My Mongolian friend Angelama and her husband, Bateer, took me to a real working Mongolian farm owned by two men, one a school teacher and their mother. An old stove sat in one corner and the mother fed the fire with twigs. They insisted we stay for a meal. My favorite photo is her stoking the fire.
There was a big rainstorm when I arrived which they graciously but probably falsely attributed to my visit and they scurried about getting the farm animals in a shelter. When I saw two small kids (see photo) in his arms, I panicked – is that our dinner? Mercifully the goats were spared – to my relief. I had heard about the Orientals sacrificing family pets for visiting dignitaries, something I dreaded. She served a traditional welcoming dish, diamond shaped noodles in a white sauce with sugar or butter or both and a few preserved vegetables. The stark lack of grass told me these animals were not dong well.
Biligtu, the teacher and a recognized expert in Mongolian lore, has one entire room devoted to Mongolian antiques, hundred of them, from old stirrups to a plumb line that passes over a piece of black coal, and closely embroidered silk garments over 200 years old. I estimated the value at $100,000 if he should find a buyer or better still, take the display on the road to museums. But people who grow up under Communism have little understanding of “marketing.”
He also hand copied the ‘Secret History of the Mongolians’ written in 1240 A.D. using vertical script written and placed it on a long scroll. This alone is worth $1,500. (see photo.) The lettering is so perfect as to look machine-printed. All this valuable property is hidden away in a concrete house with walls papered with leaves from old books.
A well outside provides drinking water and winter heat is provided by the stove heating the concrete and brick bed 24 inches off the floor. Yes, the bed (kan) was awfully hard! Yurts are not as warm as these buildings in the harsh winters so Mongolians are leaving them and using them for out buildings, or guest houses, or more often as overflow rooms in restaurants.
My hosts are always good-natured and happy but they groused about what had happened to Mongolia. 50 years ago Mongolians were rich with large flocks. Today most of their land has been taken by the Chinese and they are left with only a few head for themselves and their own use. They are very poor. Some teachers from the school also joined in the meal, shy but interested in everything going on, telling me they had only 1 textbook for the teacher and the students and not a shred of additional material for classroom use. I asked friends at home to send sports equipment and games, but apparently here in this little school of 20, they don’t even have instructional materials.