Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TRYING TO GET TO BEIJING

We have no difficulty waking up at 4 a.m. In fact, we were both awake for quite a while before the alarm went off. Who could sleep on those beds? Feeling a bit battered and bruised, we got up, grateful for release from the obligation to try to sleep any longer, since it was futile anyway. Since our suitcases were already packed, we were dressed and ready in no time at all, and downstairs well before 5 a.m., to join our group. A smiling young man from the hotel took most of the luggage downstairs, with some help from our men, bless their hearts. What would we do without them?

The bus arrived and the luggage quickly disappeared into its underbelly. We boarded, ready and anxious to get this flight behind us. The trip to the airport was very short, and soon we found ourselves unloading again and heading into the Ulaanbaatar airport. Susan, Batsengel, Oyuka and the others saw us off, and were waving at us through the windows as we disappeared beyond the gates. We'll miss them.

The trip through the Ulaanbaatar airport is a breeze, compared with what we know awaits us in Beijing. Since we were there very early, there was no crowd, no lines, and we were at our gate in just a few minutes. Oh no! That gives us time to shop, and I don't need to spend any more money! However, Eloise and I know this airport from last year, and know very well that there's a shop downstairs that sells some beautiful cashmere goods. I try to forget that little fact, and make a real effort to stay in my seat. Alas, one of the men mentions that he'd like to pick up something in cashmere for the lady in his life, and naturally, I can't let the poor guy fumble around alone. I offer to show him the shop. Fifteen minutes later, I have made my own purchases and am sheepishly returning to my seat upstairs. Oh well, one doesn't visit Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia very often.

Very soon our flight was called, and we boarded, ready for the trip back into China. One of our men noticed a plane sitting off to one side, which he was very sure was Air Force Two. He's a pilot, so I'd think he would know. Since we were taxiing at the time, we only got a glimpse of the plane, but he felt sure he was right. Naturally, we wonder why Air Force Two would be here, but no one knows, so it goes into the file for Unexplained Things We Have Seen.

The plane is in the air quickly and we settle back to enjoy the excellent breakfast served by the Miat Airlines cabin crew. As always, they're Mongolian, they're efficient and pleasant, and take very good care of us. We expect to be able to see the Great Wall this time, as there is no cloud cover visible. After a while, when we are beginning to think we might be near enough to Beijing to be able to see the wall, we feel the plane begin to slow and descend. We haven't seen the wall, and just as I'm wondering how we managed to fly over it into Beijing without seeing it, the pilot opens the intercom to make an announcement.

It seems we are not approaching Beijing. We have been rerouted to another airport some distance away from there, due to "bad weather." We don't even see any clouds. This seems very strange. Still, there's not much we can do but ride along and see what happens. Naturally, we wonder if this has anything to do with the presence of Air Force Two in this part of the world. That would be enough to merit some pretty tight security in and around Beijing, I would think, especially if Air Force Two was headed there.

The plane is definitely descending, and the strange, convoluted outlines of the Chinese mountains are beginning to take shape. After flying low over some farmland and a small town, we make an easy, uneventful landing at a very small airport. Easy, but I did have the impression that the pilot was using all his tricks to stop the big plane. It's 8:07 a.m. local time, wherever we are.
Someone finds out that we are at the airport for a town called Hoh Hot. I will certainly be looking this up on the map when I get home! The pilot tells us that there are "very bad storms" over Beijing, which is about forty minutes flying time from here, and we can expect to be on the ground here for about two hours. Aargh. This is not a pleasant prospect, but of course, safety comes first, and if there really are storms over Beijing, then we'd prefer to be right here, safely on the ground.

Naturally, there is a lot of conjecture as to what is really going on. For one thing, since Beijing is a busy international airport, and if all flights are being rerouted due to bad weather, we would expect that there would be several planes here with us, waiting out the storm. This is not the case. Other than one freighter, we are the only large plane on the ground. The freighter is deserted, looks like it could have been there for a while. There are two or three small ones, but no airliners. This seems very odd.

At this point, no mention is made of deplaning, and the more experienced travelers among us explain that it will be unlikely that we will be allowed to do so, due to immigration policies. As though anyone would want to venture off into the wilderness we see around us, but still, we have to understand. We prepare for a long wait. A few people get up and move around the plane. At one point, a cabin attendant makes the announcement that everyone needs to return to his or her seat, as the plane is "unfueling." Exactly what that process is, and why people need to be seated while it is going on, we're not too sure, but everyone complies. Except one man. Why is there always one in every group?

This particular man has drawn my notice already, and his non-compliant behavior does nothing to reassure me now. He is about fifty, tall and thin, with dark skin and long dark hair worn in a ponytail. His features are unusual, I cannot easily identify his ethnic background. There is an Asian component, but there is something of the Middle East as well. He never makes eye contact with anyone. He never stays in his seat either, but instead wanders the aisles all the time. Finally, after another announcement from the cabin staff, he sits down, stays about two minutes, and is up and off on his aisle-walking once more. The staff never confronts him. I look around for something to conk him with if anything happens, but can't find anything but my camera. It's too light. Oh, well. Telling myself I'm being melodramatic, I settle down to wait with everyone else.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

IN ULAANBAATAR, OUR LAST NIGHT IN MONGOLIA

We returned to the bus at the appointed time, and headed for the Cultural Show. This is always a highlight of our stay in Ulaanbaatar, and I'm looking forward to it. We are not as early as I'd have liked, and end up sitting in the back. Next year, if I'm along, I'm going to push for getting there very early, so as to get a front-row seat. However, Eloise and I had a pretty good perch where we were seated. We were up a bit high, and the way the benches were arranged there was no one directly in front of us. We were on the last row, so the wall behind us was a welcome backrest. Also, I had a good place to park my left foot and found a comfortable position for my knee. I managed to get a few pretty decent pictures, too.

THESE LITTLE GIRLS ARE ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE.

These young girls are able to twist their bodies into shapes that make your back hurt just to observe them. Their joints are so loose that I don't understand how they can even stand up. You'd think they would just collapse, like a marionette with the strings cut. They're extremely graceful, every motion is fluid and smooth. I'm sure they've trained since they were toddlers. You don't get that limber overnight.

Some of the entertainment seems strange to Westerners. There's a type of singing that is enjoyed by Asians, but that gets on our last Western nerve. It's a high, shrill keening which is no doubt very difficult to do, but which has the effect of fingernails on a blackboard to us. As I told Eloise, just a few more minutes of that singing, and I'd have confessed to being Jack the Ripper.

The music is different, too. Some very familiar pieces were played, some of the classics, but they sound very different when played on Asian instruments. I have to admit, I liked it. The music is strange, but pretty. There were some dance numbers, which apparently tell a story, and involve highly stylized and intricate steps and posturings, and very elaborate costumes. Then, of course, there was the throat singer.

If you read last year's journal, I told about the throat singer then, too. Throat singing is unique to Mongolia, and I'm not sure of the origin. It's very strange, and only a few individuals have mastered it. It involves a technique whereby two tones are produced at the same time, by one voice. I compare it to the sound you get when you whistle or hum in front of a fan. You hear a double tone, something to do with the Doppler effect, as the sound you are producing is bounced back to you at the same time. That's how the throat singing sounds. Two different tones, produced at once. I don't know how they do it, but it's very interesting. They aren't able to sustain it, it sort of pops in and out as they sing, but it's interesting, nevertheless.

After the cultural show, we went to dinner. We were ready! We've been here before, last year, and remember that the food is good. We were seated at a long table, and Eloise and I were fortunate to have Batsengel and Oyuka (Bubba and Bubbette) seated across from us. Oyuka is charming, well-educated and very nice. Her English is excellent, we had a good conversation, and enjoyed our time with them immensely.

Dinner was good, and the highlight was dessert. An ice-cream sundae! Yep, complete with a cherry on top. It was so good! Our bus driver was seated near us, and left before we were finished, saying he didn't want dessert. Well, no problem. Batsengel wasn't about to let that sundae go to waste, so he ate it! Oyuka just looked heavenward, stating that "he eats like that all the time!" It's just delightful to see them so happy together.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel, anticipating a good night's sleep. Big surprise! Our beds were as hard as marble. The floor couldn't have been harder, and indeed, I considered relocating, but decided against it. I found myself longing for my almost-as-hard, lumpy bed in Darkhan. At least I had learned how to conform to the lumps. This bed was just unbelievably hard. I told Eloise I was afraid to go to sleep, because I feared having a nightmare about being dead and laid out on a slab! It would be too believable. I don't recall the beds being like this when we stayed here last year. A good slab salesman must have come through!

