Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It's Thursday morning, and we are up early, anticipating our last day at the remote river site. Tomorrow we will be in a different place. We rather dread the idea of moving, because our present site is so beautiful, and from what we've been told, our next site will be considerably less pleasant.

After a good breakfast, we all load into our respective vans, to be driven to our areas of service. Most of the men go out to Hongor and the CTW compound, to do more construction. Bobby decides to stay behind with Ray, and there's a grin on Bobby's face that tells us he will bedevil poor Ray all day. Although he's improving a lot, Ray still isn't up to a day in the heat out there on that construction site. His memory is gradually coming back in bits and pieces, but he still doesn't remember anything about the camel. Perhaps he never will. His hands are still swollen and his wrists are painful. I had brought along my little carpal tunnel wrist braces in case I had a flare-up while over here, and we found that by loosening the laces completely and tugging a bit, we were able to get them over Ray's hands and into place to support his wrists. Not ideal, but it works.

I think we'll suggest that a few wrist braces and knee and ankle supports in various sizes be sent over in the next container from the states. It has become painfully obvious that they could come in handy. Greg had brought a knee brace along, because he has a bad knee and sometimes needs it for security, and he graciously offered it to me. It had some rigid support, and probably would have worked very well, but it was too big. I couldn't get it fastened tightly enough to be of any help. So,
I'm still wearing Bobby's knee wrap, and appreciate it very much. It's not a true brace, but it does afford some measure of stability, and keeps me reminded not to put stress on the knee.

Some of the group, both men and women, head into town to visit the apartment families and deliver whatever humanitarian aid they can. This can be in the form of bags of food, perhaps some clothing. It can also mean that the CTW staffer who accompanies the group can make notes of the areas of greatest need, and action can be taken to try to help the family in whatever way seems most expedient. The need everywhere is great, but some are worse than others. Unemployment runs about 80% in the towns, and alcoholism is rampant. The Russians, during their tenure in the country, introduced the populace to vodka, and it's the beverage of choice for a very large percentage of the adults, women as well as men. It seems incredible, to think that when there are hungry children in a family, the "responsible" adult will spend whatever meager income there might be on alcohol, but it definitely happens, and happens quite often. But of course, the same thing happens in America, so why should one be surprised? Besides, all you have to do is look around the little towns to understand the despair and hopelessness that pervades these people's lives.

As I've said before, everything is gray. There is very little color. Paint, apparently, is not an option. First of all, it would be expensive and there is no money for such non-essentials. Also, it probably wouldn't survive the winter weather, but instead would very likely just freeze and flake off. So, everything is concrete-gray. There is no grass. There are no lawns. Now and then one sees a tiny patch of struggling little flowers, but they don't seem to survive very well. No one is going to waste precious water on such as that, and the rainfall is negligible, so ornamental vegetation just doesn't make it. Even if a few blades of grass do happen to sprout, they're quickly cropped off by the livestock that roams freely everywhere. There are a few poplar trees along the roadside as one enters Darkhan, obviously planted and maintained in an effort to improve the first impression one gets upon entering the town. How they have escaped the attention of the livestock, I don't know. Their trunks are painted white, which I thought was a decorative effort, but perhaps it's something that discourages nibbling by animals.

In short, there is very little beauty to be found in the towns. The countryside is magnificent, but the towns are just plain depressing. If I had to live there, and didn't have the light and beauty of God in my life, I think I might be pretty depressed too, and the escape to be found in a bottle of vodka just might entice me, as it has done so many of the town-dwelling Mongolians.

Eloise is on the sewing team, and along with a couple of the other women, they go each day to the special sewing room that has been set up for their use. By the way, for those of you who don't know, Eloise and I are not only very good friends, but we share our grandchildren! I feel doubly blessed. My son is married to her sweet daughter, and we have all known each other for about thirty years, being members of the same church all that time.

The sewing team had expected to be teaching the Mongol housemothers how to sew, so they could make clothing for the children. Well, Eloise says they quickly found out that there wasn't a whole lot to be taught. Apparently, once the sewing machines arrived and were set up, the Mongol women became proficient on them in record time. Also, they seem to have an eye for cutting out pieces to be sewn together into a garment, and a pattern is just an annoyance. Eloise says the women will just look at a piece of fabric and start cutting, and before you know it, they have cut out the pieces for a pair of pajama pants, or a little shirt, or whatever.

