Getting a taste of the herder’s life

Patience did pay off, and finally my Mongolian experience became what I was hoping it would be.

The week following my last post was the national celebration of Naadam, one of Mongolia’s biggest holidays celebrating the ‘three manly games’. During this time the family all stayed out in the countryside, and we received many visitors. Every day different family and friends would show up to join in the celebration. It was nice be a part of and see the many people coming together, it felt a bit like a family camping holiday.

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It was during this time that I had one of the most memorable experiences. One evening, completely unexpectedly, an intense storm hit. We were inside celebrating a birthday when sudden, immense winds crashed into the Ger. I ran outside to help save things from blowing away and I was met by a scene from an apocalypse movie. The sky was black and lit blood red on the horizon by the setting sun. The wind must have been 100 mph at least and I was being battered with rain and dust from the dry ground. I grabbed what I could, and battled back into the Ger where for 10 minutes everyone clung onto the central posts to stop the whole thing from taking off. After 20 minutes, the wind died back down to nothing, and we spent the rest of the evening fixing damage to the Ger. The next morning we walked about 1 km across the plains to find various balls and pots that had taken flight the night before.

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After Naadam, most of the family went back to town, and work began. I spent some days shearing sheep with the farm boys. They were long days with little rest, but very enjoyable. Running at a pen full of 1000 sheep and goats to try and grab one for shearing is good exercise. I can see why countries like New Zealand and Wales are good a rugby, sheep have a very good sidestep technique. Shearing with large scissors was difficult at first and I was nervous of cutting the skin, but I got the hang of it after a while.

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Apart from the shearing I was able to help herd and milk the cows. Not sure my milking technique is up to scratch. I helped separate the calves from the herd at night (including one very cute orphan foal who lives with the cows). And helped with everyday tasks like collecting water and firewood.

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I really enjoyed my time there. I decided to head back to Baganuur for the local Naadam celebrations. I made the journey back on the back of a motorbike in the middle of a thunderstorm. At one point I had to take off my trousers to wade through a river holding my bags above my head. It was nice to see the celebrations, it reminded me of an English community fair. I got to see the wrestling and archery but missed out on seeing the horse racing. As I wondered around, 3-4 times I had people shout ‘Tommy’ and it would be someone I’d met before either in town or working in the countryside. It made me feel like I’d got to know the place and people quite well.

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I now had 3 weeks left to explore the rest of the country, which will be the focus of my next post.

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