My First Naadam

Thursday, July 10 was the first day of Darkhan’s Naadam (the national Naadam in Ulaanbaatar started on the 11th). There was actually one event the previous day that our LCFs took us to see: a shagai competition where they fling shagai pieces at targets using what look like mini crossbows.

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We had the day off from classes so that we could go see the events. My host family wasn’t going to the stadium that day, so I went with some of the other PCTs instead. We got to watch the opening ceremony in the stadium (which is conveniently located in Dereven near the school we have classes at, so it was within walking distance for us).

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Then the mayor of Darkhan invited us to his ger for huushuur (which is apparently the food of Naadam), mutton, and airag (the fermented mare’s milk). I really could have done without the airag, but the huushuur was really good, and it was nice to get all the food for free versus having to buy it from the vendors.

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Inside the mayor's ger

Inside the mayor’s ger

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The mayor is the one directly behind the tower of bread, wearing the white shirt and hat

After we left the mayor’s ger, we walked around the stadium to see all the tents and booths that had been set up.

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Then we went back inside to watch some of the wrestling.

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The winner of each match does a little "eagle dance" around the shrine thing

The winner of each match does a little “eagle dance” around the shrine thing

Then we met up with the mayor again, because he wanted to take us to see the archery (which is in a different part of Darkhan) and to have someone show us how to shoot a bow and arrow. So me and one of the other PCTs got to ride in the mayor’s car (nothing super fancy, but he did have his own driver). At the archery site they had us sit under a tent to watch the archers do their thing and fed us more huushuur and airag.

The men

The men

The women

The women

The children

The children

The red things on the ground there in the middle are the center of the target

The red things on the ground there in the middle are the center of the target

More food

More food

Once the competitions were done, the mayor had one of the archers agree to show us all how to shoot the bow and arrow. There were four of us, but only one guy, so he got to go first (because Mongolia is a very male-dominated culture), even though it was one of the other girls who was super excited about learning archery and she was the one who had asked the mayor at all our previous meetings if he could find someone to teach her archery. But anyway, the archer shows our guy how to hold the bow and arrow and lets him shoot it toward the target.

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Then after they retrieve the arrow they let him shoot it again. But this time he shoots the arrow into an area of concrete, breaking it in half.

Eh, we can duct tape it, right?

Eh, we can duct tape it, right?

Whoops! Well, just get another arrow, right? There’s literally dozens of them with all the archers gathered together. Except apparently the arrows are pretty rare because they’re made with some special wood that has to dry for a year before it can be used and there’s only like 10 people in all of Mongolia who make the arrows. So the competitors are not willing to lend their precious arrows out, meaning not only did our guy break one of the nice archer’s super rare arrows, but there was no way we were going to get another one. So none of us three girls got to even hold the bow and arrow, let alone shoot it, because the stupid guy had to go first and break everything. Needless to say, the girl who really wanted to do archery was not happy at all (neither was I). So if that guy happens to go missing anytime soon, you’ll know why.

On the second day of Naadam, my host family and I went out to the countryside (not too far—it was only about a 15 minute drive, but you couldn’t even tell you had just left the city). My host brother was racing in the Ikh Nas (meaning the horses are over 5 years old) horse race, which is 25 kilometers across the open countryside. My family was running late, so we got there just 5 minutes before the end of the race. I took pictures of the first group of finishers, but I couldn’t tell which one was him (but my host family kept yelling his name so I know he was one of them).

Is one of you Suuna?

Is one of you Suuna?

Maybe you? You look like you have a yellow shirt.

Maybe you? You look like you have a yellow shirt.

He ended up in 8th place out of like 150 riders, which I thought was pretty amazing, but apparently he was pretty bummed about it. Only 1st through 5th place get prizes, and I guess after winning one of the races at the Orkhon Naadam the previous week, 8th place doesn’t seem too great.

It looked like the kid who came in 1st place was only like 4 years old.

Yeah, I'm talking about you

Yeah, I’m talking about you

Apparently it’s very common for really young kids to ride in (and win) these races. I mean, they barely weigh anything so of course a horse can run faster with only 20 extra pounds on it versus 100. I’ve heard the government is trying to set new rules where riders have to be at least 14 years old to race (because there are apparently a lot of injuries), but I have no idea how they would enforce that. My host brother, who’s 15, is apparently pretty old for a rider, so I don’t know how they would basically tell all the younger kids (who make up the vast, vast majority of the current riders) that they can’t race until they’re older.

Since I wasn’t sure if I had gotten a picture of my host brother approaching the finish line, I wanted to get one after the race when we went over to meet up with him. But he got off his horse right as we were coming over so the owner/trainer could cool it down, and then when I saw how bummed he looked, I didn’t want to shove a camera in his face.

Here's his horse though

Here’s his horse though

We hung out for almost an hour before heading back home for lunch. After resting a bit at home, we went out to the stadium.