They waste nothing. Scraps of fabric too small to be cut into a piece of a garment are cut into smaller pieces and used to stuff pillows. They don't throw the scraps away and then go buy a bag of fluff, like we would do in the states. They use what they have. Here are a couple of pictures from the sewing room:



Eloise is not in any of these pictures, because she was the photographer! I was so glad she did it, because I would never have had pictures of what her team was doing if she hadn't taken them.

The little blanket-makers worked hard all day, cutting the fringe and knotting it to keep it from fraying. When our team arrived, they found that the kids were using double-edged razor blades to cut the fringe! When Jerry was informed of this, he was horrified, of course, but couldn't suppress a smile at the same time. True to Mongolian nature, the
ever-resourceful housemothers had simply used what they had, which happened to be razor blades. Jerry saw to it that some scissors were obtained and given to the children to use, which was obviously much safer, but to my knowledge, none of the little fingers had been cut while they were using the razor blades. Guardian angels, I suppose.

Well, this installment grows lengthy, so I'll leave the account of our last day at the river for the next one. Tune in again tomorrow!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Wednesday morning -- we awaken early, dress quickly and assemble in the dining room for breakfast. This is a pretty predictable meal here at the Darkhan Hotel, but it's good. There are usually some boiled eggs, sliced bread, fried potatoes, sliced cheese, and butter and jam on the tables when we arrive. We start with that, and soon other things are brought in. Sometimes there are plates of wieners which have been sliced and lightly sauteed - they're actually pretty good. Then there may be scrambled eggs and once in a while, a little crepe-like packet with chopped meat inside. All in all, there is no need for anyone to leave the table hungry.

Of course, the main topic of conversation is Ray, and how he fared during the night. The word is that he's about the same, though no worse, which is in itself encouraging. His long-term memory is fine, but his short-term memory just doesn't exist, as it relates to the accident and the events for several hours beforehand. He does seem to be able to retain current happenings, however, and that's good. Dr. Tom elects to stay behind with him, and everyone else disperses to their assigned places.

We load into our vans and again make the bruising ride out to the riverside. People are waiting when we arrive, and we immediately set to work. Barb, my partner in the triage tent, is a joy to work with. A Canadian, she has the direct, open manner that is typical of most Canadians, and is very knowledgeable and capable as well. Factor in her sense of humor and adjustable, resilient nature, and you have a recipe for a very enjoyable working environment. We soon find that we laugh at the same things, and as we work with our sweet and pleasant translators, we just generally have a very good time.

The benches upon which we are perched are narrow and hard, and we soon become somewhat "saddle-sore", but by getting up now and then and changing our position frequently, we are able to minimize the discomfort. After all, we're not the only ones who are sitting on benches, and many people who are standing in line would probably love to be able to sit down somewhere, anywhere.

Indeed, many of them do. They simply squat on their heels, or sit down directly on the ground. One doesn't have to observe these country people for very long to realize that they are completely in tune with nature, with the natural world, and are very comfortable with it. I would think twice before sitting directly on the ground, wondering about the presence of ants or ticks, or worse. They don't appear to worry, they just sit down, and nothing ever seems to attack them, so I guess it's all right.

A little gray tent with a zippered door has been provided for our convenience, enclosing a freshly-dug hole in the ground, and a little seat placed above the hole. We Westerners, as well as our translators and other CTW folks, can all be seen making occasional visits to the little tent. The Mongols, on the other hand, simply disappear into the brush around the camp for a few minutes, then reappear just as casually and go on about their business. They seem quite comfortable and unconcerned, and one can only assume that this is a fact of life to them, not worthy of a second thought. Obviously, there is no water tap for washing one's hands, but Barb and I have bottles of liquid hand sanitizer, and wouldn't think of resuming contact with our patients without first using some of it, but no one else seems to bother. One exception would be our translators. These girls are not from herdsmen families, they're "city girls", so perhaps that explains it, or they may have been emulating Barb and me, but I did notice that they always used the sanitizer when they returned from a visit to the little gray tent.

