delay of a couple of minutes between each dish. As we were usually hungry, we would begin eating the little dab of food on our plate, and as other dishes were brought in, we would take a little bit, eat a bit more, another dish arrives, take a little bit, and so on. By the time the tenth or twelfth dish arrived, and we had managed to sneak a second dab of something we particularly liked, we would find that we were satisfied and had eaten quite enough.
Chopsticks were always at each place, and they are not disposable. To take a pair as a souvenir would be the same as pocketing the silverware in a restaurant in the states. Forks were always available, standing in a little holder in the center of the table. Knives were not needed, as everything is served with bite-size preparation, in deference to the chopsticks, I suppose. I tried the chopsticks a few times, and could have kept from starving if I had to use them, but since I prefer to eat my meal as opposed to wearing it, I gave up and used a fork. I'm just not very cosmopolitan, I guess.
The food was always quite good. Some meals were better than others, of course, just as it is here at home, but all of it was good, and a lot of it was really excellent. Surprisingly, I didn't get tired of Chinese food, though I'll admit I could have done some serious damage to a hamburger or a plate of cheese enchiladas. There is more to tell, but this installment grows too long, so we'll pick up again tomorrow.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Probably the most impressive and most memorable event was our visit to the Great Wall. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I'd actually see, up close and personal, the Great Wall of China. It almost defies description, but I'll try. I had the presence of mind to buy a book about it, because I knew I'd never remember all the facts that our very knowledgeable tour guide, David, kept throwing at us in large, rapid doses. The Wall was originally built in the 9th century B.C., and was rebuilt or extended over the centuries by various emperors and dynasties. I'll not try to go into a history of the Wall here, but here's a fairly good website if you want to know more: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/
The Wall that is generally accepted as the Great Wall today is the part that was built by the Ming Dynasty in the period from 1368-1644 A.D. This wall extends over 4,000 miles, and exists in various states of preservation.
The part that we visited is very near to Beijing, and is pretty much a tourist attraction, very crowded and packed with the ubiquitous vendors, who are all afflicted with a remarkable form of selective deafness. They do not hear the English word "no." It simply doesn't register with them. The street vendors in the city have the same condition, but they seem to understand sign language. A raised hand, palm toward them, and a vigorous shaking of one's head will usually discourage them, but those at the Great Wall apparently are partially blind in addition to their deafness.
When we arrived at the Wall, our bus driver gave us a supreme demonstration of his driving skill. He threaded that huge, lumbering vehicle into places that I wouldn't have tried to pull a coaster wagon, let alone drive a car. He moved along inch by slow inch, making full use of his horn, and managed to squeak through tiny passages and crowds of people without ever hitting anything or anyone. It's remarkable. Once we encountered another bus coming in the opposite direction, and it didn't look like one bus could get through, much less two, but with some backing up and repositioning, the two drivers made it work and neither ever lost his composure.
At last we came to an area where the bus could be parked, and we all got out. It was unbelievably humid, and soon a light mist began falling. We were standing on a steep slope, and the ground was littered with a layer of mercifully unidentifiable detritus. This, combined with the mist, made the footing slippery and undependable. We were told that the actual gateway to the wall was quite a long way off, all uphill, over trails and crumbling steps. Eloise and I took a few seconds to decide, and opted for the tourist's Six Flags version of reaching the entrance. We rode the mechanized sleds. Most of our group made the same decision, with only about four of the guys deciding to actually make the hike.
The walk up the hill to the sleds was enough for us. The high altitude, the steep slope, and the heavy humidity had us breathing pretty hard by the time we got that far. We were really glad we weren't going to try to hike the whole thing. After a fairly short wait, we found ourselves being hustled into the little individual sleds and clamped in, and the sleds began their ratchety ascent. Up and up we went, and once again found ourselves feeling very thankful that we weren't making the climb on foot.
It's important here to understand that the Great Wall essentially runs over the tops of mountains. The mountains in that part of China lie in convoluted folds, not in individual peaks like our Rockies. The Wall is built on top, along ridges and up and over such peaks as may occur, but it's almost always on the highest ground around. Therefore, to get to the Wall itself, our little sleds had to climb a mountain, and they did.
