The village is filled with excitement as today the credit union will be having its fifth anniversary celebration. Members have been entering a contest all year and they have been anticipating the big draw for some time. In fact, the credit union delayed the draw so that we could be the dignitaries to award the grand prizes: a fully loaded 150cc motorcycle and a satellite dish with all the goodies. They also have a series of cash prizes. Ken and I are asked to make speeches to encourage members to move savings deposits to the credit union and attract more memberships. The event is going to start at 3 pm sharp and it might last an hour. Then we are off to camp overnight and cook “hotpot”. As usual Mongolian time dictates the start of our event. So we are at the town hall at 3 only to find it empty with the prizes all set up on stage. The building starts to fill up at 4 and we get going at 4:30 or 5.
Speeches, a powerpoint presentation, and then our speeches. Both Ken and I present a gift from our respective credit unions to Nassa, the Chair and Executive Director. Neither Ken nor I talked about giving and yet we both brought something small from local artists to present so they could remember us. Interestingly, we both chose carvings of birds. His was a rock carving of an eagle and mine a wood carving of a humming bird. Both artists were Aboriginal people from our areas. After Ken and I are done our speeches, the draw begins and it goes on for at least 2 hours as they start with the equivalent of $1.00 Canadian and work their way up to the grand prizes. I get to pull the name for the winner of the satellite dish which happens to be one of the shop owners who is thrilled. Ken gets to pick the winner of the motor bike. He picks one of the elders who can barely walk or hear. Later he joins us for dinner and presents Ken with chocolates and vodka. He keeps thanking Ken and I’m sure if he could package him up and keep him as a luck charm, he would.
By the time we leave the hall it's beginning to rain and Nassa suggests not camping. Good thing as the bugs would have eaten us alive. We get back to our one room cell in which all three of have been sleeping, eating and working for the last 3 days and are told we will be collected at 8ish. Dinner would be ‘Hot Pot” in the kitchen/pub/nightclub/whatever you want it to be room next door. Hot pot is lamb shanks and other sheep parts with carrots, potatoes and large rocks all cooked on an open fire in a cast iron pot. I never got to see it made, but I am told that it’s a local favorite for Mongolians so it’s likely I will see it when we visit another area. They could use the help of Iron Chefs, as the presentation needs some work. Its heaped into a large mound of meat and fat with a few vegetables and then placed in plates for two to three people to eat from. Yikes... utensils aren’t necessary and I begin to dig in with my hands. Surprisingly it’s also my fav. It’s cooked perfectly and the meat falls off the bone. Probably the best lamb shank I have ever had. Here they call all the meat we are eating mutton, but I keep correcting my Mongolian friends that it must be lamb because it’s so tender and tasty. It also sounds better to me… I going to write in and get the next Hell’s Kitchen to be filmed from Binder Soum. It’s shocking that something so unappetizing can be so good to eat.
The dinner is basically a private function, but people keep coming in and looking at what’s going on. At about 10, I realize they want us to get out as the place needs to transition into a night club. By this time we have had so many toasts and words of kindness that a night club sounds good to me. We begin dancing and enjoying all the new people who join the party. That lasts until 1 pm and then off to the credit union to finish the night with rounds of Mongolian signing. They should really have a Mongolian’s Got talent show as they can all sing so confidently. This lasts until 2 am and our host sends us to bed. I can hear them still going well after I settle in to a good nights sleep. Nassa tells me the next day that they left at 4 am.
-- Bruno Dragani