Finally, through an effort of will and mind, and with fatigue a very strong factor, we managed to get to sleep. We'll be up early in the morning, to catch our plane to China.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

It's Tuesday morning. Our mission here in Mongolia is ending, and we'll be heading for home this morning. Just as it was last year, it's a bittersweet time. Certainly we're ready to go home, anxious to see our families again (and to sleep in our own beds!) but we're going to miss this place, and these people. We have been so graciously received, so kindly treated, made to feel so welcome and appreciated - well, we're just going to miss these folks!

As instructed, we have brought our luggage into the big anteroom outside the dining room and left it there. It will be loaded into the bus that waits for us downstairs. After a final good breakfast in the dining room, we make our way down and gather outside, chatting with our interpreters and other Mongolian friends. One of the construction workers has brought his wife and little son to see us off. He and Bobby have become good friends, and he just wanted to say goodbye. Here's a picture - did you ever see a cuter little kid?

HIS DAD WEARS A HAT AND SUNGLASSES JUST LIKE HIS

Finally, everyone was there, and it was time to get on the bus. Omar and Pastor Alex are not with us. They left a few days ago to go back to the states. There were prior commitments they had to fulfill, and we understood. We're just grateful that they came over with us and saw us through the perils of the Beijing airport, and had the privilege of participating in the baptism at the river last week. We're now in the capable hands of Dr. Ron, who has made this trip several times, as have some of the other guys, so we know we'll be okay. Our Chinese tour guide, David Wong, will meet us in Beijing.

We board the bus, and find comfortable seats. Again, it's a large bus, and we have plenty of room. We're accompanied by Susan Smith and Nicholas, as well as Badmaa. In addition, Batsengel, Oyuka, Mango and Goldie are along to translate for us. Of course, Badmaa translates too, but she can't be everywhere at once. As I've said many times, we are well taken care of on these trips. I have never, ever, felt unsafe, or even mildly insecure.

The trip into Ulaanbaatar is uneventful, the highlight being the stop at the halfway point. Same old wretched outhouse, though I must admit there have been some improvements. For one thing, it has been moved over several feet, to a new location on the hillside, and apparently, the old site was covered with dirt. An excellent decision. Also, some shrubs at the edge of the gravel parking area, which were very tiny last year, have grown quite a bit, and provide a bit of a screen across the front of the little building, which serves to block the prevailing wind a little bit. The smell was present, and strong, but didn't knock you out of your shoes like last year.

In addition, a new gas station has been built across the road. This is really progress! Now, when I say "new gas station," don't think "truck stop, mini-mart, showers, arcade, etc." Think tiny orange building about fifteen feet long, and perhaps a cold case where sodas will be kept. At home, it wouldn't attract much notice. Out here, just below the Siberian border, it will be a landmark.

We encounter a small hitch. Our bus has a flat tire! On a car, that's no big deal. On this enormous bus, it's a very big deal. Undaunted, our driver sets about to change it. I think he was prepared to struggle through the job alone, but was very relieved when some of our men pitched in and helped him. Big, burly David and several others helped wrestle the spare from underneath the front end of the bus. Mercy, it's huge! Feeling very grateful for the fact that I'm female, and therefore not expected to get involved, I stand and watch with admiration as the guys manage to coax the flat tire off and get the replacement installed. The job is finished, everyone congratulates the workers, and we can get under way again.

Back on the bus, and again rolling through the beautiful Mongolian countryside. I experience again the twinge of reluctance to leave, just as I did last year. This place is simply beautiful. Wild and spacious, big skies and rolling hills, animals ranging free, no fences in sight - it's lovely, and it very quickly carves a place for itself in one's heart.

I said there were no fences. Well, that's not quite true. At some point, Eloise and I began to notice a very odd thing. Along the side of the road, there were little "fenced" areas occasionally. They were about twenty feet off the road, and were about twenty feet wide. It's hard to determine the length, because we were moving rapidly past them, but I'd guess it at about a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet. The "fences" consisted of sticks, not much more than twigs, with what looked like orange twine strung between them. At first we couldn't figure out what they were enclosing. Then we noticed that there were some baby trees planted at fairly regular intervals inside the little enclosures. Grass and weeds were growing up around them, and we missed them at first. They were only about three feet tall, so were easy to overlook. Most looked brown and dead, but a few appeared to be alive. I can't say they were thriving, but they did seem to be trying.

There has been very little rain here recently, and the grasses are not very green. Judging by the fact that the grass around the little trees was also not very green, we concluded that no one is watering them. Someone has gone to some effort to plant the trees, and to put up the little toy fences, but without water, they'll never survive. Winter will hit here in about eight weeks, and without some well-watered, deep-reaching roots, the little trees will be lost. It's too bad. Also, the little fences, which were apparently intended to keep the free-ranging livestock from nibbling on the little trees, would be completely ineffective. I can't imagine that string keeping anything out. A cow probably wouldn't even see it, and would walk right through. Well, at least someone tried, and maybe a few of the young trees will survive.

We made it into UB just fine, and went directly to the Tokyo Hotel. We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and got back on the bus. Lunch is on the agenda, and we're ready! We went to another hotel, reputed to have good food in their dining room. The hour is late, however, and we decide just to have a good bowl of soup and move on. I'm glad we didn't order a huge meal, because it took forever to get that bowl of soup! When it finally arrived, however, it was very good, very filling, and we enjoyed it.

Back on the bus, interpreters close by as always. My precious Goldie stuck to me like Velcro. She was concerned about my unstable knee, and I could feel her little hand beneath my elbow at every turn. We went to the big State Department Store, for some requisite shopping. I really needed Goldie there. More than once, she whispered to me, "You don't want that, that's tourist junk." She helped me buy a few nice things, though. At the state store, you make your selection, and give it to a sales person. She writes it up and gives you a slip of paper, which you take to a central desk. That's where you pay, after which you return to the sales person and give her the receipt, and she then gives you your merchandise. An unwieldy system, but I suppose they have their reasons for doing it that way.

We returned to the bus at the appointed time, and headed for the Cultural Show. I'll tell you more about that event next time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

After the fashion show, and some visiting around, Jerry left momentarily and returned carrying the child who has become, for many of us, a symbol of the work being done in Darkhan. If you read last year's journal, you know the story of Chinzorig, or Little Nate. We named him for one of our team members, Nathan, who was with the team that found him and who took such a personal interest in him. For those of you who have just joined the journal list, here's a brief synopsis. Last year, our humanitarian aid team discovered a four-year-old boy, handicapped and developmentally very delayed, hidden in a closet by his family, with the apparent intention of letting him starve, thereby reducing the drain on their almost non-existent resources. He was rescued by Jerry and company and brought back to our hotel, where he was examined by our physicians. The consensus was that while he does have some deficits, probably from a birth injury, much of his problems at that time stemmed from lack of nutrition and little or no stimulation and basic human contact and care. He was a pitiful sight, indeed. Obviously deeply depressed, he just lay in passive resignation to whatever his fate might be. Well, things are different now, after a year of loving attention, affection and good food. He's had some basic physical therapy as well, and his progress is astounding. You be the judge:

JERRY AND LITTLE NATE, THE DAY HE WAS RESCUED
BY THE CTW STAFF, IN 2004.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES! LOOK AT THAT HAPPY FACE.

When Little Nate was rescued last year, he could barely lift his head, and as I recall, he was unable to roll over on his own. Now, he is still unable to walk, but with a friendly hand for balance he can stand and bear his own weight. He is never without a huge smile, and the smile widens considerably whenever anyone makes eye contact with him. He is just joyful all the time! He obviously loves Jerry, and fairly wriggles with happiness when he sees him. Jerry loves him, too, and takes great fatherly pride in every little increment of improvement and accomplishment that Nate achieves.

This little boy is what it's all about in Mongolia. Jerry tells the story of how he went to Mongolia to plant churches. That's what he thought God wanted him to do, and he was willing. Then one day, a tiny child tugged on his pant leg and asked for food. This was a first for Jerry, and it started him thinking. That's how a Christian listens for the voice of God. If your heart and mind are open, God will enter and plant the seed of what He wants you to do for Him. So, when Jerry made himself available to God's prompting, it soon became clear. He said it was a very clear mandate. God told him to feed His children, and He'd take care of the churches. And so, in the late 90's, Change The World became an active ministry in Mongolia, feeding children, taking them off the streets and out of the sewers.