At the end of the run, we were again hustled to get out, because the chain drive is moving constantly. The sleds were disengaged just long enough for the attendant to more or less yank us out before the next sled hit ours. Those guys make the roller coaster attendants at Six Flags look lazy.
When we were on our feet again, we followed the crowd to and through a ticket area, where Omar had already paid our way, and we were funneled into a fairly narrow passage that enclosed some steep steps. This is where we "climbed the Great Wall of China." Those steps emptied onto a sloped walkway, and at the end of that, we found ourselves actually standing on top of the Great Wall, looking out over the mountains, and at the expanse of the Wall as it faded into the distance.
We were under a time constraint, so we didn't stay on top of the Wall for long, but it was long enough that we felt the impact of the size and scope of the structure. It's wide enough for five horseman to ride side by side, and the length of it is incomprehensible. It would be a mammoth undertaking today, with all our modern equipment and methods, yet this enormous structure was built so long ago, when hand labor was about all they had to draw upon. Indeed, I'm not sure that there would be any other way to build it. The ridges and peaks that it spans are tall and heavily wooded, and it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get our modern-day equipment in there. Perhaps the way it was originally built is the only way it could be done. One thing is sure, it is indeed a wonder of the world, and I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to see it.
After a little while, when we had absorbed about all of the enormity and grandeur of the Wall that we could, we realized it was time to start back down. We joined up with a few others of our group, and made our way back to the sled station. There we were hurriedly inserted into our little sleds and the descent began. A bit different, going down. No chain ratcheting us along this time! We were free-wheeling, just spinning down that mountain on rails that looked pretty slick and shiny. Just as I was beginning to wonder where and how it was all going to end, we caught the smell of hot rubber, and realized that the lead sled was occupied by a park employee, who had a simple, rubber-to-the-rail brake at his command. The sleds were all backed up one to another, and the leader would wait until they got going fast enough to give us all a thrill, then he would apply his brake to the rail and we would slow down, passing through the little clouds of smoke that arose from his brake. It's a pretty ingenious system, and it was fun. Also, it sure beat walking!
When we left the sleds, we started our return trip to the bus, and were immediately engulfed in swarms of vendors, all of whom offered us the bargain to end all bargains, and none of whom responded to our repeated negative answers. They just kept coming. It was like being in a human tornado. One woman followed me, repeating the same sales pitch over and over, for at least two hundred yards.
Finally, as we neared the bus, Eloise and I spotted a camel, complete with saddle and a sign that advertised that one could have a picture taken aboard the camel. Well, that looked like fun, so we decided to do it, and I went first. There was a small metal platform next to the animal, with steep steps leading to the top. Once on top, the trick was to get into the saddle and get settled before the camel stepped aside or bit you. No, I never actually saw him bite anyone, but he surely looked capable of doing so. He had the longest, yellowest, ugliest teeth I ever saw, but had absolutely beautiful eyes. God played a joke on the camel when He designed most of his body, but He made up for it with the eyes.
Now, this was a two-hump camel, so the idea is to perch on his back, between the humps. Naturally, this means that there will be a hump in front of you, and believe me, that's about the silliest-looking structure I've ever seen. It was quite tall, not really big around, about like a large fence post. It was crowned by a thick mat of brown hair, that looked very much like a messy bird's nest. Remember, it was misting rain, so this hair, in fact the entire camel, was frosted in mist, and very damp. What does a wet camel smell like? Just about what you'd expect - a wet camel. Perhaps not as offensive as one might expect, but not something you'd like to bottle and take home. As for his posture, I couldn't help but feel that it was pretty ungallant of him to lean forward in that squatty, strained position as soon as I got on board. I may not be a lightweight, but I'm not that heavy!
