Living Life with Locals to Bring Hope
By Scarlett Patton, Associate Country Leader, Mongolia
The summer months are ending as September 1st marked the official first day of school for the nation of Mongolia. The past few months most of the people in our city took time off to head to the countryside to visit relatives, camp, and breathe in the fresh air. As I was reflecting on this season, I decided that people’s lives here are much the same as ours in the U.S. – working hard, caring for their family and animals, paying bills, maybe growing a summer garden, traveling from place to place, desiring fun and entertainment, and looking for ways to cool off in the summer heat.
The difference is that it’s a simpler lifestyle here. Countryside nomads travel by horseback or motorcycle while herding their cattle, horses, sheep, goats, or camels. City folk with an average income will travel by the old Russian train, by taxi or car, the Prius being the most popular. Those few with an above average/highest income may own a Toyota or Lexus SUV. It doesn’t matter – they all take their rest time seriously and want to enjoy the summer months in nature, traveling throughout the countryside to visit their relatives.
Every July, Mongolia celebrates Naadam which is a festival featuring the three manly sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. To honor their heritage the traditional clothing, called deel, is worn by the majority. It’s part of the culture to drink mare’s milk, or airag, for good health. People clamor to touch the sweat of the winning long-distance racehorse to bring them a year of good luck. The champion wrestler is honored by the entire nation. This week-long festival has taken place since the era of Chinggis Khaan’s rule of the Great Mongol Empire.
While summer life here has its similarities – children playing outside, festivals, camping at the river, birthday parties, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, there are also challenges – no hot water or no water at all, sporadic electrical outages, severe flooding with loss of lives and homes due to frequent heavy rains and insufficient drainage systems in the city, and drownings (most Mongolians don’t know how to swim) due to the rapidly overflowing rivers. These are just a few challenges that we’ve seen this past summer.
So, our job here is to live life among the locals. What they experience, we experience with them. We do our best to love our neighbors well, to laugh together, cry together, and to be light in a dark place. We work side by side, share life stories and lessons learned, developing trusted relationships over deeper conversations. All these circumstances give us the opportunity to bring hope and encouragement beyond the luck that comes from touching the sweat of a winning horse. Each of us is uniquely designed for a purpose, whether we ever win a championship or not.