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worldtravelstephanie52 karma

Oh wow! That’s a big topic as the two groups of people with whom I stayed were very different. Both were polytheistic and practiced shamanism, though a small subset of Kazakh herders I met in Mongolia were a combination of Muslim/their older beliefs in a very complex blending of the two. I did participate in ceremonies as they are still a part of daily life for both peoples and I was expected to participate (I did, out of respect) and in being there for many changing seasons I was able to witness major ceremonies but had no role in those directly.

A very memorable one amongst the specific group of Kazakh nomads of Mongolia I was with, is was when a visitor (in this case me when I first arrived) comes from afar there is a ritual prayer said for that person and a feast laid out, with horse head and intestines. The visitor (me) sits at the head of the feast. The youngest toddler has their ankles tied with said horse intestines and the people pray and light incense while encouraging the young child to walk to the visitor. The visitor kind of catches/grabs them after a short distance (which I almost didn’t do, and everyone was frantically pantomiming at me). This is considered their first journey and the gods are expected to bless the child with a good nomadic life. I was confused for a long time, until my language skills got better and I eventually asked what that event was.

worldtravelstephanie30 karma

Love of a place, a way of life, and of a community and peoples, yes. I will always hold those experiences in my heart, I truly love that land. But I was not there for romantic love, and did not go in that direct if that is what you are asking.

worldtravelstephanie29 karma

No official reason, and entirely personal actually. I just wanted to escape my life at the time, and always dreamed of what life was like in the remote and wild places of the world as a nomadic people- especially as their way of life was starting to disappear. An old friend had told me of his experiences living with nomads in the Peace Corps. When I bugged him enough, he (probably more for fun not thinking I’d ever do it) told me how to find the Kazakhs. I didn’t want to go to change people or follow them around and document them, I just wanted to live. The Siberian reindeer herders were much more cautious of outsiders, and when it eventually became clear I didn’t want to give them anything (medicine, language, religion) I was just folded into the family as an aunt. That took months and there was ceremony about it. The Kazakh of Tavan Bogd are more accustomed to outsiders, and for a long time I had an issue with them assuming I had doctoring abilities. Eventually they just let me be a part of their group without expectations of medicine. People come and go more frequently amongst the Kazakh and some leave to the city or come back, so that was more easy.

worldtravelstephanie23 karma

  1. I left before winter in both cases, as winter was setting in (I had spent previous winters with them both and knew how it went). I’d have to leave before winter truly set in or I’d have to wait until spring, and better to let them have an extra winter ration. It seemed natural to help with moving to the wintering grounds and as the snow fell, it just felt time to go. It was hard, but I started to ache a little for familiar comforts, had grown up a lot, a didn’t feel the want to settle down with them.
  2. The shock of re-entry was harder than I expected! A big shock was hearing English all around me. I had gotten so accustomed to straining to pick up everything and grasping on to any word I understood and trying to understand that when I got to an English speaking airport my brain kept trying to understand -everything- and it hurt my ears and my head. I almost didn’t make my connection because I had gone somewhere quiet (a prayer room) to give myself a break! The other big shock was air quality. It probably wasn’t that smoky but I was coughing at everything and my nose was totally overwhelmed, I was convinced there must be a factory or fire near by.
  3. I did bring a tiny notepad/jotted stuff down, I’m not a big journal person so I tried to just write unique things I noticed or what I was worried I’d forget. I did take pictures! Lots. I had a point and shoot and a solar battery charger that back then was state-of-the-art. The Kazakhs thought it was fun to dress up and have me take a picture and then show them. I couldn’t print it, had no computer with me, they just looked at it on my camera over and over. So much so I had to over-dramatize the delicacy of the camera so they’d take a break. Even after months they loved it, when we met other nomads they had me show my camera.

And wow! Glad you find it interesting and I could answer questions you had!

worldtravelstephanie19 karma

So I first stayed with the Siberian nomads. Each herding region has its own language (most almost completely undocumented) but many of them also speak Russian. I had a Russian speaker (who was in light contact with them for trading) confirm earlier that year I could help with the big autumn reindeer migration so they knew I was coming and would need shelter (though they nor I really knew exactly when we would meet, I still had to find them). I had some phrases written in Russian (didn’t help as they were either not relevant or the person couldn’t read) and some basic Russian speaking skills but it too was almost completely unhelpful. That way of life and their accents too different from what I studied. Plus they prefer their native language. Lots of pantomime, laughing it off, and kindness from them. I learned nouns first, I practiced throughout my day (usually with the little kids as they are kind and my struggles kept them entertained) and eventually strung sentences and conversations together.

I should have known the Kazakh people had their own language but I just assumed they spoke Mongolian (some do, and some speak some Russian or Chinese as their herding takes them in all those regions) and so tried to learn that before hand. I learned Kazakh pretty quickly, but got along with my terrible Mongolian and rough Russian at first, with pantomime. You can express a surprising amount through body language and expressions and pointing. I even had a conversation with some older ladies that while I may not have a big chest (they were teasing that I’d not find a man because I’m so skinny) I do have a big hips! That was almost entirely through pantomime and we were all in tears laughing.

But either way, there were lots of moments I just had to trust, not knowing what I was doing or why, and many times I just had to keep my thoughts and intentions to myself.