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:
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.
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.
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