In the last couple of months, I’ve found myself answering two questions differently than I ever have before and lingering on them in ways that can disrupt my whole day.
Do you miss LA?
There’s a lot I miss about LA, but the longer I live here, it gets harder to make realistic comparisons between Los Angeles and Darkhan. The things and places (but certainly not the people) become less important. I appreciate more things about LA than I used to, but I am grateful every day for the life I have here, which makes it seem pointless to dwell on what I don’t have.
And speaking of what I don’t have…
Do you just have one kid?
Some new foreign language teachers are here in Darkhan and they asked me this when Terra and I met them in town last week. I don’t believe I’d ever been asked that question before. I said yes, but added that I had a son who died a week before his due date. I watched them cringe with that answer. I don’t know what to say next time I’m asked this.
"I only have one that lived."
"I only have one daughter."
"I was all set to have two but then one of them died."
Or maybe, more likely, I’ll just say, “Yes.”
My life here is about a lot of things. I suppose this year’s theme is about living without and still trying to live well.
At the end of the day, when I was asked these two questions and spent the rest of the night asking them of myself again and again, I put a very sleepy Terra to bed.
I found myself coaxing her to sleep the way my dad used to, stroking her forehead and hair, talking quietly with her about her day. I fell into a beautiful moment with her, remembering how loved I was/am and what a gift it is that I can try to love Terra in the same way.
The son I lost breaks my heart every time I think about him, but the daughter I have mends the fissures and nicks I didn’t know were there.
Single mom-ing it for a few days (with the help of Chinguun) while Agii starts winter preparations in the countryside. At the end of summer, the grass that grows wild gets harvested and baled to help feed the cows and horses through the winter.
Our herding family members are worried about the upcoming winter. Grasses in spring and summer weren’t very tall and that makes it harder for goats, sheep and horses to forage in the winter as well. Agii says cows don’t dig in snow to get to grasses below, like other livestock do.
He’ll be heading up the effort to harvest hay from about 25 acres in the next three to four weeks. The family has one operational tractor that needs constant maintenance, The hay gets baled, stacked and stored. It will also be shared with family and neighbors who need it to keep their livestock alive.
My first real trip to the countryside, when I first moved here, was spent helping load a truck with hay bales to take to a cousin’s winter camp.
That day, I tried explaining to Agii that I used to pay $13 for a bale of hay every couple of weeks to feed my horse that lived in a $700 a month stall in Los Angeles. But without the dictionary handy, he couldn’t make much sense of it. Or maybe it wasn’t a matter of translation.
When people ask what Agii does for work, it’s hard to explain that this kind of work is always a priority (after taking care of Terra and I). He’ll drop what he’s doing, almost 100% of the time, to help our family in the countryside. It’s not paid work, although he always comes home with fresh milk, eggs or meat, but it’s work that means survival.
He’s going to mostly be away from home for a month because Emee’s eldest son passed away not long ago. He was the one who ran the tractor each year. Agii is taking over for him and will oversee all the work.
I’m grateful that we live a life where we can do this for our family, and that Terra will grow up knowing the value of being a part of it.
Just got back from the new playground by our house. A little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, was there with her 10 month old brother. They were both shirtless. The baby boy was barefoot and wearing thin cotton pants and the girl was just wearing a summer skirt and dirty cotton underwear. We watched them play quietly by themselves, the big sister constantly checking in on her brother, who never cried and just soaked in all the activity around them.
As the temperature dropped, they moved up to the amphitheatre steps, where the sister had a bag of their things. She pulled out two strips of a cut up cotton bedsheet. She wrapped one tightly around her little brother and the other around her own arms.
Terra chose that moment to try to climb the amphitheatre steps by herself and then run across the top of them, so Agii and I both jumped up to helicopter our clumsy kid. She wobbled at the edge at one point, but an older boy grabbed her before I got there. While I ran back and forth ready to catch a cackling Terra before her skull hit the concrete like a melon, Agii talked to the little girl wrapped up in the strip of bedsheet.
She told him that her mom and dad were at home in their apartment, but that they had both been drinking. Terra played with the baby’s long-empty bottle while she spoke. Other kids in the playground started gathering around us.
