…oh, and the stories shall now spew forth.
That’s what happens when it’s cold and you go on tour to remote Mongolia with questionable food, no showers, no toilets, and too many animals. It hits you hard.
Perhaps the most hard hit on that adventure was poor Patrick, and not because he had to suffer a short bout of food poisoning in the middle of it, but more because he realized, that in a Mongolian person’s eyes, he was not a man.
I’m sorry Pat for laughing at that comment. The man part, not the food poisoning — although your tales of the 3 am, goat-filled call in the night cracks me up.
One of the gers we stayed in on our tour was the extra ger of a semi-nomadic family out near the semi-desert. When it came to meeting with people who most represented the wild nature of the country, these guys were tops in terms of what I expected in my head… especially the old man.
His skin was rugged and leathery, so much so from the harsh conditions that I couldn’t tell how old he actually was. When he stood, he was probably half a foot shorter in height than me; walking around in floppy big boots didn’t help the appearance of his short stature either.
In between pissing in the open in front of us to singing us a traditional Mongolian song while riding camels, I couldn’t really understand him, but I did know one thing…
He was a real Mongolian man.
One afternoon, Pat and I sat in our ger, maybe next to our poo fire (a fire made from burning dung), when both our translator/guide and the old man entered. The old man had heard that Paula purchased a snuff bottle earlier that day, and he wanted to see it. I’m pretty sure she bought the bottle because it looked pretty, but it turns out that the exchanging of snuff bottles is actually a part of the Mongolian greeting ritual.
At that moment, Tony and Paula were out using the “toilets” behind the rock piles, so we thought they would be back soon and invited the two to sit and wait.
“He would like to ask you some questions,” our guide told us.
We made small talk about where we were from and if we liked Mongolia… the usual banter that one might expect between strangers. In the middle of it, he reached inside his boot and pulled out a giant smoking pipe.
And then the questions started — all of which were directed to Pat.
The old man offered the giant pipe to Pat, but Pat kindly declined. The translator/guide asked Pat if he smoked, to which he said that he didn’t. The guide translated back to the man.
He barely flinched at that one, but he paused, like he was tossing around a few thoughts in his head. Finally he said a few more words in Mongolian that were translated by our guide.
“Have you been in the army in Australia?”
Pat was quick to respond that he hadn’t because it isn’t that common to enlist. When that was translated to the man, the man then mentioned that all Mongolian men have to be in the army. It basically came down to this: You are not a man until you are in the army in Mongolia.
Ooooh. Pat’s eyes widened with the realization of his “failings”. Strike 2, we thought.
We sat there in pensive silence until the old man broke to ask another question.
I won’t lie. It started to feel like an awkwardly long wait at this moment.
“Are you two married?” was the translated question.
There was such apprehension in that response as we had been through the whole marriage must happen, and it must happen young, deal while in K-stan. To that translated response, he breathed in deeply. It was a heavy breath, and if his eyebrows could have moved through the leathery weight, they would have. It was that sort of sigh that says, “I can’t believe this Australian guy even has a girlfriend.”
We saw that one coming from a mile away, but we still felt the need to add the whole, “but we’re recognized as married by the Australian government, just not officially married.” I’m not sure if he understood the message, but at least our guide did.
Regardless, the real answer was no. I peeked a look at Pat, caught his eye and chuckled at the lack of respect he was in the process of gaining from this old Mongolian man.
What else could there be to ask now?
“How old are you?”
Oh crap, and that’s it. You see, Pat is a little younger than me, and in most cultures this is not the norm. One would suspect the man to be older, and if you are as old as Patrick and I, we should damn well be married.
Whatever, old man, I don’t even believe in marriage… take that!
I began to wonder just how long this whole “Pat failing to be a man” thing would go on. The atmosphere was building with an uncomfortable vibe. The wait accumulated. What else could we be doing in our lives that might be a very unmanly thing in the eyes of the Mongolians?
Finally, Tony and Paula came back into the ger, just in time to get the same round of questions — and to save us from further hassles (and emasculation for Pat). The old man only put up with two, though. After he found out that Tony and Paula had been dating for 2 years but still not married, he probably had his mind made up about foreign men in general.