Saturday, June 28, 2014

Reindeer Are Better Than People

Leaving Tsaagan-Nuur I started to send a text to Blondie, asking if anyone had left their grill out, because I was pretty sure I was going to need to burn some clothes when I got back.  I've been back in the city for going on sixty hours now, and I've only JUST gotten around to my laundry.  See, I used up the last of my detergent before I left, and in spite of the fact that every day I've gone to the store, and every day I've thought, "I need a shitload of detergent to clean this mess up!" I still had to make a special trip out this evening to get it.  So my bag of clothes has sat next to the hallway door til just a few minutes ago, staring balefully at me and not getting any fresher.
Much like this young reindeer...
Sometimes in winter, you'll see reindeer in UB, but the only time I'd seen one before this trip was near Nailakh on our way back from Terelj on Chinggis Day Weekend.  Apparently there are reasons why the Tsataan keep their herds in such a remote place - the reindeer need very specific living conditions to be happy and healthy - and people taking them other places is a bit controversial in the community, to say the least.  As someone with similarly specific needs (such as internet, books, and food that involves something besides mutton and noodles), I can dig that, and didn't really mind going out of my way to see them - whining aside.
As I mentioned on Thursday, I did grow up in the country, and we have a saying dealing with the time when bovine animals make their way to their abodes (yeah.  When the cows come home).  I don't really remember our cows having a curfew, but these reindeer did, and I thought it was pretty interesting.  I'd be sitting in the urtz and hear their distinctive snorting huffs getting closer and closer.
During one evening I was standing in the road as they came past.  One deer walked right up to me - I am guessing he was looking for a treat, and I held out my hand so he could sniff it (I was not quite willing to let him lick it, although he tried).  In exchange, I got to touch his antlers, which were damp with the rain and velvety soft.  Some of the antlers were incredibly big, and made me wonder if they had a hard time keeping their heads up.
Communism is a funny thing.  Kazakh culture in Mongolia is more authentic than in Kazakhstan, largely because it was left alone.  The Tsataan, however, had their culture threatened by the government during those years.  Reindeer herds were taken away from private farmers and kept by the state, and while there were benefits, on the whole I can't imagine having what amounts to my livelihood and my culture taken away from me.  Thankfully, as an international educational mercenary, I'm unlikely to find out.

P.S. That river in the background was my water source for the three days I was at the Tsataan camp.  Shaggy - O Gearmeister Extraordinaire - gave me a fantastic Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration kit, which meant I got to drink cool clean water instead of having to ask the family to boil water for me.  Imma have to give that brother of mine a big sloppy kiss when I get home!

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