The morning seemed to pass quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to go back to the little roadside cafe for lunch. The pre-set lunch today was a very hearty vegetable soup, and it was delicious. The flies are there to greet us, but we're trying not to notice them. The management has set up a fan in one corner of the room, and the circulating air seems to help just a little. The flies have to spend more time in the air, trying to make some headway before they can reach our tables and land. I consider offering to buy the management a second fan.

We return to the riverside camp, and resume seeing patients. The line seems just as long now as it did this morning, but the people are remarkably patient. Again, these are country people, and they seem to take everything in stride. It's as though they know there is a rhythm to life, that things happen when and as they should, and they don't get bent out of shape when they have to wait a while. They treat us with a respectful deference that I find to be very humbling.

Another thing that impresses me is the respect that the young people show for their elders. It's not at all unusual to see an elder approach our tent, leaning on and assisted by a child, probably a grandchild. These children are very solicitous of the elders, and take great pains to see to their comfort. Several times I've seen a child rubbing the stooped shoulders of some older person.

In this picture, note the heavy satin coat, or "del", worn by the older woman. The temperature is in the 80s, but still a lot of the older folk are dressed in this manner. This is truly a coat, she has other clothing on underneath. The riding boots come up to her knees. I would think she would be melting under all that, but she doesn't seem uncomfortable at all.

Here's a scene from our "parking lot." Note that saddle!

After my experience riding a Mongol horse last year, I can assure you that those saddles do not inspire confidence in someone used to a Western roping saddle. They are uncomfortable, you feel as though you are very precariously perched (you are), and that you could go flying over the horse's head without warning (you could!) I made it a point this year to observe riders in action, however, and I learned a lot. We Westerners are accustomed to sitting back in the saddle, resting against the cantle (the part that sticks up in the back.) Mongols ride literally standing in the stirrups and leaning forward against that high board in the front. I'm sure that structure has a name, but I don't know what it is. I did a bit of Google research but was unable to find any specific information. Try running a search on "Mongolian+saddle", however, and you'll find a wealth of related articles about Mongolia. Very interesting.

Finally we see the last of the folks in our line, and have a little time to spend just walking around the camp, enjoying the view of the river and the mountains. It's truly a beautiful, awesome sight. The mountains have a timeless, majestic beauty, as most mountains do, but there is a sense of wildness and freedom out here that just leaves one breathless. I try to analyze the impression in my mind, but it's hard to say what inspires it. Perhaps it's the earthiness and simplicity of the people. Maybe it's the proximity of the swiftly-flowing river, with the mountains beyond it. It could be the presence of the horses that seem to appear about this time every evening, swimming the river a few hundred yards upstream. It could be all of these things together. Whatever it is, it's a feeling that I know I'll carry in my heart forever, my impression of the soul of Mongolia.

We pack ourselves into our vans and head back for town, tired but happy. We're delighted to learn that Ray is improving. He still has some big holes in his memory, but some things have come back. He's eating, and seems to be feeling better. Dinner is ready for us almost as soon as we arrive, and while we're almost too tired to eat, we manage to do so! I can't remember what we were served, but I'd be willing to bet it included fried potatoes. That's okay with me. I love the Mongolian catsup, and the potatoes are a good excuse to eat it. I'm planning to take some home with me.

Eloise and I return to our room, and find to our relief that the water is running clear today, and we're able to get good showers and wash our hair. I wash about a pound of dust and grit out of mine. Grateful for a short haircut, I just comb it back and go to bed. It will dry. Eloise and I converse only briefly, exchanging a few experiences of the day, and soon we're asleep. It's nearly ten o'clock, and it's not yet dark outside.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Before I tell you what happened in Hongor, let me take you back to Darkhan for a moment. After we left the remote medical site, we returned to Darkhan briefly, and received some very disturbing news. You will remember that Ray and Jay and Pastor Midor left this morning, riding camels and horses, to journey through the steppes and witness to herdsmen families along the way. Well, it seems that shortly after their departure, Ray had somehow fallen from his camel, landing on his head and hands. No one was quite sure how it happened. Pastor Midor left Jay with the animals and supplies, and had somehow gotten Ray to the road where he was able to flag down a passing car. Given the scarcity of motor vehicles in Mongolia, this was a miracle in itself. The driver agreed to take them back to Darkhan, and upon arrival at the hotel, Pastor Midor had delivered Ray into the care of the CTW staff there and returned to catch up with Jay.