After my picture was taken, Eloise climbed up and got on the camel, who then proceeded to take a step or two forward. Eloise's reaction was much the same as it was when the bus would have a near-miss. Squeal, apply a brake and grab onto something. Problem was, camels don't have floorboards for the imaginary brake, and she didn't want to grab a handful of that thatch of wet camel hair. So she just squealed. I guess it worked. The camel stopped, Eloise's picture was taken, and we went on our way. Soon we found ourselves on board the bus again, and our driver miraculously got us through the maze of people and vehicles and back out onto the highway. Our visit to the Great Wall of China was over. I was impressed. I want to go again, but I think I don't want to go back to the same place. I have read of a place that is a reachable distance from Beijing, and that is relatively unspoiled, with none of the accoutrements of tourism that ensnared us today. I think I'd like to go there, when and if I'm in this country again. Well, as promised, I'm going to end this installment here, as it grows too long. Tomorrow was another day in China, and it is another day here as well.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Omar has made reservations for us at a cultural center/theater, and has told us a little bit about what we can expect there. The highlight of the show will be a performance by a Mongolian Throat Singer. What on earth is that?? Well, we found out, and it's really an unbelievable phenomenon.
Certain people, somehow, seem to have the physical ability or the talent or whatever you may choose to call it, to produce more than one tone at a time. We all talk, sing, yell or whatever by producing one tone, modulating it as needed to form words or change pitch. The tones can be raised and lowered up and down the scale at will, but there's only one tone to a customer, ordinarily. These throat singers can somehow produce two tones at the same time, each on a different pitch.
Have you ever stood in front of a fan and hummed, talked, sang or whistled into the breeze the fan creates? Sure you have. Every child discovers this at some point in his life, and every adult worth his or her salt has played with the discovery again when no one is watching. If you haven't, you need to conduct a search for your inner child, and liberate him or her.
Anyway, I think most of us know about the "double sound" that's produced when we do this. Well, that's what these throat singers sound like, and I have no earthly idea how they do it. It was fascinating. It sounded like two voices, but there was only one man singing. The question immediately arises - was another voice being transmitted from a microphone somewhere? Of course, that was possible, but I don't think so. The throat singers are famous in Mongolia, and I'm sure if it was a hoax, someone would have exposed it by now. I do know that it was beautiful, and absolutely fascinating.
We went to a lovely restaurant, had a delicious meal and returned to the hotel to rest and get ready for our flight back into China in the morning. We will be spending three days in Beijing. We're going to the Great Wall! We're going to the Forbidden City! We're going to shop! Uh-oh!
Saturday, September 6, 2008
After breakfast, we make one last trip to our rooms, make one more check to be sure we've forgotten nothing, and avail ourselves of the facilities one last time. I don't think I'm going to miss our bathroom.
Downstairs, the last of our luggage is being loaded into the bus's underbelly, and people are milling about, delaying the boarding as long as possible. Hugs are exchanged with our interpreters, over and over. We have given them small gifts, including some Beanie Babies, and the girls are holding theirs. BatBubba is wearing the Texas T-shirt Eloise gave him. We are becoming very aware of how much we're going to miss these bright young folks who have been at our sides since we arrived, facilitating and making possible everything we've tried to do here. One more round of hugs, the wiping away of a few tears, and finally we board the bus.
With much grinding of gears, the bus lumbers out of the parking lot, and we are on our way to Ulaanbaatar. It's going to be a long drive, and we fear it won't be as much fun as the first trip. On that one, we had our enthusiasm and anticipation to help the time pass. This time, we are dealing with nostalgia and reluctance to leave this land. We drive over the same landscape, but there is a bittersweet quality this time. We know more now. We pass some gers, and they no longer seem so mysterious and exotic to us. We know that they are simply a house, a home to a family of nice people, who work hard and just try to make a living the best way they know how. We know how lovely the gers are inside, and how comfortable, and how very practical for this part of the world.
As we're driving over the beautiful Mongolian countryside, I'm suddenly struck by the thought that if I don't get pictures of some things now, I may never get them. I mention that I'd like to get a picture of an ovoo (pronounced OH-woe), but by the time I realize that we're coming upon one, it's gone before I can get the camera focused. Somehow the word gets to the driver, and without warning, he pulls over on the shoulder and stops the bus. There is a lovely ovoo on the other side of the highway. I make my way across the aisle to a window and get a great picture.
