Way to Treat a Stomach Bug, Dude

The ger we are visiting belongs to Baatar’s sister, and a second sister is visiting. As is a young man so drunk his eyes are scarlet and teary, an absolutely charming lady with a 3-month-old baby that belongs to someone else, a couple of other randoms, and two grandkids who appear to be here for the summer.

Not to mention us.

There’s an enormous layered salver stacked with biscuits and mixed candies, and six bottles of vodka in the empties corner.

As far as I can understand from the lady with the baby, who’s apparently sober and has good English, this all has something to do with a wedding in UB, which is where the folk in the jeep we met on the plains were going.

Baatar explains his family to me as best as he can. He had eight brothers and sisters at one point, but five have “burned”, so now it’s only him and these two sisters left. (Baatar is 49. His sisters look a little younger, but may well be slightly older: in Mongolia, as in Russia, women outlive men by almost a decade.)

Our host, it appears, would like me to stay. She evidences this by pulling out another bottle of vodka, pouring a shot, downing it, pouring me a shot, staring straight into my eyes while I down it, and repeating until I go outside for air.

As it happens, we’re clearly staying anyway. I’m not such a bitch that I’d refuse Baatar this quality time with his two surviving siblings; further, Zac has already buddied up with the older grandchild.

You don’t have to be familiar with Khutulun, the Mongolian warrior princess who outwrestled men, to be impressed by this.

I certainly am. She looks absolutely splendid, elegant and awe-inspiring in her ceremonial del, with a smart Western outfit, right down to the tights and court shoes, layered beneath it.

And, further, she has better makeup skills than I (not saying much).

As it happens, we’re clearly staying anyway. I’m not such a bitch that I’d refuse Baatar this quality time with his two surviving siblings; further, Zac has already buddied up with the older grandchild, while I’m in perimenopausal baby-crazy mode about the toddler.

“I’m sorry,” says Baatar, rather hopelessly. “Vodka! I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK,” I say. “She’s your sister. You’re allowed to drink vodka! It’s OK! We stay here tonight! No problem!”

Within seconds, they’ve improvised a pair of rather fantastic machine guns from car parts, old tyres and used vodka bottles, and are endeavouring to set up a swing. Language barrier? What language barrier?

There’s a roofless log cabin outside, more of a shelter, full of exciting things like logs and car parts and sheepskins. Zac and the child, in the universal language of boys, have already decided to use this as a fort.

Within seconds, they’ve improvised a pair of rather fantastic machine guns from car parts, old tyres and used vodka bottles, and are endeavouring to set up a swing.

Language barrier? What language barrier?

Further, in an absolute overdose of cute, a baby fat-tailed lamb and baby kid live close to the ger, in the bough paddock, rather than going out with the flocks. They have oh-too-clearly decided, despite the evidence that one is black and growing up to be a goat and one is white and growing up to be a sheep (and already has the booty to show for it), that they are siblings, twins, even.

Zac almost has a squeezure.

The boys chase them around for a bit, cuddling them, then build a fort and corral them into it.

It’s all rather sweet. And, with the endless steppe giving onto picturesque mountains, quite stunningly photogenic, too. (Did I mention my camera memory card broke?)

We are supposed to be getting to the reindeer people at some point soon, but since the only idea of their whereabouts that I have is across the plains, over the hills, past Tsagaannuur and into the taiga (whatever “taiga” actually means – I know it has trees, and is in the mountains, but beyond that I’m not entirely sure I’ll even know the taiga when I hit it), I’m not particularly fussed whether that’s tomorrow or the day after, or even, for that matter, the day after that.

This is, fact fans, one of the beauties of being nomadic. You very rarely have to be anywhere on schedule.

Appendicitis is one of those things, like tonsillitis, which every parent knows enough about in theory to look knowledgeably down the throat, or poke knowledgeably at the stomach, but can’t necessarily diagnose because…

Bill and Matt, however, would quite like to move on, not least because we’re in an absolute bitch of a dust storm which suggests that putting up anything more substantial than our lovely tubular pop-up pup tent (technically a one-man, but Zac’s scrawny) is going to be nigh-on impossible.