I said Little Nate is what the mission in Mongolia is all about, and that is true, because he and the other children are the passport into the whole Godless society. Through the children's home, and the feeding programs, and the medical missions, and the demonstration of God's love that the people see every day, they begin to realize that there may be something they're missing. Jerry is fond of saying that when you do something for the Mongolian people, sooner or later they will ask you why you're doing it. The answer is "because my God told me to." Naturally, someone who comes from a background that may be atheistic, polytheistic, Buddhist, animist or whatever, is going to ask "Who is your god?" At this point, Jerry fairly dances with glee, and says "I'm so glad you asked!" And he tells them. Obviously, it works. People have been baptized by the hundreds, the church ger is overflowing, local churches are springing up in the towns and in the countryside, meeting in private homes if necessary. Pastor Midor seems to be going everywhere at once, and it's all just beautiful to see.

In a country where the land is 95% government-owned, and owned by a government that doesn't recognize or embrace Christianity, something very special has taken place. That government has deeded over some beautiful land, over a hundred acres of choice riverfront. That's unheard of. They know full well what the Change The World mission is all about, and yet they gave the land anyway. Does this sound like God is at work? I can hardly wait to see what the next ten years will bring.

Right now, there is an urgent need for operating funds. For the past month, the CTW staff has worked without paychecks. It has been necessary to remove the children from the excellent but expensive private school they were attending, and they're now in the public school system, where they only go for a half day and the quality of education is poor. At least they're in school, not scavenging in a gutter. There will be no more new clothes, other than what the housemothers can make for them, and the supply of fabric is running low. Food is not an issue. There is plenty. Not only do they grow a lot of food in the greenhouses and fields at the CTW compound, but a whole shiphold container has arrived, filled with food from the states. No one will be hungry. Still, Jerry wants the best for his kids, including a quality education, and the staff cannot work forever without paychecks. They have personal responsibilities, too.

So, here it comes. I included a little commercial in last year's journal, and I'm going to do it again this year. Any gift you could see your way clear to send would be appreciated, and put to very good use. Nothing is wasted in Mongolia, and that's even more true of the Change The World operation. Every penny is used wisely, and stretched beyond all reason. I would ask that you think about it, pray about it if you wish, and then send whatever you feel God would want you to send. Here's the address:

Change The World/LifeQwest Ministries
P.O. Box 153029
Irving, TX 75015-3029

You may wonder why an Irving address? Can you imagine the difficulties it would cause if hundreds of checks, drawn on American banks, began to arrive in Mongolia, in denominations of $500, $100, $20, $5? The logistics are staggering. So, a central post office box was established here in Irving, and some of our church staff gathers it and deposits it into the CTW account here in a local bank. This bank account can be drawn on by the mission in Mongolia. It simplifies everything, and eliminates unnecessary cost.

I was asked by an acquaintance if I thought I should send money to a mission in Mongolia right now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when so many of our own citizens are in need. I can answer that easily. Yes, I do think I should. The victims of Katrina picked the best country in the world in which to experience a disaster. There are hundreds of agencies already at work, churches and private citizens are at work, giving aid and assistance to those who need it. The government is at work also, and I am contributing to this, as is every other American, through my tax dollars. So I feel perfectly free to make the personal decision to continue to help in my small way to finance the work in Mongolia. When I remember the light in the eyes of Little Nate when I reached out to ruffle his hair, and the huge smile he gave me when I took his little hand for a minute, I have no doubt that I'm doing the right thing. I can't do much, but the reward is huge.

Well, the fashion show is over, the children have been taken back to their homes, lots of good-natured kidding and joking has taken place this evening, I have my cherished scarf, and it's getting late. Eloise and I wander back to our room, taking about half an hour to make a 30-second walk, as we stop and chat with people who have become so dear to us. Badmaa, true to her promise, has managed to buy two bottles of the hotel's catsup for me, and refuses to let me reimburse her. She is such a joy, and has such a generous, giving spirit. I thank God that I can call her my friend.

We have sorted and packed our belongings, leaving a few things behind for the staff. Those things will be used, we have no doubt. As we get ready for our showers, we realize that the bathroom floor has large, white globs on it, and there are some in the bathtub as well. In addition, there is a puddle, as water is steadily dripping from overhead. The water isn't particularly clear, either. Apparently someone is staying in the room above ours, and their plumbing must leak as bad or worse than ours. The water has seeped through the ceiling and loosened the plaster, which is falling in ploppy chunks, landing in the water on the floor. Hmmm. This could be a problem. Since all the plumbing leaks to some degree all the time, we wonder about just what might be growing in the floor/ceiling that the water is filtering its way through.

Then we remember that we're missionaries in Mongolia. We are resourceful. We don't dash from the building, screaming "Black mold! Run for your lives!" Instead, we pull the heavy-duty plastic wrapper off the case of bottled water that was provided for us, and slit it down a couple of sides, so it makes a strip about three feet long and two feet wide. We attach this by means of a a piece of string and some tape, to the exposed upright pipe that extends from floor to ceiling. The pipe is just outside the bathtub, and by shaping our plastic just right we are able to catch about 90% of the dripping water and funnel it into the tub. Ha! It works! I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn't. Of course, we have to stand in the channeled stuff when we shower, but that's what soap and water are for. We just washed our feet last, before getting out of the tub.

We make a final appraisal of our luggage, and decide that we're leaving enough in Mongolia, in one way or another, that we'll now have room for the fruits of our shopping trip in China. At least, maybe I'll get by without having to buy another bag like I did last year.

It's getting late, and we have to be up early in the morning. Tomorrow, we go back to Ulaanbaatar, and from there on to China, and in a couple of days - home! What a beautiful word - home.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The big high point of the evening was the fashion show presented by the children. They modeled some of the clothing that was made for them by their own housemothers, working with our sewing team. It was beautifully organized, and the children were well-behaved and cooperative as always.

Obviously very proud of their new garments, they stepped out on the stage with confidence and big smiles, the girls pirouetting perfectly as they showed off their pretty new plaid capes, or their sleep-over style pajamas. One might expect girls to enjoy such a production, but even the boys seemed to have a lot of fun as well. These kids are just remarkable. They have such poise and presence, it's hard to imagine that they've come from such terrible backgrounds.
Here are a few pictures you might enjoy:


JUST LOOK AT THE PRETTY NEW CAPES, AND HOW ABOUT THAT TWIRL?


NEW DRESSES! AREN'T THEY SWEET AND PRETTY?

This next picture has little to do with the fashion show, other than the fact that it was taken in the sewing room. Still, I just had to let you see these two faces. Can you imagine trying to control and channel these two little guys, every day?

TROUBLE, TIMES TWO!!

In the next installment, you'll have a real treat. Some of you might be able to guess, but all I'll say is - Little Nate!

Tune in tomorrow.....

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

OUR LAST DAY IN ORKHAN

Monday morning. It's our last day at the Orkhan Hospital medical site. I'm still not used to the idea that our clinic is set up on the parking lot of a hospital. This just seems so bizarre to us.

During the previous two days out here, our doctors were given the names and locations of some people who were unable to come to us, so they made plans to go to them. Think of it - making house calls in Mongolia! Without going into much detail, they told us later that they saw some really pitiful situations. I can only imagine. So many of these people are without enough food, and their living conditions are hard-scrabble to say the least. That's bad enough, but imagine being elderly and ill, in such a situation.

At the clinic, we only saw people who were given numbers and turned away on Saturday, who could not be seen due to the late hour. There were a few newcomers who would not accept that they wouldn't be seen, and just continued to hang around the tent, scuffing their feet in the dust. Naturally, they were eventually seen.

Imagine our surprise when, toward the end of the day, we realized that some of the people requesting to be seen were actually on staff at the hospital! There were two or three nurses, and one doctor, still wearing his scrubs and surgical cap. He wanted his blood pressure checked, and then wanted to see one of our doctors. We thought this extremely odd, until the doctor he saw picked up on his heart murmur, and commented to him about it. Then we understood. He knew he had a heart murmur, and was testing us, to see if our people would find it, too.

After we had processed our last patient through triage, the Mustangs began to tear our tent down. This took about ten minutes. Those boys know what they're doing! Once our tent was gone, there just wasn't much more we could do, so we took the opportunity to walk around a bit and peek at the other groups in action. I went to the pharmacy ger to see if I could help, where things were still busy. Pharmacy is the last operation to close, of course, and since there were still people waiting in line to see the doctors, naturally there were still people arriving at the pharmacy with prescriptions in hand. Chris and company had things well-organized, and really didn't need any help from me, but I hung around anyway.

Finally I was given the job of removing some acetaminophen (think Tylenol) tablets from their blister packs and putting them in little paper envelopes, ten to a package. Since they were so nicely packaged already, I wondered why this was necessary. Chris explained. It seems that the tablets were from a Russian pharmaceutical company, and therefore were regarded with suspicion and considered inferior by the Mongols. He said if we just handed them the tablets in their original packaging, the people probably would accept them, but wouldn't take them when they got home. I guess old hurts and betrayals die hard. So, we transferred the tablets to a hand-marked envelope, and everyone was happy.

