Odval lay near Bataar and stared into the darkness at the wooden frame inside their ger. For centuries her tribe had remained true to their ancestor’s way of life. Odval’s mind would not rest. The Nomad life of her people appeared to change everyday.
Kuchu stirred nearby. Instantly, Odval’s milk dropped at the sound of his whimpers. As Kuchu suckled, his eyes admired his mother. His body relaxed as she began to tell him a story in soft gentle tones.
“There once was a wise mother who had her five sons sit by her because they had argued and fought.” Odval kissed her son’s forehead as she continued. “She gave them each an arrow and told them to break it. The boys easily broke their arrows. After that, the mother gathered five arrows together and had the boys try to break them. One by one, the boys tried to break the cluster of arrows but were not able to. The mother said, "Just like you were able to easily break one arrow, if you go separately, you will be defeated. But like the cluster of arrows, if you are together, you will not easily be defeated".
“You know, Kuchu, one day you will have brothers and sisters. You will be the eldest. It will be up to you to keep them together.”
Bataar lay on his side, propped on his elbow. “You sound troubled.”
Odval lay Kuchu down and snuggled in close to her husband, “Will we survive another zud? The sun is already too hot on the steppe and our winter camp had been much colder again. The grass and water will soon be no more.”
“Tomorrow, I will take an offering to the mountain and leave it on the ovoo as our ancestors did. Now that communism has left us, we can openly worship the Shaman way. I will walk three times around the ovoo sacrifices and perhaps luck will return to our land.” Bataar lay on his back as if all had been settled, “I will take your khadag. Yes, the blue scarf will be perfect.”
Odval rolled over when she realized Bataar had solved all their problems and promptly drifted off to sleep. At least in his mind the solution had been settled on.
Confusion filled Odval’s heart and sleep escaped her. Even when the communist rulers forbade any form of religion, many quietly taught their children about Buddhism and Shamanism.
Her grandfather continued to leave his Buddhist shrine in his ger unafraid of the communist’s threats. “We are too isolated from them to be scared,” Odval remembered his words. “They won’t come this far to see if I have removed my shrine.”
Early in the morning, Odval dressed in her traditional deel and headed out to milk the mare and goats. She could hear Bataar’s khöömii throat singing in the distance with the herds.
With her arm around the hind leg of the mare, she began to speak in soft tones. “You see, dear mare, I doubt Buddha cares much about our zud. Nor do I think leaving a sacrifice on the ovoo will help.”
The mare whinnied as if she understood.
“I will tell you what I really think. Last month we talked to men from outside of Mongolia. They showed us a movie of a man they called Jesus.” Odval glanced around as if someone might hear. “They said Jesus is greater than Buddha. Jesus has more power than any Shaman. Jesus could hear us when we just talk to him like I am talking to you, dear mare. They said Jesus could perform miracles and told me Jesus loves me. No one ever told me Buddha loved me.”
Odval finished milking the mare and patted her hindquarters. “So many things are changing.”
Inside the ger, Odval filtered the mare’s milk to begin the fermenting process of making airag. She hung the leather sack of milk next to the doorway so it could be stirred by anyone who entered their ger. She also prepared a meal of salt tea, mutton, and goat cheese for Bataar.
As Bataar stepped over the wooden threshold of the ger, he reached up to stir the new batch of airag.
Bataar stared at Odval, “You seem different. What is it?” He examined her face.
“I have made a change. I prayed to the one they called Jesus.” Odval patted her heart. “He loves me.”
Bataar considered her words, “Teach Kuchu of Jesus. I believe this change is good.”
ger - is a round portable tent much like a yurt.
zud - harsh winter grazing followed by extreme hot summer.
steppe - flat arid grassy land.
ovoo - Ovoos are Shamanistic piles of rocks, wood, and other sacrifices and are often found at the top of mountains. They serve mainly as religious sites, used in worship of the mountains and the sky.
khadag – Blue silk or fabric often used on ovoos to honor the worship of the skies.
deel - traditional clothing commonly worn for many centuries among the Nomad Mongols and can be made from cotton, silk, or brocade.
khöömii – the unique way of throat singing where they can make two sounds at once.
airag - fermented mares milk, a very traditional Mongolian drink.
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