AN OVOO ON THE ROADSIDE BETWEEN DARKHAN AND ULAANBAATAR
An ovoo is a very interesting manifestation of the religious background of the nomadic people of Mongolia. Buddhism is strong there, but there is a lot of animism as well, which involves shamanism, superstition and reverence for gods of nature. Travelers in Mongolia build the ovoos, these piles of rock and sticks, a little bit at a time, as they move through a given area. The idea is to leave an offering, thanking the god of the mountain, or the pass, or the valley, for allowing the traveler safe passage. The offerings usually consist of a stone, or possibly a stick or piece of wood, sometimes even a small trinket. The blue strips of cloth, as I understand it, represent a prayer of a more specific nature. After leaving the gift, the traveler walks around the ovoo three times in a clockwise direction, and then goes on his way.
Some ovoos are enormous, fifty feet or more in diameter, and may be taller than a mounted rider's head. These huge ones may be more than a hundred years old, as this custom is an ancient one. This particular ovoo was about ten or twelve feet in diameter, and about two or three feet tall, not counting the poles. I saw one that was so tiny it would have been completely unnoticed, had it not been for a couple of blue strips of cloth tied to a twig. It contained only three or four small rocks stacked together. I suppose everything has to start somewhere.
As we approached the midway point, it occurred to me that a rest stop would be very welcome. Then I remembered the infamous rest stop, regretted my last cup of tea, and silently hoped that we would stop at a different place. We didn't. Oh, mercy. We stopped at the same awful place, with the same awful little hut, and the same awful stench hit us as soon as we stepped off the bus. The first time, I was able to convince myself that I could make it to Darkhan, and I did. This time, I knew I could never make it to Ulaanbaatar. I am seriously regretting that last cup of tea now. There was no choice. I joined the pitiful little line of equally desperate women, and made my way toward that miserable hut. It's amazing how polite and courteous we all became, each one urging everyone else to go ahead and go first.
Finally it was my turn, and there was no one left to send on ahead of me. Nothing to do but enter the wretched hut and take care of business. I took a deep breath of the stinking air outside, because I feared it would be worse inside. I made it last as long as I could, but inside the hut I finally had to breathe, and learned that I was right. It was worse inside. I realized that I really missed our bathroom in Darkhan. As I stood there, over that gap in the floor, my purse strap slipped off my shoulder and to my great relief, it caught at my elbow. I hung it around my neck, because I knew if it ever fell through that gap, it would just have to stay there, passport and all.
After about ten years, I was ready to leave the little hut. Since I hadn't yet died of asphyxiation, I took the liberty of snapping a picture from the doorway as I left. I'll spare you the sight, but I have the picture, if anyone is interested. I walked across the parking lot toward the bus, pausing to let the prevailing wind blow (I hoped) some of the smell out of my hair and clothes. Those of us who had braved the perils of the little hut were understandably a bit smug as we boarded the bus, and can be forgiven for being unsympathetic toward those who chose to complete the ride in a state of discomfort.
The rest of the ride passed uneventfully, and finally our bus pulled up in front of the same hotel in which we had stayed upon entering Mongolia. It's nice, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and it has a real bathroom!!! Eloise and I are sharing a room this time, which is fine with us. We have only a short time to clean up and be ready to go, because Omar has a couple of events planned for us this evening. It sounds interesting, and we can hardly wait.
Friday, September 5, 2008
One of the members of the construction crew, whose name is Nathan, was so intrigued yesterday by the stories shared by the humanitarian aid team, that he asked to go along with them today, rather than going to the construction site. He was welcomed, and so it was that he was with the team as a little drama unfolded.
You'll remember that yesterday the team encountered a family that included a very small, very ill four year old boy. The family said that he had a lot of birth defects, and though they tried to feed him, he was unable to eat or swallow. Nathan was touched by the story, as we all were, and today he mentioned the child to the team. Since they were in the area, they decided to drop by and check on him.
At the door, they were met by a family member, who seemed uncomfortable, didn't appear to want them to enter, and who told them that the boy had died during the night. Horrified, and not really believing the story, the team leader gently insisted that they be admitted, and began to question the family. At some point, Nathan and the others heard a small cry from a curtained-off closet. When one of them opened the curtain, they were met by the sight of a young girl, sitting on the floor, holding the naked little boy and trying to keep him quiet. The floor was filthy with the child's waste, and there was no food or water in sight.
