I'm in a ger on the mongolian countryside, and just finished drinking a bottle of vodka and eating fried pastries filled with goat organs. The smell of sheep or goat meat makes me gag. It's no wonder, at survival camp I went 10 days without a shower wreaking of sheep after slaughtering one. But I'm getting used to it again. I'd better; everything I eat over the next 4 days will have something to do with sheep or goat.
I'm on a 4-day trek on horseback, hopping from ger to ger, and staying with 3 different herding families. Before leaving I was told that cigarettes and candy are good gifts, but after passing around packs of Marlboros to the men of the first hosting family, including the 85 year-old patriarch, I felt incredibly pretentious. My gift will be appreciation from now on (and smokes on demand).
She's her grandparents' pride and joy, and it's apparent. She sleeps with her grandmother, and she's spoiled. But she's not spoiled with material things - you should have seen her face when I gave her a bit of pineapple juice and a piece of candy...she's spoiled with love. She's three. She smiles as much as any child I've ever met. We are all in our "beds". She giggles as her grandmother whispers a story to her as she falls asleep. The closest other child is miles away.
I'm lying on the floor next to my Mongolian guide, covered in an inch of sheep's skin. It's below 0 outside and the fire is dying. 3 hours have passed since great-grandfather awoke me from my nap to drink vodka with 3 generations of herders. Now I lie in the ger between grandfather and my guide and with the 3 younger generations. The sky outside is filled with thousands of stars, and the wind whips across the plain where the yurt lies. The dogs are silent - they're likely nestled next to the plastic exterior walls, clinging to every bit of warmth. I feel warm and totally secure with these strangers. Their whispers comfort me as I fall asleep....