“That’s fine,” I say. “We’re staying. I can’t take Baatar or Zac out of here.”

They too, however, are faced with their own immovable force: Maahar.

For Maahar is really not well. I catch him out the back of the ger, slumped on a log with the pinkeyed man, rinsing vomit out of his mouth with the communal water ladle, and try and force some Cipro down him. I fail.

He heads back into the ger and lies, an absolutely splendid confection of solid slab muscle, the sort of thing a lady has to take a photo of for her gay friends (but, like I said, my camera broke), on one of the beds that double as sofas, making a groaning face yet utterly silence.

Bill is worried about appendicitis. I look up the term for appendicitis in Bue’s phrasebook. It’s not there. Nor is the term for appendix. Bugger.

“It is the right side, isn’t it?” I ask Bill. He shrugs. Appendicitis is there in his parenting ur-memory, too. But it’s one of those things, like tonsilitis, which every parent knows enough about in theory to look knowledgeably down the throat, or poke knowledgeably at the stomach, but can’t necessarily diagnose because…

… Well, because IAMNAD (I Am Not A Doctor). Now, we conclude, is the sort of time that the internet would come in really handy.

A bit of collective poking at poor Maahar’s impressive stomach, and Baatar’s sister gets what Bill and I are looking for. No, she says, it’s not that. She knows that. It’s not that. It’s something else.

“CHINGGISH KHAN!” slurs Baatar, assertively. “CHINGGISH! Very good! Horsh! Very good!” His sister looks at the door. I look at the ceiling. We do not, repeat not, look at each other.

A flood of Mongolian from Baatar, and Arthur exits the ger, returning with his cupped hands full of horse dung so fresh it’s virtually green – and, yes, still steaming. Driblets of fibrous dung drip onto the bright carpets that cover the floor.

Baatar grins, opens both hands, and takes a double fistful of horse dung.

I can’t, entirely, believe what I am seeing.

Arthur hands him one of the tea bowls we’ve all been drinking out of. Baatar squeezes the horse dung over the tea bowl, and a bunch of cloudy, dark gold juice drips between his grimy fingers and mingles, horrifically, with the residue of salt, milk tea.

Dung safely juiced, he chucks the remnants out of the ger door, and proffers the bowl to Maahar.

I catch Baatar’s sister’s eye. She makes the “men!” face at me, and I start to laugh.

Baatar, wounded by this feminine insult, begins to explain. “Chinggis!” he says. “Chinggis! Horse! Stomach! Very good! Chinggis Khan! Very good!”

His sister, a little disrespectfully, virtually pisses herself laughing. I struggle to keep a straight face, and fail.

“CHINGGISH KHAN!” slurs Baatar, assertively. “CHINGGISH! Very good! Horsh! Very good!”

His sister looks at the door. I look at the ceiling. We do not, repeat not, look at each other.

“I really think,” Bill says, with the air of a man used to diplomacy, rationality, logic and all sorts of useful lifeskills that cease to have any relevance at all a very few kilometres into rural Mongolia. “I really think we should encourage him to take the antibiotics.”

It slowly dawns on me that Maahar is actually going to drink this. And, equally slowly, the poor kid raises the tea bowl full of horse shit juice to his lips.

I have a strong stomach, but there’s something about coprophagia that activates my gag reflex.

I head into the fresh air. Bill’s waiting.

“I really think,” Bill says, with the air of a man used to diplomacy, rationality, logic and all sorts of useful lifeskills that cease to have any relevance at all a very few kilometres into rural Mongolia. “I really think we should encourage him to take the antibiotics.”

“I’ve tried,” I say, laughing a little hysterically, and waving the Cipro around like a totem. “I’ve tried. You’re welcome to have a go!”

I toddle into the roofless cabin and set up our tent in there, out of the wind. Bill and Matt have offered us this spot, and, good lord, I’m taking it.

I do make a token attempt to help Bill and Matt put up their classic triangular tent, but the child of the ger is, obviously, far more help than I could be.

“He drank it?!” I say. “Yes,” Zac says. “He mixed it with vodka and he drank it. Straight down!”

Zac exits the ger. “Wow,” he says, having finally discovered something new under the sun. “Maahar did it.”

