Friday, February 27, 2009

Tsagan Sar (Цааган Сар)

Tsagan Sar is a really big celebration here in Mongolia -- somewhat the equivalent of our New Year's celebration, except that here, everything shuts down. And this year they remained shut down for at least two days and most were shutdown for three. That can vary from year to year, depending on just when the holiday comes. The time off sounds good until you understand that there are no paid holidays in Mongolia. OUCH!

This holiday is very full of tradition and ceremony. Here are a few of the traditions:

1- It is expected that one will eat until they are virtually ill, for about two or three days. If you do, then you will have plenty to eat for the rest of the year.

2-It is also a time when everyone travels all over to visit with family.

3-It is always held at the new moon in February, thus what day of the week it's held on varies from year to year. And the month is also referred to as White Month.

4-It is the beginning of Spring (someone forgot to tell the weatherman! This as been the coldest weather we've thus far seen!).

5-Much of the food is white dairy products and you must eat some of that white food as the first part of your meal. But you wouldn't believe what they can do with dairy products here. I've never seen so many things made out of milk! Candy, fermented drinks, wierd cheeses and things that we have no idea what to call! And most of it we would consider not edible! Yuch!

This first picture is of a dish called boodz (бооэ). They are golf ball sized noodle/pastries filled with sheep meat and then boiled in water or steam cooked. MMMM, Yum! Not! Actually, they are not bad, though that opinion may be argued by some. Not much taste at all, really. Our Elders enjoyed bragging about eating 100 or more of them during Tsagan Sar (did you notice me shudder)! We seniors didn't compete!

Another popular food is boiled Sheep's head. Pictured is one of two pots of sheep's head which our missionaries cooked for themselves and then gobbled down. Better them than me!

The gentleman pictured is Baatar (our mission driver when we are on mission business), who invited us to his home for dinner during Tsagan Sar. Baatar means 'hero' in Mongolian and it fits. He is a really great guy whom we all very much love and appreciate. He is the youngest of 10 children in his family, though he now has a family of his own.

He alters his menu to make it a bit more palitable for our western style tastes - something we appreciate very much. We very much enjoyed our visit with his family. He lives in a ger district but no longer lives in a ger. He has spent a lot of time and effort to build quite a comfortable brick home there.

You should make special note of the picture of Sister Caldwell trying a bowl of arig (арйиг)-- fermented mare's milk. We just had to try a sip to see what it was like. I may never drink milk again! But they really love it. The lady you see sitting behind Sister Caldwell (Zia), drank down a whole bowl of it! And that's another thing. They just pass the same bowl around the table and everyone drinks from it.

Thought you might also enjoy the picture of what they refer to as a 'fat back'. They like to cook the fatty back part of a sheep and serve it as seen. The fat is one of the favored portions. We kept to the more meaty parts, thank you very much!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Elder Nelson's Fireside

We wish we could share more than we do about our experiences here. But time and space restrictions plus the inability to express some things in writing (sound familiar?) make that impossible. But here's the last installment of Elder Nelson's visit just the same.

Elder Nelson is 84 years of age, has 10 children (9 girls and 1 boy), 56 grandchildren and 37 great grandchildren. His first wife passed away about 3 years ago and he has since remarried.

We were privileged to sit in council with him by way of a Fireside held on Tuesday. One of the largest halls in UB was rented for the occasion, it having seating for 999 people. That was deemed to be more than adequate in view of past gatherings (usually around 450, maybe 500). Our mission President hoped we might be fortunate enough to attract 700 or really optimistically 800. But 1388 were in attendance. It was literally standing room only. The Mongolian people wanted to hear an Apostle of the Lord.

As I looked around before the meeting began, I noticed people people there with shaved heads (some of them likely a result of health problems). I saw one too crippled to walk, being carried on another's back. I saw families, individuals, couples, the old and the young. Many came from their homes in Ulaanbaatar. Some came from hundreds of miles away -- and one doesn't just jump in a car and drive those distances on Mongolian 'roads' if it can be avoided. Most of those probably came on old, dilapidated trains. There were a significant number of deaf people there, for whom Mongolian sign language was provided. And it was cold. Very Cold!

Some wore the traditional Dell (colorful Mongolian robes). Others were in modern suits. Most were dressed very nicely. Some were dressed in the best they had. Whatever circumstances they found themselves in, they came to hear a prophets voice.

Much was said of families by those who spoke. Elder Nelson spoke of Old Testament families. He reminded us that Ephraim was given the major responsibility to oversee the gathering of Israel. And I thought that, indeed, nearly all of the foreign missionaries (i.e. those who had started all this in Mongolia) were from the tribe of Ephraim. The work of gathering is still overseen by the tribe of Ephraim, but now much of the work is being assumed more and more by the local Mongolian people (in whom all twelve tribes have been identified through the few who have received Patriarchal blessings).

He also referred to the scriptures as "treasures". To the Mongolian people, they truly are a treasure. They have only had the Book of Mormon in their native tongue for about 5 years. Prior to thay they only had a few passages (3rd Nephi was one of those) and have only had the Doctrine and Covenants for a little over one year. Already, many of them know those volumes better than most of us do. It really made us think about our perception of our scriptures. They don't sit around and collect dust here in Mongolia--and believe me they have plenty of dust here!

Elder Nelson spoke of many different types of 'life cycles', such as dispensations of prophets, economic cycles, righteousness/wickedness cycles -- and the only cycle we have control over; our own life cycle. We control how well we do here and how well prepared we are when we return to Heavenly Father. Other cycles will come and go with varying degress of effect on us. But our own cycle is the one we need to focus on.

He spoke of many things, but then closed by leaving an Apostolic Blessing. It was lengthy but in part of it, he promised that the prophetic blessing (made by Neal Maxwell when he dedicated this land), would come true; that the people of Mongolia would become a great light to the nations round about -- a source of strength to the regions around this area. I believe that is beginning to happen now.

It was a very good meeting.

After the Fireside, the seniors all went out to a restaurant owned by a local member. I thnk we kind of wanted to stay together and keep the feelings we had enjoyed that evening.

Out front of that restaurant is some ice sculpture art. It, of course, lasts for many months here. I'm surprised we haven't seen more of it in Mongolia.

Sister Caldwell and I shared one meal. After all, we had already eaten dinner once and it was late!