When our group arrived, our Dr. Ron and Dr. Tom were immediately made aware of the situation, and went to see about Ray. What they found was both reassuring and frightening. He knew who he was, he knew the people around him, he could give his wife's name and those of his children, but he had no idea what had happened, where he was or why, or how he had gotten there. He had no memory of having been on a camel, let alone falling off of it. In fact, he had very little memory of the trip at all. He would ask the same questions every few minutes - what happened, how he got there, what he was doing on a camel.

In addition to the obvious concussion he had sustained, he had injured his wrists as well. Both were swollen and painful, and beginning to bruise. Our doctors wrapped his wrists securely to limit motion in them, and mainly focused their attention on his head injury. There was no way to determine the degree or type of injury. In the states, he would have been in the ER immediately, with CT or MRI scans being done, but remember, we are in Mongolia. Not just in Mongolia, but in a very small town there. Had we been in Ulaanbaatar, more than four hours away, things would have been a little bit better, though still nowhere near the level of care that would have been available for him at home. So, the decision was made to just watch him, make sure he remained alert, and see if he improved. Any hint of worsening of his condition and he would be put in a car and taken to Ulaanbaatar as quickly as possible. The doctors stayed with him, and the rest of us departed for Hongor and the CTW compound.

When we arrived there, we followed a path down to the river, where a crowd had gathered on the banks. There were dozens of children in the water, splashing and playing, churning up the muddy bottom and having a wonderful time. No one wore a swimsuit, they were just in their shorts and t-shirts. They were, we knew, "Jerry's kids", children from the orphanage. Incidentally, I don't like that word - "orphanage." It conjures up too many negative images, probably drawn from Oliver Twist and other novels, and from old movies. It sounds much too institutional. I think I prefer "children's home" and will use that term from now on.

After all, a home is exactly what Jerry and company have provided for the kids. Until the construction is completed at the compound, only the Mustangs live out there. The rest of the children live in small groups in apartments in Darkhan. Each group has a houseparent, and every effort is made to keep their environment as home-like as possible. Visitors are discouraged from going to their apartments, lest the children feel they're "on display." Instead, when groups such as ours are there, the children are brought to us. They enjoy the outing, and their sense of place and privacy are preserved.

Back to the riverbanks! While the children were playing a few yards downstream from where we were standing, a beautiful and dramatic event was taking place a few yards upstream. People were being baptized! Jerry and Pastor Alex were in the water, and one by one, people would walk across the shallow side of the river to where they were standing, in water that was about waist-deep. Smaller children were escorted across. There, they were given scriptural baptism, by immersion. For the benefit of anyone reading this who may not know, we Baptists do not believe that baptism saves us. Many non-Baptists think that we do, but that's simply not true. We are not saved because we've been baptized, we accept baptism because we are saved. Salvation comes through faith in Christ, and acceptance of the fact that He died for the sole purpose of paying the penalty for our sins. Baptism is a picture of his death, burial and resurrection. By being baptized, we portray our death to our old life, burial with him, and resurrection to a new life. It is a picture, a witness, nothing more. It does not save.

Still, it is a precious and emotional moment for every new Christian. Many of those being baptized were children, and how sweet it is when a little child comes, in simple faith, and accepts Jesus as their Lord. They have their whole lifetime to live for Him. Not all were children, however. Many of those being baptized were older.

Imagine my joy to see my friend from last year, Batsengel (BatBubba) as he walked across the river and presented himself for baptism. The joy radiating from Jerry's face was a picture in itself. Batsengel was one of my translators last year, and has been a mainstay for Jerry and his ministry all this time, but was not a Christian. Jerry described him as a "seeker." Well, this year he found what he had been seeking, believed it, and was baptized. I cannot describe my joy as I watched that beautiful scene. Later, I discovered to my dismay that in my emotional state I had failed to focus my camera, and the picture was a blurry loss. No matter. I have it stored in my own memory. Here's another picture, though, of the newly-baptized Batsengel, helping Jerry and Pastor Alex to baptize another of Jerry's kids.