We went one last time to the little cafe on the highway, where lunch had been arranged for us and some of the senior staff from the hospital. Through the capable assistance of our faithful translators, we were able to converse with those folks and get to know a bit more about them. Their life is not easy. They do the best they can with limited resources, limited trust, and yes, limited knowledge. There is poverty and want, and physical and societal disease all around them. They battle superstition and false beliefs constantly, not only in their patients, but in themselves as well.

When we finished up, we bade the flies a final farewell and climbed back into our vans and departed Orkhan, leaving the very capable Mustangs to dismantle the pharmacy ger and return it to the CTW compound. We were on our way back to Darkhan, and a memorable and moving experience awaited us there. We were going to have dinner together for the last time in the dining room, and then would be treated to an evening with the children! This is always the high point of the trip.

Dinner was very special, served buffet-style, with warming trays and everything! There were several meat dishes, and as always, we weren't entirely sure about the origins of the meat, but it was nicely prepared and tasty, and I've learned that when in Mongolia, it's best not to question, just eat and enjoy! Some of the dishes were chicken, which I now know is considered something of a delicacy and a treat in Mongolia. It's not like at home, where one eats chicken because it's cheaper than beef (among other reasons.) In Mongolia, chicken is not plentiful, and is not cheap. When one is served chicken in a family's home, it's an honor.

After dinner, we had the ceremony of the hospitality scarves. I'm sure they have another name in Mongolian, but since I don't know what it is, I've given them that name in my own mind. This is a tradition in Mongolia, and is usually shared by the mission's children with visitors to their little world. When one visits a traditional home in Mongolia for the first time, a member of the family will present the visitor with a white scarf. If the visitor is invited back, they may be presented with a blue scarf on the second visit. It's likely that this custom has its roots in Buddhism. The blue scarves are in the color I call Buddha Blue, and I noticed on some of the ovoos that we saw along the highway that the blue strips of cloth tied on as prayers or offerings looked a lot like the blue scarves.

One might wonder why, in the Christian family at CTW, anything with Buddhist overtones would be permitted. I suppose it's a lot like some of our own traditions in America. In my own home, we always colored eggs at Easter and hid them for the children to find, and then they would hide them again and again until they were too battered to eat. I think we all know that much of the trappings that surround our Easter have pagan origins, but it means nothing to us. We have given them our own spin, and enjoy the color and the fun, and the delighted cries of little children as they find another pretty egg. In the same way, I think the presentation of a scarf to a visitor in Mongolia now carries with it just one idea - hospitality and honor, nothing more.

There is a hidden warning here, I think. It's easy to see how pagan traditions can lose their former meaning and become just something that we do as a society. Easter eggs, Christmas trees and the like all have a place of honor in our collective consciousness, and we no longer recognize the origins and the significance formerly attached to those things. We have adopted them into our Christian lives and never give a thought to what they may have meant a long time ago.

I think we also know that one doesn't have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas, or even Easter. Is it also possible that because of the general acceptance of these traditions by everyone, that we Christians also lose sight of the real, present-day meaning and significance of the occasions that they represent? When we sing "Joy to the World", do we really
feel the joy, or is it just a pretty carol? Does "Christ Arose" really stir grateful emotion in our hearts, or do we just enjoy the pretty harmony? Well, those are questions for wiser theologians than I will ever be, so I'll leave it there. Anyway, I now have two scarves - one from last year and one from this year, and I value them highly.

There is much more in the original journal entry, but I'm going to break it here, and put the rest in the next blog. There will be pictures in that one, and you'll get to meet some of the Mongolian children. Tune in later...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OF BEAUTIFUL VIEWS AND CROWDED MARKETS

Jerry and Susan's home, in time, will be built less than a hundred yards from where the chapel ger is situated now. There is a flat table of land there, and it's part of the bluff I mentioned earlier. There will be a dugout basement, with large windows on one side, facing the river. I know I've described this before, but here are some pictures to give you an even better idea of what their home will be like:

THIS IS WHERE THEIR HOME WILL BE LOCATED, OVER ON THE FLAT GROUND

IMAGINE HAVING YOUR MORNING COFFEE, LOOKING AT THIS VIEW OUTSIDE THE WINDOWS

After a little time of visiting and soaking up the beauty around us, we got back in the vans and returned to Darkhan. There we had a lovely lunch, and discussed our various plans for the rest of the day.

Some of us got into a van and were driven to the Birge (phonetic) market. It's an indoor/outdoor market, and we were told one could find just about anything there. It was hot, dirty, crowded and smelly. To further enhance the experience, there had been a rain shower and we had to navigate large puddles and contend with wet people crowding against us, even inside the buildings. We had been warned by Susan to watch out for pickpockets. (Remember, we're in town, not in the country.) We pushed our way through the crowd until Eloise and Cynthia found the fabric they were wanting to buy, to make more clothing for the kids.

With that purchase made, we ventured into the outdoor part of the market. That was interesting, to say the least. It was still drizzling rain, and the vendors had erected little plastic awnings in front of their shops. The shops, for the most part, were shipping containers, with one end open. You know what a shipping container is. They're actually pretty big, like a small room. Anyway, the rain was sluicing down off the edges of those awnings, and it was a whole new experience when one would dump about a gallon of water down the back of your neck! I didn't see much that interested me. Shoes that smelled strongly of rubber, thin t-shirts, piles of hairbows and trinkets, and lots of candy. I looked for some of the Gobi Gold, but didn't find it. Evidently it's a chocolate candy that is just marvelous. I love chocolate!!

Suddenly, miracle of miracles, I spotted some of my catsup. Different from the catsup at the hotel, it's the kind we had last year when we ate on-site at the remote clinics. It's like a cross between catsup and Tabasco, and I love it. The kind we get at the hotel is good too, and I want some of it, but it's milder than the kind I found at the market. I bought a huge bottle, for about 85 cents. Now, I have to figure out how to get it home.

With my catsup purchased, and the sewing team re-supplied with fabric, we head back to the vans. The rain stops, and I decide this might be a good time to visit the Internet Cafe, since the van can drop us off there. Eloise and Tammy and a couple of others got off with us, and I'm so glad we did it. I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything.

The Internet Cafe is accessed through a little doorway at the top of some stairs on the side of a building. There is a tiny waiting area with four chairs. Inside, the computer room is about twelve feet by 25 feet. There is a row of tables along one wall, with about ten computer terminals. Rickety plastic chairs are placed at each terminal. It's very informal. When a vacancy occurs, you just sit down and log on. You don't register, or get a time ticket or anything, just go to work. I accessed my favorite website, The Front Porch on the Andy Griffith Show website, and left a message for my porch-sitter friends. That's quite a porch. It extends all the way to Mongolia!

When I was finished, after about ten minutes, I walked over to a table where a young woman sat, with a small cashbox in front of her. She glanced at the clock on the wall, and told me I owed her the Mongolian equivalent of 33 cents. I paid her and we left. I didn't see any Starbucks coffee anywhere.

We walked back to the hotel, a distance of about four blocks. We moved slowly and carefully, in deference to my cranky knee. I made it just fine, no mishaps.

In what seemed a very short time, dinner was served and we joined the group in the dining room. As usual, the food was good, and we enjoyed it, as well as the fellowship. Eloise and I returned to our room, and Rhoda joined us for a while. Right after she left, we heard some dogs yelping and barking outside our window. I went out on the balcony, and saw four boys trying to make some dogs fight, and the dogs weren't interested. One boy saw me standing there, and took his dog and left. The other three remained. One had a small brown dog that he kept kicking and shoving toward a larger dog. The little dog was yelping and crying. Obviously, neither dog wanted to fight, but the boys were determined.

Finally, unable to tolerate the abuse any longer, I yelled at the boys. Of course they couldn't understand my words, but my tone was pretty clear. They picked up their dogs and moved out of sight, but I could still hear the dogs crying. If you know me, you know I wasn't going to let that lie. I went downstairs, out the door and walked down the sidewalk until I located the boys in an over-grown garden area. They were still on hotel property, and were still abusing the helpless dogs. I found myself wishing one of the dogs would bite his tormentor, but they never did. It made me sick. I went back inside and found David Bass. I told him what was going on, and he said he'd see what he could do. He told me that they had just recently rescued a small kitten from some boys who had set some dogs on it.

David told me later that the boys had moved off of hotel property, and had broken up their little session, so there was really nothing he could do about it. I would not expect to see something like that in the countryside, and consider this little display of callous cruelty to be just another example of the dehumanizing effects of poverty and wretched city living.