I ran over to the car and grabbed the box of juice and the fruit pouch we bought for Terra at the market. I handed the big sister the juice and showed her little brother how to feed himself with the pouch. He hoovered it up in a matter of minutes while his sister tucked the juice box into the bag that had held the sheets they were wearing.
Now we had a crowd of about eight kids all sitting on the steps with us. They interviewed me, and even after I told them I only spoke a little Mongolian, they kept grilling me with questions. They asked where I got the fruit pouch and which car was ours, where we lived, where I was from. I smiled and fumbled my way through answers in Mongolian, all I could think about was snatching up that little baby and his sister and taking them home with us. Agii kept a watch on Terra but I could see the concern on his face as well.
When the fruit pouch was finished, I ran back to the car for the box of Cheerios for Terra. I opened the box at the foot of the steps and offered them to all the kids that had gathered around. They each went in for giant handfuls, each offering a thank you, and half the bag disappeared before I could slip the box into the little girl’s bag with the juice.
It was hard to leave the park, but we did, and we drove home talking about how idiotic those kids parents were and I hugged Terra tight.
Tomorrow we’re going back to the playground, with a bag of snacks and another box of juice in the car, incase we see those two again. If we do, and the sister tells us mom and dad are drunk again, Agii promised he’d talk to the parents. I’m not sure how much good it will do, but those two deserve someone to stand up for them.
If the situation is bad, we’ll report it, and if it gets worse, we’ll take them in. At least that’s how we feel tonight, as we sit cozy at home, eating our dinner, watching our beautiful, healthy, fully-clothed daughter eat with us.
In the summer, Mongolia has wild berries for harvest in its dwindling forests. At every market there’s someone sitting on a stool selling wild strawberries and blackcurrants out of giant tin bowls. There are usually two glasses sitting on top of the berries, a small juice glass and a pint glass. The sellers pack the berries in the glass of your choice and you go home with a little bag full of nature’s bounty for less than a dollar.
While we were shopping for local vegetables Terra made friends with an Emee (grandmother) selling blackcurrants. She walked right up to the bowl and popped a berry in her mouth. The Emee loved it and started feeding her one after the other. Fresh blackcurrants are super tart, but she was downing them like they were M&Ms.
As my other mom friends here can attest to, shopping for fruit in Mongolia with kids is fun. Terra always gets handed a gift of something tasty - apples, mandarin oranges, or little cherry tomatoes. If we’re shopping for candy for the holidays, she usually scores a candy too. She usually scores candy wherever we go though. Men and women have met her at the park and after she charms their socks off they fish around in their pockets or purses and magically produce a wrapped candy. Darkhan is a dangerous town for teeth and refusing candy from strangers is poor form.
Terra’s blackcurrant testimonial helped draw some other customers to the Emee’s set up, and after she sold a big bag to one family, we bought a small one to take home.
For lunch today, I washed the last of the blackcurrants to go along with Terra’s sauteed spinach and tomato tossed pasta (our market haul from the day before). Agii was out in the yard and I was doing dishes while Terra sat down with her lunch. After she had finished her lunch, all but a few berries left on the plate, she walked over to Agii and stuck her finger on her nose and said “yo yo”, Mongolian for “owie”.
He spotted the blackcurrant right away and tried pushing it down but it was stuck up in there. I got out the snot sucker, which was useless, and Agii went looking for the metal ear cleaning pick. I hopped online to see what the internet said we should do. Agii tried sucking the berry out with his mouth, and then I tried blowing it by closing her unblocked nostril and blowing into her mouth CPR style. Throughout all of this, Terra was crying out “Mama”, in endless tears, breaking a sweat from struggling against our holding her down and making us want to cry.
We calmed her down, gave her a couple of Gummy Bears and got her shoes on to go to the hospital. There wasn’t any wait in the emergency room (which is actually three rooms connected, each with an examination cot, lights and some first aid supplies) and the nurse grabbed the doctor on call to check it out.
With Agii holding her arms, the nurse holding her head, and me holding her legs, the doctor was able to get the blackcurrant out with some long, thin tweezers. He got it out in half a second once the nurse got her head still. I snatched it out of his hand and showed it to Terra, telling her not to ever do that again. Terra stopped crying the minute the three of us all let her sit up on her own. Agii scooped her up off the cot, shook the doctor’s hand and we left with the berry of discontent.