An additional pleasure was to see Batsengel's lovely fiancee, Oyuka, as she was baptized also. What a joy to think of the two of them, as they marry and establish a Christian home there in Mongolia. What will they accomplish for the Lord in their lifetime? The opportunities and possibilities are immeasurable. I can't remember the exact number of baptisms that day, but I think it was at least 30. What a blessing that this took place, and how privileged we were to witness it. Standing on that riverbank in the sunshine, with the beautiful mountains all around us, and the almost Biblical scene unfolding before our eyes, I just felt like it doesn't get any better than this! Finally, the last child was baptized and emerged, dripping, from the river, to be hugged by the adults and congratulated by friends. I never saw so many big, broad smiles in one place in my whole life.

Soon the crowd began to drift up the slopes and down another path to an area where benches and chairs had been set up under some trees. We knew we had been invited to a true Mongolian barbecue, and we gathered there in eager anticipation of the meal. Now, most of us have eaten at restaurants that feature Mongolian barbecue, and we have a pretty good idea what to expect there. Well, let me tell you, it's not the same in Mongolia. Those Mongolians don't know the first thing about how to do Mongolian barbecue, if you ask me!

First of all, the meat to be barbecued is goat meat. It's not bought at the local supermarket, either. A goat is selected and brought to the area and killed on the spot. Anyone who knows me at all knows just about how much I liked that idea. I'm the world's biggest hypocrite when it comes to eating meat. I'll buy chicken and steak and pork chops at the store, in nice neat little packages, and never give a second thought to how that meat got in those packages. I'll eat venison, too, but I could never pull the trigger and shoot a deer. So, I was struggling with the notion of the poor goat being so freshly killed, just over a little rise, barely out of our sight. Then one of my friends, Angela, put it into words that just stopped me cold. She said she saw them leading the frolicking little goat over the rise, and "he thought he was going to the party, and then ggkkkkk" and she made a slicing motion across her throat. Well, that did it for me. No way was I going to be able to eat that little goat.

The meat is prepared in a strange fashion. It's basically just cut into chunks, placed into a metal container and more or less buried in hot coals. It cooks very quickly. In no time at all, one of Jerry's kids was standing in front of me with a plate and a big anticipatory smile. Obviously, this was a real treat in her eyes, and she was anxious for me to enjoy it, too. I took the plate, eyed the chunk of gristly meat and the rib bone sticking out, and wondered if I could actually eat it. Pulling a shred of the meat off, I put it in my mouth and managed to choke it down. It had a gamey taste, which I usually don't find objectionable. As I said, I like venison, and I've eaten wild turkey as well, and liked it. Somehow, though, this was different. I think it was mostly an emotional thing, but I just couldn't get past the mental picture of the little goat, prancing along on his way to the party, and then his untimely, totally unexpected demise. I pushed the food around on my plate for a few minutes, then managed to put it down a few feet away from where I was sitting, and hoped no one noticed. If they did, they were kind enough not to say anything.

After the barbecue, as we were walking back to the vans, I happened to be walking beside Batsengel, and congratulated him on his baptism. His friendly face broke into a huge smile, and the joy of the Lord just fairly radiated from him. He said it was just so amazing to him, that he could have gone so long, thinking he was fine and needed nothing, hearing the Word but not really listening, and then suddenly everything became so clear, and he understood. He said he cannot describe the joy in his heart now, and how it is made doubly precious by the salvation of his fiancee as well. I gave him a big hug, and told him how happy I am for him, and how certain I am that God has big plans for him. He's really a treasure!

Arriving at our hotel, we were all eager for word on Ray's condition. We were told that he was about the same, still no memory of falling off the camel, but no sign of worsening of his condition, either. His closest friends were sticking very near, and Bobby, as always, was teasing and picking at him. To everyone's joy and relief, Ray was responding with his usual sharp wit and humor, and that was encouraging.

