Thursday, June 3, 2010

Conversation with a Herder

(in which our frequent interactions with nomadic herders, or malchin, by our tent or roadside are coalesced into an one-act play)

Scene 1 (takes place outside vestibule of tent pitched by sand dune on edge of desert)

Herder approaches on motorbike.
Andrew: Sain bainuu! (Are you well?)
Herder: Sain ta sain bainuu? (Fine thanks, and you?)
Andrew: Sain bainaa. (I'm fine) Mal sureg targan tavtaiyuu? (I hope your animals are fattening up nicely?)
Herder smiles and nods heartily.
Herder: So what brings you to this fine but expansive country? (Herder’s responses will henceforth be written in English, for the sake of expediency)
Ali: Bid Avstrali ulsaas irsen! (We're from Australia!)
Herder: (taking the non-sequitur in his stride) Avstri? (Austria?)
Andrew & Ali nod and make agreeing sounds.
Herder: (chortles) I gather you've noticed our roads are rather sandy at times, and that our steppe is vast and treeless.
Andrew: (not understanding statement, but noting gesture to road, takes a punt with his answer) Bid nar Ulaanbaataras Bayan-Olgii uruu yavj bain duguigaar (we are going from UB to Olgii by bicycle)
Herder; Hmmm, although very interesting, again not quite the answer to my question
Andrew & Ali: (feeling smugly like they are answering the herder's likely questions) Zaa (OK)
Herder: (lowers red tinted sunglasses and lights cigarette)
Andrew: (feeling like he needs to keep the conversation going) Minii ner Andrew! (My name is Andrew)
Ali: Minii ner Ali! (My name is Ali)
Herder: Fairly dull names by our standards, my name means hero!
Ali: (pushes on) Tany ner khen be? (What is your name?)
Herder: (looks confused) Baatar… My name is Baatar.
Andrew: (Searching for further conversation but not really wishing to prompt an invitation that might require a significant detour) Tany ger khain bain? (Where is your ger?)
Herder: (wary of foreigners taking advantage of renowned ‘nomadic hospitality’, waves off into far distance with no ger visible to our naked eyes) Just over there.
Andrew: (pretends that he can see said ger for the sake of smooth conversation and nods) Zaa.

Ali: (after moderately awkward pause, makes melodramatic gestures indicating wind) Ikh salikh! (big wind)
Herder: (chuckles) What did you expect? This is a vast and treeless country.
Andrew: (suddenly remembering practicalities of riding through a vast and treeless country) Uus? Gol…kilometer? (points) (Water? River… you understand the rest)
Herder: Actually, just two kilometers away is a river that has excellent drinking water. But I would have thought from your road atlas and GPS you would know that.
Andrew: Uus… sain? (makes drinking gesture, then thumbs up sign and pats belly) (Water…good?)
Herder: You aren’t quite following me are you? But as to your question… Sain, sain (makes thumbs up sign. Also indicates height of water at knee, prompting general charades of unpacking panniers and carrying bikes from Andrew and Ali).
Herder: Za (warming to these strange creatures) Would you two Austrians care to join me for Mongolian tea?
Andrew: (stares blankly)
Herder repeats question a little louder.
Andrew and Ali confer and come up with nothing.
Andrew: Bid mongoloor yairdaggui (We don't speak Mongolian)
Herder: Now, don’t be modest! But it does rather explain the inappropriate Mongolian you've been speaking so far. (puffs on cigarette)
Ali: (still confused) Uuchlaarai (I’m sorry)
Herder: (now becoming a little frustrated at response to hospitable offer, gets louder and mimes tea drinking) You… drink… tea…ger?
Andrew: (thinking he means vodka for breakfast) Ah.. er… no, no.. we don’t drink … bayarlah.. (thankyou)
Ali: Ok, well, we now pack (act out packing) and then ride (point to bikes and act riding)
Herder: OK, though tea is pretty good for hydration before a ride you know. I'm going back to my ger, you know where I live.
Andrew & Ali: Bayartai! (Goodbye!)
Andrew & Ali smile and congratulate each other after another successful conversation.

Conversation with a herder


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