To the experienced eyes of the CTW staff, it was clear what was going on. The little boy had been put into the closet, with the hope that he would starve and die. The family had neither the means nor the desire to cope with his physical disabilities, and he was just one more useless mouth to feed. When the team arrived, the little girl was sent into the closet with him, to try to keep him quiet. The family knew what they were doing was wrong, and that the CTW staff would not let them get away with it.
At this point, I'm a little hazy on the details. I'm not sure whether Jerry Smith (our missionary) was with the team as they entered, or whether he was in another part of the building. It doesn't matter. The important thing is that he was on the scene immediately, took in what was happening, and took charge. He went to the closet, scooped up the little boy, and announced to the family that he was taking the child. He instructed a CTW staffer who was with them to call the police, and the team left, taking the little boy with them. Shortly thereafter, they were at the police station, telling their story, and applying for permission to take the little boy to the compound as their ward.
The Darkhan police know and respect Jerry Smith and the work that is done by CTW missions. He removes children from their sewers, feeds some of their hungry populace, and is known as an influence for good in Mongolia. Though the government officially takes a negative stance on evangelism, they really don't try very hard to find out if that is going on. CTW people don't stand and preach on street corners, and they don't pass out tracts. They don't button-hole people and push Christianity upon them. They simply practice the principles of love and caring and sharing that were taught by Jesus Christ, and if someone asks them why they are doing what they do, then they are free to tell them.
It's slow going at times, but the results are beginning to show, and I believe that in ten years, the work will be growing exponentially. The work is young in Mongolia, begun in the 1990's. The little Mustangs right now are mostly just boys, but in a few years they will be men. Christian men, we believe. There is no limit to what can be done as they grow up and spread what they've been taught all over Mongolia. Each year, new boys come into the fold. New girls, too, but in Mongolian society, it is probably the boys who will have the most opportunity to pass on what they've been taught. It can happen. After all, Christ had only The Twelve to carry on His work.
Back to our little four year old boy! Jerry and company brought him to the compound, and later to our hotel, where he was examined by our doctors. Their feeling was that, though the child obviously has some birth defects, it may not be nearly as bad as it looks. They believe that with nutrition and love and maybe some therapy, the child could thrive. When an attempt was made to feed him, this child that was "unable to eat or swallow" ate very well, and appeared to enjoy it very much.
As our doctors were examining the child that evening, our team member Nathan stood outside the door, very anxious and concerned. Indeed, he commented to one team member that he felt like an expectant father! He was so emotionally involved and so touched by the child's situation, that the decision was made to give the child the Christian name of "Nathan". Nathan means "gift of God", and indeed it fits in this case. Our Nathan was a gift to the child, because it was his inquiry and interest that led the team to return to the apartment, and little Nathan is sure to be a gift to the entire CTW mission, as he grows and thrives. We are all praying that he can do exactly that.
This evening was our farewell banquet, and as soon as dinner was finished, the children began to arrive. First the small ones, and their joy and enthusiasm as they sang "Jesus songs" was contagious. There was a Bible drill, with the older children competing, and it was beautiful to see how quickly they found their scripture and read it aloud. Songs were sung in Mongolian and in English and their joyful spirit was beautiful to see.
At one point the children were released just to mingle with the adults. They surged into our midst, giving and receiving hugs, and bestowing huge smiles upon anyone who met their eyes. They are the most loving, beautiful children! Here is one little girl, Rachel, who stole everyone's heart, and especially Eloise's. Who could resist those big brown eyes, and that charming, gap-toothed smile? When she walked over and gave Eloise a big hug, I thought I was going to have to mop my friend up off the floor!
There was a ceremony during which each team member was presented with a special scarf. It is a custom in some Mongolian homes to present a first-time visitor with a blue scarf. This is a symbol of welcome and an offer of friendship. If there is a second visit, the visitor is given a white scarf, and this symbolizes that the visitor is now a member of the family, and is always welcome. We were given white scarves (we skipped over the blue ones!) and each was presented by a different child, along with a hug.