Eloise and I went to our room, tired and about ready for bed. To our horror, we realized that we had left the door to our little balcony open, and squadrons of opportunistic flies had come in. They were everywhere. Much to our surprise, we had noticed earlier that there was a flyswatter in our room, so we employed it and went to work. We swatted flies for about half an hour, and finally got all but a couple that were on the ceiling in the bathroom and we couldn't reach them. We just closed the bathroom door and went to bed, vowing to buy a can of spray tomorrow.

Sleep always comes quickly for me in Mongolia. I don't know whether it's fatigue, the fresh air, the distance from the concerns of daily life at home, or just what the reason, but tonight was no exception. In spite of the miserable bed, I was asleep in just a few minutes, after a quick silent prayer for Ray. I'm sure there were many of those prayers hammering on Heaven's gates that night.

Friday, January 2, 2009


When we first arrived at the remote site, there were no people waiting, which was a blessing. This gave our staff time to devote their attention to Smiley's knee, and gave Barb and me time to set up the benches and tables in our tent to our liking. As I've said, our location is beautiful, with the swift river flowing nearby, and the mountains in the distance, seeming to smile their approval of what we're doing. The free-ranging livestock makes an occasional appearance, with a few cows wandering by now and then. In the distance, a herd of horses can be seen, fording the river.


The scene reminds me of an event from last year, one that will be in my memory forever. Toom Chris and I were sitting in our tent, taking vital signs on our patients, when we became aware of a thundering sound. It had started softly, as though in the distance, but we quickly became aware that it was coming closer, and we weren't sure just what it was. Then it dawned on us - it was hoofbeats. Many hoofbeats, and they were now very near. We jumped up and ran to the side of our tent, just in time to see a herd of 30 or 40 beautiful horses as they crested a nearby ridge, flowed over the top and came sweeping down the hillside off to our right, headed straight for our tent. At the last instant, or so it seemed to us, they veered off and continued their charge, straight up the hill behind the tent, over the top and they were gone, as suddenly as they had appeared. I didn't even have time to think about my camera, much less focus and shoot. I will always regret that, because it was a beautiful sight, albeit a bit frightening, and I'm sorry that I was unable to record it. The picture is there in my memory, though, and I'm grateful for that.

After a little while, a few people appeared, and then more, and more, and soon we had a long line waiting outside our tent. The Mustangs had placed a few benches inside the tent for the convenience of those who had been by the intake table and had received their registration card. There were a few more benches outside the tent, for those waiting to come inside. Those benches filled quickly, and soon there was a line of people standing as well. True to Mongolian nature, they waited quietly, maintained their place in line according to the order of their arrival, and things went smoothly.

There were no surprises. Based on my experiences last year, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect, and had filled Barb in as well, and sure enough, nothing had changed. A very high percentage of the people are hypertensive, many of them alarmingly so. Blood pressures of 200/120 are not unusual. Some of them admit to having been given medication for their blood pressure, but almost all will tell you that they "only take it when I need it." Need, apparently, is determined by the severity of their headache. Barb and I quickly teach our interpreters the little speech about taking the medicine all the time to keep their pressure from going up, and the girls faithfully repeat it to the patients when we say "tell them the blood pressure story", but we can tell from the expression on the people's faces that they aren't buying it.

There are a lot of factors at work here. Poverty is a big one. Most of these people can't afford to buy the medicines they need, and when they do manage to fill a prescription, they want to make it last as long as possible. They'll cut pills in half, or skip doses, or as so many do, only take it when they think they really need it. Another factor is distance. Remember how far we drove to get out here? Well, it's just as far for them to get into town to get medicine, and they don't make that trip very often. Many of them have no motorized transportation, and are miles from a road anyway. These folks live on the land, out on the steppes, at bare subsistence level. They raise and herd animals for food, using the milk and the meat to stay alive. A few have tiny gardens, and I suppose they buy a few groceries when someone makes a trip to town, but those trips are few and far between. Blood pressure pills just aren't on the top of their priority list.

Another big complaint is kidney pain. High blood pressure will beat up one's kidneys, and these people are chronically dehydrated, of course, so probably their kidneys aren't in very good shape. Clean water must be brought in, in many cases, and they just don't drink enough of it. There are some wells, and the nomadic families move from well to well, and I suppose there are some springs, but water doesn't just flow from a tap at someone's whim. The Mongolian word for "kidney" sounds like "poorrrr", with the r's rolled. It's one of the few words I learned in the language, and when a patient was telling Goldie (my interpreter) about his or her complaints, I could pick out that word and would write down "kidney pain" on their card before Goldie even translated it. Actually, we could almost have just written it down for everyone, because nearly all complain of kidney pain.