When I returned to the room, Eloise chided me for going after the boys, pointing out the risk, but I think she knew that I just couldn't stand by and listen to those poor dogs crying for help. I also think that if I hadn't done something, she would have.

By now, it's getting to be about bedtime, and we turn in, planning to read while there's still enough light. I wish we had thought about buying some light bulbs while we were at the market, but we didn't, so our room will be dark when the sun finally goes down. No problem, we're ready for sleep anyway, and it comes quickly, in spite of our anti-social beds.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

CHURCH SERVICES IN A GER

It's Sunday morning in Mongolia. We slept an hour later, or rather fought with our beds for an extra hour. How an inanimate object such as a bed can cause me to feel like the loser in a prizefight, I don't know, but trust me, it can. We get up and dress, and are in the dining room by 8, for breakfast. As always, it's good. Not a lot of variety from the other days, but it's filling and certainly better than what I would eat at home, because at home I usually don't eat breakfast at all!

At a smaller table, in one corner of the room, a group of Koreans are having their breakfast. This surprises us a bit. We so rarely see any other guests in the hotel, that we have rather a proprietary attitude, and it's always a bit disconcerting to see someone else staying there, too. A few of the Koreans smile and nod in our direction, and continue eating. We seat ourselves, laughing and talking, and enjoy our breakfast.

After we finish, we decide to run through a rehearsal of "How Great Thou Art," as we will be singing this for our Mongolian friends at church services later on. Everyone stands up, then we begin looking at each other, waiting for someone to lead off. No one moves. Several people look at me, knowing that in years past, I sang in the church choir. Little do they know that whatever meager voice I might have had back then is now long gone. There's nothing left. We shuffle our feet, and I finally realize that the only person who just might lead off is a tenor and will start it so high that the rest of us would need ladders, so I give in. So help me, if these people don't join in and take it away from me on about the second note, I'll hunt them down like varmints.

Very tentatively, I start out. "Oh, Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder....." Sure enough, the group picks up immediately and sings along, mercifully drowning me out. Then a wonderful thing happens. At "consider all the worlds thy hands have made", we become aware that we are not singing alone. The Koreans have joined us. They are singing in perfect unison with us, but in their language. It is absolutely beautiful, and emotionally moving beyond description. I can feel the chills in my spine, and there are tears just ready to spring forth. What a lovely moment! Two totally different cultures, different languages, one love song to the Lord. We finish the verse, and with everyone a bit choked up, we decide that one run-through is enough. I don't think we could have held up for a second one. Several of us approach the Koreans' table, smiling, and thank them. They stand and bow, and we find ourselves bowing in return!

We load into our vans and begin the short trip out to Hongor, where we will have worship services with the Mongols in the new chapel ger that has been set up there. As more and more of the local people and the CTW children became Christians, it became obvious that a house of worship was a must. Until recently, they have met on the riverbank, sitting on benches, boards and blankets. I've heard reports of those services, and how beautiful they are, in that gorgeous natural setting. However, winter will arrive soon in Mongolia, and that will end the outdoor services. Rather than have his little flock feel displaced, Jerry envisioned a worship center, to keep everyone together as a church family. Long-range plans are for a large geodesic dome on the property, a permanent structure. However, gers have proven usable and effective for centuries, and the Mongols would see nothing wrong with using a large ger for a church until that dome becomes a reality.

While it's true that gers (or yurts, the Russian word for ger) are plentiful in Mongolia, it's also true that word of their practicality and relatively low cost has spread to the states, and there are a couple of companies making them there now. They're being purchased in significant numbers, especially in the Pacific northwest, where people are using them for vacation homes in the mountains, for hunting camps, for storage buildings, and numerous other purposes. They're very well made, using the strong points of traditional construction, and reinforcing them with a few additional refinements. Here's a picture of the one where we had church services:

OUR GROUP, RIGHT AFTER WE SANG FOR OUR MONGOLIAN FRIENDS

This picture shows some of the refinements in the construction of a ger that the U.S. companies have incorporated. Note the sturdy vertical slats every couple of feet. They're attached in such a way that the section can still collapse like a child-gate, but they add strength when the sections are expanded. The roof poles are attached with metal plates to these uprights, instead of being tied with thongs to the V where the slats come together at the top. Also, notice the zigzag of wire that runs between the roof poles. This wire can be tightened, and certainly gives a lot of stability to the roof.


The smiling, silver-haired man in the light blue shirt is David Bass. He's Jerry's right hand, and keeps the home fires burning when Jerry and Susan are away. He was a police officer in his "other life", but is now fully committed to the mission in Mongolia. I asked him once how long he thought he'd remain there. His answer was simple. "Until God moves me." I guess you can't do better than that.

SOME OF OUR GROUP OUTSIDE THE NEW CHAPEL, OR CHURCH GER

Another of the refinements over the traditional ger can be seen at the top of this one. All gers have a hole in the roof, which when left open and the sides raised or windows opened allows for a chimney effect and causes air circulation. This also allows combustion gases to escape, when stoves are in use - much like the smoke-hole in Native American tepees. In the traditional ger, when it rains the hole is covered by canvas, which results in a hot, dark interior. In the gers made in the U.S., the hole has a Plexiglas cap, which admits light even when closed, but can be opened a little or a lot by means of a cranking rod, to allow for air movement. It's pretty ingenious. Also, in the U.S. model, there are windows, which traditional gers don't usually have. The U.S. model has a plain jane door, though, unlike the colorful, beautifully decorated doors one sees in a traditional ger.

Incidentally, t
hat's our Dr. Tom in the light blue pants, basking in the attention from some of the children. Just to the right, that's Jerry, in the long green shirt with the writing on the front. Note that he is standing with his arm around the shoulder of one of the children, a very typical pose for him. I don't think I've ever seen him without a child attached, if the children are nearby. They all run directly to him when he appears. He loves them, and they instinctively know it.

The worship service was impressive. We sang our one verse of "How Great Thou Art" in English, then using some song sheets painstakingly put together by David Bass, we tried to sing other hymns along with the Mongols. David had written the words out phonetically to the best of his ability, but there just aren't any phonetic spellings for some of the sounds in the Mongolian language, and we spent more time laughing at ourselves than we did singing. The Mongols, true to their kind nature, tried very hard to suppress their laughter at our efforts, but there were a lot of smiles to be seen. The "joy of the Lord", no doubt.

Jerry then preached a brief, simple but effective sermon. He preaches through a translator. He's working on learning Mongolian, but it's an extremely difficult language to learn. Rather than confuse or mislead someone by preaching in his version of Mongolian, he just uses a trusted translator. Very wise.

Certificates of Baptism were presented to each of the children and adults who were baptized in the river earlier in the week. No group presentation here, with one collective round of applause. No, indeed. Each individual received applause and congratulations as they accepted their certificate, and each returned to his or her seat beaming like an angel. It was just lovely.

After a couple of hymns and a benedictory prayer, we were dismissed. We stood around on the deck outside the chapel, just absorbing the beauty around us. I wish I could describe it adequately. The deck and chapel are on top of a small bluff, above a little meadow that just sweeps down to the river. A few cows were grazing down there, and the scene was one of such grace and peace that you could just literally feel the presence of God.

I'm going to break right here, and save the rest of this installment for another blog entry. You will remember that I'm taking these entries from the original email installments that went to family and friends soon after we returned home. Some were a bit long for blog entries, so I'm dividing them. More on our church service in the next entry, and more pictures of the site as well.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

THE REST OF THE DAY

Picking up where we left off last time, I will add a little footnote. The egg that I pushed off the top of my meatloaf was not wasted. After it had remained untouched on my plate for several minutes, the two translators who were seated at my table finally concluded that I really wasn't going to eat it, and one shyly inquired if I minded if they shared it. Of course I didn't mind, and one eagerly scooped it off my plate, gave half to the other girl and kept half for herself. A couple of bites each, and the egg was gone.

I should also note here that at the end of our meals, any plate still containing food was passed to the table where our drivers were eating, and was swiftly consumed. In Mongolia, absolutely nothing is wasted.

We finished eating, and returned to our vans. Back at the clinic, Bulgan told us that the line would be closed at 2:30, and that we were not to see anyone who wasn't there to receive a new number before then. This seemed simple and straightforward enough, and we knew from experience that the plan would let us finish by 4 p.m, and our doctors would then finish by around 5 p.m. At 2:30, new numbers were passed out to the people who were waiting, and anyone who came after that was given a different colored number and asked to return on Monday.

