Guess.What.Day.It.Is?


Notes:

Sunday Morning


Upon arriving in the huge, landlocked country of Mongolia—more than seven times larger than Great Britain—you may be taken aback by the runaway developments in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Ever since some of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits were discovered, some within 70 miles of the city, Mongolia’s economy has taken off like a rocket…But then you hear that more than half of the 1.4 million people in the capital still live in settlements dominated by gers (a traditional style of yurt, like a domed felt tent), sometimes in shockingly simple conditions…

As soon as I ventured out of the city and began bumping across the level, otherworldly steppes of Mongolia, in fact, I realized that nothing I’d seen in 40 years of traveling across Asia could compare with its great, heart-clearing stillness. Within 30 minutes of the hyper-malls, herders will welcome you into their gers to share a feast of marmots, roasted sheep and freshly boiled goats’ heads, much as they might have done in the time of Genghis Khan, the warrior who masterminded the Mongol Empire in the 13th century. If the horsemen who rode all the way to Europe to extend that empire were to return to their ancestral spaces next week, they’d feel right at home.

Part of the special beauty of rural Mongolia is that it redefines everything you thought you knew. A road, I realized as soon as I was jouncing past Bronze Age burial mounds, is a red-dirt scratch across the void; a sight is a jeep the size of an ant, inching across the horizon. A town in the steppes could pass for a subway station almost anywhere else; once, after hours of nothingness, I stopped at a ger camp to find that it also served as a meditation space, a car-repair shop and a leather-tanning workshop. No wonder. Gazing out miles and miles in every direction, I could catch nothing but emptiness—vast enough for the mind to go anywhere (or nowhere at all)—and the sound of the wind, whipping in my ears…

Mongolia haunts a visitor as few other destinations can. After I’d returned home, the power of stepping out of my luxury ger in the Gobi to be met by a 74 million–year-old volcanic outcropping, the eeriness of knowing that dinosaur bones were all around, had gotten inside of me, like a shared dream I couldn’t shake.

In a world flooded with distractions, Mongolia returns one to something ancestral. The clock has little meaning here. Days turn into an ageless cycle of random moments, scanning of the heavens, simple meals, long journeys. Often I didn’t know whether I was traveling into the past or the future. I could simply tell that this was a place that everybody would recognize, if only because it’s somewhere lost inside most of us, lodged like the people we once were and might one day again become.

~ Pico Iyer, excerpts from The Heart-Clearing Stillness of the Mongolian Countryside (wsj.com, February 27, 2018)


Notes:

  • Inspired by Maggie O’Farrell in “I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death“: “When Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was read to me and Alice sighs, “Oh, how I long to run away from normal days! I want to run wild with my imagination,” I remember rising up from my pillow and thinking, yes, yes, that’s it exactly. The school trip showed me that it was possible to ease this longing, to sate it. All I had to do was travel. After he had sailed around the Mediterranean in 1869, Mark Twain said that travel was “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Neuroscientists have been trying for years to pin down what it is about travel that alters us, how it effects mental change. Neural pathways become ingrained, automatic, if they operate only by habit. They are highly attuned to alterations, to novelty. New sights, sounds, languages, tastes, smells stimulate different synapses in the brain, different message routes, different webs of connection, increasing our neuroplasticity…I sensed this, at an instinctive level, at age seventeen. That unassailable flood of novelty, the stimulus of uncharted territory, the overload of the unfamiliar, with all synapses firing, connecting, signalling, burning new pathways. I have never forgotten that bus ride from the airport into the centre of Rome, my first sighting of the city. And I have never lost the thrill of travel. I still crave the mental and physical jolt of being somewhere new, of descending aeroplane steps into a different climate, different faces, different languages. It’s the only thing, besides writing, that can meet and relieve my ever-simmering, ever-present restlessness. If I have been too long at home, stuck in the routine of school-runs, packed lunches, swimming lessons, laundry, tidying, I begin to pace the house in the evenings. I might start to cook something complicated very late at night. I might rearrange my collections of Scandinavian glass. I will scan the bookshelves, sighing, searching for something I haven’t yet read. I will start sorting through my clothes, deciding on impulse to take armfuls to the charity shop. I am desperate for change, endlessly seeking novelty, wherever I can find it. My husband might return from an evening out to discover that I have moved all the furniture in the living room. I am not, at times like this, easy to live with. He will raise his eyebrows as I single-handedly shove the sofa towards the opposite wall, just to see how it might look. “Maybe,” he will say, as he unlaces his shoes, “we should book a holiday.”
  • Photo: Frederic LaGrange – “Still Waters.” A full moon rises over a pond near Buir Lake in eastern Mongolia, near the Chinese border.

Guess.What.Day.It.Is? (Khuus, khuus, khuus.)

Springtime in the Gobi is as life-giving as it is treacherous. As the -45-degree lows of winter yield to 100-degree summertime highs, the traditional livestock of the area’s Mongolian herders start to give birth. Risks are many. Shaggy Bactrian camels (two humps!) are pregnant for 13 months, and usually give birth to a calf every second year. But the harsh, dusty climate is unforgiving, and it is not uncommon for mother or baby to perish during or after delivery. The result is often orphaned babies and grieving mothers who need one another—but don’t have any filial bonds.

After centuries in the desert, the nomadic herders have developed a unique musical ritual to help form these bonds, or reestablish one when a camel mother has rejected her own offspring. In the half-light of dusk or dawn, a musician wields his instrument, usually a horsehead fiddle, known as a morin khuur, or a Mongolian flute. Everyone present wears their best clothes, out of respect for the rite. The mother and calf are tied together, and, on the orange dunes, another musician begins to chant: “khuus, khuus, khuus.”

At first, observers say, the mother either ignores the calf altogether or lashes out by biting or spitting at it. The “coaxer,” at this point, adjusts the melody based on the behavior. The singer begins to weave elements of poetry or song into the tune, to mimic the sound of the camel’s walking, running, and bellowing. After many hours of this, it is said, the mother and calf begin to weep. The spell is cast, and the animals are joined for life.

~ Natasha Front, excerpt from The Transcendental Ritual of Mongolian Camel Coaxing May Soon Be Lost Forever. Khuus, khuus, khuus. (Atlas Obscura, August 31, 2017)


Notes:

  • Khuus = “Service” in Somali (via Google Translate)
  • Photo/Article: Thank you Nan.
  • Background on Caleb/Wednesday/Hump Day Posts and Geico’s original commercial: Let’s Hit it Again

SMWI*: I Can Do This


“Who are you to do something like this?  What makes you think you can make a difference?  What makes you think you can succeed? I was diagnosed with polio as a young boy.  When I came out of the doctor’s office, my life was going to be very different.  And even as such a young age, somewhere deep in there, I remember thinking, I refuse to let this define me.

Mongolia evokes the kind of emotion that I would read in an adventure book as a child. The place that was always winter and never Christmas.  Ulan Bator is the coldest city in the world.  There is a big problem.  Thousands of children that have been abandoned, many of them living on the streets.  Without the help of the orphanages, how many of them would be dead? They’re overflowing, I have to do something.  I’m not wealthy. I’m not famous. And I started to think about what I could do.

I have to do something. What came up, was, running. I’m going to run 1,500 miles across Mongolia to raise awareness and support for orphans and vulnerable children.

My Dad left when I was 2 years old. Nobody should ever be abandoned. I would deny part of who I am if I didn’t at least try.

I want you see these children and spark a hope that you can make a difference.”

~ Brian Hunter.  Donate to the cause here.


SMWI*: Saturday Morning Workout Inspiration

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