At the end of the evening, Jerry Smith disappeared for a moment, and came back, carrying a small bundle in his arms. It was little Nathan, or Little Nate, as he came to be known. His handicaps are evident in his eyes, posture, and the way his little legs just hang limply, devoid of muscle tone. It's hard to tell in this picture, because his clothing is bulky and too large for him, but his arms and legs are stick-thin. His cheeks are a bit round, that's just the shape of his face, and what little fat his body holds is to be seen there.
Naturally, we all clustered around Jerry and his small burden, everyone wanting to see and touch the child whose plight had so deeply touched all our hearts. It was wonderful to see the little boy in Jerry's care - clean, fed, clothed and with a future now, when only hours earlier he had none of those. It is remarkable to see what the love of God can do, when His people are willing to be His eyes, ears and most of all His hands on this earth. We all return to our rooms, with the impression that we have stood very close to a small angel.
Eloise and I are unusually quiet, as we prepare for bed on this last night here in Mongolia. We are impressed and humbled by the experiences we've had, and grateful for the opportunity to be here. We are, of course, looking forward to returning to our families and our comfortable homes, but in truth, we're aware that we're going to miss this land, these people, and the things we've experienced. God has been good to us.
Tomorrow, we must be up early, and ready to go. We will be taking the bus back to Ulaanbaatar, and from there to Beijing, where we will spend a couple of days sight-seeing and unwinding after the things we've seen in Mongolia. I'm looking forward to that, but to be truthful, I wouldn't mind spending the time here with our new friends.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Once again, for the last time, we board our vans and head out for the remote site. After leaving the paved road, we're bouncing over the incredibly rough and rutted dirt track, when we overtake a huge dump truck. It is plowing and churning its way over the track, and its bed is crammed with people. There are more people, mostly children, running alongside. They're headed for our medical campsite, and there must be at least fifty of them.
Our vans stop, and we open the doors, and are immediately engulfed by a laughing tide of children and a few adults. Our van is loaded to the windows, quite literally, with one small boy hanging out and having the time of his life. We count 23 people in our van, including ourselves. I have two small girls in my lap. Our driver makes no complaint, but rather seems to be enjoying it as much as we are. He's a friendly sort, and is laughing right along with us. He urges the groaning van forward, and we soon arrive at the camp.
The day continues pretty much like all the others. Long lines of people, astonishing variety of clothing, very little variety in complaints. The blood pressures are, of course, horrible. At one point I notice that Toom Chris has repeated one man's pressure several times. Finally, he turns to me and says, "Will you come check this guy's pressure and tell me if I'm crazy?" I finish what I'm doing, and go around the table and sit in Chris's place. As I pump up the cuff, the beat begins. On the way up. This is not the way it should happen. You do occasionally hear a beat or two on the way up, but usually just a couple and then they stop. You keep pumping for about 20 points above that, then slowly let out the air and you'll begin hearing beats again as the needle starts downward. The point at which you hear the first beat is the top number of a blood pressure. I know I explained this earlier, but it's important to note again right now.
As I said, the beat began on the way up. I expected it to stop, but it didn't. I kept pumping, and it kept beating, and just wouldn't stop. I kept pumping. The needle reached 300, which is as high as the gauge registers, and still it was beating, loud and clear! That meant that the man's systolic pressure was 300+. I began to let the air out, and the beats stopped at 164. That's the diastolic pressure, so the man's blood pressure was 300+/164. In the US, we would have called 911, sent him to the ER by ambulance, and he would have had about five drips going in his arms by the time he arrived there, and would have gone straight to CCU. In Mongolia, the man rode in on a horse, and rode out the same way. In between, our doctors and pharmacist gave him whatever medicine they had, and prayed for him. His chief complaint? He has a little headache now and then. I would think so.
At one point, I look up to see an elderly woman approaching me, dressed in traditional Mongol clothing, very colorful and pretty. She reaches into the top of her del, and draws out a small object. Holding it in her two outstretched, cupped hands, she comes and stands in front of me, obviously presenting the object to me. I hold out my hands, cupped together as is proper, and she places the object in them. She is smiling like a sunrise, and looking very hopeful. I examine the little object, and to my surprise, I see that it's a little figurine. Not something Mongolian, as I would expect, but instead it's a figure of an American-looking child, wearing a sunhat and denim pinafore. She's talking to a little squirrel, who is perched on a tree stump. Where on earth did this woman get this little figurine? It looks like something you'd win for popping balloons with darts at a little county fair.