It's probably true that many of their kidney complaints are really something else, like back pain from their hard-working lifestyle. Also, the Chinese herbalist "doctors" come through periodically, and tell them they have kidney problems. They then proceed to sell them some concoction of herbs at outrageous prices. These herbalists offer all sorts of diagnoses, most of which sound ludicrous to us, but the uneducated country folk believe them, and will bankrupt themselves buying the "cures" the herbalists offer. Several women presented babies for our examination, telling us that the baby had "hot spots" on their head, and inviting us to feel them. Yes, in 85 degree weather, when the baby is wearing a sweater and a knitted hat, I would imagine his or her head would have some hot spots. We were also told by some mothers that their baby had a "sweating disease." Again, too much clothing in warm weather, but the herbalists had given their diagnosis, and the mothers believe them.

Tammy, in her role as doctor, met one patient who complained of kidney pain, and who showed her some large brown circles on his back, like brown bruises. Further questioning revealed that the Chinese "doctor" had applied hot cups to his back. They put fire in a specially designed cup, and place the mouth of the cup over the kidney area, and the resulting heat is supposed to draw out the bad spirits, along with the pain. Naturally, this burns the skin, even producing blisters, but the patient is convinced that he's being helped. I suppose the discoloration and blisters are evidence that the bad spirits have left. It's hard to believe that people can be fooled by such quackery, but they take it very seriously.

It's hard for me to accept that a country as technologically advanced as China can produce people like these herbalists, but it's true. Of course, money is the prime motivator, but there's something else. The Chinese still hold captive bears in tiny cages, and implant tubes into their gall bladders to drain the bile to be used as medicine. They traffick in all sorts of animal body parts - rhino horn, tiger paws and testes, and other things equally horrific. All these things are truly believed to provide strength, virility and health. So, I guess it's not surprising that they combine those shamanistic beliefs with the opportunity for financial gain, and the poor Mongolian herdsmen are the losers.

After a few hours of taking vital signs and hearing complaints of kidney pain, back pain, joint pain, heart pain and headaches, Barb and I began to turn our thoughts toward lunch! I had noticed that there was no food/supply ger like last year, and was wondering just how lunch was going to arrive, when someone came and told us we would be going off-site. We got in vans and traveled the rutted road back to the highway, and then stopped at a small restaurant about a quarter-mile from our turnoff. When I say "restaurant", don't envision Denny's or Outback. This was a small structure that looked more like a little house, with parking space for about six cars. The ubiquitous outhouse could be seen about fifty yards away, at the end of a little path.

We entered, and chose a couple of the ten or so tables inside. We quickly learned that we were going to share the tables with a legion of flies, and no one seemed to pay any attention, so we tried to ignore them, too. Now, this is not easy for me. My mother followed me around with a flyswatter when I was a child in the 40's, the polio years. She taught me to despise them, and I still do. It took an effort of will for me to overlook the fact that the flies which swarmed in the dining area had most likely visited the kitchen as well. However, the only thing I would hate more than flies, would be to offend my gentle Mongolian friends, so I just ate what was brought to me and kept quiet. The food was hearty and good, and I'm sure my mom would be surprised to know that I didn't sicken and die after eating food which had first been prayed over by the flies.

After lunch, we returned to the site and saw more patients. Same song, second verse. A constant litany of the same complaints, punctuated by the occasional arrival of some of the cutest little kids I ever saw. Here's one:


After a couple of hours, the line had dwindled, and soon we learned why. At some point, the word was put out that we would be leaving early, and people stopped coming, planning to come tomorrow instead. I don't know how the message is communicated, but they manage. I never heard drums or saw any smoke signals, but they still get it done.

We finished up, loaded into the vans, and returned to town. We went out to Hongor, the little village near Darkhan that is the site of the CTW compound. They told us that something special was going to happen that evening, and believe me, it did.

More tomorrow.....