A Day with Dasa

I woke up around 7 am and checked on the horses who were lazily nibbling at the ground.  I wandered away from our tent towards the tallest clump of wiry grass I could find to go to the toilet; Daasa’s family not having anything more suitable.  The women were up and had begun the day’s milking.  I filled our water container from the family’s supply kept by the side of their Ger and decided to have a sink wash and to wash my t-shirt as best I could.  The day was already hot, dry and dusty.  The sink wash was lovely, especially after yesterday’s hard ride and my t-shirt looked cleaner after a rinse in cold water even though it immediately turned muddy.  I hung my green t-shirt to dry on the side of the tent and wearing a fleece I walked into Daasa’s Ger. His wife and daughter-in-law were cooking and I sat, watched and drank the bowl of milky, salty tea they gave me.

“What are you making?”  I asked.
“Arrul.”  Bolormaa, Daasa’s wife, replied.  ″Would you like to try?”
“Yes please.”  I jumped off my stool and sat cross legged on the floor by the Ger door while Bolormaa and her daughter-in-law showed me what to do.  One had to take a lump of the curdled yogurt, that had been left in a sack outside in the sun for a few days, and mould it into a shape.  There were different shapes that were considered acceptable and this family favoured rectangles and one that had been squashed into the back of one’s fingers giving it a ruffled look.  It was decided that I was very bad at making the ruffled shape, the daughter-in-law laughed at my attempts and Bolormaa reshaped them.  I was given an enthusiastic ″Good!” with the rectangle shapes and stuck to those.  I was very hungry and occasionally sneaked a lump of curdled yogurt into my mouth.  Tim had now woken and was wandering about outside.  I went to join him.  I’ve been making arrul.  It is one of the things I really wanted to try.”  I told him. ″Oh.  It’s hot today.”  Tim said.  ″At least we will charge the batteries up.”

Daasa appeared on horseback and a truck came tearing up to the Ger, leaving a dust trail behind it.  A rough looking man about thirty got out along with a woman, another man and a group of young children. Daasa’s dogs ran over to the truck, sniffed around the new comers, prompting one of the men to shout and half-heartedly kick at them. The dogs scooted away and sat under the cool of the truck out of the sun.

The people in the truck had come to shear Daasa’s sheep and in return for their help they were to get a huge feast of roasted mutton.  Daasa and his sons stoked a wood burning stove they kept outside in preparation for cooking the meat.  The goat was killed and prepared on site by one of the shearers.  I laid down inside the Ger watching people come and go, drinking tea and chatting, sometimes about us, sometimes about things I could not understand.  Daasa entered the Ger to ask me, ″You will eat with us?”  ″Of course.”  I replied, ″It looks lovely.”  He smiled, left the Ger and continued to cook the meat. I went and got Tim, ″We have been invited to eat horhog with them.” Tim came back to the Ger with me and we sat and waited, lying on the floor.  The smell of the meat roasting was lovely, especially as we had not had much to eat recently and had lost more weight.  Around 1 pm Tim rose to leave the Ger to take up the sides of our tent as the day had gotten extremely hot.  He stood up and Daasa said, ″Sit down!  We will eat in 30 minutes.”  Tim smiled, tried to explain where he was going and left the Ger.  Daasa looked at me, waiting for an explanation.  I did the best I could with the language I had.  ″Tim went to our tent.  Today is very hot.”  I pointed to the bottom of his Ger that had the material lifted up to allow air to circulate and said, ″Our tent, this, needs.”

Tim came back and shortly after the horhog was deemed ready.  The meat was taken out of the fire outside and brought inside in a large metal bowl.  In keeping with the traditional of BBQs the world over, this was clearly not women’s work and Daasa took charge like men often do at a BBQ.  The meat was handed out to the gathered crowd of 14.  There were the shearers, their children, me, Tim and the family.  We were given a small bowl with two hunks of meat, fat and two large bones to chew on.  We gratefully accepted and the roasted meat was a delight to eat.  We finished our bowl and it was swiftly topped up.  Once everyone had eaten their fill we all sat back full and content and rested for an hour.  The men discussed our tack, prompting Tim’s paranoia to grow, thinking they were talking about steeling our horses. I still wasn’t convinced Tim was right about this place as I felt comfortable and thought it odd that before robbing us the family would be so kind.  ″Maybe they want money off us.”  Tim suggested. ″Maybe.”  I said.  ″In which case we should enjoy it.”  One of the shearers said to us, ″You are lucky to know Daasa.  He is a good friend.”  The others all smiled and nodded.  We were asked a lot of questions about our horses and our kit; ″Where did you buy them?”, ″How much did you pay?”, ″Where are your saddles from?” ″How much did they cost you?” ″Can I have them?”  We were told, ″You should sell your horses to this guy and take Daasa’s car to Khuvsgol instead.  It will be easier!”  Everyone roared with laughter.