Everything went smoothly, and at around 4 p.m. we saw our last client and were preparing to close the triage area down. Suddenly a woman appeared, brandishing a ticket and demanding to be seen. It was a ticket in the color that was used yesterday. Those people had been asked to return this morning, and would have been seen first. This woman apparently had not shown up until now, and still expected to be seen. Barb and I were perfectly willing to see her, and saw no point in making a scene about it, but Bulgan was adamant. The woman didn't follow instructions, came strolling in after we had closed for the day, and was insisting on being seen anyway. This just wasn't acceptable, according to Bulgan.

At first, I couldn't see the point, but Bulgan soon made it clear. She very tactfully explained that some of the town people can be very pushy and will take advantage, and that it's important for us to do what we say we're going to do. She gently hinted that there are dynamics at work that we don't understand, being outsiders, and that it's best to stick with the plan and not let someone run over us. Besides, she said, what you do for one, you must do for others. We didn't see any others around, but still we moved on outside the tent, while the woman raged and stomped around, demanding that somebody see her.

She approached one of the interpreters and began to shout and berate her. Her tone was rude and overbearing, but the interpreter just answered her softly. Finally Bulgan reappeared, confronted her and told her to settle down and move on. (Our translators were quietly keeping us informed.) Bulgan kept her voice soft and gentle, but she was unbending. The woman finally quieted down, but didn't leave. She just continued to hang around, walking around the tent, occasionally walking through, and eyeing us as we stood off to one side, as though wondering why we were just standing there doing nothing. We were feeling pretty much the same way.

The woman approached Bulgan again, a little less belligerently, and Bulgan again explained to her that we could not send any more patients to the doctors, because the line was still long, and we had to finish up and leave soon. This gave the woman an opening that allowed her to feel she had won, while still complying with Bulgan's rules. The woman announced that she didn't need to see a doctor, that all she wanted was some eyeglasses and to have her blood pressure checked, and since we weren't doing anything, couldn't we just do that for her? The smart and tactful Bulgan knew a good compromise when she saw one. She explained that we didn't have any more eyeglasses, and it was too bad the woman hadn't come this morning while we still had some. However, she said she was sure the nurses wouldn't mind taking her blood pressure, and asked if we would do so. Of course we would, and did. We wrote it down for her, she took the paper and left. Now of course, the notion of not seeing a doctor had just occurred to the woman. If that had been in her mind all the time, I can't believe it wouldn't have come out during the heated confrontation earlier. The woman was simply determined to win in some way, and Bulgan was wise enough to let her, while not relaxing one inch on the explanation that she couldn't send anyone else to the doctors. It was a win/win situation, which is always best. Bulgan is a treasure.

Shortly after the demanding woman left, another woman appeared. She, too, had a number from yesterday, and wondered if it was too late for her to be seen. She was so meek and polite, not at all demanding, and looked so very tired and weary, that Barb and I just quietly took her vitals, one of the translators filled out an intake paper for her, and we took her history. Then we found Bulgan and explained the situation to her, and Bulgan walked away with her. Right about then, we were told to get into the vans to return to Darkhan, so I'm not sure whether the woman was allowed to go to the doctors' line or not, though I rather suspect that she was. Bulgan plays by the rules, but she has a big and tender heart.

It rained on us on the trip back to town, and I got some good pictures. You can see the rain falling on the road ahead of us, and we drove through it when we reached that point. It was a downpour, and the dry and thirsty earth was soaking it up like a sponge.

RAIN ON THE HIGHWAY AHEAD OF US, ON THE WAY BACK TO DARKHAN.

The highway pictured here is "the" highway in Mongolia. There is only one main road that gives some access to the country, and this is part of it. In the U.S., this patched and often cracked two-lane road would likely bear "county road" or "farm-to-market road" status, it certainly would not be a "super highway", though it is the largest, in fact the only highway in the country.

At long intervals, smaller roads veer off to go to a small town or settlement. They're usually roughly black-topped, though not always. In addition, there are numerous dirt lanes, or tracks, that head off into the unknown. In a sense, it's fortunate that rainstorms are infrequent, because after a heavy rain, those lanes are almost impassable, with washouts, potholes and mudslides you wouldn't believe. I'm sure they aren't mapped, but the locals know where they go, and seem to have no trouble finding their way around. Of course, the condition of the roads would have little impact on the local population, since they travel mainly on foot or by horseback anyway. Our vans have bumped and clambered through those holes and slides at times, and it's quite an experience.


Finally, we got back to the hotel, cleaned up a bit and went immediately in to dinner. It was good, and we had some of that wonderful creamy ice cream, with the delicious blueberry sauce.


Ray is improving a lot. He returned my little wrist braces, saying that his wrists were feeling better. They're still swollen and bruised, and he winces when he tries to use them, though he doesn't admit it. He still has a 12-hour gap in his memory that may or may not ever return, but his current short-term memory is functioning. He remembers everything that led up to that 12-hour period, and almost everything that has happened since, but he just doesn't remember anything about the camel. Probably a good thing!


It has rained here in town, too. Windows and doors are open, the air is fresh and clean, and smells just wonderful. Everything looks greener already, as we look out at the open fields behind the hotel. This is such a wild and impressive land. It's so hard to believe that the beautiful prairies and mountains, and the squalid, depressing towns are part of the same country. The towns are like open sores on an otherwise lovely face.


It's only 8 p.m. now, and some of the group is planning to walk to town to the "Wal-Mart", or to the Internet cafe. There are no vans available to drive us, and I'm a little reluctant to walk that far on my gimpy knee. Where there are sidewalks, they're broken and uneven, and now they're wet and slippery as well, after the rain. It would be about an eight-block walk, round trip, and I just don't think it would be too smart. Eloise isn't too keen on going either, so we decide to stay in the hotel. A couple of the other women come down for a while and we visit, have a few laughs as we recall some of the things that have happened, and then our visitors leave. We read for a little while, and as the light begins to fade, so do we. We fall asleep quickly, anticipating the church service we're going to attend in the morning, out in Hongor.

Friday, February 27, 2009

AT THE HOSPITAL SITE AGAIN

It's Saturday morning, and we're gathered in the dining room for breakfast. I enjoy catching bits of conversation here and there, as people discuss what they've been doing, and what they'll do today. Ray is feeling better, still no memory of the accident and his wrists are still very sore, but he's better. Bobby has been staying with him, but Ray says he's ready to go with one of the groups and be useful. Besides, he says, he doesn't think he wants to spend another day with his "mean nurse." This produces a round of laughter from those who heard him, and a grumbled retort from Bobby, which I didn't understand. Probably just as well. Those two are the best of friends, and the good-natured digs that fly between them are hilarious.

After breakfast, we're back in our vans and headed out for another day of work, each team going to their respective area of service. The construction team will do some more work on the buildings at Hongor, the humanitarian aid and elder care teams will visit more of the sick and needy in Darkhan, and our team is returning to the hospital grounds in Orkhan. We know there will be a large crowd waiting for us, because many people were given numbers yesterday, and asked to return today. We have no doubt that they will do so.

Sure enough, there is a long line of people waiting when we arrive. We go straight to our tent and begin. Things go pretty much the same as yesterday. We see several people who arrive wearing pajamas and robes. Obviously, they're patients from the hospital, who have left their rooms and come down to get in our line to be seen by the American doctors! This never ceases to amaze me. It's pretty humbling, too. These people trust us, and have such high hopes. They have no idea how limited our resources are, and how little we're actually equipped to do for them. I'm not sure there is a lot that we could do for many of them, even if we had them with us in America. A lifetime of wear-and-tear is not something that can be easily fixed. Still, they seem to go away happy. Perhaps just having someone to show some interest in them, and listen to them for even a moment, is enough to make them feel better.

It's hot. It's humid. The line is endless. Still, most of the people are so patient. Babies are well-behaved, and they are so very cute. Here's one little charmer whose mom had dressed her appropriately (no sweater):

SWEET LITTLE MONGOLIAN BABY GIRL

We continued seeing people, most of them with the same monotonous complaints, but occasionally we'd see something a bit different. There was a young girl, about 12, who had multiple warts on her hands. Probably fifty or more. She was very embarrassed about them, and tried to keep her hands hidden. Her mom was very concerned. We learned later that she was told by the doctor who saw her to just be patient, that in time they would disappear, being of a self-limiting variety.

