“Why Mongolia??” – everyone kept asking, surprised with my choice. Let’s call it a DNA itch. Some sources say about 25 million people worldwide can trace their bloodline back to the father of Genghis Khan, who must have been the most successful man when it comes to fulfilling a true biological objective of any male. And Mongols have rolled through my native lands like forest fire, albeit many centuries ago.
All I can say is that for about 5 years I’d been dreaming about endless fields, dusty horses and the flavor of the wind. Who knows – maybe my great(x10)grandfather, too, was a great Mongol and he’s to blame for my occasional bouts of uncontrollable anger? (That would explain a lot). And then I read in the guide book that Mongolia has “13 horses to each inhabitant”, and that was it.
Mongolia turned out to be exactly what I had been craving. Horses? There they are, peeking at you mischievously from under the bangs . Endless fields? All right, saddle up – to reach the next village, take right at the horizon. Open air? Sleeping in a Mongolian yurt, you have no choice but to wake up with the natural daylight, pouring through the roof opening – about same time as sheep, cows and other cattle outside your door.
Mongolians say their nation was born from the union of a blue wolf and a brown deer on the shore of a big lake, and that pretty much says it all.
The main thing to know about the Mongolian psyche is – this nation is on a totally different scale, when it comes to time and space. Two thirds of Mongolia’s 3 million population still leads the traditional nomadic lifestyle. It goes like this: smack in the middle of a huge open field is your yurt. Or maybe two – one for sleeping, one for cooking. Or maybe three – if you are rich enough to afford a guesthouse for visiting family. If you want to measure it in football fields, like they do in America, then your “backyard” and your kids’ playground is about 10-15 football fields big. Your closest neighbors are the ones you can see in the binoculars from the top of the nearest hill, squinting – half-hour on a horse, galloping. Or about an hour if you go leisurely, letting out a song or two. Your middle-range neighbors are the ones you can reach on a horse by the sunset if you leave at the day’s break. That’s why you got nothing but love for your neighbors: you don’t mind their snoring or having loud parties, they never park in your space or run over your dog. On the contrary – neighbors’ visiting is a happy occasion, which is actually true for anybody pulling up at your place, mostly unannounced. (Imagine that!)
Mongols are actually all related, thanks to Genghis Khan’s rich heritage and fruitful reign, and they do keep score. An average family keeps records of 10-12 generations back. (In the immigration office of Ulan Bator, an information sheet advises those seeking Mongolian citizenship that they will need to provide a detailed biography of 3 generations back as part of a submission package. Compare that to applying for the US citizenship, where all they ask about your pedigree is just the names of your mother and father.)
They say – when 2 Mongols meet, it takes them 5 minutes to become friends, 10 minutes (to consult the record book and) find out they are related and 15 minutes to be brothers again. That sense of kinship is still alive today – Mongols rely on each other, friends and family and distant relatives for support on all matters of life.
You will never meet a Mongol all on his own.
And when it comes to time… Well, Mongols are still on Genghis time. No matter what you’ve been conditioned by the Western popular culture to think about Genghis Khan, in Mongolia he’s highly regarded as THE ruler to have created Mongolian nation and establish its world dominance. That’s why you land at Genghis Khan airport, drink Genghis Khan beer, bank at Genghis Khan bank and for the nighttime reading with your kids, leaf through the “Secret History of Mongols” outlining his story, and it never seems too much.
Think about it: are you on the first-name basis with a ruler of your nation from the 12th century? For Mongolians, it’s like Genghis empire happened just yesterday, and that’s the major difference between your world clock and theirs. The world domination is still vivid in the Mongolian collective memory and they are totally ready for it to happen again. If not tomorrow, perhaps in another 500 years. There is plenty of time.
If you want to test the Mongolian national pride, you can try saying something belittling (or simply mention the Chinese). See those red spots dancing on the bottom of their eyes? That’s the river of fire that’s always flowing through Mongolian veins.
“I’m a Mongol!” – they say, and you can clearly hear that capital M with your bare ears.