On the drive home, Agii held he berry up to Terra’s nose at stops and asked if he could stick it in. She emphatically refused.
My first Naadam was in Southern California in 2011. I hunted down and hounded the Los Angeles Mongolian-American message board to find out where it would be held and it wasn’t far from where I had once horse and house hunted in Altadena.
In a big grassy field, safety tape marked the festival grounds. Giant Mongolian flags were draped from tents and a flagpole at the center of the festival grounds. A local charro rider had brought his slightly lame grey for rides around the park and photo opportunities.
The festival opened with one young Mongolian-American galloping him around the central grounds, waving a Mongolian flag. There were biyelgee dancers, speeches from members of the community (all in Mongolian), singing, a parade of people in their deel, and traditional wrestling.
Khuushuur (Mongolian hot pockets), suu te tsai (milk tea), and mantoo buuz (Mongolian bao) was for sale, but I didn’t partake. I was just there to soak in the sounds and the sights. It was magical to sit in the grass (on a horse blanket no less) and hear the Mongolian spoken by everyone around me, and to witness the families and friends gathering on a gorgeous day. I’d close my eyes and pretend I was back in Mongolia.
I was able to Skype with Agii a few days later and tell him about how I had been to Naadam and told him what it was like. His smile as Heegii translated grew bigger and brighter.
The next summer, we spent Naadam together.
Margaux and Mathilde, summer interns at the UB Post, wrote this great piece about Mongolian-American Naadam festivals and the role they play in galvanizing small communities around the US:
I encourage all of my friends back home to experience Naadam if there’s one where you live.
On Wednesday we went to the countryside to visit Agii’s aunt and pick up Chinguun so she could get ready for one last summer vacation trip to UB. We brought Basar along so he could tap into his ancestral working dog roots and not just be our status symbol.
We missed the slaughtering and butchering of a goat, but got there just in time for all its innards and its lightly roasted head to get cooked up for a late lunch in the summer camp kitchen.
I stuck to the potatoes.
Terra loves all things traditional Mongolian food, so she and Agii dug in. While the organ feast was in the works, I took one of the best naps I’ve had in months in the small brick “house” that was built at the summer camp last year to keep everyone safe from the mosquitoes that are a problem by the river. I had a vivid dream about the place where I was napping and woke up to the sound of the cows coming home and calling to their calves in the enclosure.
We stopped at the winter camp, where Agii’s aunt and her husband stay to get out of UB for the summer, on our way back. They sent us home with a four pound bag of aarul and a ridiculous amount of eggs. The chickens have been happy this summer and eating well. A healthy rat snake has taken up residence to share in the bounty, but Agii helped chase it off so three more fresh eggs could be gathered.
I’ve yet to master the Mongolian art of filling guests with food, but I’m getting better at it.
For dinner, I made my first quiche with some of the eggs we brought home. Terra ate it with a fraction of the enthusiasm she shared when she was nibbling the soft palatte of the roasted and boiled goat, and Agii and Chinguun said it was “ok”. I thought it turned out really well, and I crammed a ton of broccoli and artichoke hearts in it to balance out everyone’s meat intake for the day.
Here, adaptation is the key to survival.
My first Comic Con in 2006. I had no idea what to expect, but knew I had to help pull together a profitable booth and do things differently. We had an awesome team of GR Family and had crazy fun.
Over the years, at SDCC and other cons, we kicked ass on the exhibit floor, made friends, crashed parties, threw parties, set things on fire, narrowly escaped arrest, narrowly escaped contracting STDs, drew things on people, let people draw things on us, had Comic Con boyfriends, got nominated for awards we didn’t win, I made people cry, we faked it, we ate melodramatic sandwiches, got carried away, broke records, changed things, grew closer, and grew further apart.
I have amazing memories from over the years, despite the grossness that Comic Con can be, and the desperation. It got harder to witness and be a part of though. This weekend I’ll enjoy hearing the stories (although few are ever as good as GR’s) and seeing everyone’s photos and pictures of their loot. It’s not a world I can feel comfortable in anymore, but I’m glad I got a chance to be a part of it.