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.

1 comment:

samraat said...