Friday, 27 November 2009

Mongolia - Bayartai

And so my learning about Mongolia comes to an end!  I've cooked the food, listened to the music, read a book, various blogs, tweets, newspaper reports - even listened to Mongolian radio streamed live through the Internet. 

I really enjoyed reading Louisa Waugh's account of life in Bayan-Olgii aimag Hearing Birds Fly - she really got stuck in to life in the village and I enjoyed learning about Western Mongolia through her experiences and wisdom.  One of the things that really struck me about her book was that sense of 'being removed' from the lives of those around you.  It doesn't matter how long you spend in a place, you will always be an outsider and that's something most people find it hard to come to terms with.

She also talks about how her language changed after a few months in the village - her language became one of survival - wood, ice, meat, flour - and when her Tuvan colleague suggests going to a disco, she is suddenly taken aback by her forgotten words/thoughts of pleasure - dancing, wine, sex. 

She talks about the importance of rain, and yet again I'm reminded of Lesotho's motto and the attitudes we have in the UK and Ireland to rainy days.  For the villagers in Western Mongolia, waiting for rain to come after a long hard winter, means waiting for life to spring forth, for the valley to turn green and the land to rouse from its weary hibernation.  It's something we take for granted in our Emerald Isles!  I remember my students in Uzbekistan dreamed about going to England, of day after day of rain which, coming from a desert, is hardly surprising.  My Thai students used to dream of snow - they would talk about cold countries like Russia and Finland with nothing less than wonder in their voice.  Yet we do everything we can for a bit of sun, to escape the dark skies and the oppressive wet Sunday afternoons. 

The rhythm of life in Western Mongolia seemed directly at odds with life in Europe.  Whereas we look forward to the summer months as a chance for a holiday, to get away somewhere with the family, in Mongolia the summer means work.  It means fattening up the animals and long days of preparing food to be consumed throughout the long winter.  Everything boils down to the winter preparations, just like in Russia, it's literally a matter of life or death. 

As well as reading Louisa's book, I did a lot of reading on the Internet.  I learned about the Hun Chollai (Stone people) of the Uyghurs, that the soldiers who escorted Chinghis Khan's dead body back from China murdered every living soul they met on the way home (it must have been a very silent calvacade).  I learned about the Mongolian wind horse, something similar to the Greek myths of Pegasus.  I learned about the murder of Zorig in October 1998 and the profound effect that has had on post-communist Mongolian politics.  I learned that the Mongolian currency, the Togrog, is printed at the Royal Mint in South Wales!  I learned all of this and much, much more.

I've been a big fan of Mongolian music for quite a while now and would really recommend Egschiglen's album Sounds of Mongolia, I'm listening to it now, as I write this blog.  I really hope you can watch the YouTube video I've embedded in this blog.  It's my favourite song, Eruu Cagaan Bolimor which means 'White breasted sparrow'.

Bayartai Mongolia - I hope to visit for real someday!

Image credits

The Mongolian flag is from

The book cover is taken from and the Egschiglen video is courtesy of YouTube. 
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