Earlier that day Daasa had come to our tent and asked Tim, ″Do you still need to go to Dashingillin?” remembering the previous night when we had mentioned it.  ″Yes.”  Tim said, ″I need some boov.”  Daasa smirked, Tim and I looked at each other but thought nothing more of that smirk until we had finished our ride and were recovering in Khovsgol at our friend Serdamba’s house.  One morning we decided to walk to the local shops and asked Serdamba, ″Do you need anything? We need to get some boov.”  Serdamba laughed and said, ″You must never say boov on its own.  You must always add what type of boov it is, like narrin boov.  If you do not say this you are saying something bad.”  He chuckled at the thought of us saying ″something bad”. ″What have we been saying?”  Tim asked, thinking back to Daasa’s smile.  ″Penis.”

Daasa now, as if to prove what a great friend he was, said to Tim, ″I will take you to town then you do not have to ride there tomorrow.  It is no good for the horses.”
“Okay.”  Tim said.  ″Thank you.”
“You will have to pay me.”  Daasa laughed and made a gesture with his right hand, rubbing his fingers together to indicate money was required.  The others in the Ger all laughed.
“How much?”  Tim asked.
Daasa shrugged and said, ″Let’s go.”

Tim followed Daasa outside to his collection of vehicles and it was decided they would go to town on the motorbike.  Daasa asked Tim ″How much fuel will you give me?”  Tim replied, ″I’ll fill the bike up.” Daasa said nothing and they roared off towards Dashingillian.  The shearers left soon afterwards and quiet fell once more upon Daasa’s Ger.

I went to the tent to have a rest but was followed by Bolormaa.  She laid down on Tim’s bed as I stretched out on mine and we chatted. Bolormaa asked me.

″How long have you been married?”
“7 years.  You?”
“25 years.”
“Wow!  That’s a long time.”  I said.
“Do you have children?”
“No.  I do not think we will have any.”
“Why?”
“Err.”  I never knew how to answer this question as to say I did not want children was to potentially insult the women and I did not have the language skills to explain how different things were in my country. ″Can not.”  Was the only thing I mustered.
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“Errr yes.”  I continued to lie hoping this conversation would end soon.
“I am a doctor.”
“Are you.  I did not know that.”  I replied.
“Yes.  Do you still have to go to Dashingillin tomorrow?”
I breathed a sigh of relief at this turn.  ″No.”  I got Batdrack’s letter, explaining our trip, out of my saddle-bag and handed it to Bolormaa. She read it carefully and said, ″I know Batdrack’s friend too. He is out of town.”
“Oh, okay.”
“That means you do not need to go to town tomorrow.”
“No.”  I got the map out and we spent some time looking at the route we had travelled and were to travel.
“Call me when you get to your friend in Khovsgol?”  Bolormaa asked.
“Okay.  What is your number?”  We swapped telephone numbers.
“It is too hot in your tent.”  It was, the afternoon had become unbearably hot, and I was glad to not be riding.  ″Come to my home, it is cooler.”

We left the tent together and entered the Ger.  Bolormaa laid down at the back on the right hand side and I on the left.  Her sons, daughter-in-law and grandson were all laying down already.  The bottom of the Ger canvas covering had been lifted up to let the air circulate and there was an occasional breeze, like a hair-dryer blowing warm air across one’s face, but it was gratefully received by all.  I slept for an hour and it helped prevent a bad headache I had coming on due to dehydration and tiredness.  When I awoke Daasa’s eldest son, Dashingeorge was sleeping between me with his wife and his baby son on his other side. He rolled right onto his side to face me.  I startled as he was very close and I had just woken up.

“What food do you eat?”  He asked.
“Errr meat, spaghetti, boov.”  I replied.
“Is it English food?”
“Yes some is and some is Indian food.”
“Is it nice?”
“It is okay.”
“Is it cold in England?”
“Sometimes.  Not as cold as Mongolia is in winter.”
“Do you have horses?”
“Yes in England.  I do not own a horse.  Too expensive.”
“Why?”
“Errr, food is expensive, horses live inside often in England and that is expensive.  Land is expensive.”
“Are horses expensive?”
“Some are very expensive, some are very cheap, some are free.”
“Like Mongolia?”
“Yes, like Mongolia.”

His wife had by now woken up and was eyeing me suspiciously as her husband lay next to me on the floor propped up by cushions, chatting away.  Dashingeorge picked up my diary I had been writing in before I went to sleep, ″I have bites on my bites.”  He read aloud, then turned to his wife, ″Can you read this?”  She looked at it and read some but could not understand it all.  Dahsingeorge swivelled round back to me, ″Are we in here?”  ″Yes.”  I said.  He smiled and turned the pink notebook over in his hands looking at the floral patterns on it. ″Beautiful!”  He mocked in a camp voice.