Then there was the young deaf boy, about sixteen years old. He didn't speak, just sat and watched, eyes darting from one face to another, as though trying to gain some sense of what was happening around him. His mother said he could hear when he was a baby, and had begun to try to talk, when he lost his hearing. She wasn't quite sure what caused the loss, and said he never learned to talk after that. I had the impression that his attempts may have been discouraged, as they would have been largely unintelligible, and might have been embarrassing to his family. He did make a couple of guttural sounds at one point, and was waved into silence by his mother. No one seemed to speak to him, so he had little chance to learn lip-reading. They just made simple hand gestures to him, which he seemed to understand, and obeyed. Sit down, get up, come along. He gave the impression of mild retardation, though I'm not at all sure of that. There was also an air of confusion and bewilderment about him, that made me wonder just how much more intelligent and "connected" he would seem if he could hear and understand.

I've noticed that the people we're seeing here in the town are much less likely to be dressed in traditional Mongolian attire than those in the countryside. In fact, only the elderly seem to wear dels, and not very many of them do so. Everyone else dresses in a confusing mishmash of Western clothing. Here's an example:

THIS OLDER WOMAN IS WEARING A TRADITIONAL DEL.
HER DAUGHTER IS IN WESTERN ATTIRE.

Actually, this division in wearing apparel exists in the countryside as well, but there are some cross-overs. In the country, some younger people do wear the traditional attire, especially among the men, but I don't recall seeing anyone under the age of 40 or so in traditional clothing in town. It's really too bad, because the traditional garb is charming.

We continued seeing people, and funneling them to the line waiting to get into the hospital building where they would see our doctors. The line was mostly outside, as it was so warm inside. At least outdoors, a vagrant breeze would pass by now and then. Here's a scene from inside one of the exam rooms:
DR. TOM, SEEING A PATIENT. DO YOU THINK IT WAS WARM
IN THE ROOM??

The picture above was taken by Barb, using my camera. She wanted to walk a few kinks out, and took the opportunity to get a few candid shots of our operation. I was glad she did. However, I wished for the camera at one point while she was gone, as a curious pig wandered into our triage tent, looked around at the people seated on the benches there, then turned and sauntered out again. My translators and I were about the only ones who seemed surprised by this. The waiting clients took little or no notice of the critter, and seemed mildly amused by the fact that I apparently found it to be unusual, to say the least. To my credit, I didn't jump up and shoo the pig away, but I did suspend my activity during its visit. At home, pigs just don't walk into a triage area unchallenged!

Lunch was at the little roadside cafe again. We had a sort of goulash of noodles and meat, and it was quite good. Hearty and well-seasoned, and I enjoyed it. I'm glad we didn't have what we had yesterday. That meal consisted of a slice of meatloaf (MUO, of course - meat of unknown origin), which would have been pretty good, except for the fact that an undercooked fried egg was plopped on top of it, covering the entire slice. I imagine that eggs are not plentiful in Mongolia, and that this was a choice tidbit, but after a couple of bites, I just couldn't eat any more of it. Had it been cooked thoroughly, it would have been a lot better, but not only was the yolk runny, the white was runny also. I like everything, and can eat almost anything, but runny egg white is just not something I choose to eat. Soft yolk, okay, but not clear whites. So I pushed the egg aside and ate the meat. I noticed the translators exchanging glances, like they couldn't believe I wasn't going to eat a treat such as that. Anyway, today the noodles and meat were really very good, and I went away well-fed.


In the original email installments, there is much more to this one, but as a blog, it grows too long. Therefore, I'm dividing it and the rest will appear later.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

OUR FIRST DAY AT THE HOSPITAL SITE

Friday morning - today we will be going to a different site. We have our usual good breakfast - tea, bread and jam, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, fried wieners, and potatoes. Also the good catsup. It occurs to me that perhaps the hotel would sell me some. I mention this in Badmaa's presence, and her face lights up in a huge smile as she tells me I am not to worry, that she will fix it! I don't doubt it for a moment. If anyone can make it happen, she can.

Stuffing ourselves into our vans, we settle in for the ride. We're going to the village of Orkhan, and will actually set up on the grounds of the little hospital there! This seems very odd. I try to picture a situation where a bunch of doctors and nurses from France, for example, would come and set up a clinic on the parking lot of one of our hospitals. Somehow, I just can't imagine it. Still, that's where we're going. It should be interesting.

When we arrive in the little town, before we even see the hospital, the idea seems a bit more believable. The town looks like a Mexico City barrio. Deplorable living conditions. Squalid buildings, corrugated tin shacks, rutted roads. Livestock roaming freely everywhere. Not a blade of grass to be seen. I'm amazed to even think that there could be a hospital here.

We arrive at the hospital, following a narrow, rutted road behind some buildings to get there. Through a gate, and we're on the hospital grounds. So are a couple of cows, but no one seems to notice. No driving around looking for a parking space here. Our vehicles are the only ones in sight, and have all of the half-acre or so of space in which to park.

We climb out of the vans and walk toward our big tent which has been set up just about thirty yards from the entrance to the hospital. One of our gers has been set up on a concrete patio area nearby. The Mustangs have worked during the night to get everything ready for us. Bless their little hearts! The ger will be the pharmacist's domain, and also contains our supplies of water. Bottled water, as usual, will be available to us in abundance. All we have to do is look a bit dry, and a Mustang appears with a bottle in his hand. What would we do without them?

There is a long line of people waiting for us outside our tent. We quickly set up an intake table, and the Mustangs begin to escort people in to get their registration card filled out. The clients are then seated on benches inside the tent, to be seen by Barb and/or myself. We resume our routine from the preceding days, with Barb mostly doing vital signs and me mostly getting histories, but sometimes we switch off, or sometimes we each do both processes to keep the lines moving. As soon as these things are done, a Mustang appears to escort the client over to another line, just outside the hospital entrance.


THIS IS THE LINE THAT GREETED US WHEN WE ARRIVED

Our doctors are inside the building. Rooms have been made available to them, and their exams will be done there. No gers this time, except for the pharmacy. The rooms are reasonably clean, and they are large enough, but there doesn't seem to be any a/c, and open windows allow flies in. The hallway is full of people and flies, probably at least forty men, women and children (I didn't count the flies), all seated on the floor or on the few chairs that are provided. They are not our clients, but instead are waiting to be seen by the clinic staff of the hospital. Interestingly, we learn later that many of these same people will come through our clinic as well.



PEOPLE WAITING TO SEE OUR DOCTORS - OUTSIDE THE HOSPITAL ENTRANCE

We have no little gray tent this time, but instead are permitted to use the restrooms in the building. One visit there, and I'm wishing for our little tent. I cannot believe that the stinking, filthy little closet in which I found myself was actually a hospital restroom. The floor was wet - just water, I hope - and there was no commode seat. No matter, I can't imagine anyone using it anyway. The sink was equipped with a faucet, but the broken handle lay nearby and there was no way to turn the water on. No paper towels, either, so if I had washed my hands I would have had to dry them on my jeans. Thank heaven for our liquid hand sanitizer.

A few hours later, on another visit to a restroom, an officious, uniformed staffer led me to another bathroom, and used a key from a string around her neck to unlock it. Apparently it's reserved for staff only, and I understood that it was a gesture of professional courtesy that I was taken there and permitted to use the facility. Inside, conditions were perhaps a little better than in the other restroom. At least the floor was mostly dry, and the faucet worked, but there were no towels. No matter, jeans work well when they have to. The staffer waited outside for me, and locked it again when I exited. I thanked her, and she smiled and nodded in a friendly manner. Pretty remarkable, really, when you think about it. She could have resented our presence, could have considered our visit to be a criticism of her hospital's services. Instead, in her way, she made me feel welcome.

For the most part, the folks we see are much the same as the country folks we've seen in the past three days. Most of these people are residents of the town, though not all. Some country people arrive as well - we see a few horses tied to the fence now and then. The complaints are much the same, though there is more evidence of the influence of the Chinese herbalists with these townfolk. I suppose the herbalists find it more profitable to hit the towns, where they can see a lot of people at once, instead of traveling from ger to ger in the country.

The efficient Bulgan, who seems to be everywhere at once - assisting and translating in the pharmacist's ger, serving as liaison between the hospital staff and our group, organizing our lunch plans - has decided to give the waiting people a number, so that they can come and go with a bit of freedom, yet not risk losing their place in line. This wasn't necessary at the river site, but seems to be a good idea here in town. The Mustangs are very good at using the numbers to help keep the line flowing in proper order.

In the early afternoon, as we're seeing people and getting them processed through as quickly as possible, we hear a minor commotion outside, and a large elderly man comes striding into the tent, via the side flap, rather than the door. There is a Mustang in hot pursuit, and the old man brushes him away as he would a fly.
Our translators are quick to keep Barb and me informed of what's being said. The Mustang is pleading with him, explaining that he must have a number. The old man replies, "These are all the numbers I need!" and lifts the lapel of his frayed suit coat, displaying several shiny medals. One of the Mustangs examines the medals, and announces that they are medals of commendation from various military battles, that the old man is evidently a veteran of one of Mongolia's wars. He apparently considers himself a hero, though Goldie, my translator, tells me that some of the medals are of a kind that can be bought if one knows where to look for them.