“He drank it?!” I say.

“Yes,” Zac says. “He mixed it with vodka and he drank it. Straight down!”

I stick my head inside the ger, where yet another bottle of vodka has appeared from somewhere.

Maahar, amazingly, appears to be asleep, with one hand across his gyppy tummy, quite possibly to stop the foreigners from poking it. He is, unsurprisingly, sweating, and, thanks to his classically Mongolian skintone, has turned an impressive shade of pale lime.

“I guess,” says Bill meditatively. “It’s one way to evacuate the system.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Sympathetic medicine, and all that. At least it’s less mental than homeopathy. It’s definitely going to do something. It will DEFINITELY have an effect.”

The pit toilet, a three-sided, three-bar fence around a hole in the ground with two boards to focus one’s aim, is at least 100 metres walk from the ger. Poor Maahar. Not that he’ll be going that far to eject his stomach contents, I wouldn’t have thought.

Baatar’s sister whips up a pot of noodle soup, and summons us from our cabin to eat. We dine from the very same tea bowls from which the medicine was administered, and I don’t even flinch.

Night falls. Aaron and Arthur ride off to round up our horses, which have wandered miles across the steppe in search of decent grazing. Perhaps because the majority of rural Mongolians have spent their mineral money on livestock or perhaps simply because summer is late, this is extremely sparse round here. The grass has been clipped to within millimetres of the soil.

The grandson rounds up the sheep and goats, with a little bit of utterly useless help from Zac, while his grandmother supervises, using binoculars that seem to be left over from someone’s military service.

Folk crash out around the ger. Bill, Matt and Aaron head to bed. Zac and I toddle off to the log cabin.

And Baatar’s sister whips up a pot of noodle soup, and summons us from our cabin to eat. We dine from the very same tea bowls from which the medicine was administered, and I don’t even flinch. It is, in fact, delicious.

She’ll be up at dawn to look after the family. I do hope she’ll get a nap in later.

You can read the start of this series on our horseback trek across Mongolia here.


Picture via Wikimedia Commons.

9 Responses

  1. Mongolia sounds like a very interesting place to spend sometime the whole culture seems very different and the way these Mongolians seem to of brought you in is very nice, even if the “medicine” sounds quite repulsive it is all part of the experience.

    • Theodora says:

      Mongolia is fascinating. I absolutely loved the place, and would thoroughly recommend it. And that’s without getting out to the culturally Kazakh bits or the desert…

  2. Cindy says:

    I just LOVE your stories! So lively and adventurous! Funny, too.

  3. Arianwen says:

    Eyyyyw! Each to their own I guess, but I can think of a few reasons that probably isn’t good for your health!

    • Theodora says:

      We actually discussed that, and concluded that there can’t be any horse-human transmissible stomach bugs in Mongolia (witness the merry consumption of river water). They don’t have battery farming of livestock, so I’d suspect they have less animal-human bug transmission than we do in the developed West…

      • Jill Niland says:

        It’s interesting, while you’ve been away from western medicine in the last few months, there has been a lot of talk in the science journals about ‘poop transplants’ which seem to do miraculous things for people with very dangerous cases of c.difficle, a bacterial infection that can be life threatening. With a ‘transplant’ the unhealthy gut bacteria are replaced with those from a healthy ‘donor’. Since Mongolians probably already share many of the same types of gut bacteria with their horses, it might really make sense to–literally– drink horse shit–from a healthy ‘donor horse’. See this from the well respected US Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/medicalprofs/fecal-transplants-ddue1012.html
        More important, did you ever find out what happened to Mahaar and his stomach ailment?

        • Theodora says:

          Good lord! I’d heard something about these things, but, yes, you may be right! Thank you for the link!

          I didn’t find out what happened to Maahar (I’m not sure how far up you are in the saga, but events rather overtook us): he took my Cipro in the end, with permission from a doctor, which will likely have wiped out any beneficial horse poop bacteria, as well as whatever was causing the problem. But he’s a super-fit athlete type — champion wrestler, and I believe has won horse races too — so I’m sure it will have worked out well for him…

  4. Jill says:

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed that new theory; I hope for Maahar’s continued sturdy health.

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