Host dad and Ochralaa on a donkey

Host dad and Ochralaa on a donkey

Ochralaa in a toy car

Ochralaa in a toy car

Tattoo!

“I ❤ Mongolia” tattoo!

We barely stayed for an hour though, just walking around to the different booths outside. I guess my family’s just not too into Naadam outside of the horse races. We did get a picture taken with camels though!

Gaahh, why is no one else smiling?! (On left camel, Suuna; on right camel, a cousin; standing, left to right: Bakana, mom, dad holding Ochralaa, me, and Boloroo)

Gaahh, why is no one else smiling?! (On left camel, Suuna; on right camel, my host mom’s younger brother; standing, left to right: Bakana, mom, dad holding Ochralaa, me, and Boloroo)

Oh, and by the way, you can totally fit 7 people plus 1 toddler in a sedan (though I don’t recommend it anywhere there are actual laws preventing stuff like that).

UPDATE: I created a YouTube channel where I’ve uploaded some of my videos from Naadam. Check them out here.

A Day in the Life of a Mongolia Health PCT, Part 2

On Saturdays and Sundays we don’t have any sessions, which can be good and bad: good because we can give our brains a little rest from the information overload experienced during the week, but bad because there’s no really much to do here so it doesn’t take much to become bored out of your mind. We are not allowed to leave Dereven (even to go into Darkhan, where there’s actually stuff to do) unless it’s with our host family, our trainers, or for our practicum. But there is not exactly much going on in Dereven. There are tons of hashaas, a bunch of small, family-run shops (mostly selling food items), the one school, and the river. All the internet cafes are in the city. All the bigger markets where you can buy a wider variety of things are in the city. I am not exaggerating when I say there is nothing here.

Not that it’s completely horrible. I usually take the free time to do my laundry by hand in my tumpun:

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Or to bathe myself in that same tumpun:

Which is a pain in the ass, so baths only happen a couple times a week (don’t judge me)

Which is a pain in the ass, so baths only happen a couple times a week (don’t judge me)

Sometimes we PCTs will get together on the weekends to do something (even if it’s just walk around town aimlessly). For example, the Saturday after our first week of PST in Dereven was an interesting one. It was a gloomy, extremely windy day, and because I had planned to do my laundry but couldn’t due to the weather, I instead read on my Kindle for several hours. Then one of the other PCTs called me to see if I wanted to wander around town with her because she was so bored. So we went to the river, met up with yet another bored Trainee, and proceeded to walk around the entire soum, occasionally stopping in little shops to see if they had anything interesting (we managed to find sour gummy worms and a Nutella knock-off!). After concluding that there was indeed nothing to do in the entire town, a fourth Trainee called to invite us over to his ger for food. He had cooked up some chicken soup, but his host family refused to eat any of it because they don’t like chicken (we, on the other hand, were seriously craving some chicken, which is not exactly a common meat here), so he wanted us to come help him eat it instead. So we went to his ger to eat delicious chicken soup, after eating no meat other than mutton for more than a week. His host father then came into the ger and proceeded to force us to watch several DVDs of music videos for songs from the 70s and 80s. Some were actually Mongolian songs, but when he popped in a DVD of ABBA music videos, I lost it.

Mongolia: one place I did not expect Swedish pop bands to be popular, but here we are...

Mongolia: one place I did not expect Swedish pop bands to be popular, but here we are…

I can honestly say I never imagined I’d be singing along to “Dancing Queen” in a ger in the middle of Mongolia, but that’s pretty much how the evening went. At one point we tried to leave to go back to our own host families, but the host dad was not having any of that and forced us to stay longer. We finally had to lie and pretend our families wanted us home for dinner, and we were finally allowed to leave (with “Mamma Mia” stuck in our heads the whole way home).

On another weekend, the Trainees at my site had a Mongolian cooking class with our LCFs. We learned how to make buuz (both meat and veggie-filled) and huushuur (which we filled with potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, but is usually filled with meat) and ate a ton of both. Ours may not be as pretty as our teachers’, but they still tasted great!

With musical accompaniment

With musical accompaniment

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After that, a group of us went down to the river.

The river

The river

A few of us (including myself) actually went swimming in the river, which is apparently a huge past time here, despite the fact that hundreds of cows graze right by the river, drink from the river, and definitely poop in the river.

Our swimming hole

Our swimming hole

John terrorizing the local kids in his underwear (#83 on the list of things you can freely do in Mongolia that would get you arrested [or put on some kind of list] in the US)

John terrorizing the local kids in his underwear (#83 on the list of things you can freely do in Mongolia that would get you arrested [or put on some kind of list] in the US)

Local kids covering themselves in mud for some reason

Local kids covering themselves in mud for some reason

Whoo! Having fun with the locals

Whoo! Having fun with the locals

It was a lot of fun, but let’s just say I definitely took a bath as soon as I got home.