At any rate, the old man seems to consider himself due a measure of extra respect, and since he's harmless, we decide to play along. The Mustang takes him to the registration table, and he is moved right on through. The folks outside the tent, who have been watching through the door, don't seem to mind. I would imagine the old man is well known to most of them, and in this country where age is held in great esteem, I'm convinced it would have been a mistake to try to make him conform to our procedures. We would have lost the respect and trust of the people waiting there.

When he removes his coat to have his blood pressure checked, I can see that he would have had a very good build in his youth. He has the remains of well-developed muscles, and the set of his shoulders is still square, his bearing proud. It was a pleasure to show this old fellow some extra respect, and he enjoyed it tremendously.

OLD MAN WITH MEDALS

This grows too long, so will be continued in another blog, another day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

WE BID FAREWELL TO THE RIVER

Our vans bounce and jolt over the track out to the remote river site one more time. By now, even our first-timers have learned the "rhythm of the road" and are able to converse freely, or just enjoy the scenery, in spite of the sometimes bone-jarring motion of the vans. Of course, it helps that the ride is just not as rough as it was last year.

Arriving at the site, we see that there are already long lines of people, waiting to see the American doctors. The complaints are much the same as yesterday and the day before, and we soon settle into our routine. Translators at our sides, Barb and I extract as much information as we can, and get vital signs before sending the client on to wait in a line by one of the gers where the doctors are working. We have discovered that we can do things a bit faster if one of us does the vital signs and the other asks the questions about the client's history. Usually Barb does the vitals, and I ask the questions. We watch each other's line, and if one is getting an overload, the other will perform both functions until things even out again. It works well for us.

The complaints are much the same. High blood pressures, kidney pain, back pain, liver pain, heart pain, joint pain. A few more kids with "hot spots" on their heads. Drat those Chinese herbalists! Many folks complain of headaches, and almost without exception, they also have with high blood pressure. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's so prevalent with these people, and so dangerous, that I just can't forget it. So many of them do admit to having medication, but as I've said, they only take it when they think they need it, and their criteria for need is a splitting headache. We try to educate them in the brief moment of time that we have, but we can tell by their facial expression that they aren't listening. Well, at least we try.

If these folk survive their blood pressures long enough, their eyesight becomes a problem, just as it does for the 50-somethings at home. Near vision just deteriorates and they can't read or do any fine work up close. This could be a problem for a herdsman who needs to mend a harness or repair a hole in a ger. So, as we did last year, we have brought a supply of reading glasses with us, in various strengths. These can be obtained at the dollar stores back home, and for such a small price, they can make a big difference in the quality of life for these folks.

The doctors take great delight in supplying these glasses to the folks who need them. There are no eye charts or any other fancy equipment to determine the needed prescription. They simply hand the client a few pair of glasses, and let them try them on. They know they have the right prescription when the client's face lights up in a huge smile, and their voice rises in excited chatter. Dr. Ron fitted one gentleman with some glasses, and the man was so thrilled, he wanted his picture taken with his benefactor. To make it doubly gratifying for Dr. Ron, the man confided that he was a Christian, too. Here's the picture:

DR. RON AND MAN WITH NEW GLASSES

The people continue to arrive, on foot, on horses, in horse-drawn wagons, on motorcycles, by jeep, truck or car. The only conveyance I don't recall seeing is a boat, and with us being camped on the riverbank, I'm surprised that none came.

I'm always amazed at the nature of these people. Kind, considerate and unfailingly patient, they wait in the interminable lines without even a murmur of complaint. For the most part, they're waiting out in the sun. Our tent will only hold so many, so the others must wait outside until their turn comes. Still, they don't complain. Even the children are well-behaved and pleasant. They sit patiently on a lap, or on a bench beside their parent when there is room. Tiny infants who get hungry are casually but discreetly nursed, and rarely does one hear a baby cry. Diapers don't seem to be a concern. Often the babies are warmly dressed (too warmly, in many cases) but will be bare-bottomed. If they do have trousers on, there is usually no diaper underneath. Their caregivers seem to know when a disaster is about to strike, and simply hold the baby out at arm's length and the child does what Nature prompts. Any resulting moisture is quickly soaked up by the dry earth. If necessary, a little dirt is kicked over the deposit, and life goes on.

I can't stress enough the innate courtesy and patience of these country people. I cannot recall one argument, one flare-up of temper, or a single incident of anyone making any demands on us. They simply wait their turn, follow instructions given by the translators or the Mustangs, and offer their very gracious thanks when they leave our area. Some have been turned away in the late afternoon and asked to return the next day, and they simply smile and agree, and come back as requested. We have no way of knowing how inconvenient this may be for them, but I'm sure it's not easy. Still, they do not complain or argue, they just do it.

It's true, they are receiving free services, and I'm sure that fact isn't lost on them, but I'm still impressed. Where I work back home, a lot of our patients are receiving free care, too, and I wish I could say their attitude is as gracious as that of the Mongolians, but it's not, in most cases. Some of the crankiest, most demanding, and heaviest abusers of our resources are those who are receiving free care. I have literally been cursed out by a new mother because her room was too small to suit her, and because we didn't have a free carseat to give her in which to take her new baby home. Here in Mongolia, we receive profuse thanks for a $1 pair of reading glasses. The contrast is glaringly obvious.

Toward the end of the day, as we were preparing to leave, a woman reappeared and sought me out. She had come through earlier in the day, and had returned, or perhaps waited somewhere on the site, to contact me when I was not otherwise occupied. Her request was simple. She wanted her picture taken with me. Imagine that! Naturally, I was glad to oblige, and handed my camera off to someone else to take the picture. After this was done, the woman very shyly took my hand, and in halting, careful English, she said, "Thank you. I want you to know, I am a Christian, too." Well, of course, this generated some excitement in me, and grabbing a translator, I managed to get more information. It seems she has been a Christian since 1996, and attends a small church located somewhere in the area. I never cease to be amazed at the golden thread of Christianity that is woven throughout this primarily Buddhist or atheist country.

LANNI AND THE WOMAN WHO HAS BEEN A CHRISTIAN SINCE 1996

The afternoon has ended, and the Mustangs are starting to tear down our camp. I really hate to see things dismantled, because we have been very happy here. Tomorrow, we will go to a different place, and I know by the nature of the location that it will not be as pleasant as our river camp has been.

We return to the hotel, and enjoy a good dinner. We have ice cream for dessert, and it's so good. The ice cream served here is creamy and delicious, and they put some sort of berry topping on it that's just delightful. Sweet and tart at the same time, and a wonderful contrasting taste to the ice cream. I wish I could get a jar of the topping to take home.

After dinner, a group of us gathers to go shopping. David Bass drives us in a van, dropping some off at the internet cafe, and taking the rest of us to the market. This market proves to be quite an experience. Affectionately referred to as "The Wal-Mart" by the Americans who live here, it's a big square building more or less in the center of town, and evidently is the only place to go other than the open market, which is another thing entirely. The building is about the size of a small Kroger store at home. There are a couple of swing sets and some resin chairs for sale outside the front entrance. Inside, there is a little bit of everything. The key phrase here is "a little bit." The linen department offers about six towels, a small stack of washcloths, and a few rugs. There are also several blankets, two of which are 100% cashmere, and appear to be of very good quality. They are not inexpensive, though probably much cheaper than they would be in the states. I considered one, but it was heavy, would take up a whole suitcase, and it was bright red. Okay, I'll pass on that.

Eloise and I continue to wander through the store, and we are very much impressed by the wide variety of things that are condensed into such a small space. There is everything from furniture to food, washing machines to jewelry. I'm looking for the Mongolian catsup I've learned to like so much, but can't find it. They have catsup, but it's Heinz! I can get that at home, for heaven's sake! Perhaps I'll try the tiny grocery near the hotel tomorrow. We do decide to buy a small package of washcloths - six in the package. They will come in handy back in our room, as only towels are supplied, and they're only replaced every other day, and then only by request! Eloise bought us each an extra towel earlier in the week. We plan to use them as backup, and then to leave them for the hotel at the end of our stay.

We meet David back at the front of the store, and get in the vans for the return drive to the hotel. It's really only a few blocks, and some of our folks have walked it. However, with my battered knee, I'm grateful for the ride. We go to our room, clean up and visit with other people for a little while, then head for our beds. As always, it's still light outside but we're used to it, and soon fall asleep.