As I stare at the little figure, I realize that the old woman is standing there, waiting for my response. I look up at her and thank her sincerely in English, which Moogi faithfully translates. I think I have tears in my eyes. The kind little woman is obviously pleased that I like her gift. As I look at her more closely, I realize that I've seen her before. She came through here earlier, and has already seen the doctors. She has no blue card with her this time. Clearly, she went away and returned with this gift for me. No doubt she traveled on foot, and I have no idea how far. I am touched beyond words. You can be sure that the little carnival-prize figurine will have a place of honor in my living room at home.
Someone comes and tells us to go to lunch, and we do. It's more of the same as yesterday - choice of diced or shredded potatoes, MUO and onions, Mongolian catsup, and today we have some cucumbers along with the slaw. I've learned to love the catsup, wish I could take some home. I've gotten a little partial to the hard, leathery dried peaches as well. They're not like the soft, easily consumed dried fruit we get at home. These are like, well, like fruit jerky. Still, one can get used to anything, and I admit that I rather enjoyed the peaches.
We continue to see clients all afternoon, and finally it is over. The last client leaves our tent, and we realize that our adventure here is coming to an end. Toom Chris and I have become good friends and colleagues. Our interpreters have become dear to us. The Mustang boys have become our friends, as well. One young fellow, about twelve years old, saw me stretching and rubbing my tired back one afternoon, and from that point on, it became his mission in life to keep my back massaged. He nearly wore holes in my shirt, but he was so diligent and anxious to please that I couldn't stop him. Any time he had a spare minute, he was perched on the bench behind me, rubbing away. I gave him several hugs, and I thought his face would crack, he would smile so widely. These boys need love so badly.
This particular boy is named Batdortsch, or something like that. I couldn't pronounce it very well, so I nicknamed him Dutch, and he seemed to like it. Here's a picture of most of the Mustangs, along with David Sisson, a CTW staffer, on the back row, and Toom Chris, in the maroon sweatshirt. My little back-rubber, Dutch, is on the left end in front.
As you can see, the ages of the Mustangs vary widely. Some are young men, but they stay on at CTW and I'm sure are a lot of help to Jerry. David Sisson is a young American who came over on a mission trip, and returned a few months later to stay indefinitely. He works mostly with the Mustangs. Some of the younger boys are only a couple of months out of the sewers of Darkhan. Jerry saves their shoes (if they have any) when they come to stay at the compound, and if they find the work too hard, or the discipline intolerable, they are given their original shoes and told they can wear them when they leave. So far, as I understand it, only one boy has actually left.
No sooner have Toom Chris and I vacated our tent, than it's torn down, rolled up and loaded on a truck by the Mustangs. We hate to see it go. Then, one by one, as the doctors finish up, their gers are dismantled. It takes five or six Mustangs about thirty minutes to tear a ger down, tie everything up and load it on the trucks. This is what a ger looks like as it is dismantled:
Once all the staff has finished their assigned tasks, we load into the vans and depart, leaving the Mustangs to finish tearing down the camp. We are supposed to get back to the hotel a little early this evening, as we have a banquet with all the children tonight. We're really looking forward to that, because we haven't gotten to see much of the CTW kids. Our days have been spent at the remote sites. The other teams have worked with them at some length, doing Bible drills, teaching them songs, just generally spending time with them and loving on them a little. We're a bit jealous, but then we've had some great experiences out in the countryside, getting to meet the herdsmen and their families. We get back to the hotel, clean up and change into "nice" clothes. Nothing fancy, just something that's clean and maybe a bit more coordinated than the jeans and scrub shirts we've been wearing every day. Eloise and I enter the dining room, and find it set very formally, with lovely linens and china. This hotel never ceases to amaze me. The carpets are threadbare, and there is no furniture in the lobby, and the elevator doesn't work, but they set a beautiful table. We decide on a place to sit, allowing for Eloise's left-handedness, and settle in. The rest of the group is coming in as well, and we begin to hear whispers about something very special and exciting that happened to the humanitarian aid team that day. We're anxious to get the details.