The cold weather stayed through the weekend. Friday, though the day of our first Peace Corps evaluation and Language Proficiency Interview, was warmed by the multitude of mail I received at school. I got a letter from my brother and two packages from my mom, one which contained letters from a friend. I was overwhelmed with the amount of American goods I had in my reach. Then, on Saturday, we went to Amarbayasgalant Monastery with our families and language teachers. We left in the cold at around 5:30 in the morning and arrived a few hours later after driving through the countryside and mountains on dirt roads and through small creeks.
When we arrived, the men, including the American gents, went into the forest to find wood for a fire. When they returned, several were missing shoes that they had sacrificed to rivers that they had to cross, but they came back with trees on their backs. Once a fire was started, a metal bowl of tea was brewed. A breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes, ham, and bread was prepared by the mothers and we feasted. Around this time, or 9:30, the first of the vodka shots were poured and toasts were given. I remember the phrase, “Maybe you are cold,” being uttered in justification. 3 rounds later, we visited the Monastery and conjoining school while several fathers stayed and prepared for lunch.
When we returned, we played games in the rain and tried to keep warm by the fire. The men were busy tending to lunch. A khorkhuk was being prepared. A goat had been killed and was put into a metal can of sorts with hot stones from the fire, possibly a bottle of vodka or beer, carrots, potatoes, onions, and salt, and then a lid was attached and the stew pressure-cooked for nearly an hour. After we had finished wrestling, playing a duck-duck-goose type game, and playing limbo, we were called to lunch. We were given the hot stoned from the mixture to pass between our hands to warm us up. Metal plates were filled with heaping portions of meat and root vegetables. I took my plate to a tired tree limb that was resting on the ground and began to feast on possibly the best meal I have ever had. My friends agreed that this peculiar delicacy could not be described in words.
As we finished eating, our language teacher, Tumee, brought us a beer, explaining that after eating this meal, we shouldn’t drink cold liquid or water because we would get very, very sick. Beer, however, was perfectly fine. So it goes.
We continued to enjoy our day in the beautiful countryside as the rain fell. We sang songs with our families and danced between cars playing music from their windows. I attempted the Mongolian Waltz with my Mongol dad. Soon after the dancing, we headed back to Orkhon. It wasn’t much later than 3 PM, but we were all exhausted. We stopped at a natural spring and drank water that was said to be holy because it was so pure. We also ate tiny strawberries we picked off the nearby mountain. Full, blessed, and happy, I fell asleep on the ride home.