Rest Day today. At least, that’s what the class schedule said.
Apparently, ‘Rest Day’ translates to ‘Let’s have a sports tournament day with soccer and a relay race and jumping rope and especially wrestling!!’. Did I mention that Mongolians are very competitive?
We all sleep in until around 9am or so and wander in and out of the dining room all morning, sipping bowls of tea and instant coffee. Bek holds a few meetings with his staff in his ger, and the co-operative busies themselves making preparations for The Program Director's arrival this afternoon.
The cook has been asking me to teach her how to make omlettes [still asking for cakes!], and has been commandeering the eggs for her stash almost as soon as they are laid. The kitchen has also begun making salads especially for Kat, who has been managing our daily meat-fests admirably. She lights up at the prospect of an omlette made with freshly laid eggs and freshly picked chives, beetroot leaves, and spinach from the vegge plot.
After The Program Director rolls in and everyone has had lunch [around 4pm], we all pack up and walk over to the river, about 1.5km away.
We split into teams and donate 3,000MNT to enter; the winning team takes the pool. The soccer matches [played with a rubber basketball] are played like bemused bloodsports, with men, women, young and old taking the field in equal capacity. My fishing buddy Tetch is on Bek’s team and darts around like a squirrel between everyone’s legs.
The men compete hard, roaring with delight each time someone takes a tumble, and the women compete even harder, aiming their kicks at unprotected shins and laughing all the way.
Rick has never played soccer before, though you wouldn’t know it the way he nonchalantly stops the ball under his foot and boots it the length of the field, and Kat runs around the field like a madwoman looking to steamroll her nearest Mongolian.
After shooting a very cheeky goal from the halfway line [subsequently disallowed in waves of controversy], I go down in the 2nd half of my match with no-one else even close to me. As I limp of the field shaking my head in embarrasment, The Program Director asks, ”What happened?! …I looked over at you and you just fell down!?!” Um, err ….yup. Dunno exactly what happened, slipped on a cowpat maybe?
Anyway it is my pride that is hurt more than anything, it will probably take a couple days for the swelling to go down and the ankle to heal enough to walk without limping. It does mean, however, that I will be sidelined for the Wrestling.
Mongolian Wrestling is a gentlemanly brutal sport, used by Chinggis Khan to keep his armies in top fighting shape at all times. The aim of the game is simple: first one whose elbow, knee, back or bum hits the ground loses. No kicking, punching, or submission holds, just two men circling each other like lions, grappling for position and maybe an arm lock or leg sweep, until one exploits a small advantage to take the other down.
The spirit of competition is fierce, but good-natured. There is no crass, obnoxious trash-talking or testosterone-drenched carrying on, and the contest is held with a mutual respect for all competitors.
Dashi takes down Natsegdorg in his first round, despite being half his size, and then pins The Cowboy in round two. Bek and Gumbaa have an entertaining match, then Bek moves on to face the old man Dorlig, who put me on my back the night before during my impromptu Mongolian Wrestling lesson.
Dorlig stalks his opponent like the grizzly lion that he is, Bek reluctant to let him get a grip on him. They circle each other for ages, and finally Dorlig gets a grip on the younger man. There is more grappling and subtle jockeying for position for ages, then suddenly Bek’s legs are taken out from under him and he finds himself looking at the sky wondering what happened.
The old man smiles his toothless smile and does the falcon victory dance, spreading his arms like the birds of prey circling overhead.
Meanwhile, Gumbataar has been battling with Erdenstdeger, the other elder the other elder stateыman of the group who stands a good couple inches taller than everyone else and has just disposed of Dorga, the youngest & strongest of the students. Erdenstdeger moves like the gorillas we watched during Nadaam, and disposes of Gumbataar pretty quickly despite the younger man's speed and strength.
Final round: Dorlig vs Erdenstdeger, with hardly a chance for Dorlig to catch his breath after the epic match vs. Bek… Erdenstdeger catches Dorlig with a leg sweep that ends the wrestling portion of today’s games.
The grande finale is a skipping competition, with everyone weaving a figure-of-8 around the rope-twirlers until someone messes it up and is disqualified. Kat makes the final two with Gumbaa, and is beaten when the rules of the final round are lost in translation to English – home court advantage…
Back at the hasha that evening, the smiles are broad and tales are being swapped of the day’s highlights. People limp through the camp and walk around rubbing sore muscles and bruised joints.
I soak my throbbing ankle in icy-cold water drawn from the well, and am treated to a traditional Mongolian remedy, a salty-tea compress to wrap the swollen joint.
Tired, battered, and bruised, but happy… I really enjoy this peoples’ spirit.