Grandma the Wailer


-Wanna see a trick?

Before I have time to focus my camera , the Grandma picks up a small twig from the ground, lights it up and puts it in her mouth, letting out a whole lotta smoke rings.

Whoa. Let’s just say I am surprised. Cackling at my facial expression, the fiery Grandma turns to Saraa and taps her special cup:
-Brought some?

You see, Grandma is famous all over this side of taiga for two things: her singing abilities and her love for vodka. It’s a packaged deal, really. She gets drunk and she loves to sing. A local Tom Waits of sorts. I feel a tad ambivalent to feed her alcohol addiction, but I’m told she’s always craving new audiences for her performance, it’s really a win-win, so we prepare the required social lubricant and walk over to the celebrity yurt.

Having successfully wowed the newcomer with the burning twig, the star downs the well-deserved booze, stares at me for a second, making sure the camera is on, and then motions to her now-empty cup. I think that means “welcome to act 2”. We pour again.

The Special Song is solemn and beautiful and you almost want to cry at how fragile she looks.

Act 3 (following another inevitable shot) is a story: she tells us about some regional singing competition where she arrived unannounced and walked through the door, immediately getting mobbed by the legions of fans. Everyone begged her to sing, and she had to oblige – provided they would pour her some. (Vodka, in case you’re lost). Three rounds, according to the Mongolian tradition. Which they did. And then she sang. Needless to say, she won the main prize – a large sum of money.

I look around the empty yurt. There is an old iron stove in the middle. We are sitting on bare ground.
There are a couple of old mugs tucked away in the cooking area, and that’s pretty much it.

I ask what she did with the prize money. She looks at me as if I’m stupid.
-Bought some vodka! What else?…

Both Saraa and Grandma are now literally at my question, and I say to myself – duh!, pour another shot into the communal cup and go with the flow.

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