Tim finally returned after three hours away with Daasa, I had been getting worried but as it transpired there was no need.  Daasa had taken Tim to visit with his sister and a friend, where Tim had been offered another horhog and when he had declined due to being full from the last one Daasa had said, ″Eat. You are too thin.”  Tim had been taken to various shops, including a food market and the Mongolian countryside equivalent of a tack shop.  Daasa had said to him after their errands, ″Would you like a beer?”  Tim worrying that Daasa wanted to get drunk had politely declined and Daasa had bought a can of beer and shared it with Tim anyway.  Tim felt slightly embarrassed with his thoughts as Daasa had just wanted to have one drink with his new found friend.

On the journey back Daasa had stopped to admire a band of horses and to show Tim a snake, slivering away from their bike.  The afternoon was coming to an end by the time they got home and I was pleased to see Tim.  Not just because I knew he was okay but also he had brought two bags of goodies and a bottle of Sprite.  I sat in our tent, not wanting to share the loot with anyone and drank the whole bottle of Sprite, bar two cups I generously gave to Tim.  My headache ceased with the intake of fluids and sugar.  I had not done anything with the horses all day except occasionally make sure they were still close and not in trouble.  Daasa’s eldest son and his friend offered to help Tim take the horses to water and I was glad I could have a whole day off from the horses.  I made Tim promise to not let the young lads gallop Mongol Morris to give his back a full day’s rest and he agreed but the reality was the young lads galloped and Tim did keep up much to their enjoyment.  Both boys fell in love with Captain James and begged Tim to let them have him.  Tim told them both, ″He is my wife’s horse.  You will have to ask her.”  They did and I declined to part with the magnificent, but annoying, beast.  Dashingeorge pestered Tim about our tack.

“Can I have your bridle.”  He asked of Goat’s well made, copper bit bridle.
“No I need it.”  Tim replied.
“Please.  You can have any of these.”  Dashingeorge unhooked a handful of bridles off a peg inside the Ger and showed them to Tim.
Tim eventually gave in, partly because of the unwavering nagging Dashingeorge bombarded him with and partly because it was a good way for us to say ″Thank you” to the family for their generosity and kindness.  Tim later that night looked at his secondhand, battered bridle and sighed, ″It was a nice bridle wasn’t it?”  ″Yes.  I think it was the best we had.”  I replied.

We decided to eat and go to bed early that night but Daasa had other ideas.  We both left their Ger and were just at the entrance of ours when Daasa’s booming voice cried out, ″Tim!  You are helping with the horses.  Sam!  Make buzt.”  I clicked my heels together and saluted him, making Daasa smile slightly and headed inside the Ger to learn how to make butz.

It was good fun cooking tea with Bolormaa and her daughter in law. The TV was switched on and we watched a Korean soap opera dubbed over in Mongolian.  I was schooled in how to roll our butz pastry and how to fill the parcels with chopped meat, that had been smoked in the Ger earlier that day.  I would line the finished dumplings up and Bolormaa would place them in a large, metal steamer over the wood burning stove.  Once a large bowl of butz was cooked, the men were called in for dinner.  The dumplings tasted great but neither of us could eat many much to Daasa’s amazement.  ″Eat!  Eat!  Eat!” he and his wife called out to us.  We were use to eating small amounts and could not convince our stomachs otherwise.  I also struggled with too much meat after seven years as a veterinarian and would often feel ill when I tried to eat it.  This night was one of those nights.  I started to feel cold and clammy and began sweating.  I thought I would be sick and had to sit very quietly and still for ten minutes.  Tim asked, ″Are you okay?  You look pale.”  ″Meat sweats.”  I replied as if it was a recognised condition.

I handed out a questionnaire as part of the research we agreed to undertake on behalf of The Long Rider’s Guild.  When asked what his job was Daasa replied, ″Malchin Majistraa!”  Which translates to Master Herdsman.  A round of photo taking took place and eventually we were able to leave the Ger and head to bed.  It was a bad night, not because of anything to do with the horses who were all fine, but a dreadful sound rung out and I jumped up wondering what was being murdered. I looked out of the tent but could see nothing, I shone my torch around but still nothing.  The screaming and choking continued and I saw a torch beam come flying out of the Ger.  The light flashed over our tent and seeing me Daasa shouted, ″It’s a wolf!”  I don’t think it was, more likely a dog attacking a young goat.

Packing the next morning broke our record and we managed to get packed, loaded and mounted within two and a half hours.  This victory was dampened by the lump on Mongol Morris’ back.  The flies had bitten it and it looked swollen.  I felt for the poor horse and wished I could retire him to a safe, green, quiet field in the English countryside where the flies would seem tame.  Daasa advised me, ″When you stop tonight, pee on a cloth.”  I assumed this suggestion was made as Daasa knew human urine to have antiseptic properties, luckily we had iodine and with the thought of Mongol Morris’s suffering at the front of my mind we set off.

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